'BEFORE THE POISON'
Anti, sss 1/2
Ever since Marianne Faithfull transformed herself into a searing emotional truth-teller with 1979's "Broken English," the former Mick Jagger consort has been a heroine to denizens of rock's dark side. Here she hooks up with two ardent admirers in PJ Harvey, who wrote or cowrote five songs, and Nick Cave, who did the same on three. Blur's Damon Albarn contributed "Last Song," and Jon Brion co-wrote the haunting closer, "City of Quartz."
The results are stunning, and seamless.
The 58-year-old Faithfull excels, as always, on sad-eyed ballads of longing and loss, but she also pushes her grave, impossibly world-weary voice hard, tipping her hat to her associates on Harvey's rugged "My Friends Have," and negotiating Cave's apocalyptic funk jam "Desperanto" with aplomb. "Before the Poison" is a glowing example of a seasoned artist being pushed to her limits by her acolytes.
XL Recordings, sss 1/2
Rather than sticking with the hippie-ish chilltronics of its past glories -- groovers including "Lost Horizon" and ".KY" -- Lemon Jelly goes for something aggressive, something dedicated to an imaginary past and the outrageous soundscapes around it.
This disc retains hints of the slow and the low that producer/DJs Nick Franglen and Fred Deakin are used to. The break beats of "'68 AKA Only Time" and the breathy disco-girl woo-woos of "'95 AKA Make Things Right" tingle beneath solemn, acoustic guitar-strung SoCal melodies.
But with British samples (silly love song-sters Gallagher and Lyle, doom-metalist Masters of Reality) running through the prog rock-fueled sequencers of "'88 AKA Come Down on Me" and the glam stomp of "'79 AKA The Shouty Track," this Jelly gets sticky fast, with furious, funky-rock results.
He's a former drug dealer straight outta Compton, Calif. Word is that he was shot five times and survived, and that Dr. Dre signed him within minutes of their first meeting. He counts 50 Cent and Eminem among his boosters. In other words, 25-year-old Jayceon Taylor, whose nom de rap is the Game, has a major-league gangsta pedigree.
His debut album shows that you can believe the hype. On tracks including the Dre-produced "Start From Scratch" and the Kanye West soul jam "Dreams," he rhymes in a gruff, hurried style that suggests he's constantly watching his back, even as he atones for his sins.
The strongest song on "The Documentary" is the closing "Like Father, Like Son," in which he describes the birth of his son with more terror and excitement than he conveyed in describing any stick-up or drive-by. "All I can remember was Lamaze class/ Breathe, baby, 1-2-3-4," he anxiously recalls.
Anybody can rap about guns and drugs. But busting a rhyme about Lamaze class? That's hard-core.
Whoever opens the synth-pop hall of fame should reserve a wing for Erasure's Vince Clarke, who has programmed his share of irresistible beats and keyboard hooks since founding Depeche Mode and Yaz in the early '80s. Put the voice of his Erasure partner Andy Bell on a loop, too, because his glee-club croon has continually thawed the ice of Clarke's synths.
Just don't devote much space to their latest disc, "Nightbird."
You'd figure a seven-year gap between albums of original material would produce a creative itch that needed to be scratched with new rhythms, exploratory sound manipulation, maybe lyrics a cut above "I'm dying to show you what love is about." Instead, the duo stays too close to 1987 for much comfort, aside from occasional stunners, such as "Breathe" and the clubby "I'll Be There." Mostly, it's paint-by-numbers synth-pop with a heartbeat as programmed as the rhythm tracks.
"A heavy heart bleeds the soul," Mando Saenz observes in "Noble Kings," a beautifully dreamy, accordion-laced number on his debut album.
There's a heavy-heart quality to much of the young Texan's singing on "Watertown," but it doesn't bleed the soul from his music. Like a more roots-oriented Ron Sexsmith, the native of Mexico frames his earnest songs with beguiling melodies and well-crafted arrangements, steel guitar and accordion often accenting the sonorous melancholy in his voice.
Considering how well he puts over the frisky, Lyle Lovett-style humor of "Egg Song," it would be nice to hear him lighten up more next time.
'ALL SOUL AND NO MONEY'
Jake La Botz
Joseph Street, sss 1/2
In the movie "Ghost World," starring his pal Steve Buscemi, Jake La Botz plays guitar in what is supposed to be a cliched blues band. On his national debut, the Chicago native, now based in Los Angeles, shows that his own music is anything but hackneyed.
La Botz calls it "soul folk," but his category-defying mix includes heavy doses of blues, rock and gospel, reflecting his background playing both on the street and in church. Singing in a voice that falls between the braying power of Axl Rose and the ragged, hipsterish drawl of early Tom Waits, he sounds equally at home with the blaring title cut and with the gently picked "Ballad of the Unknown Bluesman (Back to Mississippi)," one of the best examples of his colorful storytelling.
He also moves easily between the sacred ("I Gotta Write to Know Jesus") and the profane (the pretty funny "Love Advice From Grandma").