The Scud Mountain Boys, Massachusetts (Sub Pop)
Fans of indie-rock Americanadusky lap steel guitar and mandolin, nicotine-ravaged vocalsshould be falling all over themselves to hail this Massachusetts foursome’s Sub Pop debut as the second coming of Uncle Tupeloor, at the very least, the son of Son Volt. Oddly enough, it’s the record’s reliance on the bathetic yet undeniable melodicism of the Eagles, America and Breadand not on some formulaic imitation of Gram Parsonsthat makes it such a compelling listen. The chorus of “Grudge” even quotes Bread’s “Make It With You” and “Everything I Own,” and it’s as lovely as either of those saccharine radio staples.
The Scud Mountain Boys make music that’s soft, slow and pretty without regard for the “purity” or “correctness” of their sources. And nowhere do they feign the Jack Kerouac-meets-Woody Guthrie bohemianism that’s often the downfall of their alternative country peers. They certainly aren’t over-earnest: The only time Massachusetts approximates outrage is when one of the band members expresses his disenchantment upon learning that Dick Van Dyke was drunk all those years he was tripping over the ottoman on The Dick Van Dyke Show. Elsewhere, the Scuds sing of letting friends down, getting too drunk, and missing the boat on love. Mostly, though, they stick to what they do bestcrafting thoughtful, subdued music that sounds great in your kitchen or living room.
Silkworm, Firewater (Matador)
People from Montana must not be as susceptible to delusions of grandeur as the rest of us. Maybe it’s the state’s physical majesty: Montana’s immense peaks and skies dwarf virtually everything on the natural and psychological horizonseven rock-star dreams. That’s certainly the sense I get from listening to Silkworm, a Missoula trio that moved to Seattle in 1990: Though they arrived in that alt-rock mecca only months before Nevermind began its multi-platinum ascent, Silkworm’s reaction to the trappings of the music businessbemusement mixed with disgustsuggests that they aren’t the least bit interested in chasing Kurt Cobain’s grungy ghost.
Silkworm’s modest aspirations suit them well. Though shot through with restlessness and invective, Andy Cohen’s and Tim Midgett’s songs take up with adult themes like day jobs, debts and child custody battles with a refreshing lack of irony and pretension. And maybe because they have identity enough of their own, they aren’t afraid to wear their Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame influencesBob Dylan, the Stones, the Jimi Hendrix Experienceon their flannel sleeves. Still, being garage-punk thirtysomethings, they’ve also internalized much of the music that’s emerged in the Ramones’ and Sex Pistols’ wake: Indeed, their full-length debut for Matador, a record inspired by the guitar pyrotechnics of Television, is nearly as undeniable as indie-rock touchstones like Bakesale and Slanted and Enchanted.
Silkworm aren’t preoccupied with staking out new musical territory for its own sake. Maybe this has something to do with being from Montana, but no doubt it’s also because their heated, edgy playinggalvanized by Cohen’s jaggedly lyrical guitar solos and Steve Albini’s dry, natural recording techniquescreates a big enough soundscape of its own.
The Fugees, The Score (Ruffhouse/Columbia)
As their name implies, the Fugeesa Haitian-American hip-hop trio from East Orange, N.J.are outsiders in a genre obsessed with preserving cultural and artistic boundaries. The Score, the group’s follow-up to their 1993 debut, Blunted on Reality, won’t do much to change that:The record’s positive messages and hummable melodies aren’t going to earn them street credibility with hard-core rap enthusiasts, and its streetwise beats and blaxploitation flick-inspired cover won’t get them marketed to crossover audiences either. But the Fugees seem to revel in this ambiguity; the last thing they’re willing to do is assimilate their unique sound and vision into anyone’s preconceived notions of who or what they should be.
The Score weaves disparate threadslive instruments and sampling, quicksilver rhymes and soulful vocals, hard-hitting social commentary and religious themesinto a seamless musical tapestry. Although the album’s Bob Marley and Roberta Flack covers will probably garner more attention than other songs on the record, that’s not necessarily a bad thingthe Fugees ring genuine changes on both. Ultimately, however, it’s the record’s beatsunpredictable but unerringly funkythat make The Score more than just an enlightened exercise in hip-hop eclecticism. Indeed, from the loopy single “Fu-Gee-La” to the riotous “How Many Mics,” there isn’t a cut on the trio’s sophomore effort that won’t make you want to shake your fundament.
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