PARENTAL ADVISORY, My Life Your Entertainment (Dreamworks) Too ghetto to cross over like the Fugees and too raunchy to hang with the Roots, Atlanta's Parental

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CD Reviews

PARENTAL ADVISORY, My Life Your Entertainment (Dreamworks) Too ghetto to cross over like the Fugees and too raunchy to hang with the Roots, Atlanta's Parental Advisory nevertheless practice the art of instrumentalizing hip-hop. The three MCs, who became producers when their exassociates in Organized Noize got too busy making freaky beats with OutKast, revel in juxtapositions such as a Spaghetti Western guitar riff against a barrage of street-smart raps, or a dial tone buzzing against a snare kick. This curiosity made 1998's Straight No Chase an underappreciated gem—it did, after all, contain the naughtily funky drug anthem "China White"—and such inventiveness enlivens songs from My Life Your Entertainment. That roiling guitar sound's back on "Down Flat," a cruisin'-round-the-block ditty that does for the shout-out what Prince did for the word "Motherfucka." That is, P.A. make ordinary phrases like "This is for East Point, College Park, and Decatur . . ." sound sexy, yet menacing. Conversely, their odes to scoring-and-using bray with wit; in "Dope Stories"—which bends around that guitar again, this time coupled with an ambulatory, repetitive synth line—Noreaga, Pimp C, and Goodie Mob's Big Gipp drop by to trade rhymes with Reese, KP, and Mello. Drug appreciation rants aside, P.A.'s mellifluous, almost too-smooth music is highly mainstream-friendly, and it'll be a wonder if cuts like the summery R&B bumper "Sundown"—with fellow Dirty South proponent Eightball at the mic—don't rock the playlists of stations from our own KUBE to New York's Hot 97. But from the sly title to the gangsta-style grandstanding of "Playaz Do" (which would be accepted as a Beastie Boys song, but hey, them boys are white), P.A. fly over most people's heads, leaving only adventurous heads to experience the sparkling, deep waters of My Life Your Entertainment. Welcome to the club.—Richard A. Martin

VARIOUS ARTISTS, Hip Hop 101 (Tommy Boy Black Label) No, this compilation doesn't live up to its title—nobody's made that one yet. And chances are nobody ever will, not even De La Soul, who are credited as executive producers but, Posdnuos told me in a recent interview, actually aren't. But that doesn't mean Hip Hop 101 is inaccurately named, if only because its ingredients are so basic. With a couple of exceptions, the vocals from these 16 artists (17 if you count De La music man Maseo's solo turn) are bumptious, articulate, savvy, and so in line with the album's easy beats and immediate sonics that they give it a flow that escapes most compilations—or most single-artist albums, for that matter. This is hard, minimal music that largely avoids the grimy textures normally associated with most hard hip-hop minimalism. The abrupt keyboards, occasional horn hits, manipulated voices, and shuddering vibraphones that hook the songs are primed to pump the party rather than encourage contemplation: bouncing, no-frills fun in the grand tradition of Marley Marl, Eric B., and the 45 King. The exception is the Bad Seed's squirrelly, utterly addictive "Pockets," in which—now here's a break from the hip-hop norm—a man's conscience lives in his pants.—Michaelangelo Matos

THE KITTY VERMONT, Wonderful You (Motorcoat) Mark Proksch, the precocious mastermind behind the Kitty Vermont, oozes musicality. The prolific singersongwriter, who also records folk songs under the name Cameron Miller and performs "theatrical electronica" with the Buttons and Bows, would seem to be in full musical bloom. With the Kitty Vermont, he takes electronic music and overlays it with organic instruments such as vibraphone, timpani, clarinet, banjo, and violin, achieving a subtle sort of beauty that is difficult to classify. I know. I played Wonderful You a number of times and couldn't describe it. Finally I e-mailed Proksch. Although snagging an artist's e-mail address off the liner notes won't often yield a response, I got a reply within two hours. Proksch confessed that he is influenced by turn-of-the-century standards as well as experimental music. He admitted that Wonderful You is an homage, a wink to Stephen Merritt of the Magnetic Fields, with its clever wordplay and electronic underpinnings. The lyrics are playful poetry disguised as prose, and Proksch enjoys himself, as evidenced by the line, "And you, wonderful you, designed avant-garde zoos/Feng shui for kangaroos/Mirrored rooms for lonely emus." The lingering question is whether or not the machine belongs in the garden—whether or not the Casio belongs in the hands of the poet. According to Proksch, 90 percent of the album was manufactured with a synthesizer and plugged-in devices of his creation. He wrote to me, "My task with this album was to make these seemingly austere instruments produce warm, full sounds." The sensitive, talented boy has succeeded.—Peter Buchberger

SLOBBERBONE, Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today (New West) From the opening verse of "Meltdown," the fiddle-and-12-string-led opener on Slobberbone's third record, this Denton, Texas foursome shows subtle notes of refinement. But then singer and songwriter Brent Best, who spins lovesick ballads, loser tales, and drunkard's pleas in equal measure, sends the band down a familiar path. Named for a chewed-up dog toy, Slobberbone runs headfirst into a balls-to-the-wall rocker, "Placemat Blues," that proves these Lone Star bar-roomers are more akin to the Replacements than Uncle Tupelo. The nod to the Minneapolis band borrows a riff from the 'Mats' Pleased to Meet Me kick-off "IOU" (recorded at the same Ardent Studios in Memphis), while "Pinball Song," which follows the approach of Westerberg woebegones like "Treatment Bound," has Best singing, "Six weeks on the road/I'm feeling kinda split/A few good games of pinball/ A double whiskey sour/I rinse it with a beer/And repeat again." The seven remaining numbers balance a revered rowdiness (including the hilarious "Gimme Back My Dog" and the bluesy "That Is All") with newfound elegance: the ballad "Josephine," the Hammond B3-driven "Lumberlung," the Byrds-y "Some New Town," and the instrumental "Magnetic Heaven." Best pays homage to the punk-rock altar while tipping a cap to his Texas roots, rarely taking himself or his band too seriously (see album title), and Slobberbone's seemingly never-ending cross-country journey has paid recording dividends. Even with the 250-date-a-year band's cleaner, tighter sound, on "Lazy Guy" Best sings: "I'm a lazy guy/I'm amazed at the way some people try . . ./ To erect and then perfect some kind of purpose in their lives before they die." For six years running, Slobberbone has been perfecting their purpose: to make sure every record will one-up the last one and to leave no beer bottles unturned.—Scott Holter

 
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