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Funk is finding its groove on CDs

CD REVIEWS

August 06, 1998|By J.D. Considine Country Trisha Yearwood

From the Beastie Boys to Me'shell Ndegeocello, rap and funk stars have long lauded the Headhunters - and for good reason. Even though this crew came out of the jazz fusion movement, it never let adventurous improvisation get in the way of a good groove. Now, after more than two decades of inactivity, the group is back, sounding as strong as ever. As with the group's '70s material, the tracks on "Return of the Headhunters" are deeply funky, yet supple enough to allow the guest soloists - mostly notably, former boss Herbie Hancock and pianist Billy Childs - free reign. There are also a couple of attempts at conventional funk with R&B vocalist N'Dea Davenport, but instrumentals like "Skank It" and "PP Head" end up carrying the day. ***

J.D. Considine

Rock/pop

Lucinda Williams

Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (Mercury 314 558 338)

Lucinda Williams has a spirit from the days before rock and roll divorced itself from country music, when characters such as Johnny Cash or Jerry Lee Lewis could be wild and ragged and satisfy both genres. Along with a healthy dose of the blues, Williams blends styles so naturally on "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road" that trying to define the result is pointless. It's just great music. In a perfect world, Williams would be the top artist in the land. But a perfect world wouldn't provide the lust that oozes from "Right in Time," the angry love of "Joy" or the willful self-destruction of "Drunken Angel." Her voice hot enough to boil a crawfish, Williams makes a compelling case for falling from grace. ****

Greg Schneider

Monster Magnet

Powertrip (A&M 314 540 908)

As rock and roll slips inexorably into old age, it gets harder and harder for guitar bands to seem wild and crazy. That hasn't stopped the men of Monster Magnet, however. "Powertrip" is full of bad-boy fare, from the fantasy photos in the CD booklet (singer Dave Wyndorf, flanked by babes, on a throne in hell) to the ooh-scary! song titles ("Goliath and the Vampires" is typical). When the group gets the proper balance between tuneful aggression and outrageous attitude, the results are irresistible, as the campy, relentless "Space Lord" makes plain. But when Monster Magnet misses - which it does more often than not - the results end up sounding somewhere between a Zodiac Mindwarp tribute band and a bad imitation White Zombie. **

J.D. Considine

Niacin

High Bias (Concord/Stretch 9017)

For years, art-rock bashers believed that it was Keith Emerson's keyboard excesses that made Emerson Lake & Palmer so

unbearable. Listening to Niacin's second album, "High Bias," offers an alternate theory: Bassist Greg Lake was the weak link. Granted, that may in part be because Billy Sheehan, the bassist and leader of this trio, is so awesomely capable, coming across like a cross between Stanley Clarke and Eddie Van Halen. Yet as jaw-dropping as his playing on "Slapped Silly" or the title tune may be, it never outshines either Dennis Chambers' lean, powerful drumming or John Novello's meaty, virtuosic keyboard work. Even the few forays into fusion jazz are impressive, though purists will be less than impressed by the trio's take on Weather Report's "Birdland." ***

J.D. Considine

Soundtrack

Various artists

Cleveland Rocks! Music from The Drew Carey Show (Rhino 75342)

As the quirky sitcom "The Drew Carey Show" entered our prime-time lineup in 1995 with cutesy musical numbers and clever little dance routines, we saw just the right musical mix in a television program. No "Cop Rock" here. The soundtrack, "Cleveland Rocks! Music from The Drew Carey Show," offers 24 tunes, including the opening tracks from each season, "Moon Over Parma," "Five O'Clock World" and both Ian Hunter's and the Presidents of the United States of America's "Cleveland Rocks," as well as priceless snippets from actual shows, including a live version of "Rocky Mountain Way" with Joe Walsh and Little Richard and Drew's meek rendition of "High Hopes." Not exactly Frank Sinatra, mind you. Fans of the show will get a kick out of this one. ***

Lori Sears

Pub Date: 8/06/98

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