Marianne Faithfull
A Secret Life

Back in 1987, a reviewer described Strange Weather as “music to slit your wrists by” — which then delighted Marianne Faithfull. But the times, they've been a-changing, and A Secret Life is hardly a soundtrack for suicide. These lushly arranged 10 tracks, composed with Angelo (Twin Peaks) Badalamenti, are poignant enough, but the sentiment here is more redolent of transcendence than weltschmerz.

Once, all Faithfull needed to be transported from pop-royalty consort to immortal (i.e., dead) rock footnote was to shrug off this mortal coil while young enough to leave a beautiful corpse. But instead of doing her duty and dying young, this junkie kicked the habit and stayed clean. And, to paraphrase onetime inamorato Mick Jagger, time certainly does seem to be on her side.

Faithfull herself describes the release as “the most perfect manifestation of my own mental film that I've had yet.” She concludes “Bored by Dreams” with the spine-chilling invocation: “After a certain age, every artist works with injury.” And “Losing,” perhaps the album's most melancholy track, is also the singer's self-professed favorite. No wonder, with lines like, “I don't know who you think you're cheating/ Or with whom you have been sleeping/ But all the shit that you've been eating/ Says you're losing.” Ouch. The lovely orchestration behind “The Stars Line Up” provides a bittersweet final act, with that distinctive, throaty voice yearning to “see what we know, baby/ And write our names high up inside the sky.” A bemused Faithfull points out that this track is “the first song I've ever written that's about hope.”

While her official promotional tour doesn't kick off until fall, Marianne is hitting a few towns with an intimate cabaret that will include songs by Kurt Weill. Considering that Weill's tunes teeter precariously between the grim and the hilarious, it's an evening that's not likely to leave people looking for the nearest open window. Unless, of course, they can't get tickets.

— Julene Snyder
Marianne Faithfull plays Fri, April 14, at Slim's in S.F.; call 255-0333.

Myles Boisen

For Splatter Trio guitarist Myles Boisen, the six-string is not so much an instrument for picking notes and chords as it is a vehicle for evocative aural hallucinations. By learning to maximize the instrument's processing effects and feedback control over the years, Boisen has transformed his electric ax into an enigmatic beast. It barks, growls, whinnies, cries, squeals, reels and screams, but it never lies down and plays dead. In fact, the myriad tonal permutations on Guitarspeak, Boisen's 28-song debut as a band leader, transform the very image of a stringed instrument into something alien and wondrous, in which wood, wire, plastic and metal dissolve into a per-petually metamorphosing being: an antic poltergeist on “Ladakh”; a chittering metallic gremlin on “Tar”; an undulating angel-spirit on “Toothless Miracle Bend.”

This surreal soundscape is the result of some serious studio time. First, Boisen laid down nearly four hours of guitar solos as a foundation, the structural skeletons for development into flesh-and-blood songs. After assiduously transcribing parts and honing the arrangements, he enlisted the talents of numerous improviser pals, including Ralph Carney, Tom Djll, Fred Frith and, of course, his Splatter partners Gino Robair and Dave Barrett. The result is a seamless mixture of twisted rhythms and sly melodicism, at once liquid and fuzzy, poised but off-kilter. Quasi-ballads like “Pibroch” and “Camera Hidden Backwards in a Hat” fuse the typically contrary euphony and dissonance in a way that renders those labels meaningless. Boisen's radical approach toward composition razes the boundaries between scored and improvised music — no small feat for a mere guitar player.

— Sam Prestianni
Myles Boisen and special guests play Sun, April 16, at the Kilowatt in S.F.; call 861-2595.

Mary Lou Lord
Mary Lou Lord
(Kill Rock Stars)

Mary Lou Lord is an unheralded underground songwriter whose lack of mainstream success — or even tributary success — is a modern rock mystery. If Juliana Hatfield (who lends harmony on one track) can be a guest MTV VJ, Lord should be an advice columnist for Sassy at the very least. Her new release, curiously short at 25 minutes, features four of her own songs and four uncommon covers. Recorded straight with no effects or studio slickness, it evokes the subways and street corners where Lord earned her chops and paid her dues.

Her songs are not based around riffs (like Van Morrison's) or hooks (like Belly's), but just a few simple chords. “Lights Are Changing,” the opening track and the only one with a backing band, is as catchy as any classic American pop song. It uses a familiar, four-bar descending chord progression that got my head bopping and imagining a tinny car radio late at night. “His Indie World” is a funny and specific indictment of categorization, defeating the tunnel vision that was supposed to die upon indie rock's ascent. It sounds like it was penned for some A&R rep: “I don't think I fit into this indie world/ Guided by Voices and Velocity Girl/ Eric's Trip and Rocket Ship/ Rancid and Rocket From the Crypt/ Bikini Kill and Built to Spill.” Recalling neither the breathy whitewash of Tanya Donnelly nor the manic manipulations of Polly Harvey, Lord's voice sounds honest and unaffected: just a girl with a guitar and a heart.

— Paul Tullis
Mary Lou Lord opens for Guided by Voices Mon, April 17, at Great American Music Hall in S.F.; call 885-0750.

Mad Professor
Black Liberation Dub Chapter One
(Ras Records)

Though dub essentially began as the poor man's traveling music show, with DJs (known as MCs in the U.S.) and selectors (aka DJs) carting records and amplifiers to and from gigs throughout the Jamaican townships, it has since spread to the massive club scenes in R>both Europe and America. The sonically deranged Mad Professor (Neil Fraser) is one of the premier wizards of the genre, a “Dub Warrior” in an elite circle of artists that includes King Tubby and Lee “Scratch” Perry. With over 100 albums and infinite remixes (Massive Attack, Sade, Paco Baton) under his belt, the Mad Professor is easily the most prolific, but what really sets his work apart is his reliance on synthesized sounds. He religiously incorporates bleeps, whirs and other electronic machinations into the mix, letting them rhythmically collide with the more roots-oriented live guitar, bass, keyboards and horns. Black Liberation features relaxed layers of steamy grooves intermittently injected with echo effects and gratuitous back-masked vocal collages. The effect is a dense form of mellow, low-end ambient music, but song titles like “Slavery 21st Century,” “Black Skin, White Mind” and “Colonial Mentality” reveal the political agenda lurking in the otherwise soothing vibe. If it's true that the revolution always begins in the mind, the Mad Professor's searing mood music is a ready incitement.

— Spence Dookey
Mad Professor performs with Ariwa Posse and special guests Sun, April 16, at Slim's in S.F.; call 255-0333.

Tha Alkaholiks
Coast II Coast

Once upon a time when zodiac signs, five-minute harmonies and slightly offbeat rhymes were the norm, hip-hop records were musical manifestos for rockin' tha house. Groups like the Treacherous Three and the Disco Four transformed nursery rhymes and Brady Bunch lines into body rocks and pop locks. Tha Alkaholiks bust a B-boy stance in this thuggish-ruggish era, resurrecting the Grandmaster Flash feeling with more flows than the '95 floods and crates of intoxicating beats. “WLIX” cracks it open with a free-style cipher by J-Ro and Tash over darting chimes, hypnotizing drums and E-Swift's jabbing scratches. “All the Way Live” packs enough “I am the greatest” toasts to impress Muhammad Ali, but Tash's raspy rhapsody R>may be the finest vintage on this cut. While he dips and glides around the twitching piano chords, gripping a cold “Why ask why?” he salts on the omnipresent fake MCs: “I'm notcha R&B singa/ So there's no need for vocal coachin'/ Just a 40 and a roach I'll evict ya out the unit/ Why y'all niggas couldn't move me if ya worked for starvin' students.” In “2014,” Tash awakens to a nuked earth devoid of rap until he discovers it has literally gone underground. Although short on rhymes, the song is a reminder that hip hop always thrives farthest from the charcoal-polluted commercial arena. Coast II Coast won't make NOW's list for album of the year (“I only call back the girls with the big, big breastesses”), but if you can swallow the obnoxious innuendos, it'll keep you buzzed awhile.

— Philippe Shepnick

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