On the intro to Both Worlds *69 (Hypnotize Minds/Loud; Grade: B-), the sophomore release from Three 6 Mafia moll Gangsta Boo, one of the Three 6 impresarios announces that the record is dedicated to "all you motherfuckers that went pop. Hypnotize Minds is gonna keep it gangsta." This tough talk no doubt comes from the heart and has an element of truth -- the Three 6 family has made what is likely the roughest stuff (lyrically and musically) to ever scale the Billboard Top 10. But the statement is also disingenuous: Three 6's music has gotten more "pop" over the last couple of years -- which is precisely why they've moved from regional phenomenon to national commercial force -- and the music is all the better for it.
This evolution is more detectable on Three 6 satellite releases than on the more rabidly antisocial records under the Three 6 Mafia moniker. Project Pat's relatively relaxed and witty Mista Don't Play from earlier this year earned its success with chart-worthy singles "Don't Save Her" and the sublimely funny "Chickenhead." Now comes Both Worlds, a quantum leap over Boo's 1999 debut, Enquiring Minds.
Both Worlds opens rather conventionally, with the belligerent, charmless, hater-hating "Hard Not 2 Kill" and "They Don't Love Me." But then Boo turns the musical corner with three memorable songs that offer real insight on real subjects. "Mask 2 My Face" transitions out of the bludgeoning opening songs with a believable ode to drug purchasing that moves from trolling the projects to a flight to Amsterdam. Then comes the good stuff: "Love Don't Live (U Abandoned Me)" is a break-up song that makes brilliant use of a title hook sampled from Rose Royce, a move we wouldn't have expected from Three 6 a few years ago. Then there's "Can I Get Paid (Get Your Broke Ass Out)," which is artistically ambitious in that Boo raps in a voice that isn't quite her own. Here Boo is a stripper (whose favorite song to dance to is Gangsta Boo's "Where Dem Dollars At") spitting a diatribe against cheap patrons. Surely the recent hip-hop fixation on strip-club culture deserves a deeper analysis than Boo's accepting commentary, but she adds plenty of righteous common sense to the subject by merely proffering the blunt chorus "Get your broke ass out the club/If you ain't gonna tip."
After that trifecta, Both Worlds takes another turn for the typical, and the group's chronic musical limitations are more noticeable: the tiring horrorcore synths and a chanting, metronomic flow that doesn't hold up very well over 70 minutes. But the record rebounds with useful cameos from Project Pat and Three 6's Crunchy Black and with Boo finding her footing again with a couple of ribald sex tales: Boo gives a "player" what he deserves with the title-says-it-all "I Faked It" and takes an unexpected turn on the cheating song "Your Girl's Man."
Longtime local faves Big Ass Truck may be on hiatus right now (though they will play an in-store at Tower Records downtown on August 18th), but if the band's latest release, The Rug (Terminus; Grade: A-), is any indication, they're as strong a recording unit as ever.
During an interview with the Flyer earlier this year, singer-guitarists Robby Grant and Steve Selvidge characterized The Rug as an experimental detour for the band, with a "real" record to follow later. But the relaxed, tossed-off quality here obviously agrees with the band. Recorded locally at Easley-McCain Studios, the 37-minute, mostly vocal-free The Rug is a playful project that finds the band experimenting with a variety of sounds and styles and finding success with all of them. The album opens with the mid-tempo art-funk of "The Path," probably the closest the record comes to establishing the standard sound of this extremely eclectic band. From there, The Rug sets off for parts unknown. With its active, almost exotic(a) percussion and guitar and keyboard lines that border on reverie, "The Me" evokes indie heroes Yo La Tengo at their loveliest. DJ Colin Butler scratches up "Doughblood," giving some indication what Frank Zappa might have sounded like if he'd been influenced by hip hop. "The 0," which is driven by the propulsive blare of local horn players Jim Spake and Scott Thompson, forges a new genre -- call it Afro-(big) beat, Fatboy Slim meets Fela Kuti. The title track is an anthemic, spacey finale. And the rare vocal songs don't disappoint either: Robby Grant's smooth vocals mesh well with the almost tropicalia backdrop of "The Wardrobe," while the first single, "Locked In," provides an apt motto for a band that still finds fertile collaborative ground after almost a decade together.
The Word (Ropeadope/Atlantic; Grade: A-) is an instrumental gospel (which may seem like an oxymoron to some) collaboration between local faves The North Mississippi Allstars, jazz-funk keyboardist John Medeski (of Medeski, Martin and Wood), and young steel-guitar virtuoso Robert Randolph. Given the Allstars' growing national status and Medeski's strong cult following, The Word is likely to bring unprecedented secular attention to a music subculture -- Pentecostal-bred sacred steel guitar -- that previously found its most visible expression on a couple of relatively obscure Arhoolie compilations. But Randolph, until recently only heard on the Arhoolie compilations and at his New Jersey church, is the focal point here.
Though any non-Christian with an ear for soulful music should still be able to hear the glory in great gospel artists such as Mahalia Jackson and Clara Ward, the subject matter of religious music can still be forbidding to those who don't subscribe to the particular beliefs being expressed. As an instrumental record, The Word makes it easy for non-believers to still thrill to the emotion and skill of the music. Allstars rhythm section Cody Dickinson and Chris Chew join Medeski to lay a solid foundation upon which Luther Dickinson and, especially, Randolph can, as one song title indicates, "fly away." The result is exploratory jams that, for once, give the word jam a good name. Some songs attack with the Hendrixian/Allmanesque fury of classic rock, as on the epic "Without God" and "Waiting On My Wings." Some move with a more graceful, more clearly church-born lilt, as on "At the Cross" and "I'll Fly Away." But everything lives up to the title of The Word's bookend cuts -- "Joyful Sounds."
The only thing -- and I mean the only thing -- wrong with The Best of the Memphis Jug Band (Yazoo; Grade: A), a 23-track compilation of sides from the most highly regarded of all jug bands, is a random track listing that ignores chronology and thus does disservice to a body of work that clearly evolves over time. Reprogram your CD and you can hear an arc over the record's 1927-1934 span that goes from the already thrilling to the downright heroic.
Rock-and-roll fans who have never been able to get into solo acoustic blues should be all over this record -- with a multipiece band, frequent harmony vocals, and a mishmash of styles that absorbs blues, hillbilly, vaudeville, ragtime, and jazz, this is as much proto-rock-and-roll as any other pop music of the pre-World War II era.
The Best of the Memphis Jug Band showcases a wonderful array of vocalists who spent time with the group -- the bluesy style of founder Will Shade ("A Black Woman is Like a Black Snake"), the more hillbilly sound of jug player Jab Jones ("Stealin', Stealin'"), the power of female vocalist Hattie Hart (the unforgettable "Cocaine Habit Blues"), and my favorite, the more polished, vaudevillian presence of Charlie Nickerson ("You May Leave, But This Will Bring You Back" and "He's In The Jailhouse Now"), whose humorous contributions to the band could make them an early version of the Coasters. Truly essential listening.
You can e-mail Chris Herrington at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by CHRIS HERRINGTON
Plans for The Acoustic Highway, a pilot broadcast of an Internet program based on the Flying Saucer's weekly Memphis Troubadours Acoustic Showcase, have undergone some changes since reported in these pages a couple weeks ago. What was originally slated to be a live broadcast from a Los Angeles soundstage on Tuesday, August 14th, will now be a taping at Newby's on the same date before a live audience. The program itself will be broadcast at a yet-to-be-determined date in September, according to creative director and showcase founder Wayne LeeLoy.
Tuesday's taping at Newby's is free and open to the public and starts at 7 p.m. Musicians will include LeeLoy, who performs regularly under the name Native Son, local singer-songwriter Cory Branan, regional fave Garrison Starr, and singer-songwriter Paul Thorn. At least one other local artist is expected to be added to the lineup. For more information on the project, you can check out the program's Web site at www.acoustic.tv.
Among the myriad Elvis Week offerings is "Baby, Let's Play House," a fund-raiser for the Center For Southern Folklore. The center will hold a patio party at the home Elvis once owned at 1034 Audubon Drive -- currently owned by local Elvis historians Mike Freeman and Cindy Hazen -- on Tuesday, August 14th, from 5 to 10 p.m. Tickets to the party are $35, which includes a tour of the house, a buffet filled with Elvis-related foods, an auction, and music from Elvis Presley's Memphis regulars The Dempseys.
Malco Theatres will be the local host for a live satellite broadcast of a Sugar Ray and Uncle Kracker concert from Atlanta. The concert will be broadcast at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, August 15th, and shown locally at Malco's Wolfchase and Majestic theaters. Admission is $15. This first-of-its-kind broadcast is apparently the beginning of a new spin on the old pay-per-view gambit, with the possibility of other live events -- concerts, sports, Broadway shows -- shown theatrically in the near future.
Odds and ends: The finals of the Beale Street Blues Society's annual talent search will be held Saturday, August 11th, at Blues City Café The Jazz Foundation of Memphis, sponsors of semiregular events such as the World Class Jazz Series and the Essence of Jazz Festival, has announced a fund-raising drive. For more information on becoming a Jazz Foundation member call 725-1528 The new Tower Records at Peabody Place got its in-store performance schedule off to a great start over the weekend with artists such as Tracy Nelson and the Full Gospel Tabernacle Choir. The music continues on Saturday, August 18th, with an afternoon performance by Big Ass Truck.