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*** PATTI SMITH "Gung Ho" Arista

March 19, 2000|NATALIE NICHOLS

Close your eyes and clear your mind. Smith, the venerable poet-philosopher and rock 'n' roll phoenix, is telling tales of Custer's wife, Ho Chi Minh and slavery's shameful legacy. Thirteen disparate parables in a row form a larger lesson on personal and collective freedom: fighting for it, giving it up, taking it for granted and all the consequences thereof.

Joined by her regular band, as well as such postmodern-rock saints as Tom Verlaine and Michael Stipe, Smith (who plays the Wilshire Theatre on April 14) weaves lush musical tapestries expertly colored with everything from percussive psychedelic rock to stark, old-timey folk. Yet it is her voice--which, after a quarter-century of testifying, has more expressive control than ever--that makes her words so hard to tune out.

Some of her messages on "Gung Ho" seem obvious, cloaked in overly fanciful phrasings that weigh them down and invite the mind to wander. Yet she also deftly pares away emotional layers to expose the heart of any situation. At a time when so many forces compel us to barely acknowledge our existence, Patti Smith reminds us that life should be not just pondered, but savored. Now go, and don't forget to love one another.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are due in stores Tuesday.

Hear the Music

* Excerpts from Ice Cube's "War & Peace Vol. 2 (The Peace Disc)" and other releases are available on the World Wide Web. Point your browser to: http://www.latimes.com/soundclips

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