Local western crooner (and archaeologist) Paula Frazer has taken her pet "project" Tarnation to some interesting places. A couple of years back we visited an Arkansas trailer park in I'll Give You Something to Cry About, one of the better debuts of that time, and a cornerstone in the then recently hatched alternacountry oeuvre. As I (piss-poorly) reviewed it: "[I'll Give You Something has] traces of the Carter Family, the Stanley Brothers ... Loretta and Tammy, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, the Chocolate Watchband and the Velvet Underground." Alas, this creepy quality couldn't last. Frazer took Tarnation without its excellent original lineup to England (metaphorically at least) with the 4AD label. Out plopped Gentle Creatures (overproduced by Warren Defever of His Name Is Alive), an awful record that rerecorded much of the first album's songs and undermined the simplicity that I'll Give You Something tried to legitimize. To give it a PR spin: an attempt to connect gentle glooms along the Ozarks-Manchester axis. Rumor had it Frazer was displeased with the final product, and last I heard she was excavating over in the Presidio on some sort of archaeological soul-search. (OK. Maybe the disappointing album and the Presidio dig aren't related in any way at all.)

Now comes Mirador, on Warner's Reprise subdivision, no less. We're in new territory again -- and lots of it. True, there's a return to the sparseness of I'll Give You Something (and all the aforementioned influences stand), but there's a different flavor here ... something spicy ... something Sergio Leone. Twaaang goes that E-minor chord on "An Awful Shade of Blue" as Frazer's contralto slips up into her trademark lonely, lovely falsetto, reminding us of squinting Clint and a high noon that glints off gun metal. But the homage isn't just spaghetti western, because by the time we reach the second cut, "Wait," we're noticing something distinctly British: a clean, warbling plaint in the production -- something Smiths. Then comes "Your Thoughts and Mine," where the Leone twang and the lovely falsetto merge with the big confessional shoegaze, mariachi horns, and nylon-stringed Mexican solo guitar. Wow. Feel that desert sun/London fog. Then behold the somber cellos on "Destiny"; the psychedeliharpsifuzzichord (for lack of a better word) on "There's Someone"; the monochromatic organ on "Like a Ghost"; the silly '60s Tommy Roe pop groove on "Little Black Egg"; and the cool Hitchcock soundtrack violins at the end of a rerecorded "Christine" -- a delightful Thorazine-induced slide guitar ditty about a girl named Christine who makes a doll that comes to life. All of these doodads are firmly nestled under Frazer's two-tiered croon and the initial Leone twang. If there's any problem here, it's that the songs seem restrained, rather than buoyed, by the obvious aping of an established cinematic-score style. Still, Frazer has accomplished something rare: Either she's pushed on into new frontiers, or dug down and discovered a fresh batch of ruins.

-- Curtis Bonney

Various Artists
Love Jones: The Music

Just beneath the surface of Love Jones, Theodore Witcher's glossy, upscale black romantic drama, there is a strong subtext about identity politics. The movie raises points about establishing black archetypes that are not 'hood-based, and which are equally fluent in the language of white and black cultures. The soundtrack -- or at least the 14 songs included on the disc, 11 of which actually appear in the film -- drives the point home.

Love Jones' music is a willfully eclectic mix of traditional jazz, jazz hybrids, and conventional and alternative R&B that meshes together nicely -- doing so without the weight of such knee-jerk dogma as "It's all black, ergo it's all good," nor with the bulky requirements of scholarship in asserting that all black music is aesthetically connected. Instead, the recording provides a casual walk among some of the best performers in a variety of genres. Some, like Lauryn Hill and Xscape, are well known, while others, like Groove Theory and Dionne Farris, are deserving of wider recognition. It's what you might hear visiting the different tents if the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival were held in Oakland.

In a romantic movie where He prefers typewriters to computers and She opts for trains instead of planes, the lead single, Dionne Farris' "Hopeless," is a canny choice. Farris' forlorn reflection is underpinned by strength and resolution; the attitude is a throwback to country blues. The backing is subdued and effective. Much of the soundtrack is given over to sultry yet surprisingly cliche-free love songs: Cassandra Wilson's "You Move Me," Trina Broussard's "Inside My Love," Groove Theory's "Never Enough," Lauryn Hill's "The Sweetest Thing," Kenny Lattimore's "Can't Get Enough," and Me'Shell Ndegeocello and Marcus Miller's "Rush Over." In this sort of mix, it is no surprise to find Ellington and Coltrane's version of "In a Sentimental Mood." It is a collection of highbrow smooch music, focused on redemption through carnality rather than cheap, transgressive thrills. After all, it portrays black men -- well OK, one black man -- whose orgasm is an act of submission rather than conquest.

Not everything works here. The "Mellosmoothe" mix of Maxwell's "Sumthin' Sumthin' " works as backing music to the protagonists' first roll in the hay, but lacks something on its own. Cassie's "Girl" is shrill and too forceful for this crowd. And the Brand New Heavies' "I Like It," featuring their new vocalist, Siedah Garrett, doesn't work as well as Jamiroquai's "Virtual Insanity," which is used in the same party scene in the movie, but which isn't on the disc.

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