Recordings

Morrissey Southpaw Grammar (Reprise)
You crazy kids raised on teeny-weeny cassette inserts and itsy-bitsy CD booklets continue to miss the big picture when it comes to album art. It's something to behold, worship, spit at and draw insane conclusions from. No wonder Generation X has yet to devise a "Paul Is Dead" rumor of its own--the hidden messages these days are too minuscule to make heads or tails of.

Yes, friends, album art can tell us far more about our favorite recording stars than the actual discs inside. Take Morrissey's design choices during the Smiths' brief tenure. Ever the reluctant pop star, Morrissey chose to showcase obscure B-movie actors, forgotten models and anonymous athletes on the cover of each Smiths release. Once the band hastily closed shop in 1987, however, Morrissey abandoned the popular "cover stars" tradition and plastered his own moody mug on each solo sleeve--presumably in a bid to stake out an identity beyond the Smiths.

Not anymore. Morrissey's solo success in the States has long eclipsed everything the Smiths achieved here, and on Southpaw Grammar, the maudlin crooner has returned to using stock photos of British boxers, a concept that hearkens back to the Smiths' 45 sleeve for "Sweet and Tender Hooligan."

Musically, Morrissey's latest contains several lengthy instrumental workouts that bog down the album. You'll recall that Morrissey's last album--the hodgepodge World of Morrissey, released earlier this year--had a nine-minute version of "Moon River" that was so interminable you'd swear the singer and his band waited for confirmation that Henry Mancini was indeed spinning in his grave before they would agree to call off the whole thing.

Grammar begins with a similar 11-minute saga titled "The Teachers Are Afraid of the Pupils" that drags on like a schoolday without recess. "The Operation" starts out with a two-minute drum solo that's equal parts "Tusk" and "Wipe Out" and does nothing to enhance the song that follows. Only on the final track, "Southpaw," does this album's elongated playing time actually add up to something.

Although Southpaw Grammar isn't even close to being in the same league as Morrissey's peak albums Your Arsenal and Vauxhall and I, it does have its moments. "Dagenham Dave" boasts one of the most persistently catchy choruses Morrissey has ever warbled. One only wishes the three-song EP Boxers, which became the foundation for World of Morrissey, had been included here alongside this album's better tracks. Such a move would've allowed for some badly needed trims on the rest of the material, and maybe turned Southpaw Grammar into a knockout punch instead of an exercise in rope-a-dope.--Serene DominicEvil StigEvil Stig(Warner Bros.)

"Forget about why Kurt shot himself," Seattle guitarist Marc Olsen told a writer for The Rocket last winter. "What we all want to know is: Who's the motherfucker that killed Mia Zapata?"

That's the mystery this live tribute CD hopes to help solve. Taking a sabbatical from their new incarnation as the Dancing French Liberals of '48, the surviving members of Seattle's The Gits have enlisted Joan Jett to handle vocals in place of former Gits singer Mia Zapata, who was raped and murdered while walking home one night in July 1991. Her killer is still at large, and all royalties from this project go straight into the Mia Zapata Investigative Fund.On Evil Stig ("Gits Live" backward), original riot grrl Jett aptly lends her grit and snarl to The Gits' hard-driving, 150-second tunes. She also contributes a song or two of her own, including "Activity Grrl"--a celebration of Zapata's activism. This album's only stumble is "Crimson and Clover," which sounds dated and out of synch on an otherwise powerful ode to the legacy of a bright light snuffed out too soon.--Marlow BondNana VasconcelosStorytelling(Hemisphere)

The spicy artistry of Nana Vasconcelos has flavored the work of musicians as disparate as the Talking Heads, B.B. King, Jean-Luc Ponty and Paul Simon. However, this latest release from Brazil's master interpretive percussionist is no boogie-down drum jam or showcase of ethnic instruments new to the first world.

The music here is not a quick grasp. When I saw the name "Vasconcelos," I thought the disc would be whirling, spectacular percussion. When I read the title, I thought it would be spoken word with percussion effects. I was wrong twice.On Storytelling, Vasconcelos not only shows off the hand percussion that's earned him world renown--playing instruments like the berimbau, a one-string bow; the udu, a clay pot drum; and the kalangu, an hourglass "talking" drum. No, Nana also plays technology--using stereo separation, multitracking, field recordings and echo effects to realize a musical vision that supersedes, in skill and heart, any of the new crop of modern technojungle "world beat" CDs today.--Sule Greg C. WilsonBoDeansJoe Dirt Car(Slash)Many fell in love with the subtle, acoustic-tinged rock of the BoDeans' 1986 debut, Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams. However, few have stuck close to the band through its four albums since. This generous new double live album, however, has something for diehard followers and fair-weather fans alike. What makes the BoDeans' music work is an ethereal meld of acoustic and electric, and harmony vocals loaded with dramatic contrast. The band is in fine form on both counts here. Pivotal standards such as "Misery" and "Fadeaway" spring with reanimated life in this crystalline recording of a San Francisco concert. You'll never catch the BoDeans saying with a smirk, "Oh, we've performed this song 600 times, let's toss it off and get it over with."

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