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Pop Music | Record Rack

An Unpoetic Start to the Revolution

August 18, 2002|Agustin Gurza; Kevin Bronson; Natalie Nichols; Dean Kuipers; Randy Lewis; Ernesto Lechner; Soren Baker

The rest of these well-written poems of heartbreak, death, workaday ennui and goodbyes, however, drift from Jonathan Richman-style girlfriend songs to a plaintive, pedal-steel-inflected, early-'70s Stones/Gram Parsons feel, especially "The Farewell Bend" and "Southbound Bevy."

The strange, astonishing twists of fate, passion and song structure of even the first two Catholics albums are absent--except on "1826," which starts out as Roky Erickson and ends as Black Oak Arkansas. "Devil's Workshop" continues with more of the same, closing with one of the strongest songs on either disc, "Fields of Marigold," a heavy guitar goodbye. Is there anything as good as "This Monkey's Gone to Heaven" or "Here Comes Your Man"? No there is not.

But with time and editing, there could have been.

Dean Kuipers

***

NICKEL CREEK

"This Side"

Sugar Hill

This fresh-faced San Diego trio hasn't been intimidated by the surprise success of its debut album, 2000's "Nickel Creek," which has sold 640,000 copies to date, phenomenal in the folk-bluegrass world it came from.

The approach on this follow-up is even more ambitious, as the threesome and returning producer Alison Krauss poke, punch and kick with all their might at the boundaries of acoustic music.

You might even call what mandolinist Chris Thile, fiddler Sara Watkins and her guitarist-brother, Chris Watkins, do on their sophomore album "ambi-grass." The ambience they create with various instrumental textures is as important as what's in the song's lyrics, most written by one or the other of the three and a variety of co-writers. Thile, especially, is showing greater reach and confidence in evoking emotion, often with excruciating subtlety.

Despite many differences with their musical forebears, they haven't lost the "blue" in bluegrass. Love is elusive and life is hard, two truths that go straight back to bluegrass patriarch Bill Monroe and the ancient mountain folk who preceded him.

Randy Lewis

In Brief

*** Plankton Man and Terrestre, "Plankton Man vs. Terrestre," Lakeshore. This battle of the bands, Nortec-style, might not include the Tijuana collective's brightest star, Bostich, but both Terrestre and Plankton Man do a fine job of expanding the group's trademark fusion of liquid electronica and quirky norteno samples. The artificial samba beat and jazzy flute solos on "California 70" show that success has not spoiled Nortec's effervescent sense of humor.

Ernesto Lechner

*** Clipse, "Lord Willin'," Star Trak/Arista. After cranking out hits for Britney Spears, Jay-Z, Usher and a host of others over the last few years, the producing team the Neptunes put their beat-making prowess to the test by kicking off their own label with the debut album (due Tuesday) from the Virginia rap duo of Pusha T and Malice. The results are blissful, as the body-rocking, futuristic beats mesh magically with the clever, straightforward rapping of the two MCs, who inject sly humor and hard-core boasting into nearly every lyric.

Soren Baker

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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