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Native American Sounds Meet Techno Beat

***, ROBBIE ROBERTSON,"Contact From the Underworld of Red Boy" Capitol

March 07, 1998|MARC WEINGARTEN

Say what you will about Robertson's solo output, he certainly hasn't played it safe. Rather than trot out endless variations on the brilliant body of work he wrote for the Band in the late '60s and early '70s, the guitarist crafted soaring, fastidiously produced rock reminiscent of Peter Gabriel on his 1987 self-titled debut, then explored New Orleans' complex musical and spiritual heritage on 1991's "Storyville." Now Robertson once again makes a clean break--this time from his previous solo albums.

"Red Boy," a meditation on contemporary American Indian culture, is a sequel of sorts to the soundtrack Robertson composed for the 1994 TBS documentary "The Native Americans." But where that project strove for polite reverence, "Red Boy" alights on bold new territory. By fostering a musical summit between two tribal subcultures--Native American and the British dance music underground--Robertson has achieved a striking synthesis.

"Red Boy's" techno-gone-native blend sounds neither stilted nor inorganic; Robertson's jagged guitar and the hushed rumble of producer Howie B.'s programmed beats on tracks such as "The Sound Is Fading" and "Making a Noise" mesh comfortably with the album's indigenous drum sounds. Even Robertson's craggy voice--a liability on previous albums--works to his advantage in this context.

** C-BO, "Til My Casket Drops," AWOL/Noo Trybe.

Rapper C-BO's story is so sensational, it's almost as if it could have been lifted from one of the inner-city nightmare scenarios on his new album. The irony, of course, is that it's precisely those songs that have now landed him in jail.

Ordered not to promote a gang lifestyle upon his release from prison last year, C-BO (whose real name is Shawn Thomas) was arrested this week when it was determined that the lyrical content of these songs was in violation of his parole. C-BO's lyrics are certainly inflammatory; he advocates the shooting of cops, among other things. But the rapper's shock tactics are merely a decoy designed to distract from the fact that he has very little to say.

C-BO is the hip-hop equivalent of a Quentin Tarantino wannabe; he equates empty posturing with real passion. "Til My Casket Drops" runs through the usual litany of gangsta rap themes--guns, women, money and more money--over shrill, unimaginative grooves.

It's too bad because there is a spark of potential on a few tracks. As a rapper, C-BO has impressive flow, and some of his arrangements are ambitious, particularly the keyboard string section that floats through "Major Pain & Mister Bossalini." If C-BO ever gets the notion to break free of gangsta rap's ever-narrowing limitations, he could be a contender.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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