Allen, a country songwriter and Lubbock native who's earned critical acclaim and practically no real money, reassures fans that he won't trade his credibility for commercial success with this album's very first line: He barks, "Hey, I don't need no chickenshit businessman tellin' me what to do" like a man who knows precisely the right moments to get autobiographical. The thirteen songs here are as genuine as the aforementioned declaration, and frequently as craggy. Some of Allen's images, like the one that kicks off "Peggy Legg" ("There's a one-legged woman/ On the dance floor/An' that one leg's so pretty/She don't need no more"), are immediate; others--the verbal snapshots scattered throughout "Room to Room," for instance--are subtle and patient, yet they ultimately gain force as a result of Allen's confident narrative sense. Famous people pop up throughout Human Remains--David Byrne, Joe Ely, Lucinda Williams and Charlie Sexton among them. Allen accepts their help, but he really doesn't need it. He's an artist whose music glows with all that's great about America and lacks everything that's not. If only the same could be said about the Republican candidates for the presidency.--Michael Roberts
The Pooh Sticks
Those of us from the post-hip-hop era can dig this oddball Dutch collective for the same reasons so many baby boomers (pardon the pun) pooh-pooh sampling technology--because Sticks singer Hue and writer/producer Steve Gregory are so in love with outreferencing their elders. Not that Hue's contemporaries will find it any easier to keep up: Optimistic Fool uses quotes from the Beatles, the Foundations, America, Tommy James's "Crystal Blue Persuasion," Van Dyke Parks's Song Cycle and plenty of other stuff to construct a guitar-band parody of the sampling ethic. Since I like this concept, tunes such as "First of a Million Love Songs," "Who Was It?" and "Star Fishing" sound swell to me. Most boomers will enjoy it, too, even though they'll never notice the parody.--John Young
Yah Congo Meets King Tubby & Professor at Dub Table
Dub Revolution: UK Roots High Steppin' to the Future
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The New York-based label called ROIR (Reach Out International Records) was founded in the early Seventies as a cassette-only project that grew to encompass dub music from Jamaica and London. Since then ROIR has kept up with dub's development, as these two discs (part of ROIR's ambitious new dub series) establish beyond any doubt. King Tubby, the auteur behind Yah Congo, was the originator of the art form. A onetime studio engineer for Jamaica's legendary U. Roy, he first used dub prototypes to test sound levels; later he created new pieces by alternately phasing in and out a cut's vocal and bass tracks and adding elements such as reverb and echo. Congo brings together the greatest of the dub singles he made between 1974 and 1979 under the auspices of reggae forefather Glen Darby's Yah Congo production company. By contrast, Dub Revolution represents the other end of the dub spectrum: The compilation features the latest singles to emerge from London's thriving dub underground. While King Tubby often worked with only two tracks, his successors have 24 at their disposal, and the uses to which they put them are extraordinary. Contributors include the Bush Chemist, whose "Tribal Dub" is one of the collection's strongest tracks, and talented upstarts like Fish and Goat ("Dub Warmth") and Centry Meets the Music Family, whose "Release the Chains" will sound familiar to anyone with an ear for grunge; its chord progression duplicates the one from Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Together with Congo, the disc serves as a fine introduction to an extremely vital musical form.--Joshua Green
The Animaniacs: Faboo Collection
Steven Spielberg may have an erratic post-E.T. batting average as a director (bet you haven't had an itch to watch The Color Purple or Empire of the Sun lately), but as an animation mogul, he's Ty Cobb; no one has done more to revive the art of the Saturday morning kiddie show. Animaniacs, an oft-delightful slab of small-screen anarchy, is the centerpiece of Spielberg's cartoonery, and Faboo Collection captures its essence with great aplomb. The tunes on these two discs (including "Pinky and the Brain," the best TV-theme song since Mike Post nearly killed the genre) often contain educational material, but their factoids are presented in a cheeky, offhand manner that couldn't have less in common with the condescending, insufferably sensitive approach of the Raffi/Barney school. Moreover, Wakko and Yakko (the Warner brothers) and Dot (the Warner sister) mouth truths, not platitudes; they celebrate junk food, point out that multiplication is a lot easier when you have a calculator and rib Magellan for finding a spear in his chest instead of the West Indies. Sophisticated and funny in equal measure, Faboo is children's music that won't leave parents ruing the day they decided to procreate in the first place.--Roberts