Words + Guitar (+ Beats + Skronk)

What mattered and what splattered in pop, 1997

7) Foo Fighters, The Colour and the Shape Dumb lyrics, great hooks, huge guitars, enormous drums: The Foo Fighters valiantly strive to be the AC/DC of the '90s.

8) Reef, Glow The Rolling Stones to Oasis' Beatles, Reef lean heavily on rhythm and blues while stomping around in full Britpop swagger. The album's power comes from the impressive vocals of singer Gary Stringer, who carries his tunes like a throaty (young) Mick Jagger.

9) Moloko, "Fun for Me" A delightful slice of electronic trip-pop, this funky, punchy single buried itself in my brain from the moment I first heard it; I still haven't found a place to drop it off. One caveat: "Fun for Me" is by far the best song on Do You Like My Tight Sweater?, the album it comes from.

10) Steve Earle, El Corazon When Steve Earle sings you a story on El Corazon, you believe him. Whether he's singing as an oil worker going to his first brothel, a "colored boy" visiting a redneck town alone, or a lonely man seeking solace on the streets, Earle uses his oak-bark-rough voice and pick-heavy guitar playing to imbue his songs with a grizzled veracity. El Corazon has all the markings of a classic, including the occasional sure-to-sound-dated studio gimmickry.

Eight Things That Mattered to Martin Johnson in 1997

1) Erykah Badu and Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott Instead of working opaque sex appeal like L'il Kim, Foxy Brown, Total, SWV, and just about every other black female performer young enough to still get carded, these two took self-definition seriously; that is, they controlled the selves they were defining. That control underpins their recordings -- Badu's Baduizm and Live, and Elliott's Supa Dupa Fly -- where the singers alter the urban contemporary song form to fit their own statements, not vice versa.

2) Puff Daddy's "I'll Be Missing You" Unlike anger, grief isn't a particularly artful emotion, and unlike Biggie Smalls -- for whom the track is a eulogy -- Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs isn't a particularly artful rapper. But as the sample of the Police's "Every Breath You Take" proves, Combs is an excellent recycler. The ubiquity of this song made a stronger statement about the senselessness of black-on-black crime than any other singer, rapper, or self-appointed black spokesperson.

3) The Miles Davis live '70s reissues, Cassandra Wilson's Traveling Miles (due in '98), and Javon Jackson's Good People As the boring run of music-school grads playing rote standards lets up, the jazz labels are finally realizing that the music is more relevant when it meets pop halfway.

4) Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes After all those years of being a tomboy in TLC, she emerged as a full-effect glamour woman in her video and during her performance of "Not Tonight" at the MTV video awards. If there is really a beauty sleeping deep inside everyone, Lopes' diva woke up big time this year.

5) Wyclef Jean & the Refugee Allstars Anyone who dismissed the Fugees for their bland covers of "No Woman No Cry" and "Killing Me Softly" is missing a great party. On The Carnival, Jean combined musical diversity, political savvy, and raucous humor to create one of the year's most compelling recordings.

6) Roni Size and the entire DJ movement Almost every week another DJ-based recording dropped and redefined the way we hear music, replacing melodies and harmonies with fragments of sound. Size's New Forms was the best.

7) The Love Jones soundtrack A good match for the movie's underlying theme about race and cultural prerogative, this collection of tracks by Dionne Farris, Lauryn Hill, Groove Theory, and others gave alternative R&B a self-perpetuating authority.

8) Billy Higgins' return The best drummer in jazz was out of action for most of 1996 due to a liver transplant. He returned forcefully in '97 playing concert halls with Ornette Coleman and nightclubs with Jackie McLean.

Sam Prestianni's Top Seven Transcendent Moments in Music '97

1) Globe-trotting from the homestead Rare aural snapshots of the world from four different CDs, including The Dance of Heaven's Ghosts, passion, sorrow, and joy from the cultural cauldron of the Greek islands, kindred to flamenco's soul-stirring duende; The Mystic Fiddle of the Proto-Gypsies, ecstatic trance rituals performed by the Baluchi people of Pakistan; Angels in the Mirror, spirited Haitian voodoo rituals that debunk black-magic stereotypes; and Susana Baca, an intense combination of sparse yet riveting Peruvian percussion, gut-string guitar, and Baca's ethereal vocals.

2) Hedonism and improvisation The scene was a party for friends and friends of friends at the home of the Modern Mandolin Quartet's Mike Marshall -- a heady mix of home-cooked vittles, fine wine, and music at an impromptu gathering. After dinner Marshall assembled some pals -- percussionist Aaron Johnston, clarinetist/saxophonist Harvey Wainapel, and Brazilian classical-guitar star Paulo Bellinati -- for a brief set of Brazilian choros, the original music of Carnaval. The ad hoc quartet essayed gorgeous melodies from a fat book of charts, then improvised a couple of tunes. Bellinati's virtuosic chordal accompaniment on the constantly modulating choros created a rolling effect of continuous waves of melody and grace. The guests were swept away in the current.

3) The difference between stripping and playing the violin In an effort to illustrate "the commodification of music, the body, ethnicity, and eroticism in our market-driven society," one-of-a-kind bandleader and kotoist Miya Masaoka gave lunchtime passers-by at U.N. Plaza far more than a Whopper and fries. The performance -- What Is the Difference Between Stripping and Playing the Violin? -- combined a 12-piece orchestra with the steamy gyrations of erotic dancers. The result: a juxtaposition of global-thinking avant-garde music -- Asian folk melodies, jazz improv, speed-metal riffs -- and titillating striptease that wowed hundreds of onlookers.

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