DAVID GARZA, Kingdom Come and Go (Wide Open/Atlantic) It's easy to conjure up ghosts of pop music past when listening to David Garza: Nick Drake,

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David Garza, Raekwon, and Mike Ness

DAVID GARZA, Kingdom Come and Go (Wide Open/Atlantic) It's easy to conjure up ghosts of pop music past when listening to David Garza: Nick Drake, Chris Bell, ELO, Robert Plant, and Prince are all alive and well in the Texas balladeer's slippery pipes. But what's channeled on this short, sweetly tumultuous album is less of the splashy '70s heard on This Euphoria and more of a flashback to the spawning grounds at Sun Studios. Opener "Compassion" trickles along with a stripped-down throatiness, reminiscent of Elvis' freakish early years, while the graceful "Anywhere" is Garza's best seduction routine yet ("Whatever you do, come up around two/Come up around for love"). Who'd expect that the borderline-smarmy Garza could kick it down 10 notches and still churn hearts without the distorted guitars? All it takes is a glimpse of the keeper "Summer Sky" to realize why this is the man Austin, Texas, loves to hate. He's the irritating brand of songwriter who can be a complete asshole, alienate his peers, and still crank out amazing material. His glib religious references tempered by gentleness, Garza—Austin's Musician of the Year, thank you very much—crafts a hazy winter wonderland from his previously sunny disposition. Its ringing, cold beauty sounds just like it feels in December.—Kristy Ojala

RAEKWON, Immobilarity (Loud) In 1995, when Wu-Tang Clan members Raekwon and GZA released sparkling solo records, the similar production values and the proximity of the releases invited comparison—and it came out a draw. The two go head to head again late in the '99, and while GZA's Beneath the Surface (MCA) is a worthy follow-up to Liquid Swords, Raekwon fans will find Immobilarity immobilizing. Unchanged is the inventive, rapid-fire lyricism expected from a charter member of hip-hop's illuminati. Cuts like "Casablanca" demonstrate the technical ability and narrative clarity that make Raekwon one of contemporary hip-hop's most potent storytellers: "It's all elegance/he spoke third-power-style/high intelligence/a young man/handled the game like Merrill Lynch." The album's production, on the other hand, is a letdown. While tracks like Masta Killa's guest spot "The Table," the spooky, piano-laden "My Favorite Dred," and "Sneakers" retain the hooks and richness that made Only Built for Cuban Linx a classic, these are exceptions. Cleaner, overly mechanical electronic elements dominate the rest of the album—to its detriment. The digitized beats and samples strip away the undercurrent of gritty, analog rhythms that propelled Raekwon' past works. For instance, a warm, catchy bass line helps the percussion on "Raw" along, but the beats still sound hollow and formulaic.—J.C. Coyle

MIKE NESS, Under the Influences (Time Bomb) As the leader of Southern California's raw-power foursome Social Distortion, Mike Ness marked his punk rock disposition with a tobacco-stained howl that was part Johnny Rotten snarl, part Johnny Cash twang. Stripped down, Ness' fiery compositions hinted at his fascination with country music, from his self-penned "Making Believe" to Social D's cover of Cash's "Ring of Fire." That fascination is what Ness' second solo album of 1999 is all about, and he turns straight to the Drinking & Cheating chapter of the Nashville fakebook to cover a dozen of his favorite country songs (and lay down a honky-tonk remake of Social D's "Ball and Chain"). Interpreting a slew of bad-boy originals by the likes of Hank Williams, Marty Robbins, and Harlan Howard, Ness weaves fiddles and banjos into a Gretsch and Gibson attack, hybridizing punk, rockabilly, country, and blues. While versions of Charlie McCoy's "Funnel of Love" and Wayne Walker's "All I Can Do Is Cry" could land on a Social D disc, the album's straightest country turns up on the banjo-led A.P. Carter ditty "Wildwood Flower," on Hank's bouncing "Six More Miles," and on Bill Anderson's "Once a Day." Robbins' "Big Iron," Marvin Rainwater's "Gamblin' Man," and Carl Perkins' "Let the Jukebox Keep on Playing" are among the best on a record where Ness fires blanks just twice: on Howard's "One More Time," with its Elvis vocal hiccup, and on the hack-hack-hackneyed "I Fought the Law."—Scott Holter

 
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