Theater of the Mind
(Disturbing Tha Peace/Def Jam)
Ever since his breakthrough role in Crash a few years back, "actor" has replaced "rapper" as Ludacris' top job. Theater of the Mind, his seventh album, is his reminder - to himself and to music fans - where he came from. And, like any self-absorbed Hollywood star, Luda's favorite thing to talk about is himself. Filled with one-liners and boasts, Theater of the Mind tosses the 31-year-old Atlantan into a number of situations where Luda can be Luda. "Women give me love like it's tennis time," he raps on the street jam "Wish You Would." "She started looking better with every shot of Petr—n," he raps on the club-to-bedroom jam "One More Drink." And so it goes. Still, he's quick on the mic, hurling punch lines like he's Chris Rock (who guests on "Everybody Hates Chris") and come-ons like a guy who still has to work for it. Keepin' it real. - Michael Gallucci
Happy in Galoshes
(Soft Drive/New West)
In the litany of Scott Weiland's personal problems (drug arrests, domestic disputes, rehab) and professional issues (multiple breakups of Stone Temple Pilots, the consistent instability of Velvet Revolver), what's often overlooked is that he remains one of rock's most successful frontmen. Although Weiland suffered comparisons to Layne Staley and Eddie Vedder early on, he claimed to be more influenced by Jim Morrison and David Bowie. On Happy in Galoshes, his sophomore solo album, Weiland goes a long way proving that claim, particularly the Bowie influence.
Galoshes' opening tracks, the Mott the Hoople-flavored "Missing Cleveland" and the Dylanesque "Tangle With Your Mind," show Weiland mining his hero's early '70s glam/folk period. He even employs Paul Oakenfold to provide electronic texture on his beat-driven cover of "Fame," a more direct homage. The album's real surprise comes during the loping baroque pop swirl of "Beautiful Day," where Weiland and collaborator Doug Grean combine Sgt. Pepper melancholia with Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks flights of pop fancy, a direction that leaks into "Pictures & Computers (I'm Not Superman)." Much like Weiland's critically well-received but commercially neglected solo debut, 12 Bar Blues, Happy in Galoshes might be difficult for hardcore STP/VR fans to reconcile. But it seems when the cover features only his name, Weiland is clearly more interested in following his muse than reaching mere sales goals. - Brian Baker
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie
If you think White Zombie was nothing more than the cartoonish metal band that had a novelty hit with "More Human Than Human," think again. This four-CD (and one DVD) compilation of all the New York band's 64 studio recordings proves that their legacy has much more to it. That's apparent from "Gentleman Junkie," the first track on the first disc. A snotty punkish number that asks "how does it feel to be" (perhaps in homage to the Creation), it has more in common with the Dead Boys than Alice Cooper. Disc one actually includes everything the band released on its own Silent Explosion label back in the mid-'80s and it shows just how punk- and garage-rock- oriented the band was in its early incarnation.
By the late '80s, White Zombie had started down the more shock-metal route, making music designed for monster-truck rallies and trailer-park parties. With tracks like "Black Sunshine," featuring guest vocals by Iggy Pop, and "I Am Hell," the band began to get some mainstream attention. The fourth CD has a few tracks from compilations, as well as the band's terrific (and Grammy-nominated) cover of "I'm Your Boogieman." While vocalist Rob Zombie (who's perhaps metal's most articulate frontman ever) pulled the plug on the band some 10 years ago to focus on a solo career and moviemaking, this exhaustive compilation suggests the group's music has some enduring (not to mention perversely endearing) qualities. - Jeff Niesel
Blending the urban and rural with apparent ease, this native Clevelander exhibits masterful songwriting on his third full-length. Now that he lives in New York (by way of New Orleans and after a stint studying political science and natural resources at Ohio State), the 28-year-old Bucaro may finally get noticed by all the right people for his studious devotion to American roots music. (His 2004 album, Sense of Light, is mellow but as-yet-undiscovered gold.)
His latest collection, a throwback journey through the Delta and on into the city, was produced by less-is-more master Tom Schick (Norah Jones, Rufus Wainwright, Ryan Adams), and there's little reason to wonder how Bucaro got the sought-after boardsmith aboard. The songs drift naturally from guitar- and organ-driven blues ("When Man Plays God," "On the Map," "Tirelessly Blue") and Southern strummers ("'Til a Spring Wind Blows Again") to Josh Ritter-ish pop ("Back in the World," "Standing on Old Grounds") and simple stirring ballads ("Take My Love," "For When You Arrived"). There's little wasted space, thanks partly to Schick's skills, and Bucaro's distinctive soul-dipped tenor weaves through the tracks with aplomb. - Dan Harkins
Take the Sky(S.S.)
Likely to have been written as it was recorded in a grimy Monterrey, Nuevo Leon practice spot at 3 a.m., Los Llamarada's latest release (much like their previous one) pulls from the same bag of four-track-mastered reverberating garage-stink, but with ambitious wall-of-sound space instrumentation thrown into the muck. Just like this year's other shit-fi epic, The Hospitals' Hairdryer Peace, Take the Sky douses its primitive grunt with copious synth splatter, reviving the early-'70s avant-bedroom era of space-age exotica in the process. Pong-styled keys percolate back and forth, while doom-tuned guitars whine and trail squealing sirens of feedback through a synthesizer.
The vocals, at times reminiscent of Can singer Damo Suzuki (think Tago Mago's "Peking O"), are yelping invocations of either bilingual phrases or straight gibberish delivered in a rah-rah scat rhythm that effectively mirrors the music, which often recalls Can at its ugliest. Mysterious sounds creep in at unexpected places, like the twangy slide-guitar licks on the supremely catchy dirge jammer "I Go Away," the whiskey-buzzed surf fuzz of "The Miracle Sleep," and the unnerving tinkering with piano and melodica throughout the record. It all induces the feel of a black-and-white surrealist nightmare film from the '60s, albeit one with an unending sexadelic dance sequence. - Steve Newton
Sugar Mountain: Live at Canterbury House 1968
To fully appreciate the magnificence of Sugar Mountain: Live at Canterbury House 1968, the latest release in Neil Young's Archives Performance Series, a little historical context is required. America's involvement in Vietnam was at its peak. The two concerts here took place in early November in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a hotbed of anti-war protests. Richard Nixon had just been elected president only days before by a slim margin in the popular vote. And the country had just endured a long, hot summer of racial unrest, particularly in Detroit. The Neil Young that took the Canterbury House stage that first night wasn't the stylistic chameleon and passionate cultural observer that has entranced and engaged audiences for four decades; he was the Canadian from Buffalo Springfield who wrote "Mr. Soul." In 1968, to a small college-town audience, Neil Young - whose debut solo album was just days away from being released - was an obscure singer-songwriter on a lone journey with a lot to prove.
Try to imagine hearing Young before he was embedded in the very fabric of American musical consciousness. Imagine his songs presented by a solitary figure with an acoustic guitar and a wobbly voice that will ultimately become one of this country's greatest musical icons. Sugar Mountain is a rare glimpse into Young's earliest solo manifestation; he was a known commodity via Buffalo Springfield (and he stripped down a few of the band's songs as a reminder) but relatively untested on his own. He proved equal to the task, laying out tremulous versions of songs that would eventually form a soundtrack for the '60s and beyond. Before CSNY, before "Ohio," before Harvest, there was this Neil Young. Sugar Mountain proves that his brilliant solo career was teed up by its equally brilliant launch. - Baker
Murmur (Deluxe Edition)
Even if their full-length debut was only greeted with a "murmur" (its highest Billboard chart position was No. 36), it's damned near impossible to view this record, and its quarter-century anniversary reissue, without taking into account the ensuing 25 years. Athens' finest subsequently embarked on many "new adventures in hi-fi." At times their greatness seemed "automatic for the people," and barring any sort of "reconstruction of the fables," the "reckoning" that this reissue makes plain is how "out of time" (and purposefully out of step) this band was.
Recorded with Mitch Easter and Don Dixon, the band's jangly, mumbly vision was artfully in place on Murmur. The band was also supremely confident but with a touch of self-deflating humor that would continue to serve it well (it's easy to see "We Walk" as the precursor to "Shiny Happy People" or "Stand"). The deluxe edition features a second disc containing a live set from Toronto, showing the band nearly as confident onstage (and previewing Reckoning at the same time). Certainly, R.E.M. made several other great records in its career, but Murmur will always be the one record that made all the rest possible. - Chris Drabick