Colossal Head (Warner Bros. 46172)
"Roots music" is generally taken to mean modern music that sounds old -- in other words, rock that takes on the shape, sound and sensibility of older and less pop-oriented styles like the blues and country music of the early '50s. So maybe it would be a mistake to consider Los Lobos a roots band at this point, because as much as the music on "Colossal Head" draws from vintage blues, R&B and Latin sources, its overall sound is strikingly modern. Never mind the dobro that chugs away beneath the vocal on "Everybody Loves a Train"; as much as it might evoke the porchfront sound of old-fashioned country blues, the distorted vocal, processed percussion and dub-toned bass that round out the track are as modern as can be. Likewise, though the honking boogie guitar that anchors "Manny's Bones" would seem perfectly at home on a John Lee Hooker oldie, the rest of the tune is thoroughly modern, from the atmospheric drone of the second guitar part to the raucous, modern jazz growl of the saxophone solo. Add the fiery "Mas Y Mas" or the haunting, hypnotic "Little Japan," and what you've got is music that doesn't just acknowledge rock's past, but conveys a sense of its future. Roots-and-buds music, in other words.
The Boy with the X-Ray Eyes (EMI 37204)
In Britain, the music press is forever making fun of American pop taste, snickering over our fondness for the likes of Shania Twain, Hootie & the Blowfish and Bush. But British pop fans have some odd enthusiasms of their own, not the least of which being the massive and inexplicable popularity of Babylon Zoo. This pseudo-futuristic combo -- the improbably-named Jas Mann plus a few studio cronies -- went straight to the top of the charts at Christmas with the single "Space Man" and has continued to separate Britons from their money with the album "The Boy with the X-Ray Eyes." What's the appeal? It's hard to say, really. It might be the way Mann's pompous delivery and comic book lyrics recall the glory days of Gary Numan, or that the shoddy sound and abundant gimmickry appeal to those who think the world needs another Sigue Sigue Sputnik. But it's hard to imagine America falling for this junk, no matter how many John Tesh albums we buy. And if that doesn't make you proud to be an American, I don't know what would.
Dead Man (Vapor 46171)
Although the cover of "Dead Man" boasts such promising phrases as "Music by Neil Young" and "A Film by Jim Jarmusch," it's a phrase on the back of the album that will send a chill down your spine: "Poetry Reading by Johnny Depp." Yes, "Dead Man" is that kind of soundtrack, so devoted to the drama on screen that it makes virtually no sense at all without the pictures. That's not to say the music doesn't have its moments; there's a lovely harmonium piece about a third of the way through the soundtrack (I'd cite the title, but unfortunately the album doesn't bother listing any), and Young's solo guitar can be astonishingly eloquent in its use of echo and distortion. But unless you either have a copy of the film or an unusual devotion to Young's music, it's unlikely that the small pleasures the music provides will outweigh the tedium of sitting through long stretches of incomprehensible movie dialogue.
Fifa (Mango 162 531 039)
Beneath all the buzz about "world music" lies the unspoken hope that someone will figure out a way to tie the rhythmic potency of African pop to melodies accessible enough for the American mainstream. Maybe that's why so many listeners have such high hopes for Angelique Kidjo. Although the sound of Africa resonates clearly through the songs of "Fifa," it's framed by the sort of playing and production that would make any Top-40 fan feel at home. So "Wombo Lombo" balances its upbeat South African-inflected chorus with a slick, hip hop-savvy verse, while "Shango" augments its throbbing West African percussion with wah-wah guitars and briskly percolating techno-style synths. It's a heady blend, but because Kidjo respects both sides of her sound, there's never the sense that the African elements are being diluted by Europop -- or vice versa. Instead, what we hear is a true fusion, music that may owe a debt to other styles but which functions on its own terms. So it hardly matters whether hTC the bass line in "Akwaba" derives from highlife or dancehall; what counts is whether or not it makes your body move. And odds are, it will.