All right, I give up. Rather than whining about the fact that half the allegedly new music being released right now sounds like it was recorded in 1982, I guess I'll just have to get used to it. Hell, I liked a lot of the music from 1982, including those discs by Romeo Void and the Pretenders that these four Brits synthesize with such uncanny precision. So no more complaints from me about the Green Days of the world, whose idea of innovation is to rip off old-school power-pop and punk albums under the assumption that not all that many people heard them in the first place. I did hear those albums, but it was my own damn fault that I didn't spend my time listening to Survivor and Vangelis instead. If any of you start imitating Men at Work or Toni Basil, though, the truce is off. That's where I draw the line.--Michael Roberts
Harmonica maestro Carey Bell Harrington is no stranger to Alligator: In addition to co-starring on the 1972 recording Big Walter Horton and Carey Bell (the imprint's second release), he shared billing with James Cotton, Junior Wells and Billy Branch on the 1991 disc Harp Attack and contributed four tracks to the Living Chicago Blues, Vol. 1 compilation. But to put it simply, Bell's first full-length solo offering for the company is a blues masterpiece. A Macon, Mississippi, native who's spent the last thirty years on the Chicago blues scene (he was a member of Willie Dixon's Chicago Blues All-Stars), Bell has assembled a killer group to support him this time around; the crew consists of pianist/rising star Lucky Peterson, former Buddy Guy drummer Ray Allison, bassist Johnny B. Gayden and guitarists Carl Weathersby and Lurrie Bell (Carey's son). With a lineup like this, the star of the show has to work hard to remain the focus of attention, but Bell's more than up to the challenge. Throughout seven inventive originals and five classics, including Horton's "Easy" and Eddie Burns's "When I Get Drunk," he achieves a harp tone that resembles that of an electric guitar--it's warm as honey, with none of the franticness often associated with the instrument. His vocals are just as strong whether the group is offering up crying blues, grinding funk or shake-it-up rock. With Deep Down, Bell has created one of the finest blues recordings of the era. Let's hope it gains the recognition it deserves.--Linda Gruno
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In the overcrowded world of new music, nothing is as immediately compelling as an odd bird--and for now, Portishead is the one flying the highest. On Dummy, a disc wrought from the engineering quirks of Geoff Barrow and the depressed psyche of vocalist Beth Gibbons, the group seamlessly incorporates a wide range of musical elements (Hammond organ, theremin, scratching, sampling) that produces a bracing distinctiveness. Gibbons's plaintive and passionate renderings also help define the band--and while her vocals rarely stray from the narrow span between misery and melancholy, her skill within those confines leads to musical noir at its best. Granted, such wallowing sometimes flirts with caricature--the lugubrious single "Sour Times" is a case in point--but more often than not, her sincerity wins the day. "Roads" sets a delicate rainy-day mood without trying too hard; its sound is brittle yet precise, avoiding the aural blurriness that afflicts so many artists with artsy pretensions. Similarly, "It Could Be Sweet" suggests a suave, soulful samba. The result is definitely sui generis--in a class all its own.--Justin McLean
They Rock! They Roll! They Swing!: The Best of the Treniers
Given the chart success of Boyz II Men's deracinated doo-wop and the proliferation of Cloroxed a cappella acts, it's easy to forget that early rock-and-roll was wild and impolite enough to turn a society on its ear. The Treniers illustrate the point beautifully. The act--anchored by the Trenier twins, Claude and Clifford--didn't register a single Top 40 hit during its late Forties/early Fifties heyday, and on this compilation, you can understand why: The music is so blessedly orgiastic that it makes the classic Little Richard screamers that came afterward seem sedate by comparison. The sound, built on honking saxophones, crazy beats and the Treniers' ecstatic shouting, reaches its apotheosis on 1952's "Hadacol (That's All)," a celebration of a patent "medicine" with an alcohol content higher than most brands of bourbon, and the same year's pre-Ted Nugent tip of the hat to "Poon-Tang!" (the CD sleeve pictures a can of "Treniers Brand Extra Fancy Lower Alabama Poontang--from the exclusive recipe of Miss Pussy Galore"). In his liner notes, Nick Tosches, author of the fine Dean Martin bio Dino--Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams, gets it just right: "Most of what we know as rock 'n' roll today will be ultimately, and rightfully, forgotten. This stuff, like Hadacol, poontang, and that other, ineffable thing, shall live on."--Roberts