Funk Upon a Rhyme

I admit it: When I saw the cover of this album, I figured that the disc would bite. The reason was simple--there's too much lame, redundant, boneheaded gangsta rap out there right now, and a recording by someone named Kokane (real name: Jerry Long) seemed unlikely to break the mold. Wrong. Funk Upon a Rhyme is a groove-heavy monster that sports live instrumentation and well-structured songs to further blur the demarcation between rap and the styles that inspired it. Kokane has a fine pedigree in Seventies soul--his father wrote impressive songs such as the Temptations' "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)"--and enough experience in the California hip-hop scene to do justice to both his primary influences. "Bakin' Soda Free" is the sweatiest concoction here, but even on cuts like the ambitious "I Need Representation," the funk steams. This 22-year-old may not have a hell of a lot to say (big surprise), but his musical dexterity more than makes up for any other shortcomings. Put aside those preconceptions: This album is dope.--Michael Roberts

Madder Rose
Panic On

Is it just me, or does all the hoopla surrounding this Manhattan-based quartet seem a little unfounded? After all, there's nothing particularly earth-shattering going on here. Granted, Rose vocalist Mary Lorson's lucid delivery sometimes is enchanting, and guitarist Billy Cote can stir up a noisy, electric shitstorm with the best of them. But despite these endearing qualities, most of the material on Panic On is disappointingly bland and derivative. On the title track, for example, the group takes an uninspiring stab at a Natalie Merchant and 10,000 Maniacs impression, while "When You Smile" tries hard but fails to clone the crunchy, distorted wails of Crazy Horse. Listen closely, and you'll also hear hints of Blondie ("Ultra Anxiety [Teenage Style]"), X ("Drop a Bomb") and even Lush ("Sleep, Forever"). It's doubtful that these thinly disguised imitations are intentional; more likely they are just the unconscious by-product of overeducated musicians afraid to take a risk. So why are critics shamelessly doting over this foursome? Maybe it has to do with the fact that the rock scene is embarrassingly stagnant in the Big Apple right now--or maybe there are some influential insiders pulling the right strings. Either way, it's not surprising that many major music publications are lamenting the death of rock music these days. I would be, too, if this is what I had to look forward to every Friday night.--Brad Jones

Steve Tibbetts
The Fall of Us All

The latest effort by this improvisational guitarist and bad boy of cosmic debris is a grand adventure marked by rhythmic explorations, spiritual treks and murderous wails--an odd combination that works surprisingly well. Thanks to Tibbetts's unique compositional strengths, the album (the fourth and final chapter of a series that began with 1984's Safe Journey) is an auditory high that Tibbetts, working again with longtime collaborator/percussionist Marc Anderson, splits into two segments. Throughout the first six songs, he uses an electric guitar to create highly stimulating, effortlessly soaring sounds; he chooses an acoustic for the final five, which display an intelligent, introspective quality. Fans of adventurous rock guitarists and Grateful Dead space jams will be amazed by The Fall of Us All, for Tibbetts's work delivers a musical essence those artists are still hoping to achieve.--Linda Gruno

Inspiral Carpets
Devil Hopping

"I Want You" starts off this CD with a flourish of keyboards and psychedelic guitars that are fast but not thrash. The songs that follow lapse into melancholia, expressing sentiments such as the simple goodbye of "Uniform" or, in "Plutoman," imagining "the lady who talks with the fishes...somewhere there's a god who will grant each and all of her wishes." Both the latter tune and "Saturn 5" suggest a Bowie-esque preoccupation with the solar system, but this young, prolific band from England doesn't ape anyone else's approach to songwriting. For proof, look no further than "Half Way There," in which vocalist Tom Hingley is honest about lying, and "I Don't Want to Go Blind," a tune midway between a love song and a dream. Devil Hopping's packaging includes a hidden message--"Bigger Than Koresh"--that the band seems well on its way to making a reality.--Susan Dunlap

Yothu Yindi

A majority of the artists who fall into the broadly defined worldbeat category seem to enjoy taking their craft to extremes: Either they cling so tenaciously to their indigenous roots that they sound like the stars of a National Geographic special, or they use exotic instrumentation to dress up bland, homogenous pop. Fortunately, Yothu Yindi stands as a rare exception to this rule--a band that strikes a healthy (and pleasing) balance between pop music and its own music. On "Gapu (The Tidal Mix)," this mostly Aboriginal combo superimposes a shamanistic chant over a pulsating hip-hop groove, while the title track finds the group marrying celebratory harmonies and complex tribal rhythms that no doubt would set David Byrne's hand to chopping. Throw in guest appearances by Neil Finn and Bill Laswell and a dozen or so didgeridoos, and you have a record capable of touching rootsy purists and club-goers alike. And isn't that why this stuff was dubbed "worldbeat" in the first place?--Jones

Paul Weller
Wild Wood

As judged by his work with the Jam (and a few cuts with the Style Council), Weller is a terrific songwriter and an agile performer who's never gotten his due in America. Make no mistake: The fine Jam recordings All Mod Cons and Setting Sons belong in every decent modern-rock collection. So why does most of the material on this disc sound like a timid imitation of Bad Company? Hell if I know. Clearly, Weller didn't just toss this album off. The collection features rock, R&B and soul grooves aplenty, as well as lyrics jammed with poetic wordplay. Too bad, then, that the grooves are lame and the wordplay recalls Rod McKuen at his dopiest; the single, "Sunflower," contains sentiments that seem more at home on a Hallmark card. This may be the album that finally puts Weller over the top, but its success won't stop me from using my copy as a toaster.--Roberts

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Susan Dunlap
Linda Gruno
Brad Jones
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts