Thank the Holder Uppers
Claw Hammer hits the majors with its sound unprettified, thank goodness. "Superthings" tips the bandmates' hands: sloppy drumming (from Bob Lee), raucous guitar calisthenics (executed by Jon Wahl and Christopher Bagarozzi) and screamed vocals that suggest Robert Plant if someone really were squeezing his lemons (Wahl again). Producer Brett Gurewitz, who's become the semi-official liaison between musicians who never thought they'd record for a mammoth corporation and the mammoth corporations that suddenly are signing them, allows things to careen out of control with great regularity--a good tack, since scraping all the grime off these roughnecks would probably destroy them entirely. The results may sometimes seem quizzical--"Blind Pig" is the weirdest imaginable ZZ Top imitation, while "Olfactory Blues/ Nosehair" resembles a bizarre marriage of Frank Zappa and, well, Foghat--but they're never, never boring. And given that the Hammers are from Seattle, where these days it seems you can get a record contract for blowing your nose without getting too much mucus on your hand, that's an accomplishment.--Michael Roberts
The Stephen Scott Trio
Scott first gained notice after jazz vocalist Betty Carter brought the then-eighteen-year-old piano wizard into her back-up band. Since leaving Carter and setting his own course, he has developed into a fascinating instrumentalist working in a tradition stretching back to Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk. His only drawback? While his playing exhibits an adventurous spirit and natural swing, he's just a little too slick, a bit too polished and, dare I say, perhaps too well-schooled in the technical aspects of the music. Renaissance, Scott's third Verve release as a leader, is a case in point. On the disc, he pays tribute to a handful of easily identifiable classics (for example, he offers a cleverly unarranged rendition of Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage") even as he tries to create one of his own, a four-movement piece called "Renaissance Suite." But despite his virtuosity, Scott doesn't quite hit the mark. Although his band--bassist Michael Bowie and drummer Clarence Penn, supplemented by teenage percussionist Karriem Riggins--is impressive by mainstream-jazz standards, Scott fails to deliver compositions fired by innovation. Even "Suite," for all its moments of introspection and inspiration, somehow falls short of freshness. Scott's work stands head and shoulders above the flaky, commercially successful crap delivered by many of the young lions on the scene today, but it remains mildly disappointing.--Linda Gruno
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You've got to give them credit for chutzpah: Only players truly convinced of their own greatness would release a tribute album in which they essentially place themselves on the same level as Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin and Elvis Costello. The version of Grandmaster Flash's "White Lines (Don't Do It)" is more tolerable than you might expect, but everything else--particularly, an astoundingly mediocre take on Public Enemy's "911 (Is a Joke)"--sucks like a black hole the size of the Milky Way. Watch out, cut-out bins, because here this comes.--Roberts
A Man Called Destruction
Not dying in a timely fashion can be a problem for cult figures: Instead of leaving their followers with eminently satisfying fantasies about the high-quality music they would have created had they survived, they're left to spend the rest of their careers failing to surpass the quality of the stuff that made them famous in the first place. Hence Mr. Chilton, whose smattering of solo recordings released in the wake of Big Star's burnout have barely hinted at the off-kilter talent that made him so fascinating. A Man Called Destruction is better than that--it's consistent enough to imply that Chilton actually worked on it for a while, rather than merely sloughing it off--but its pleasures are primarily minor. Half of the twelve songs are covers, and several of those (for instance, the version of the Beach Boys' "New Girl in School") are throwaways, pure and simple. Chilton's own material frequently falls into this category, too: "It's Your Funeral" is a kitschy death march, "You're Lookin' Good" an enjoyable but generic rocker and "Boplexity" an instrumental showcase that won't prompt you to discard those Ventures LPs. Praise be, then, for "What's Your Sign, Girl," a goofy composition (by Daniel Pearson and Anthony Sepe) that Chilton inexplicably manages to turn into a keening, vulnerable charmer. It's not at the level of, say, Sister Lovers, but it should leave you happy that Alex is still here.--Roberts