Opening rhetorical: How come that guy in the America song never named the Horse With No Name especially if the beast was his only companion in the desert?

In our latest edition we get the blues, debunk some hype, and find two reminders that Brazil may have the most vibrant music culture outside of America. We start with two golden voices that remind us how good folks can sound when they sing another's song...

Album of the month:
Neal Casal: Return In Kind

As any maker of mix tapes can attest, a good cover tune is worth its weight in gold. Casal (Hazy Malaze) has done us one better, cherry picking a ten-pack of great songs and then recording stirring, heart-string-tuggin' versions of them. The major pitfall of sessions like this is usually obvious choices (think Sheryl Crowe's "First Cut Is The Deepest" drivel or the constant genuflecting before Gram Parsons), treading where others have too often gone before or picking songs completely ill-suited to their style. That never happens on Return In Kind, a perfect meeting of interpreter and material. There's the feeling of giving back to those who've fed him with creative food. It begins with a toned down fanfare before descending into the rubble of the Faces' "Debris" where he lives the sore-spirit ache of Ronnie Lane's melancholia. Imagine if the Band's "Tears of Rage" served as a template for a whole record and you have a decent approximation of the vibe here. Neal clearly spent hours sniffing out gorgeous, resonant songs but what's doubly impressive is how he equals or betters the originals, singing in a voice so pure it'll make a grown man shed a tear. Nothing is prettied up too much, making the listener an audience of one on the front porch with him. His versions of former Byrd Gene Clark's "With Tomorrow," Doug Sahm's "Be Real," and Grace Brown's "It Won't Hurt" show an adult emotional understanding, hope and wisdom sneaking in on soft shoes past our scars. Nice to see woefully overlooked songwriter Michael Hurley get a spin on "Portland Water." And he dusts off the Sub Pop glam from "Miss Direction" on a sweet cover of the Love As Laughter song. Neal never resorts to a shout so you need to sidle up close, which also lets you absorb the nifty touches like the ghostly steel guitar or the low moaning back-up singing. "It's Not Enough," the Johnny Thunders staple, is retuned to smoldering anger rather than Thunders' gob-in-the-eye piss take. Similarly, he gives Royal Trux's "Yellow Kid" a spare electric piano directness with acoustic accents. A cover, at its best, lets another's words, another's melodies, speak for the life one has lived. Casal inhabits this material, using his California country soul to make everything shine like a sunset on a gray day.

Caetano Veloso: A Foreign Sound

On his first English language album since 1971, Brazil's preeminent singer takes up residence in love's twinkling afterglow. On 22 exquisitely chosen covers ranging from a gender-bending version of the Gershwins' "The Man I Love" to David Byrne's "(Nothing But) Flowers" Veloso is perfection. His is voice the equal of primo Sinatra, the fully realized sound Old Blue Eyes was chasing on his 1967 collaboration with Antonio Carlos Jobim. It's not all sad but every track is permeated with the heart's persistent yearning for one more kiss, one more point of contact, one more pair of eyes to get lost in. An oft-used shorthand for non-Brazilians is to compare Veloso to Bob Dylan, which fits in terms of cultural stature, but Veloso has hips and aphrodisiac charms Bob will never know. The most unlikely songs prove some of the most interesting, including Morris Albert's piano bar standard "Feelings," a classic bossa nova rendition of Paul Anka's May-December courtship anthem "Diana," Nirvana's "Come As You Are"--here revealed as the double-edged cry for love it is and most revelatory--and a sincere dissection of Elvis' "Love Me Tender" that sparkles with a Disney fairytale air. Similarly, Veloso redeems '50s suburban novelty hits "Jamaica Farewell" and album opener "The Carioca" which contains the line "its theme is a kiss and a sigh," much like A Foreign Sound. There's a huge number of settings, an arranger's wonderland that includes string feather beds, an Ellingtonian rendition of Jerome Kern, acappella intimacy, the steel-string folk and a bizarrely futuristic take on Dylan's "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) that highlights how Bob's highly original phrasing presages today's hip-hop patter by decades (a fact not likely to make the Source Awards). The booklet adds curious insights into the thinking behind this project, throwing out contradictions and mixing up the lyrics so they appear in a random order, forcing the listener to move backwards and forwards through Western popular culture. This is not only the classiest thing I've heard this year but also the most unabashedly romantic, the perfect soundtrack for both ends of an affair.

Second Runner-up:
Adam Strange: The Cause And Effect of Pop Culture Vol. 1

Another microphone prince from the Granola Funk Express kingdom gets around to his first solo release. This is the kind of rebel music you want to bump in your ride because it's bangin' AND right-minded. Strange sidesteps the usual pitfalls of "conscious rap" because he grabs your ass while he's tickling your mind. His flow is a thought storm akin to Gift of Gab circa Blackalicious' first EP, DIY as a muthafucka and dizzy with all the knowledge he wants to impart. Never breathless despite the seemingly endless string of syllables, Adam Strange dissects pop culture that "teaches you what you think you believe." Halliburton, the fleeting nature of fame, and the other snares of the "big plastic trailer park assembly line" are flashed upon but never in a preachy way. He's so matter-of-fact that his tone provides the spoonful of sugar needed to get the medicine down. The collage of loops, live instrumentation, and snappy samples are a departure from GFE's live band esthetic. Solo, his beats are holed up in a cave next to the Wu-Tang's 36 chambers, a southern squatter in Shaolin. "Distortion" is wrapped in a fragrant smoke that might well encircle Method Man, stank funky and billowing with low menace. There's lots of strings tangled up in these trunk humpin' bass lines, a soulful ear not dissimilar to early Dr. Dre. "Get Them Groceries" is discofied g-funk of the highest order (with a nice guest turn from fellow Granola funker Agent 23), followed by "Can't Stop," a serious hip-hop love song with the slinky piano stutter of the E. Bros. "Funky Piano." And then it's back to the hunched shoulders of "Rollin' Through The Airport." It's no stripe on the earlier GFE solo efforts but this has to be my fave thus far. Maybe because I can't stop my body from moving in freaky angular movements when this plays, my long dormant inner b-boy looking for a slab of cardboard to throw down. Music that hits us bodily as well as mentally is a treat that doesn't come along often enough. Strange strikes a blow against all those antiseptic "actors with a $10,000 beat" that crowd the airwaves with this blissfully flowing platter. Making the best music you can make without expectation of financial rewards or celebrity can't be an easy thing to do but Strange, along with the entire GFE crew, does just that and it shows.

Secret Machines: Now Here Is Nowhere
The British music press has been on this like white on rice. Comparisons to Sonic Youth, Can, and Pink Floyd abound in reviews for this Dallas-by-way-of-NYC band. Put the record on though and none of those seminal acts is apparent. Secret Machines clearly have the same phenomenal publicist that put the Strokes on the map, first in Europe as a sign of legitimacy and then the bombardment of U.S. media using said Continental cred as a shoehorn into the pages of the increasingly docile American music press. The fact that the same bands, often in the same way, are referenced in pieces tells me that journos are cribbing from a standard cheat sheet. All this is offered in an attempt to expose the background noise that frequently runs behind the buzz. What this critic hears in the whirring of Secret Machines is tracks that believe that being long means being epic or substantive instead of just being long winded. Zeppelin's John Bonham comes up a lot when talk turns to drummer Josh Garza but throughout the percussion is overly loud, overly showy. The shorter, pop-oriented cuts will go over well in the five-minute gaps between re-runs of "Daria" and "My So Called Life" on cable's The N. Singer/bassist Brandon Curtis possesses one of those indistinct voices that they issue from some factory in Wilmington where all the other CMJ darlings pick their pipes up at. Don't get me wrong. This isn't so much bad as not very good. That it's slightly more complex than say Rooney or Phantom Planet doesn't make it brilliant. Minor complications do not a complex band make. Remember that when you start seeing their picture on the covers of magazines and do like Chuck D advised and don't believe the hype.

The Creekdippers: Mystic Theatre
"Do you have an elixir for this troubled mind?" The Creekdippers, who are the obviously happily married former Jayhawk Marc Olson and indie folk icon Victoria Williams, answer their own question by playing an infectious, nicely off-kilter brand of gentle music that incorporates parts of rock, traditional country music, tin pan alley, and '60s folk. They take that hammer and they build quiet, lovely songs that bring in the desert outside their window in Joshua Tree, CA. Like anything that grows in that environment, their music seems thankful for the blessings of light, water, and night breezes. Mystic Theatre is their most diverse, fully realized album to date. It goes down so easy it may take time before you realize how carefully placed every note is, every instrument, every prickly turn-of-phrase. For all the ink being spilled over nu-folk darlings Devendra Banhardt, Joanna Newsom, and Vetiver, I can assure you The Creekdippers are what all those acts aspire to be and then some. Williams shows the same kind of wonderful maturity Rickie Lee Jones unveiled on Flying Cowboys, a voice always quite unique but developed into a tender instrument for telling stories. Olson, too, seems to be crooning with renewed vigor, picking up a few phrasing jolts from his wife. Their love for one another and their chosen craft resonates in every cut. What elevates this one above their earlier work is a depth that echoes the best work from Tom Waits ("Thirty Miles of Petrified Logs"), early Randy Newman ("Salome"), and Carole King ("Bells of St. Mary") in addition to their usual back porch hootenanny air.

The Creekdippers: Political Manifest
Political Manifest, recorded in February of this year, takes that hammer and bangs a few swords into ploughshares, reviving the longstanding tradition of deflating kings and other self styled monarchs through song. Starting with "Poor GW" and running through a "Portrait of a Sick America" where Olson talks about hitting Bush Jr. in the snout while "women sing praises over his beaten body." Happy stuff! By incorporating humor, factoids and an easy flow they sidestep the usual folkie stridency in such exercises. Rarely has hating a president been more fun but what makes it really good is that it makes you think, an action increasingly out-of-fashion in America's lunkhead culture.

Secret Chiefs 3: Book of Horizons
You may already be a part of this secret society and not know it. If you've seen Mr. Bungle in the jungle then you know the main Chief, Trey Spruance, who plays guitar in that once-in-a-blue-moon circus. Only the Sun City Girls have as great a love for perverting styles while simultaneously showing a deep respect for tradition. Both bands also share a profound fondness for mingling non-western elements into western shapes, beer belly dancing, and making it look elegant. The shifts in dynamics will test the limits of your speakers; midnight quiet one moment and screechingly unhinged the next. The war in the Middle East haunts tracks like "Exterminating Angel" and "The 3 (Afghan Song)." It's the disquiet in the collective unconscious ripping a tear into the daylight. That it arrives in such a broad sonic palette is what keeps it all from being too scary. I'd need another column to list all the gear used in making these sounds that include un-ironic death metal, melodramatic soundtracks, Persian carpets, and a puncturing electric current. Each Secret Chiefs 3 album stands on its own. Referencing backwards is like saying the picture of you from 15 years ago is the same person standing here today. They are the Chiefs and they are always on the move. If you have a yen for uncompromisingly adventurous music then this Book may be for you. The first of a three-part series, the album presents two or three tracks by a series of different "bands" all led by Spruance. The names are bizarre ciphers, hinting at something they aren't about to tell us straight away: The Traditionalists, The Electromagnetic Azoth, The Holy Vehm, Ishraqiyun, UR, and simply Forms. Standouts amongst the many players include shamanic bassist Tim Smolens (Estradasphere) and viola from Seattle alt-music legend Eyvind Kang. High concept? You bet! Rewarding immersion experience? Sure! Learn the handshake, swallow your fear, and open a book, why don't ya!

Jay Farrar: Stone, Steel & Bright Lights
Jay Farrar: Live EP

Farrar's voice is a diamond saw slicing down to the bone, his lyrics overloaded with imagery, ideas, feeling. It takes time to untangle what's really being said and while his music may not be easy listening it is always rewarding. The melodies are cherry sweet, aided by his knack for choruses you can't get out of your mind. He lays bare a mind full of solitary philosophizing embellished with a short story author's knack for succinct details. Stone, Steel & Bright Lights is Farrar's first live album despite years of barroom crawls with Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt, and as a solo artist. The dry, clear production reproduces the immediacy of being in the audience. The Astral Weeks intimacy of last year's amazing Terroir Blues is replaced with an almost Creedence Clearwater Revival rawness, all gnarled guitars and hickory sandpaper. The songs lean heavily on his more recent work, which is fine given how he's hitting new plateaus lately. Shifts in arrangements and an unguarded delivery by Farrar and his backing band Canyon keeps things lively, frequently table tapping Neil Young's Crazy Horse spirit, appropriately closing Bright Lights with a tumble-down-the-sky version of "Like A Hurricane." At times the differences take a little away from the material, which often benefits from the spare mood and pinpoint instrumentation of the studio. Still, as live dust-ups go this one is authentic. The Live EP is a supplement to the main set featuring solo acoustic performances from sets where he opened for his full band. Even here, there's far less candle glow quietude than on his recent albums. What both releases reveal is a man far less insular or unapproachable than his music might sometimes suggest. His pleasure in playing before audiences is obvious and nearly assures a similar response from anyone in his flock.

Marillion: Marbles
Accusations of being too sweet, too slick, too forthright, saddled with the dreaded tag "Prog rock band," and a name drawn from Tolkien's brick of Middle-Earth history, Marillion come with some loaded baggage. They've long since moved past their beginnings, a slow process that began when Steve Hogarth replaced original singer Fish in 1989. Hogarth's swoony voice and storyteller lyrics infiltrated the heavy musicianship already present and the results have been a 15-year evolution that sees fruition with this release. There's curveball logic to Marbles that unveils a band beyond playing to anyone's expectations. "The Invisible Man" recalls Wish You Were Here, conjuring up vintage Pink Floyd textures grafted to metal progression and mod electro nuances. The next cut simmers like a '70s George Benson mini-ballad only to enter contemporary Peter Gabriel territory on the big radio friendly single "You're Gone." "Marbles II" shows further evidence of a Beatles influence but then straps on the acoustic guitars for "Don't Hurt Yourself," something Steven Stills might have written on a good day. When the electric guitars rush in like a strong breeze it's nigh impossible not to be uplifted. "Angelina" is bossa nova by way of British pop, gossamer pretty like the Blue Nile or David Sylvian. "Fantastic Place" and "Neverland" are a little too easy and fall back on the well-worn dynamics of their earlier work. Elsewhere though the growing influence of Radiohead comes to the fore on "Drilling Holes" and some of the other "Marbles" interludes. Throughout, the playing is impeccable. The years have done nothing but add maturity to Hogarth's crystal tonsils and elements of his solo work, musically, continue to happily creep into this band. Ian Mosley's drumming carries the heavy, graceful sticking of a jazzman like Brian Blades and combines seamlessly with Pete Trewavas' buoyant bass. Steve Rothery's scalpel guitar gets under the sinews of things, cleanly opening us up with pure chrome tones. And Mark Kelly has picked up a lot of neat keyboard noises of late, paring back his near symphonic feel in yesteryear and mixing in crunchy bits of contemporary drum 'n' bass, ambient, and downtempo with his whispery piano playing. Marbles, like some of their other recent releases, was largely funded by fan pre-orders and speaks to the intimate, hugely warm relationship they have with their listeners. There's something unabashedly heartwarming about Marillion and their endless wrestling with light and dark. They keep at it in more ways than one and the changes they've made in recent years signal a band far from over, maybe just getting started again after more than 20 years together. As someone who's been listening since the mid-80s, it's wonderful to hear them making some of their best music yet today. This is the third studio album in a row where they've moved forward. It doesn't hurt that they've done so WITH their fans, building a sustainable future together with those who love what they do. Wander around their website sometime, see the personal notes they leave and all the special perks they offer the faithful and then wonder why more bands don't treat their core following with as much respect. Marillion are a class act and they've made yet another fine record that inspires hope for more of the same in the days ahead.

Quick sidenote: Marillion will be touring the U.S. for the first time in years in September and October. They are a force of nature live who've consistently left this writer tongue-tied each of the half dozen times he's been lucky enough to see them. The tour begins Monday, September 27 in Los Angeles and continues into Canada through mid-October.

Hilton Raw: A Arte Da Infelicidade (Numero 3)
What is this music? There are experimental bits but there's just as much that swings like a jingle. Like fellow Brazilian Amon Tobin, Raw lays on more textures than a book of carpet samples, adding odd details at every turn but never in a way that detracts from the smooth flow. There's doom metal vocoder, glitch seasoning, Steely Dan-style arrangements, Os Mutantes-esque guitars (concise, fierce, models of both wildness and discretion), spectral opera, steel cicada chirp, and the lilting ancestral specter of Tropicalia. Sections purr with make-out album charm, hitting far more erogenous zones than the mega-hyped Maxwell or D'Angelo (neither of whom is fit to shine Prince's shiny high-heeled boot). Not speaking Portuguese puts me at a disadvantage in describing lyrical content but his voice burns like good brandy. You could put this next to Lenine, Moreno Veloso, Cyro Baptista, and mad hatter Tom Ze. Brazilian music offers a wholly different idea of what constitutes popular music than the European-American model. It allows things to be tuneful yet flecked with strange sounds, odd time signatures, and an almost childlike yen for tinkering with basic forms. Hilton Raw is a pleasant reminder that the revolutionary spirit of the late '60s in his country still exists in today's generation.

My Morning Jacket: Acoustic Citsuoca
There's been a sense for the past year that MMJ are just one ballad away from breaking through to the greater hive consciousness. What they've done with their latest EP is present a solid half-hour of reverberant loveliness that just might be the foot they need to jam into the few doors that haven't already opened for them. Jim James has a voice like an old wound that's scarred over but acts up when it rains. He sings with a smiling tear in bars "dark and lonely" and on highways that begin with the curve of a bottom. Time jump back to 1950 and I assure you Colonel Tom Parker would have had James sequestered in Sun Studios quicker than shit through a goose. He and his band are classics in the purest sense. Like last year's amazing It Still Moves, this release gives the sense that their golden age is just dawning. James snags those "silly dreams that fall in between" in songs like "Bermuda Highway" and "Hopefully" which has the quivering truth of a lover's prayer punctured by failings and want. Even as he tries to figure out "whatever killed your spark" he finds something soft to rest upon in between all the mistakes and late night pier strolls. It's been a time since a band so whole-heartedly embraced beauty like My Morning Jacket. This in no way diminishes their rock rightness elsewhere but this shiny thing they've dropped at our feet, tails wagging, is most welcome.

Vintage Stash selections of the month:
Both albums present revitalized artists that many thought didn't have a second creative wind in them. Through inspired collaboration and a renewed awareness of their own innate powers Waters and Gainsbourg laid any thoughts of impotence to rest with these sessions...

Vintage Stash #1:
Serge Gainsbourg: Aux Armes Et Caetera

In 1979, France's pop pied piper packed the pipe with some wicked collie weed and transplanted his degenerate booty to Jamaica for a breathy, ganja scented sound clash with Sly and Robbie, the I-Threes (Marcia Griffiths, Judy Mowatt, Rita Marley), and other stalwarts of '70s reggae. Just try keeping all your clothes on with this sweat-soaked long player spinning. When he's known at all outside of record store clerk/college radio circles, Gainsbourg is remembered for "Je T'Aime Moi Non Plus," his orgasmically panting duet with Jane Birkin. His long history of dwelling on society's grimy underbelly has made him quite the infant terrible in France, the bad boy who still gets magazine covers after making a salacious music video with his underage daughter. When I think of dear Serge it's as a laughing troll with priapism, snarling and flinging unknown fluids at anyone who passes by. It's a happy image if you're wired wrong like me. He's rarely been as charismatic or seductive as he is on Aux Armes Et Caetera. The mood is Lee Scratch Perry in a playful mindset, early Linton Kwesi Johnson with a Gallic jones, Gregory Isaacs loosened up by cognac and young girls. "Marilou Reggae" and "Relax Baby Be Cool" are what Motown might have sounded like if the influence had gone both ways with Jamaican popular music. His remake of his earlier tune "Javanaise" shows just how different one song can be. This new edition expands the original crisply remastered 12 tracks with a second disc of dub versions (how very old dread skool, water pipe pleasant, if a touch unchallenging) and toastin' style DJ mixes of varying quality. Great photos of the session notwithstanding, the extensive liner notes are beyond me since the last French I read that wasn't on a menu happened when I couldn't grow a mustache. Still, it's a bloody sensual language, full of bouncy homonyms and guttural slip, a tongue tailor-made for music, especially the Lover's Rock on display here. And a dirty, stubbly aging Frenchman rolling around in all that dark flesh had to enrage a few folks back on the Continent. Ever the conscious provocateur, Gainsbourg openly went against convention to make one of the last great reggae albums of the '70s.

Vintage Stash #2:
Muddy Waters: Hard Again

Everybody gets the blues sometimes. Maybe it's from an old snapshot of your first love you unearth cleaning the attic, maybe it's something you go looking for down at the crossroads, or maybe it comes and finds you, smacking you upside the head with a mojo hand. That's what Muddy Waters did with his 1977 classic. Joining forces with albino six-stringer Johnny Winter, Waters slaps around his back catalog like it owes him money. The version of "Mannish Boy" that opens the record, the one with the screaming madman (Winters) barking in the background, is familiar to anyone who's watched Risky Business. The newly remastered Legacy reissue only intensifies all the sawdust in Winters' unobtrusive production, bringing all the right bits to the surface in this live-in-the-studio free-for-all. "I Want To Be Loved" and "I Can't Be Satisfied" are messy like a kiss from another man's woman, all over you and then gone before you really know what happened. This band, these sessions, are THE sound of the electric blues to many who discovered Muddy through Hard Again and the two equally phallocentric follow-ups, I'm Ready and King Bee (also recently cleaned up and expanded with bonus tracks). Without a doubt, this is one of the finest blues groups ever put together. Along with Waters (vocals, guitar) and Johnny Winters (guitars, howling) there is the Charlie-Watts-And-Then-Some drumming of Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, Bob Margolin's razor sharp guitar, the harmonica free-flights of James Cotton, one of the all-time great blues pianists Pinetop Perkins, and the subliminally in-tune bass of Charles Calmese. Hard Again is soul food for your feet, a clapboard juke joint that unfolds from a tiny plastic case and one of the cornerstones of all the blues that followed.

And for those still reading... a rant!

I watched a fair amount of MTV with the sound muted as I listened to this month's batch. MTV2 is new to my cable provider and they have more videos than I'm used to in the Real World/Road Rules/100 Greatest Lists of Things programming of the parent station. The cool thing about mute is that it triggers the closed-captioning so I can read the lyrics and music descriptions (i.e. honky tonk intro, funky guitar riff, piano plays, some beat Diddy stole from Simply Red). The words spewing out of these flash pot spectacles are largely beneath contempt ("Work it like you're working a pole. Shake it 'til you're shaking the floor... Spank that, spank that back door"-Janet Jackson) or banal cell phone relationship drama preserved over a hook ("What I'm trying to say is that I love you but I feel like this is coming to an end. And it's better for me to let it go now than hold on and hurt you."-Usher, who's ultimate rational for dumping his woman on "Burn" is "the party ain't jumping like it used to."). There's Hallmark platitudes belted with Eddie Vedder gusto ("And all the pain I put you through, I wish I could take it all away and be the one who catches all your tears"-Hoobastank) or just plain nonsense, empty placeholders masked by dazzle ("We multiply like we mathamatice. Then we drop bombs like we in the Middle East."-Black Eyed Peas).

I'm struck by how blunt force it all is. And that's with the VOLUME OFF! Musicians, and I use that term loosely here, are dwarfed by oversized props. They walk through fire and splash around in a tremendous amount of water. The budget for one of these mini-movies exceeds the total cost of a dozen Roger Corman flicks. The vast majority are populated with three-hour-a-day gym monkeys oiled up and ever ready but always just out of reach. Sex is reduced to a strip club air dance, the idea of deep, physical human connection replaced by endless titillation. Yes, Mr. Knopfler, I do see that mama sticking it in the camera lens and we all wish we could have some. But I'm given pause by all this stroking of our basest appetites. For the majority of world citizens this is what they consider music. Not the notes themselves but the whole carefully constructed bastard child of a thousand late night ad agency meetings. Popular music is an industry like steel or auto manufacturing. It produces results and produces them well. It is no small thing to get more than a million people to part ways with their money and they've figured out how to make that happen like clockwork. But there's not a lot of soul in cars or metal and there's just as little in mainstream music, which squanders the gift of angels and muses for cheap silver. Sure, the occasional gem pokes its head up, a single hit giving a career to worthy artists, but mainly it's there to promote the mediocrity.

Constant vigilance is the only defense one has against the enormous sucking power of this stuff. Hell, I've been swayed more than a few times by the first taste in a video only to get home and find it's shite except for the single. I do think modern dance has no better ally than music videos (even if it ain't Alvin Ailey it keeps dance alive for the masses in a way ballet and theatre can't approach). It's a very clean, orderly world where everyone is beautiful, rich, and blessed with friends, parties, and sweet rides. No one smells like French fries or has dirt under their nails or pukes in the back of your Honda because of the apple wine they chugged. Frankly, it looks like a lot of fun from the outside. But that's it: We are ALL of us on the outside of THAT world. It doesn't exist without a director, a set designer, and five personal stylists. It feels hollow, the inside of a very pretty gourd but not especially filling or valuable.

To crib a line from Chris Robinson, some like their water shallow, I like mine deep, so very deep. I have faith that there are others who like it the same way. My constant proof of that is the spirit and massive creativity of the artists spotlighted in this column and elsewhere on this site. If I've sounded a bit of a zealot lately it's because I see the cultural homogenization process speeding up. It heartens me that many persevere despite the lack of "ends" as the kids say. The work itself can be a mighty reward but one aided greatly by an audience that puts some of themselves into the exchange, adding to the experience instead of just being passively amused.

Next month, we lend an ear to new albums from Glenn Jones from Cul de Sac, Breeder and Throwing Muse Tanya Donelly, DJ Spooky, Latin rock greats Cosa Nostra, UK hip-hop sensation Infinite Livez and Doug Hilsinger's daring album length cover of Brian Eno's Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy). I may also dance like a caffeine-addled leprechaun while singing the "Star Spangled Banner" and it's hope for a home and country that leave us no more. There's room in this Constitutional state for all manner of patriots if you ask me...

Dennis Cook
JamBase | Oakland
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[Published on: 8/4/04]

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