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POP MUSIC | RECORD RACK

*** 1/2 GRANT LEE BUFFALO, "Jubilee," Slash/Warner Bros.

June 07, 1998|Steve Hochman

For three albums, Grant Lee Buffalo has made vivid California tapestries, with leader Grant Lee Phillips' yearning Brian Wilsonisms set in the swirling sonic colors of a Mojave sunset. But while the group has found some success in Europe, radio exposure at home has been as elusive as Phillips' literate streams of imagery.

"Jubilee" could change that. With the departure of bassist-producer Paul Kimble, whose panoramic approach was as much a band trademark as Phillips' Lennon-esque vocals, GLB has shrunk to the core of Phillips and drummer Joey Peters, a move mirrored by the focused approach of new producer Paul Fox (XTC, Sugarcubes). That's evident from the start, with the crunching guitar chords that kick off "APB," as well as in the soaring, elated heart of the current single, "Truly, Truly."

Yet with such guests as Michael Stipe, Robyn Hitchcock and Jon Brion assisting, music and lyrics alike are full of hidden surprises. Much seems straight from existential-crisis dreams--the brewing twister of "Come to Mama, She Say," the Fellini/Dylan parade of "Fine How'd Ya Do." Carried by a detailed yet emotional sense of pop craft, comparable to Karl Wallinger's World Party, it's an ambitious, engaging effort.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent).

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* Excerpts from these albums and other recent releases are available on The Times' World Wide Web site. Point your browser to: http://www.latimes.com/sound clips

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