ALBUMS / Buckets of whitewash and gore

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Music from the Motion Picture Soundtrack 'A Perfect World'

(Reprise 9362-45516-2)




Dora Suarez

(Clawfist HUNKA CDL6)

THE soundtrack to Clint Eastwood's A Perfect World attempts to evoke the American post-War small- town Shangri-La of dream kitchens and cars with ever bigger fins. It's a very, very white world, of course, but this selection of late Fifties / early Sixties country jukebox music is still a little too uniform in tone, allowing Chris Isaak's two more recent tracks to slip in seamlessly alongside period pieces like Perry Como's 'Catch a Falling Star'.

Apart from Bob Wills's hill-billy boogie 'Ida Red', which is about as black as rural rednecks were allowed to get back then, only Don Gibson ('Sea of Heartbreak') and Johnny Cash ('Guess Things Happen that Way') show a little stubble on the era's chin. Otherwise, only the staple country-music agenda of adultery and deceit suggests the cracks in the facade of this supposedly perfect world. Of the two pieces of original incidental music composed by Eastwood himself, 'Big Fran's Baby' is the more interesting, a waltz-time melange of fiddle drones and saxophones that seeks to cement the link between country music and its Celtic roots.

The bleak, brutal world depicted in Derek Raymond's crime novels is anything but perfect, bringing London uncomfortably close to America. On Dora Suarez, his recitation from his own I Was Dora Suarez is backed by creepy, impressionistic music provided by James Johnston and Terry Edwards of Gallon Drunk, caught in surprisingly sensitive, sober-sides mood. Desultory harpsichord, distantly squawking sax and ominous drones of uncertain origin play around the edges of the story, as Raymond brings a Michael Winner- esque relish to the gory details of the victims' deaths (if anything, he exhibits a greater tenderness when describing a grandfather clock broken in the murderous attack).

The actual story is strangely abbreviated, with the crime-fiction essentials - plot, motivation, deduction, detection - drained away, leaving the bloody details of the crime, the unnamed killer's subsequent self-abasing frottage, and the unnamed detective's ultimate enactment of revenge. In the book, their anonymity allows the character of Dora Suarez to assume a greater glory than the pathetic killer; but here, lacking the victim's presence, it's as if the story's skeleton has been removed, leaving the entrails exposed. Lovely.


Papa's Culture, But . . .

(Elektra 7559-61432-2)

IN THEIR blend of styles, soul-jazz- rap combo Papa's Culture are like a more dapper, urban Arrested Development, but with hipster jazz slang and their own private cast of cool characters replacing Speech's moral homilies, and built predominantly from jazz and reggae borrowings rather than funk and R&B samples. 'It's Me', for instance, features a nonsense rap drawled over a familiar reggae riff once used by, among others, Big Youth, though it's a deal neater and less dub-spacey here.

The group are at their best on languid soul-jazz grooves like the opening 'Swim', or slinky-sexy numbers like 'Put Me Down', '(Who Is) Mack Daddy Love' and 'Toes', where they take on something of Cameo's sly sensuality and Tone- Loc's lazy lubriciousness. Less satisfying are the messy 'Muffin Man' and 'Top 40', where their dreams of making it big with their 'punk-rock, hip-hop, funky reggae record' are couched in a Mose Allison setting just the wrong side of cornball, redeemed only by the Charles Mingus bass solo that functions as the bridge. A promising, if somewhat cluttered, debut.


Force of Nature

(Alligator ALCD 4817)

LIKE Etta James, the statuesque soul-blues shouter Koko Taylor is continuing her career into what ought, by rights, to be her dotage - on '63-Year-Old Mama', one of this album's three self-penned numbers, she makes great play of her age and seemingly undiminished energy. Best known for the definitive 'Wang Dang Doodle', she covers a wide range of standards here, from a 'Hound Dog' that cleaves closer to Big Mama Thornton than Elvis, through a more leaden version of 'Bad Case of Loving You', to a soulful reading of Toussaint McCall's 'Nothing Takes the Place of You', on which her throaty rasp can't quite disguise the occasional wavering of her pitch.

The undisputed star of her five- piece band is guitarist Criss Johnson, whose neat, precise lead lines display the clear influence of several blues master - one of whom, Buddy Guy, is on hand to show off his technique when asked, 'Buddy Guy, can you play the blues?' midway through 'Born under a Bad Sign'. A stupid question, really.


Moon Shines at Night

(All Saints ASCD16)

THE Armenian Djivan Gasparyan plays the duduk, or 'nay', a cross between oboe and flute with timbre leaning more to the latter. It's a sound whose purity and fragility carry immense volumes of wistfulness, regret and windy desolation, and although the instrument has been used in collaborations by such as Peter Gabriel (of course), it's best heard in lonely isolation, except for a harmonising drone, as on the sublime Moon Shines at Night. Of the 10 tracks included here, eight are instrumentals, while two also feature Gasparyan's gentle, yearning vocals.

More intrinsically spiritual and soul-cleansing than any ambient or new-age noodling, the wide-open spaces of this music are the aural equivalent of the melancholic moods of a Tarkovsky film: there's an almost zen-like calm and lack of 'figuration' in the melody which renders it, to western ears, a kind of benign minimalism. Perfect music for an imperfect world.