Sheryl Crow's sold enough records to earn the right to be willfully strange -- or as strange as a multiplatinum artist can get without raising eyebrows, which is not very. "The Globe Sessions" is the soul of normalcy by most standards, but after its cooing, radiofied opener "My Favorite Mistake," it's full of small gestures that show she's not entirely resolved to full-speed-ahead hitmaking: The overheated drama of "Am I Getting Through" ("I am scared that I'm weird/I'm afraid I am queer") is followed by a minute of off-the-hook beeping and a brief flash of coffee-nerves rock; "There Goes the Neighborhood" opens with messy sound effects and disco hand claps.
Crow's singing has undergone some odd changes, too -- instead of her familiar let's-get-the-hooks-out-front style, she half-swallows and half-croaks her lyrics. The music behind her tones down the prefab obviousness of "Tuesday Night Music Club" and "Sheryl Crow," with a curious but delicious mix by Tchad Blake and an all-star cast of studio pros including Wendy Melvoin, Benmont Tench and Lisa Germano. A lot of it works nicely -- laced with strings, the drum-loop pulse of "Riverwide" is genuinely lovely, and the lush organ sounds all over the album rescue it from sounding too 1998.
But then there are the lyrics. Despite a few lines that suggest she's pulling some kind of update on "Highway 61 Revisited" ("Schoolboy John's in jail/Making a killing through the U.S. mail"), Crow's not what you'd call a new Dylan -- and the old Dylan underscores that by contributing a throwaway that's nonetheless the strongest song here, "Mississippi," which she stopped production on the original version of the album to include. She does get off some surprising lines and images: the "ballbreaking moon and ridiculing stars" of "The Difficult Kind," the "apples from the vine" of "Anything But Down." On the other hand, she tries to rhyme "all the white folks shake their asses" with "martini glasses," "Blackstrap molasses" and "hanging out with the lasses" -- ouch. Maybe it's time for her to make her instrumental record.
-->BY MARK ATHITAKIS | It's been six years since Pansy Division launched its career with a Nirvana parody, "Smells Like Queer Spirit," and front man Jon Ginoli still can't shake his rep as the "Wierd" Al Yankovic of queercore: His melodramatic, sensitive side simply couldn't compete with his goofball homages to S&M ("James Bondage") and cute Canadians ("Hockey Hair"). Seven albums and one Green Day tour later, Ginoli finally hits his moment of crisis on "Absurd Pop Song Romance": It's the San Francisco band's least funny record, but also its most balanced, hook-wise and contemplative.
Though Ginoli's not questioning his sexual orientation the way Reggie White wants him to, he is standing frightened at the crossroads of sex and relationships: He refuses to be the "standard issue regulation fag" on "Better Off Just Friends" and finds an old high school bully making gay porn on "Vicious Beauty," and most of the rest are about getting free instead of getting laid ("Even though I got erect/I pressed eject").
With producer Steve Albini providing the appropriate sonic whomp, the band finally channels the punk perfection of early Ramones and Buzzcocks without stealing outright, even though Ginoli does descend into more melodrama with the sappy strings on "Glenview." But now he's become so smart about pop songcraft that he's learned not to trust it. On "Luv Luv Luv" he notes that "love" really means "sex" in old pop songs; the Brill Building and Motown just got scared by the morality thought police. "People just want to connect," he pleads. Now try telling it to Trent Lott.
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CENTRAL AVENUE | GRP IMPULSE!
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BY GEOFF EDGERS | If there is to be a new wave of jazz -- and we need one with the hard boppers filing for Social Security -- Panamanian pianist Danilo Perez should already have his spot reserved. Perez is not yet 35, but already he has the respect of Wynton Marsalis and a healthy obsession with mambos and Monk. His fourth album, "Central Avenue," isn't as cohesive as 1996's "PanaMonk," but that's because here Perez stretches out. Though he's never far from the mambo, his range is impressive, from the churning piano lines bouncing against the drip-drop of the tabla and Luciana Souza's absolutely Esquivelian vocals on "Impromptu" to the simple, elegant reading of "Lush Life."
There's nothing revolutionary about mixing Latin music with jazz. But it requires a certain maturity for a soloist to take a back seat to the rhythms. As Marc Ribot proves on his recent tribute to the late Cuban composer Arsenio Rodriguez, the mambo can separate Knitting Factory noodlers from the self-assured leaders who can make the difficult choice not to play.
"Central Avenue" isn't perfect. A version of Coltrane's "Impressions" moves from a Starsky & Hutchlike opening to an annoying space-age scat. But even then, Perez shows he's willing to take chances. The closer, "Panama Blues," is unlike anything else on the album; recorded in the Panamanian countryside, it's driven by an acoustic guitar and folk singer Raul Vitai. Perez, taking his self-imposed role as accompanist, always leaves you wondering what will happen next.
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NUGGETS: ORIGINAL ARTYFACTS FROM THE FIRST PSYCHEDELIC ERA (4-DISC BOX SET) | RHINO
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BY ADAM HEIMLICH | The original "Nuggets" album, released in 1972 on Elektra Records, held the dubious distinction of being the only album on Rolling Stone's list of the all-time best 200 albums never to have been reissued on CD. Now Rhino rights that wrong and goes three better, amending the beloved garage-rock collection with 70-something more classic and forgotten missives from the rumpus rooms of America in the years 1965-68.
"They wanted to be The Beatles. They wanted to be The Rolling Stones," blare the liner notes: "They Weren't." Regardless of whether it's the best, "Nuggets" is assuredly the most aptly named rock compilation of all time. These songs (Rhino's Disc 1 contains all the material from the original LP, opening with the Electric Prunes' "I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)" and following it with the Standells' "Dirty Water") are nothing if not small and hard. "Psychedelic" for the bands on "Nuggets" didn't mean extended jazz-rock explorations -- it meant jarring chord changes played through a fuzzbox or twangingly finger-picked until they became, against all odds, catchy. Even the bands here who obviously copped from Dylan (Mouse), the Beatles (the Knickerbockers) or the Stones (the Chocolate Watchband) are redeemed by a measure of unpretentious humor and almost disturbing candor.
Rhino did an excellent job of expanding on the original "Nuggets" project without losing sight of its vision -- the label hired original "Nuggets" artist Abe Gurvin to design and illustrate the package and original compilers Jac Holzman and Lenny Kaye to help with the mining operation. They came up with more, more and yet more of the same blend of elemental oldies-radio staples (Strawberry Alarm Clock's "Incense and Peppermints," the Kingsmen's "Louie Louie," the Amboy Dukes' "Journey to the Center of the Mind," Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs' "Wooly Bully") and unjustly forgotten gems (Love's "7 and 7 Is," the Nightcrawlers' "Little Black Egg," Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band's "Diddy Wah Diddy" and the stunning "Complication," by a recently rediscovered band of West Germany-stationed GIs called the Monks) that made the "Nuggets" LP so vividly evocative of American youth culture between the Kennedy assassinations.
Usually race, not class, is considered to be rock's major dividing line. But placed alongside Rhino's Grammy-winning '60s soul box set "Beg, Scream and Shout," the songs on "Nuggets" feel like the opposite side of the same coin. As representatives of gritty, fleeting, cheaply recorded local scenes, bands like Barry and the Remains and Thirteenth Floor Elevators have more in common with many of the acts on Stax and Shout than with the Who or the Beach Boys, and more than the Stax bands had in common with the Supremes or the Righteous Brothers. Iggy Pop has said that punk was nothing but greasers taking rock 'n' roll back from the college boys who'd softened it, and this set supports his argument. Like "Beg, Scream and Shout," "Nuggets" proves that low-tech, low-brow local groups made more rhythmically primal, lyrically direct and soulfully concentrated music than those who had the middle-class charm it took to grab and keep the attention of the mass audience.