CDs by Jesus Lizard, Smith & Mighty, and more.

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SMITH & MIGHTY, Big World Small World (STUD!O K7) While history's been very kind to Smith & Mighty, time has rarely been on their side.

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CDs by Jesus Lizard, Smith & Mighty, and more.

  • CDs by Jesus Lizard, Smith & Mighty, and more.

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    SMITH & MIGHTY, Big World Small World (STUD!O K7) While history's been very kind to Smith & Mighty, time has rarely been on their side. At the turn of the last decade, this Bristol outfit's fusion of hip-hop, reggae, drum-and-bass, and soul set the stage for Soul II Soul, Massive Attack, and Portishead, yet their own offerings remained in scant supply. With the release of Big World Small World, the trio (Rob Smith, Ray Mighty, and Peter D. Rose) has, for better or worse, fallen in synch with the times. On the plus side, greater familiarity with the S&M formula—showcasing a rotating stable of vocalists via a variety of production and musical styles—makes the subtleties and successes here especially apparent. Ignited by singers Tammy Payne and Rudy Lee respectively, the pulsating space-reggae of "Move You Run" and the drum-and-bass protest number "No Justice" sound surprisingly fresh and effective. But despite ear-catching production tricks and vocal turns, precious few of these 11 tracks gel as solidly as those openers, and the recurring lyrics addressing pre-millennial dread (especially rapper Kelz's New World Order/out-of- order clich鳩 already have a dated ring. Considering Smith & Mighty's visionary contributions of yore, fans may be let down upon discovering that this Big World isn't necessarily the brave new one they'd been waiting for.—Kurt B. Reighley

    ROBBIE FULKS, The Very Best of Robbie Fulks (Bloodshot) Not quite a "best of," the fourth album from this insurgent country rocker could more accurately be called "The Many Sides of Robbie Fulks." Comprised of new material plus B-sides, compilation tracks, and other stray songs, Very Best allows Fulks to explore his varied tastes and skills—from honky-tonk to bluegrass to psych-rock—and to flaunt his brainiac wit. The disc's stylistic sprawl makes it much less accessible and accomplished than 1998's winning alt-country album Let's Kill Saturday Night. And, confusingly, the new one bypasses some of the Chicago musician's best songs, making this more of a fan-centric release than an essential hits set. But you will find some twisted gems. The toe-tapping "That Bangle Girl," an homage to Susanna Hoffs, shows his way with a melody and the irresistible everyman quality of his scruffy vocals; another fan letter, to actress Jean Arthur, fares almost as well. "Parallel Bars," a duet with country singer Kelly Willis, tackles relationship strife with a tune that's as notable as Fulks' cleverness with a phrase. If it's wordplay you're after, check the raunchy "Roots Rock Weirdoes," in which Fulks self-mockingly outlines what folks of his sort desire: "Fishnets for every woman, lipstick as red as flame/For every man a tattoo, a Chevy, and a dumb nickname. . . . Three chords in every pop song, four white guys in each band/A ruthless media empire to saturate this land." Funny as such songs are, the ones Fulks offers here aren't his shining moments (it's hard to figure where he was coming from on the X-rated, distinctly un-PC "White Man's Bourbon"). Keep an eye out for his live gig, though, where he's sure to have a better set list. —Lydia Vanderloo

    THE JESUS LIZARD, Bang (Touch and Go) I saw David Yow's cock when I was 17 years old. Not the first naked rocker I'd seen on stage, but, with whirling scrawny arms and a head that looked like it had hatched prematurely from a reptile zoo, Yow was certainly the nastiest. Three years later, at a show in some shitty little Indiana bar, the Jesus Lizard was playing on the floor, and Yow had surrounded himself with beer bottles. After draining them into his hairy, bulbous gut, he kicked the empties into the audience, either covering people with shattered glass or, failing to break the bottles, taking out the front teeth of some poor Hoosier. Yow mumbled sincere, drunken apologies in a slurred Texas accent when the owner of the club told him to stop. Lots of times behavior like this covers up when a band is mediocre but willing to push things in some retarded direction for the sake of rock. The Jesus Lizard is not one of these bands. Bang pulls together rarities, 7-inches, and live versions of previously available songs ("Monkey Trick" and "Blockbuster" are shining beauts) and even some Trio covers fer chrissakes. You don't have to know anything about this band to pop this record in and start biting Rainiers off at the necks. If you ain't heard the Lizard, you should shave yourself and think of the Birthday Party with all unnecessary artiness removed, a jet plane engine popped under the hood, and a huge MADE IN THE U.S.A. stamped on the side.—Mark Driver

     
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