Marxman
33 Revolutions Per Minute
(A&M)

Rap music is continually crossing international borders, and Marxman's blend of socially conscious lyrics and Irish musical influences is no exception to the migration. Just when rappers with no soul for the essence of hip-hop have turned street poetry into gangsta rap, Marxman comes to save the art form.

Smashing political and social systems of the world, Marxman incorporates bagpipes and Celtic bass beats into this CD's Irish identity. 33 Revolutions Per Minute is one big, wake-up-and-smell-the-Irish-coffee poem, jam-packed with songs about life and politics.

On track after track, from crack addiction to fatherly love, Marxman sheds light on issues affecting the downtrodden in society. For example, "All About Eve," a defense of women and an indictment of woman-beaters, sets off this ethical-message mix of club beats with a comment on the O.J. Simpson era. This sort of thing has been tried before. Arrested Development made attempts at being the better half of hip-hop, but came across as righteous and sometimes overbearing. Marxman's declarations give food for thought, without the nauseating preachiness.

Ron Holloway
Slanted
(Milestone)

Ron Holloway makes what comes from his tenor sax sound like something you could eat.

Rich, thick, filled with life-giving nutrients and natural energy.
Slanted is the musician's debut as a bandleader after stints with Dizzy Gillespie's final quintet and Root Boy Slim's Sex Change Band (to name but a few jobs). He fills the role, big-time.

The album includes standards by Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins and Duke Ellington, along with three originals by Holloway that, while unspectacular, fit in well enough with the compositions of the heavyweights. Holloway isn't breaking new ground here, but he manages to make everything sound fresh, no easy feat when you're playing oft-covered tunes like "Autumn Leaves" and "In Walked Bud."

He is a player's player. Taking his cues from Hawkins, Webster and Rollins, Holloway also tosses in his own unique personality, developed from years of performing everywhere from cocktail lounges to early-Eighties punk joints in his hometown of Washington, D.C. Holloway is backed up on the release by small, topnotch bands and varying names--bassist Keter Betts, pianists George Colligan and Bob Butta. Now all he needs to back him up is a following, a problem Slanted might straighten out.

Another Level
On Another Level
(Priority)

If you're tired of the usual blood-soaked, bitch-slapping, booty-call lyrics spilling from the mouths of current rap artists, let Another Level take you to a higher ground. This new five-man rap crew is one of the first rap-a-lot groups to step into the hip-hop arena without gangsterism and gun boasts. Though Another Level hails from the West Coast, the quintet possesses a bicoastal sound that's all its own. Utilizing Ice Cube's hip-hop expertise as executive producer, the CD taps into a broad range of old-school beats and features an impromptu, freestyle type of humor. This is music to the ears and plenty of laughs, as well. And just when you thought humor was becoming as frequent as respect for women in hip-hop.

John Mellencamp
Dance Naked
(Mercury)

The stripped-down approach of Dance Naked gives Mellencamp his most spontaneous and vibrant album yet, despite the repetitive sleigh bells clanging in the back of nearly every song. Recorded in 14 days, Naked displays a healthy shedding of excess and the shortest playing time of a full-length CD this year (29 minutes and 12 seconds). Like a pre-1968 album, this set offers a bunch of swell A-sides (Too Much to Think About," "When Margaret Comes to Town") as well as attention-worthy B-sides (The Big Jack, "The Breakout"). Lyrically, "Brothers" is Juliana Hatfield's "Sister" song with all the bile, but none of the sugar coating. Mellencamp still holds grudges over things his no-good sibling did when they were kids: "I don't approve of anything you do," he grumbles. "On my birthday, don't bother to call." Mellencamp has made an honest record everybody but his mom and pop will be glad to hear.

Various Artists
New Wave Hits of the 80's, Vols. 1-5
(Rhino)

The title says it all. There is no denying that these are New Wave hits of the Eighties, 80 of em, to be exact. With, uh, ten more volumes to follow. As with any summing-up-of-an-era, greatest-hits package, you could have two different takes on the contents. Number one: If you lived through the time period, if you went to school, got laid, hated life, whatever; if you did something significant when you heard the songs the first time around, there's no escaping a nostalgic reaction.

Number two: If you're hearing the songs for the first time, you may be awakened to a wonderful hunk of something that passed you by. Or, you might scoff at the horrible, dated, ludicrous music that defined an odd niche in rock history. And where does that leave us? The folks at Rhino have done an admirable job of corralling about as many of these Eighties tidbits as you'd probably care to hear, whichever of the above categories you fall into.

Some of the tunes have lost whatever spark they had in the first place. From Volume 3: Toni Basil's cloying "Mickey," Frank and Moon Zappa's God-awful "Valley Girl," and the dull techno disco of Soft Cell's "Sex Dwarf" are glimpses into things better left in the dusty record bins of time. But stuff like "867-5309/Jenny" by Tommy Tutone, the Jam's "Town Called Malice" (back when Paul Weller could still write a great song--and that was a long time ago) and Marshall Crenshaw's "Someday, Someway" stand tall as hell, even in the heady world of Nineties Alternative Rock. Whew. Enough analysis--remember, folks, these were the days of New Wave! Folks were happy! Kurt Cobain was still in high school, safely stoned in some little logging town in Washington; if you wanted to go on a bummer, you just whipped out some Joy Division! New Wave Hits of the 80's is not a history lesson; the real message here is unadulterated fun. Sometimes stupid unadulterated fun, but that's not always a bad thing.--Peter Gilstrap Various Artists

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