Saddle up, li'l pardner, and get ready for a jim-dandy show hosted by Mr. "Happy Trails" himself, Roy Rogers. As the liner notes point out, the King of Cowboys was everyone's idea of what a cowboy should be: honest; forthright; respectful of his mother, his country, and the Lord. Never mind that this idealization of a cowhand was largely fictional--most real cowboys couldn't sing as sweetly as Rogers, either. Much of the material on this three-CD set is previously unreleased, taken from the transcription discs of Rogers' innumerable radio appearances in the pre-TV era. While there are expected standards like "Cool Water," it's fun catching the occasional wry lyric amongst all the perkiness. Those "Jingle, Jangle, Jingle" spurs deliver an ode to bachelorhood: "And they sing, 'Oh, ain't you glad you're single?'/And that song ain't so very far from wrong." And the innocence of the times is readily illustrated by a song title that might raise eyebrows today: "Cleanin' My Rifle (and Dreamin' of You)." It's still good clean fun, but keep your ears peeled. GILLIAN G. GAAR
THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS Surrender (Astralwerks) ****
Despite all the reasons to hate the Chemical Brothers (they're sell-outs, they're ugly, frat boys like them), their new album Surrender is, for the most part, lovable. The obnoxious abrasive elements of their earlier work has been phased out in favor of a new, more gentle psychedelia. Surrender is a first of its kind, electronic music influenced by indie rock influenced by electronic music (Mercury Rev, the Beta Band).
Surrender dances all across the musical map, from a New Order collaboration ("Out Of Control"), to Stereolab-ish novelties ("Orange Wedge"), to space-pop lullabies ("Dream On," featuring the heavenly Jonathan Donahue of the godlike Mercury Rev). The lack of continuity and the inclusion of some annoying tracks ("Let Forever Be" doesn't rise above self-plagiarism) are petty in comparison to the awesome wave of meditation brought on by trance epics like "The Sunshine Underground." Surrender features some very pretty music to kick off the summer of '99 in style. PHILLIP GUICHARD
INSANE CLOWN POSSE The Amazing Jeckel Brothers (Island) [ZERO STARS!!]
These guys are bad enough to raise this question: If you could go back in time to 1984 and murder the Beastie Boys so that they could never pave the way for these tubby losers, would you? Don't answer till you've heard this album and read some of the thousands of obsessive fansites posted by ICP's rabid teenage following. It's tempting to give Jeckel a star for Ol' Dirty Bastard's guest appearance (in "B*tches"), which demonstrates the difference between a stylish vulgarian and two vulgar dickheads. Snoop Dogg adds nothing with his strictly-for-the-paycheck contribution (to "The Shaggy Show"). But ICP earns a minus-1 for their Beck parody ("Another Love Song"), and inept prank phone calls. They're unspeakable. Let us speak of them no more. ADAM HEIMLICH
TRISTEZA Spine and Sensory (Makoto Recordings) ***
Instrumental albums are tricky affairs. Most tend to mine previously explored territory, and few are really capable of holding the listener's attention for long. Thankfully, San Diego's Tristeza have delivered an album's worth of beautiful, shimmery--and most importantly, engaging--music. Spine and Sensory could be indie rock's entry into the Ennio Morricone-inspired soundscape scene; it's the kind of music that captures the blissful feeling of being alone in that quiet part of the late night/early morning with only starlight and wide open skies for company. Gorgeous, dynamic, and expressive--in other words, everything you could hope for in an instrumental album. BARBARA MITCHELL
VARIOUS ARTISTS Cuba (Putumayo World Music/www.putumayo.com) ***
The Putumayo World Music record label and their mission of bringing you "the world's happiest music" reeks of granola, but at least they aren't like corporate smack-peddlers Starbucks, who are also trying to turn a profit off of world music. Rather, Putumayo's discretion and sincerity are in evidence on their latest release, a compilation of Cuban son music. Most of these songs haven't been previously released in the States, but like other recent forays of Cuban music into American culture, they all testify to the outstanding musicianship, flair, and importance of the music that Senator Jesse Helms doesn't want us to hear. Cuba features old school superstars like Ibrahim Ferrer, as well as newer institutions like Los Van Van's Pedro Calvo, and the dynamic group Irakere. When Cuban music finally hits this country, it will hit hard, so at the very least buy this album now so you can say you were into son way before it became the rage. NATHAN THORNBURGH
CORNELIUS FM: Fantasma Remixes (Matador) * CM: Cornelius Remixes (Matador) ***
It's typical of Cornelius that his new albums' high-concept is meant to steal the show from the music therein. This pop-junk sculptor is milking the "wacky Japanese hipster" thing for all it's worth--and more. The nice thing about this pair of new releases is how well they separate Cornelius' bullshit from his true talent.
FM is the bullshit. The problem with most remix albums seems to be that most of the remixers do it for the money. You'd have to be pretty inspired to put an artist's work in a better shape than he or she originally put it--it doesn't happen often. The remixers on FM (Money Mark, High Llamas, Buffalo Daughter, the Pastels, Coldcut, U.N.K.L.E.) are all friendly with Cornelius, but that doesn't help. All these mixes of songs off Cornelius' technically impressive but ultimately annoying Fantasma are too self-consciously respectful. You can hear most of the remixers putting their own stylistic stamp on the songs, while they're careful not to change them all that much. Exceptions are Coldcut's "Typewrite Lesson" and the Pastels' version of "Clash." CM is our hero returning the favor, remixing tracks by the same artists on FM, but demonstrating neither their level of restraint nor respect for songwriting. It's abundantly clear now, if it wasn't from Fantasma, that Cornelius is like a George Lucas of the studio--just don't let him try to write. He approaches CM like a graffiti artist might appropriate a billboard, augmenting and coloring with manic glee, until the whole canvas is blindingly bright and busy. Money Mark's Wings-esque "Maybe I'm Dead" and Buffalo Daughter's "Great Five Lakes" are filled up to the edges in this manner. Just like good street graphics, they're as impressive for their 3-D technique as their spontaneity and art-for-art's-sake boldness. These are the day-glo hiphop excursions--dense and disruptive, stylistically blaring, yet optimistic--promised by the existence of a globe-trotting young Japanese studio wiz, but not delivered until now. AH