World Psychedelic Classics 3: Love's a Real Thing
Luaka Bop
Through most of the '60s, popular music in urban West Africa was more governed by Western styles and tastes than indigenous sounds. That began to change as the decade gave way to the 1970s, when a legion of maverick artists started actively seeking ways to graft in roots flavors. This prompted a period early in the decade that saw a flowering of various bold fusion sounds emanating from places like Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, Senegal, Guinea, Benin and other countries in the region. Love's a Real Thing gathers a dozen vital and obscure songs from this period. The styles cut a broad swath. The 1972 title track, by Gambia's Super Eagles, is the most rock-oriented of the comp, with chunky guitar, Farfisa organ and a hook reminiscent of The Chambers Brothers. Most of the other songs are far more Africanized, be it the long, hypnotic "Porry" by Mali's Sorry Bamba (with its watery keyboard part that would make a perfect hip-hop sample) or the proto-juju of "Ifa" by Tunji Oyelana and the Benders, a heady convergence of naked percussion, voice and saxophone. All the traditional hallmarks of African pop emerge in the set: undulating, layered percussion; interlocking guitars and keyboards; call-and-response vocals, rugged sax and more. A sense of outlaw discovery practically sweats from this CD.

-Eric Snider

The Carlton Chronicles: Not Until the Operation's Through
Will Johnson is one of a few newly emerging singer-songwriters with a penchant for Faulkner-esque Southernisms and storytelling. The similarities between his group South San Gabriel and fellow beard rocker Sam Beam's band Iron and Wine are unmistakable: Both prefer a slow-and-steady approach to songs, which are rooted in equal parts drunken journal entries, late '60s countrified rock and graduate-level lit classes. "Charred Resentment the Same," the leadoff track, is proof positive - the softly picked electric guitar hums along gently while Johnson's harmonized vocals chime on about unrequited love and hopes for better days. "I Am Six Pounds of Dynamite," arguably the most rocking track on this otherwise non-rocking album, invokes the power of Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks" with punchy, yet hardly discernable verses and choruses. The slide guitar work here (and elsewhere) is impeccable, urging the listener to sit back and enjoy the backwoods ride. The Texas-born Johnson, better known for his guitar-heavy pop work with Centro-Matic, saves the best of his acoustic catalog for South San Gabriel. The group comprises a revolving cast of characters, some from Centro-Matic and some from elsewhere. Fans of Centro-Matic and South San Gabriel will look for similarities between them, and while they do exist, it's not really relevant - The Carlton Chronicles' songs stand on their own. (www.misrarecords.com) 1/2

-Mark Sanders

Pressure Points
Easy Star
New York's John Brown's Body originally started out as a fairly tradition-reverent rock steady act. Here, the outfit makes a bid for more widespread recognition with a disc full of short, cloyingly poppy, often overproduced tracks that owe at least as much to contemporary urban- and dance-format knob-twiddling as they do to seminal Jamaican sounds and social/spiritual awareness. The grooves and melodies are mostly top-notch, and at their most soulful on "Make It Easy," "Full Control," "Pick it Up," and the ultimate standout, "Not Enough," which features legendary Jamaican vocal group The Meditations. Too frequently, however, the band's sound is robbed of much of the best of reggae's visceral impact by a compressed, radio-aimed studio sheen. Most distracting are the singers' overprocessed, tight-harmony vocal tracks, which consistently and irritatingly bring modern hacks like 311 to mind. (www.easystar.com) 1/2

-Scott Harrell

Great Lake Swimmers
Beautiful and boring, Canadian singer-songwriter Tony Dekker's project Great Lake Swimmers nearly perfects sparse, strummy melancholy, but also nearly sedates the listener with it, wearing its influences on the sleeve of its flannel nightshirt all along. Not every song forcibly recalls Neil Young at his most mellow - some of them forcibly recall Crosby, Nash, Stills & Young, and some of them forcibly recall more contemporary acts heavily influenced by Young (an extremely laid back My Morning Jacket occasionally comes to mind). Fans of atmospheric, introspective solo pop will inevitably bring up Nick Drake, but to these ears, Dekker's style is too steeped in sunset Americana, and its rootsy instrumental accoutrements, to validate such comparisons. He's extremely good at what he does; Great Lake Swimmers could be a triumph, were it a bit more diverse. (www.misrarecords.com)

-Scott Harrell

From 1964-1975, through ego clashes, drug deaths, near-constant personnel upheaval and a love-hate relationship with Motown, The Temptations carved out one of the most enduring catalogues in pop annals. A good portion of this twofer chronicles the group's hey day, including luminescent ballads ("My Girl," "Just My Imagination"), thick R&B throwdowns ("Psychedelic Shack," "Cloud Nine," "Ball of Confusion," "I Can't Get Next To You"), pure Motor City pop-soul ("The Way You do the Things You do," "Ain't Too Proud To Beg," "All I Need") and at least one landmark song that defies categorization - that would be 1972's "Papa Was a Rolling Stone." Even with the revolving door of singers, the group's blend of gritty and silky vocals was never short of sublime. The Tempts left Motown for Atlantic in '76 and returned four years later. The eight songs on Gold that represent the group's second Motown stint barely rise above generic, although the Rick James-produced "Standing on the Top Pt. 1" is a worthy curio. 1/2

-Eric Snider

About The Author

Eric Snider

Eric Snider is the dean of Bay area music critics. He started in the early 1980s as one of the founding members of Music magazine, a free bi-monthly. He was the pop music critic for the then-St. Petersburg Times from ‘87-’93. Snider was the music critic, arts editor and senior editor of Weekly Planet/Creative...
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