Observers who argue that blending music from different regions or cultures can't help but dilute its impact should spend an hour or so with this disc, a global hodgepodge of sounds and influences that is marvelously inventive and undeniably coherent. Keita, an Albino activist from Mali who has spent the last decade soaking up Western influences while living in Paris, toured Africa shortly before the recording of this platter, and the result is an offering that effortlessly blends the joys of Afro-pop with styles that outsiders may liken to soul, rhythm and blues and jazz. The opening track, "Tekere," sports a percolating groove and saucy background vocals from an eight-member chorus, but its horn chart at times recalls Van Morrison circa Van Morrison, His Band and Streetchoir; likewise, its sprawling, ten-minutes-plus successor, "Mandjou," features lyrical solos from saxophonist Glaucus Xavier and guitarist Ousmane Kouyate that wouldn't sound out of place on a Steely Dan record, yet the composition as a whole is as expansive and structurally thrilling as anything this side of Fela Kuti. And so it goes: The music on "Folon" is more consistently exciting than anything Keita has committed to tape, and it spurs the man whose name rests above the title to feats of vocal athleticism that are sensational to behold. Those of you who can't understand the appeal of world music may be able to resist this, too, but not without considerable effort. It'd be a lot easier to give in.--Michael Roberts
(What's the Story) Morning Glory?
The new CD by the latest entrant in the Next Beatles contest proves that frontman Liam Gallagher has a knack for writing simple-sounding hits that, when broken down, don't seem so simple. After just one spin, I had all the tunes and most of the lyrics memorized--a neat trick the band also turned on its uber-debut, Definitely Maybe. But these Brits aren't just repeating themselves; rather, they're transubstantiating every pop-music riff and jangle that ever struck them as catchy and calling the result their own. "Wonderwall" and "Don't Look Back in Anger" are wistful friendship songs, "Hey Now!" and "Roll With It" inspired anthems, and "Champagne Supernova" (Gallagher pronounces it "supernover") a superb finale that asks the timeless question "Where were you while we were getting high?" String these tunes together using a few backward snippets and two hidden tracks, and what you get is Oasis. Unmistakably.--Susan Dunlap
Dance Hall Crashers
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Considering the hype surrounding this Berkeley band's girl-punk-ska hybrid, you've got to hope for more than this; in comparison to classic British ska, which used hyperactive horns and beats to turn two-tone crowds into dancing fools, Lockjaw is about as frenzy-inspiring as an early curfew at an all-ages club. As for the album's "punk" side, well, Sid Vicious never chewed bubble gum. "Vaguely punk and ska-influenced pop music" might be a better term for what goes on here, but even that misleads: The Crashers' former bandmates in Rancid may have sold oodles with weak Clash imitations, but at least they aren't saddled with the sort of slick production that calls the Go-Go's to mind. Then again, perhaps the Go-Go's are more of an inspiration than these musicians want to admit. Like Belinda and company, the Dance Hall Crashers make mildly entertaining background sounds for a sunny day.--Steve Boland
Outstandingly Ignited: Lyrics by Ernest Noyes Brookings, Volume Four
Brookings, a tiny, toothless man who died in 1987 at the age of 88, was a poet of the primitive variety: His words paint in strong, primary colors, yet their apparent guilelessness doesn't make them any less entertaining or evocative. His sentences also have a musical quality about them, and it is this characteristic that inspired David Greenberger, producer of several discs' worth of ditties featuring Brookings lyrics. The group of artists he cajoled into setting Brookings pieces to music on the latest edition generally do justice to the late scribbler's creative style. The Ben Vaughn Combo takes a jaunty, quasi-rockabilly approach on "Sharp Dressed Man" ("His clothes clean, not a speck of dirt/Regardless the stance is keen and taut/Sharp dressed man!"); Bucket No. 6, featuring Nashville renegade Doug Hoekstra, puts an appropriate grin on the writer's "informative" tribute to "Indiana" ("Indiana has large industrial areas/Its capital is a large city named Indianapolis"); Morphine gives "Mail" an unexpectedly creepy reading ("Train to outer stations/Where mailbags deploy/ The crew is allowed rations/Nothing is destroyed"); and Jimmy Carl Black and the Grandmothers channel Frank Zappa while delivering "The" ("`The' is used to specify definite factor/Is used by all countries of global earth"). Like most compilations, this one has its ups and downs, but Outstandingly Ignited is held together by the old-fashioned sensibility of Brookings, perhaps the last poet to give a damn that the stuff he wrote occasionally rhymed.--Roberts