J. MASCIS & THE FOG
More Light
(Ultimatum)
***1/2

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This is a treat. On Mascis' first proper solo album since Dinosaur Jr.'s split, he's rediscovered the on-fire laconic grace he displayed back in the early days, when Lou Barlow was in the group. Gone is the struggle for permanence: Freed of major-label pressure, Mascis has relaxed both himself and his music sufficiently to allow all the melodies, harmonies, and glorious pyrotechnic guitar solos to come flooding through. "Waistin," with its crystalline bell-sound and languid lyrics, is a call to arms almost as potent as "Freak Scene." "Where'd You Go" is harder, and rocks like Mascis has heard Neil Young for the very first time again. Throughout, the album is enhanced by drumming straight out of the Black Sabbath school of minimal and heavy, some fine '60s-style organ sounds, and my main man Kevin Shields on extra guitar. The '70s never sounded this potent. "More Light" ends on a wall-of-sound wind tunnel effect, no doubt helped by Mr. Shields jangling his little post-rock heart out. I once claimed that J. plays guitar like he skis--recklessly, but fully in control. Now it's as if he's on a snowboard, down the Mountain of Rock. EVERETT TRUE

 

JOHN HIATT
Crossing Muddy Waters
(Vanguard)
***

After his split with Capitol Records, John Hiatt returns home stylistically with the mostly acoustic Crossing Muddy Waters, a one-shot release for revered label Vanguard. Recorded over three days, the album crackles with the spontaneity and rawness that suits Hiatt, but has so often lacked on his more polished productions. The shift in songwriting tone is impressive, too. The smartass sneering through "She Loves the Jerk" is nowhere to be found here. The songs face down death, failed love, and squelched dreams with a resolve that undercuts the sadness. The title cut is a heart-rending look at the fallout of his first wife's suicide. Hiatt sings, "Like a rusty shot in a hollow sky she left me without warning." Death haunts the elegiac "Mr. Stanley," about his father-in-law's passing. On Crossing Muddy Waters Hiatt mixes his twang and grit to wonderful effect, showing his influences while transforming them into country-soul. It's his best album since Bring the Family. The emotional bareness and its mature hope are captured perfectly on "Only the Song Survives," in which he catalogues the passing nature of life--"The faces will change, the names of the innocent, the story at five"-- before affirming, "only the song survives." NATE LIPPENS

 

HASIL ADKINS
Poultry in Motion
(Norton)
***

The king of kracked has done kooked up a kan of krispy, kickin' khicken killas. Yummy. Uh... I hope y'all've "eaten" with le' Monsieur de los Haze before, 'cause he the mostest one-man band of all one-man bands ever to be called, or considered, a one-man band! And his one-man band can play country or rock... whatever we need. Well, this kollection features fractured fricassees from the past 50 or so years... all about delicious khicken... selections such as "Chicken Walk" and "Chicken Twist," all breaded and de-livered, deep FRIED 'n' greasy, skins 'n' all! MIKE NIPPER

 

JOAN OF ARC

The Gap
(Jade Tree)
***

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Joan of Arc have moved beyond a sound that can be described in terms like post-punk, emo, or art-rock. Their fourth album, The Gap, leaves the past (along with its nearly antiquated terms) behind, like a fuzzy black-and-white memory. Creating traditional acoustic sounds against a decadent number of artificial samples, Joan of Arc have managed to skewer the melodies and harmonies of pop into an almost unrecognizable casserole that's nearly unfit for human consumption. However, they still have that intoxicating way of getting stuck in your hum-box while you file papers at work. It's well crafted--full of so many layers (up to 100 tracks on certain songs) and multi-personalities that it's hard to know after listening what it is you've just experienced. The warm strum of the guitar complemented with airy vocals makes the songs feel intimate, but the crashing shelves of glass jars and faraway sirens Joan of Arc throw into the mix leave you wondering if you were just in the supermarket or left out in the street on a balmy summer night. Just listen to track two, "As Black Pants Make Cat Hairs Appear," and try not to come up with your own new term to impress all the too-cool scenester kids. LISA GUNTER

 

TEDDY THOMPSON
Teddy Thompson
(Virgin)
*

This adorable boy with his rumpled hair and funky thrift store T-shirt seems so sensitive that I feel guilty for sleeping through his soporific debut. The production by Joe Henry reaches for an alt-country flavor, with pedal guitar and the ubiquitous appearance of Emmylou Harris on a single track, but has no immediacy or grit. His lyrics never transcend the earnest rhyming exhibited in "All We Said": "So we spent the night/and the morning light/crept across the bed/and we said goodbye/ without meeting eyes/and that was all we said." This guy needs to get drunk and get laid a lot more often, but this show of utter ball-lessness probably won't make that any easier. TAMARA PARIS