Stepping back into the reggae scene after a five-year hiatus, Jimmy Cliff, better known as the Reggae Ambassador, releases his latest infusion of pop-reggae tunes. After firmly establishing himself at the forefront of the reggae movement with well-known artists like Bob Marley, Cliff also broke into the younger pop scene with hits like Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now." Leaning more towards pop than his previous albums, his most recent collection of songs speaks of brotherhood and genuine heartfelt peace, and encourages the listener to rediscover the better side of human nature. Empowering tracks such as "Rise Up" and "Giants" invite the listener to "rise up rise up and seize the time." Also featured on the album are an excellent reggae-pop version of the Beatles' "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" and a slower, slightly more rhythmic version of Carole King's "You've Got a Friend." These two bonus tracks "fit in with the theme of the album, which is love," Cliff explains in a press release. Cliff's sincere message of omnipresent love, whether it be the love of family, nature or life, reaches out to the listener via his earnest vocals and powerful voice. As he sings of unity and peace inspired by events occurring back home in Jamaica, Cliff lives up to his album's title.
Primal Scream have returned to show America what rock is all about. To the enervated nerves of modern rock, _Exterminator_ is a jolt of cold water. This is neither the bombast of the Smashing Pumpkins nor the manufactured sheen of No Doubt. _Exterminator_ is an attempt to recapture the glory of 1977, when punk seemed like it just might win. While straight-ahead punk does appear here (the glorious opening suite of "Kill All Hippies," "Accelerator" and "Exterminator"), more important is the group's appropriation of righteous anger. Leftist rage permeates the album, unifying techno ("Swastika Eyes"), hip-hop ("Pills") and guitar noise of the best sort ("MBV Arkestra") with an unmediated rage.
Primal Scream have always been a band preternaturally dependent upon their producer; their finest moment until now, 1991's _Screamadelica_ was as much Andrew Weatherall's achievement as their own. _Echo Dek_, Adrian Sherwood's remix album of _Vanishing Point_ was arguably better than the original. _Exterminator_, too, shines because of those assisting the band. Among those producing _Exterminator_ are, variously, the Chemical Brothers, David Holmes and Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine. It's a diverse mix, though it flows surprisingly well. Highlights include David Holmes' _film noir_-style instrumental ("Blood Money"), and the catchy Jagz Kooner mix of "Swastika Eyes." The finale, "Shoot Speed/Kill Light" features the blazing guitar of New Order's Bernard Sumner.
The album is brought down somewhat by the well-intentioned, though somewhat dumb, lyrics. Alleging, however, that the government is at once trying to "exterminate the underclass" and "exterminate the telepaths" ("Exterminator") does tend to make a mockery of the band's stated anti-fascist message. To the Scream's credit, though, the Sex Pistols, obvious inspirations here, did have sillier lyrics. It's an album the Pistols would have liked: it bodes well for the future of rock.
Dirty Harriet (Elektra)
People who believe rap is a male domain should check out Rah Digga's new album. Dirty Harriet is an impressive debut for the only woman in Busta Rhyme's Flipmode Squad. True to her name, Rah Digga's sound is raw, with hardcore lyrics underscored by a deep, commanding voice. Rah Digga displays the skills of a first-class MC in lines like "I'll be stashing marijuana/In my Dolce & Gabbana" from "What They Call Me" and "Best believe where I'm going you a goner/I spit more rhymes than silicone in California" from "Straight Spittin', Part II." Unlike other female rappers, Rah Digga does not rhyme about sexuality or the gangster life: she is a B-girl of the classic mold. In this respect, one could compare Rah Digga to Lauryn Hill, although Rah Digga is probably the better MC.
On Dirty Harriet, an accomplished team of producers, including Busta Rhymes, Pete Rock and DJ Premier of Gang Starr, stick successfully with old-school beats. Unfortunately, the couple of tracks produced by Shok from the Ruff Ryders are less effective: one titled "Do the Ladies Run This" is marred by a bagpipe-like synthesizer instrumentation. Resemblances to Scottish folk tunes aside, Dirty Harriet is an outstanding album that welcomes Rah Digga to the ranks of hip-hop's elite. The album's title is a direct reference to abolitionist leader Harriet Tubman: let's hope that Rah Digga's debut guides a new breed of female rappers to the mic.
-William K. Lee
The band Starling is a surprisingly decent new Canadian offering. With the release of their first album _Sustainer_, the band is hoping to sustain itself in the alt-pop music scene. Formed in 1997 with front man Ian LeFeuvre and Pete Von Althen, Starling doesn't bring anything revolutionary to the music scene, but it does offer a good collection of catchy songs. The album's lyrical content includes traditional, and perhaps clichd, male-centered pop lamentations that would make Petrarch proud. It is Petrarchan pop performed pleasantly, however, as the stories of unattainable girls bumming men out are told with a nicely blended sound.
Starling's potpourri of accomplished pop styles is evident from the first track, "Don't Deflate," which is reminiscent of Fountains of Wayne. "Earnest," the next track, has catchy Pavement-esque falsetto interjections accompanied by acoustic rhythms and clapping sounds that would make any late-'80s rock band proud, and still manages to bust out the electric guitars for the chorus. Going from Pavement to Extreme to Soundgarden in one song turns out, surprisingly, to be a nice stylistic mesh. The majority of the other songs are more electronically infused, making the band sound a lot like Tripping Daisy. Although it doesn't have any defining style, _Sustainer_ is a good album and the songs seem to have a relatively lasting appeal as far as pop is concerned. Who's to say what I'll think next week however?
- Keith Hahn
The Slow Lane
While not officially funding a music performance program, Harvard University has still produced some exceptional talent over the years. The likes of Jerome Harris '73, Don Braden '85 and Jonny King '91 have all passed beyond these walls and become world-class professional jazz musicians. Adding his own voice to the mix is tenor saxophonist Anton Schwartz '89, whose sophomore album, _The Slow Lane_ has been slowly released across North America.
Schwartz's tone is rather neutral, venturing neither too cool or hot on any of the tracks, which consist of mainly his own compositions interspersed with standards like "Born to Be Blue". Surrounding himself
with competent sidemen, Schwartz is undeniably sweet and ponderous on "Peace Dollar" and offers striking introspective moments such as the Billy Strayhorn ballad "Chelsea Bridge". Schwartz also borrows from funk, soul and hip-hop influences, stretching out melodically on the fusion-groove "Don't Ask", and an eight-minute bossa nova "The Curve of The Earth" provides some expansive and impressive melodic inventions, while still maintaining a paradoxically loose and driving Latin feel. Everything emerges extremely ear-friendly, and while Schwartz doesn't provide extraordinary insights into old material, he does offer a varying array of comfortable, well-worn tunes. This is a musician who focusses on his strengths but also knows his own limits, leading to an easy and diverse sound.
- James Crawford