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Music Reviews

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July 27, 1994

If I Only Had a Brain

SpiderMC 900 FT Jesus, One Step Ahead of the Spider (American 1994) - Mark Griffin, a.k.a. MC 900 FT Jesus, is a street-smart young rapper/poet who delivers the suburban successor to Doggystyle in One Step Ahead of the Spider. Griffin matches his laconic world view against an often hypnotic blend of rap, hip-hop, jazz, fusion, and studio effects; the result is a loopy and intoxicating disc.

Griffin is the white counterpart to Snoop Doggy Dogg; instead of talking about 'hos, homeboys, and drive-bys, Griffin talks about the life he knows -- uneducated, uninformed drop-outs with little drive or intelligence. Unlike Snoop, Griffin is more of a street poet/story teller. For example, the too-long opening track, "New Moon," tells the tale of a young woman who takes her car out for a final high-speed spin on the highway; similarly, the satiric "Tiptoe Through the Inferno" (which is set against a jazz background) is a Big Brother-ish poem that is reminiscent of the recent recordings from William S. Burroughs.

With two prior albums behind him, Griffin had new ambitions for One Step Ahead of the Spider. Although trained as a classical musician (Griffin has a B.M. degree in Trumpet), he admits that "my first record was mostly beatbox and samples. With the next, I worked more with live editions . . . I wanted this [album] to be more fully realized than the last one, and I think it worked. I got tired of being a slave to the sequencer...It's time to get up there with a bunch of musicians who can really play."

Throughout the ten cuts on this disc, Griffin's wit is dry, and his targets obvious (and often oblivious). On "New Year's Eve," Griffin paints a vivid picture of Bill, a lazy-ass S.O.B. who spends New Year's Eve on the sofa in front of the T.V. drinking beer and making stupid comments. Griffin's clearly been on the same couch; he's off it now, but he knows his friends will never leave.

The highlight of the album is "If I Only Had a Brain," a humorous funk piece rapped with style by Griffin. From its opening line ("Suppose I accidently got my shit together/Would I get a medal?") to its vocorder-backed chorus, "If I Only Had a Brain" is one of the summer's best songs. Buy it, play it, dig it -- "If I Only Had a Brain" is a monster single.

The one cover on the album is "Stare and Stare," a song penned by Curtis Mayfield in 1971. Featuring a bendy, bluesy guitar lead by Vernon Reid (of Living Colour), Griffin finds real meaning in this somber tale of discontent between the races.

In the end, One Step Ahead of the Spider has an unsettling effect, as Griffin balances his sometimes stark world view against lighter, jazzy musical backgrounds. Nevertheless, "If I Only Had a Brain" is a smash song, and one that should propel this album into the best seller charts.

TexasTexas, Ricks Road (Mercury 1993) -- The third album from the Glasgow, Scotland-based quintet known as Texas is entitled Ricks Road. The band is a big draw in the U.K. (their self-titled debut album reached number 3 on England's pop charts), but is only beginning to build a following in the States. If Texas stays true to its pop and blues roots, it should have a bright future.

Ricks Road was recorded at Bearsville Studios in Woodstock, New York (which has also been used by such artists as Bob Dylan, The Band, and Janis Joplin), and takes its name from a dirt path leading to this famous recording facility. At the center of Texas is guitarist and lead vocalist Sharleen Spiteri. Like Dolores O'Riordan (of the Cranberries), Sharleen has a distinctive voice; it's strong and evocative, with an ability to tug at your heart (or your pants), but not homogenized or over-processed.

On cuts like "Fade Away" (with an understated string section) and "You've Got to Live a Little," Sharleen shows her maturity as an artist. Now age 25, she appears completely confident in her abilities (having survived a mauling by the British press after the release of their second album, Mother's Heaven). Another sterling track is the band's remake of Al Green's "Tired of Being Alone." Only a singer with true talent can cover a number originally performed by the incomparable Reverend Green: Sharleen rises to the challenge, as her voice quivers through the daunting falsetto coda.

All told, Texas is one of the more promising British (actually, Scottish) imports in recent times. Ricks Road is an accessible album -- more pop oriented than the Cowboy Junkies, but still laced with a fair dose of soul and blues. Don't ignore it.

Gary HoeyGary Hoey, Music from "The Endless Summer II" (Reprise 1994) -- On his second album, guitarist Gary Hoey scores big with the all-instrumental soundtrack to the new surfing flick, Endless Summer II. With help from a fine back-up band consisting of Tony Franklin on bass and Gregg Bissonette on drums, Endless Summer II is a rockin' showcase for the remarkable Hoey.

For those who missed the film during its short run in Fresno, Endless Summer II was the tale of two chaps from Southern California (named Pat and Wingnut) who set off on a round-the-world tour in search of peak surfing experiences. Though short on plot, the film chronicles their travels to such exotic locales as South Africa, Indonesia, and Australia. A feast for the eyes, (and 100% true to its billing), Endless Summer II was an invigorating look into the current world of surfing.

On the soundtrack, Hoey is given free reign to display his ample talents on the electric guitar. Recorded earlier this year in Los Angeles during a 12-day span, the album captures the excitement of live recordings. From the Santana-ish "La Rosa Negra" to the hard-rocking "Linus and Lucy" to the twangy "Surf Doggin'," Endless Summer II is a six-string feast for the ears.

Another highlight of the album is "Shake & Stop (Part II)," in which Hoey trades licks with surf guitar legend Dick Dale. While many guitar albums tend to be longer on licks than melodies, Endless Summer II is the exception. Featuring meaty guitar playing and a diversity of styles, Endless Summer II should please any rock guitar enthusiast.

It's a Great Business -- When asked about the music biz, Phil Alvin (of the Blasters) said, "The music industry doesn't give the singer any control. Look at Elvis Presley. He was the most successful, right? He died kissing the place where the urine drips down the toilet, filled with reds. His lip hung right up there on the porcelain. I'd say something was wrong there."

-- Randy Krbechek

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