Some MCs sound jaded from pushing their wares to anonymous fiends, but Ghostface Killah's half-cult/half-superstar status gives him a lot more freedom. He's signed to Def Jam but still rocks indie-rap beats and skimps on hooks, all the while ducking bandwagon-rider claims by focusing on the vivid minutiae of crack rap. Beneath its all-star production lineup—Pete Rock's instant classic "Be Easy," Just Blaze's pugilist "The Champ," a couple tracks MF Doom snatched out from under Monsta Island Czars—Fishscale is largely about the coke trade as a craft. There's the refinement and packaging, outlined in the muffled funk of "Kilos," where the cooking ("Big heavy pots over hot stoves, mayonnaise jars/And water with rocks in 'em, got the whole project outta order") and the distribution (a raspy, song-concluding roll call of the colors and styles of tops put on vials) are detailed as breathlessly as most MCs recollect gunfights. And Ghost recollects gunfights like Raymond Chandler: "Shakey Dog" makes a shopworn scenario blaze again via sharp details—a 77-year-old shotgun-toting bag-lady lookout; the trigger-happy nerves of his fellow gunmen firing at pitbulls—and lucid similes ("centipede stab wound"; "You on some Curly-Moe-Larry shit"). But while the cocaine theme is prevalent, it ties in to a larger picture: Rhymes detailing a disciplinary upbringing from his mother ("Strap," featuring a hauntingly subdued J Dilla beat), self-conscious internal arguments played out like both sides of a bickering husband-wife couple ("Can Can"), and one of his better chart-attempt breakup tracks ("Back Like That") are like the food scenes in Scorsese mobster films, humanizing sketches that probe the mind behind the grind. NATE PATRIN
Ghostface Killah plays with M-1, Common Market, and DJBlesOne at Showbox, 1426 First Ave., 206-628-6151, www.showboxonline.com. $18 adv./$20. All ages. 8 p.m. Tues., March 21.
Other People's Lives
Though Ray Davies has aged gracefully, he's always had an adversarial relationship with nature's Timex. The songwriter has made a career on nostalgia, even in his 20s looking back with naïveté and a little cynicism. Other People's Lives, Davies' first solo record in a 40-plus-year career, is refreshingly neither then nor now. "All She Wrote" details a kiss-off left by a girlfriend on the back of an envelope. "I've met this new person in a disco," she writes. "He's really special/Reminds me of you." "Is There Life After Breakfast?" battles another breakup hangover with mother's advice: "Take some pills and drink your tea." Lives contains the brashness of early Kinks records ("Things are Gonna Change (the Morning After)," "Stand-Up Comic"), before cheap amps gave way to sophisticated orchestral arrangements, as well as forays into flamenco and gospel. Davies stumbles lyrically on the fogy truisms ("We've still got mountains to climb/A day at a time") of "Run Away From Time," and it's a mild shock to hear a man who's traditionally aimed to preserve old ways—be it strawberry jam, Donald Duck, or vaudeville—sing "Can't believe what I just read/Gossip on the Internet" on "Other People's Lives." But it's hard to imagine this album occupying the Starbucks counter with the new Clapton and Stones. It languishes within the generation gap, which may have been Davies' intention. KATE SILVER
What the Toll Tells
What the Toll Tells, Two Gallants' sophomore release, is a furious and lusty take on the Delta blues, accompanied by Joycean epiphany and the simple camaraderie of Steinbeck. While Toll lacks narrative cohesion, its songs are linked through mood (love and exhaustion) and image (sunsets, rocking chairs, dust). Somehow, Adam Stephens and Tyson Vogel, only two years removed from busking on San Francisco street corners, sing convincingly about a lynching in which a son watches his father, "Cut low and hung high/Swinging in the breeze." The Gallants balance the complex masquerades and phoenix-from-the-ash metaphor with taut, simple harmonica, guitar, and drums, and anyone used to their concerts, in which Stephens' spit sprays and Vogel often drums from the audience, will be glad to see the ferocity preserved. "Threnody in Minor B" blends angst with lullaby, as exploded by the hoarsely glory-glory countdown beginning "16th Street Dozens," and the intensity of "Steady Rollin'" competes with that of the live version. There are a few painful lines ("Fetus of Christ with a fistful of scars," ugh) and some overly cute wind whistles. But then comes "Waves of Grain"'s ocean-perfect roll, and the minor weaknesses are redeemed. MAIREAD CASE