Kristin Hersh is the type of influential artist who's never made a dime. To wit: Throwing Muses laid the groundwork for virtually every female-led alternative combo that emerged during the past decade or so, including the Breeders and Belly (the act that made Hersh's stepsister--and former Muse---Tanya Donnelly pop-pop-popular). But when was the last time you saw Hersh holding up a platinum record? Then again, the world of radio has lately become more receptive to Hersh's brand of off-kilter truth-telling--and University offers a particularly strong batch of it. Hersh is at her worst when she gets so involved with her lyrical images that she forgets to put them to interesting music; this weakness, in a sentence, is what made last year's solo outing, Hips and Makers, so underwhelming. However, that disc's relentlessly introspective tone apparently freed Hersh from at least some of her need to morph into Emily Dickinson in the presence of her band. On University (completed more than a year ago, just prior to the making of Hips), she displays greatly diminished pretense and an unmistakable interest in knitting together up-tempo melodies worth hearing more than once. "Bright Yellow Gun," the lead track, clues you to Hersh's more accessible mindset, and it proves to be a harbinger of better things to come. By platter's end, you'll likely call this the Muses' finest piece of work since, at least, 1989's Hunkpapa. Which about seven people in the United States bothered to buy.--Michael Roberts
No Goats, No Glory
The fist-shaking political correctness of the Goats' 1993 debut, Tricks of the Shade, was so verbally and musically tough that the musicians now find themselves threatened by the same trap that looms before the Reverends Falwell and Swaggart: They've already stated their dogma so forcefully that they can't retreat without seeming, at best, weak. And when, on their second album, these funk-rock welders talk of cheeba and hard times, weak is how they sound--at least initially. The 1994 congressional elections helped me get past that first impression, though, and now I consider the disc to be post-Republican rap rock in which the Goats' idealism scatters like wood chips flying in the wake of a buzz saw. Fortunately, their political vagueness gets support from the toughest rap anyone's playing on live instruments right now. The defiance inherent throughout Tricks will no doubt be needed in 1996--and perhaps by that time, these kids' musical support system will have put them on top. A nice thought.--John Young
It's Five O'Clock Somewhere
Those of you who still remember Guns N' Roses should be warned that this sounds a lot like Van Halen. During the Sammy Hagar era.--Roberts
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Ahora Si! Here Comes Changui!
There's not a lot of exuberance on display in the current American music scene: At present, moping is seen as hipper and more financially rewarding. So it comes as a blessed relief to encounter a pair of albums so bursting at the seams with joy that their titles absolutely demand their respective exclamation points. Ahora Si! is a compilation of Cuban changui music--a spare percussive style that's related to son, a better-known, more accessible Cuban genre. The traditional changui instrumentation--chanted or shouted vocals, a tres guitar, marimbula, bongos, maracas and a metal scraper called a guayo--make for a raw, spontaneous sound that's delivered here by five of the most popular acts from the province of Guantanamo. The best of these is Grupo Changui de Guantanamo, which contributes five tunes so rollicking and organic that the bandmembers seem to be making them up as they go along. But all of the numbers contain the kind of rough-edged pleasures that are usually sandblasted off by studio technicians long before they reach fans' ears. Dundunbanza!, by the Havana-based, nine-piece Sierra Maestra, is considerably slicker, but so is son, which is frequently punctuated by blaring trumpets and call-and-response singing. Some listeners may dismiss the result as "Ricky Ricardo music," but it's actually a raucous, danceable melange dripping with romance, sensuality and enough steam to satisfy Robert Fulton. Tunes such as "Changu Ta' Veni," "Cangrejo Fue a Estudiar" and "Kila Kike y Chocolate" likely will have you smiling long before their last notes are blown--and that's okay. Because there's more to life than grunge, pal.--Roberts