POP / Albums: It's never too late

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A Night in San Francisco (Polydor 521290-2)

HAVING made one of the few bearable live double-albums - the splendid It's Too Late to Stop Now - Van's pushing his luck a little with this twin-CD set recorded in San Francisco and Petaluma last December.

There's not too much overlap, admittedly, with that previous album: only 'Moondance' and 'Tupelo Honey' survive from Van's early career into the current Caledonia Soul set-list, and the latter is one of several tracks on which he takes something of a back seat, letting one Brian Kennedy handle the bulk of the vocal chores. And although Kennedy has a fine voice of his own, the tidal wave of relieved applause that greets Van's entry in the song's latter stages signals how much The Man is separated from the boys.

Several other guests are featured, some more impressively than others: Jimmy Witherspoon may not be quite the vocal force he once was, but Junior Wells blows some fine blues-harp on a Sonny Boy Williamson tribute of 'Help Me' and 'Good Morning Little Schoolgirl', and the Hook is as charismatic as ever on the climactic 'Gloria'; the undoubted promise of Van's daughter Shana, however, remains rather more latent than realised on her showcase of 'Beautiful Vision'.

The 10-piece band, with Georgie Fame laying an undertow of soul organ throughout, is warm and full-sounding, in lounge-jazz fashion, but relatively unaffecting for large parts of the first disc. The second disc is better, as the band stretch out and the songs move through various stages and slip into other songs, with Van quoting lines snagged in his memory from favourite R & B songs and effectively medleyfying virtually the entire course of R & B history. The truly impressive thing, however, is not the compendiousness, but the way they're blended so seamlessly into a harmonious whole. This track, and the 16-minute conflation of 'I'll Take Care of You' and 'It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World', are the highspots here, but the rest of the two- hours-plus remains very much a curate's egg affair.


'Action Packed Adventure]'

(Mercury 314 518455-2)


The Ego Has Landed

(ZTT 4509-95455-2)

THE POST-Daisy Age branch of freestyling surrealistic rap received something of a bloody nose last year from the all-conquering dope- and gangsta-rap crews of Dr Dre, Snoop Doggy Dogg and Cypress Hill but, rap fashion notwithstanding, there are still some notable exponents of that style working the thesaurus to good effect, and in the strangest places. Yaggfu Front - it stands for 'You're all gonna get fucked up in front', apparently, although what that means is another matter - are a trio of chunky lads from North Carolina whose debut album is chock-a- block with daft fun and games rather than dire threats and guns.

From the comic warning and spoof film trailers of 'Fanfare & Previews', it's clear that the Yaggfu boys are less interested in social complaint than in a more self-aware social satire - at one point, one of the trio gets so wound-up in his tale that his chums are given to discussing just what, exactly, he's trying to say, even as he's saying it. The montage of found-sounds that separates the tracks - answerphone messages, fake announcements etc - may be directly descended from De La Soul, but the vocal style here is less relaxed, more in the vein of speed-rappers like Das EFX. Fitting syllables to beats like complex jigsaw puzzles, their incessant rap style can ultimately be as wearing as their vocabulary is impressive. Small wonder, then, that in place of the usual homeboy dedications and 'shouts out' to brothers in jail, 'Action Packed Adventure]' features a shout out to their brothers in black colleges across America.

The blue-eyed Brit rap duo Honky are well set to be the most (the only?) successful pop act to hail from Doncaster, an achievement in itself. Riding slick pop grooves, songs like 'Love Thy Neighbour' and 'KKK' offer upbeat anti-racist sentiments of infectious simplicity, with only 'Supatight Love' sounding the least bit icy and vanilla. Their peers' blander ballad leanings, meanwhile, are amusingly parodied in a series of sharply truncated false-start tracks.

Singles abound here: the languid, loping groove of 'Who Am I?' is Honky's equivalent of Snoop's 'What's My Name?', while 'Honky Doodle Day' has the summertime bounce of Sly Stone. The actual raps may be occasionally facile, but their backing tracks are neatly stitched together from all manner of anonymous funky squeals and squeaks - and when they need to lift a familiar sample, like the drum sample from 'Tracks of My Tears' which drives 'The Whistler' along with all the whippy elasticity of the Funky Drummer lick, they do it with considerable panache. Next Big Thingdom beckons.


Sekunjalo: Now Is the Time - The Official ANC Album

(Mango CIDM 1110)

IF ANYTHING, this collection of tracks compiled in support of the ANC's Voter Registration drive is a little too 'official'. Imagine an Official Labour Party album, add a sense of rhythm, then hobble it with sloganeering which errs on the simplistic side. Yes, we're talking Red Wedge, South African style.

Things start all right with Sankamota's 'Hare Yeng', township jive which cruises nicely until someone decides that what it really needs is a series of pointless time-changes and a deadly spoken section. Worse follows, however: Themba Mkhize's 'Hand in Hand' and Blondie Makhene's equally glutinous 'Dedication', Americanised soul ballads, and Hugh Masekela's 'Come On Everybody', a stodgy anti-war ode.

The best track, because the least concerned with modern Anglo-American modes, is 'Kopano Ke Matla', a township soul cut by Tsepo Tshola, a gruff-voiced proclaimer. Prospective purchasers, however, would be far better investing in any of the Indestructible Beat of Soweto series, which may be less 'official' but are much more fun.

(Photograph omitted)