Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Lady Sovereign, Unnatural Helpers, and Jackie Mittoo

Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Live at the Fillmore East 1970

(Reprise)

For at least a dozen years, Neil Young fans have been hearing rumors of this album's release. Originally intended to be an addendum to a never-released, 10-disc archival box set, Live at the Fillmore East 1970 is the first chance many diehards have had to hear Crazy Horse live with original guitarist Danny Whitten, who died of a heroin overdose in 1972. Though Whitten was often eulogized by Young through the years, notably on "Needle and the Damage Done" and Tonight's the Night, this release feels like the truest homage yet. Whitten was an electrifying rhythm guitarist who provided the perfect foundation for Young to fly off onto single-note tangents, explosive solos, and foot-stomping riffs, ingredients he's flavored his music with ever since. The performances here are absolutely transcendent, with Whitten's country-soul harmonies giving Young's high-pitched whinny the bottom end it needed at the time, and the guitar interplay he needed to boost his confidence as a frontman. Some might balk at another live album from Young featuring "Cowgirl in the Sand" and "Down by the River," but each track here is propelled by a spiritedness rarely matched in rock music, that burst of anxiousness when an artist knows he is fulfilling his artistic goals. And in the case of Neil Young & Crazy Horse in 1970, they were accomplishing what so few do—they were exploring uncharted musical territory. BRIAN J. BARR

Lady Sovereign

Public Warning

(Def Jam)

Lady Sovereign is either rap music's salvation or another commercially crafted nail in hip-hop's coffin. We suppose she could be both. Are the beats funky, fresh, and/or fly? Yes, thanks to Basement Jaxx's expert production, the S-O-V has been armed with an arsenal of bass-heavy U.K. garage grime and funky bubblegum blips that sound like break-dancing robots playing laser-guided Ping-Pong. Is she marketable? Holy crap, yes. But most important, can this 20-year-old white girl from England rhyme worth a quid? Well, she can battle with the best of 'em, even though her lyrical targets are chicks with fake tans ("Tango") and other such fashion casualties ("Hoodie"). But you write what you know, whether it's trying to maintain the level of chaos at a house party ("Gatheration"), sleeping in on a workday ("9 to 5 "), or just goofing around ("Random"). Even when falling back on the ol' chestnut of the hometown shout-out ("My England") or pointless nostalgia ("Those Were the Days"), Sovereign's skill and grace as a lyricist and rhyme spitter are pretty strong. Then again, her accent is so thick and she throws around so much limey slang that half the time we have no idea what is coming out of her mouth. But you could say the same thing about some of the best stateside rappers, too. GEOFF JOHNSTON

Unnatural Helpers

s/t

(Self-released)

When it comes to punk rock, you can never have enough smart-asses. Not only do the Unnatural Helpers saturate every lyric with a snot- nosed sneer, but even their instruments sound like smart-asses. This group of local heavies, including members of Kinski, the Lights, and a couple Sub Pop employees, use big, metallic guitars and workhorse drums to send up their skewed punk-rock numbers. In the best punk tradition, all but one of the songs clock in at under 2 minutes, which is the perfect amount of time to get the point across when songs are titled "Becky Is a Bummer" and "Operation Dry Pants" and a 60-second interlude is called "Milk Break." Most of the time, the Helpers' biggest concern seems to be about making loud noises, which is great since they're not masking it with any overt political or social goals. The only concern for society present on their debut is one laced with irony: "It's the age of deceit/And mass manipulation/But we'll fight back/With our cardboard swords." DOT RYAN

Unnatural Helpers play the Baltic Room, 1207 Pine St., 206-625-4444, www.balticroom.com, 8 p.m. Wed., Nov. 22.

Jackie Mittoo

Wishbone

(Light in the Attic)

While he never achieved the same fame as his peers—a group that includes Augustus Pablo and Tommy McCook—the late Jackie Mittoo (1948–1990) was a major player in the history of reggae, rock steady, and ska. Mittoo was an ace on the keyboards, a charter member of the seminal Skatalites, a performer on recordings helmed by luminaries Bob Marley and Mikey Dread, and the occasional singer/bandleader. His fabulously rare Wishbone album from 1971, recorded in Toronto, makes its CD debut thanks to the Light in the Attic label. Purists beware—Wishbone is a half-instrumental mix of reggae (more rock steady/pop than roots), melodious Gamble & Huff/Philly soul, and funky, deep-groove instrumentals. Mittoo pours his sumptuous organ work on soulfully thick, singing in a clearly enunciated, mellow baritone. Highlights include "Grand Funk," which sounds like MFSB meets Funkadelic, and the wistful, Soul Train–circa-'71-to-Jamaica (dig this title) "La-La Girls and Cha-Cha Boys." Wishbone can dispel your seasonal gloom, at least for a little bit. MARK KERESMAN

 
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