Killah Priest's debut is, by some distance, the best solo offering from a member of the Wu-Tang Clan since Genius/ GZA's spellbinding Liquid Swords. It's the best rap album you're likely to encounter all year, an intriguing blend of negritude, Biblical epic, cosmic philosophy, mathematics and moral instruction, set to engagingly weird backings conjured up by such Wu-Tang producers as True Master, 4th Disciple, Arabian Knight and Y-Kim the illfigure.
You won't find Killah Priest gettin' jiggy wit' it like Will Smith, though: his is a much more imposing, saturnine presence, part preacher, part seeker; he eschews both the simple-minded hedonism of pop-rap and the dead-end violence of gangsta-rap in favour of a multi-layered style that taps into both the Afrocentrism of earlier rap crews like X-Clan and the space-age cosmicity that sustained the various ensembles of Sun Ra and George Clinton. The title track is the album's centrepiece, a dazzling, stream-of-consciousness torrent of astro- nomical images that finds Killah "in star mode", flying through the space of his imagination. As he claims in "High Explosives", "I'm a space cadet, with a tape and a cassette player; By fast and by prayer, I'm passing the ozone layer" - and the album is littered with out-of-body experiences like "BIBLE (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth)", a reprise of the track he donated to Genius's Liquid Swords.
But Killah Priest's virtue lies in his use of symbolism to suggest the possibility of a world beyond the ghetto. In an elegaic account of black paradise lost, "From Then Till Now", and the thrilling cosmo-futurism of "Atoms To Adam", he reaches backwards into black history and forwards into a future yet to be determined
MOISTBOYZ Moistboyz II (Grand Royal GRO37)
Tim Robbins apparently refused to release a soundtrack album for Bob Roberts, for fear that the satiric conservative anthems of the film's eponymous antihero be adopted for real by right-wingers. Such concerns, presumably, don't bother Ween, the people who, I'm informed, are behind the Moistboyz. Because it's rare that one comes across a record quite as omni-offensive as Moistboyz II; it offers such a concentrated dose of all-American yobbo revulsion, it's enough to turn the Congress communist.
Included here are a thickhead racist hoedown ("American Made And Duty- Free"), a turgid slab of heavy-rock masculinism ("Keep The Fire Alive"), an aggressive smoker's anthem ("Second-Hand Smoker"), and a sliver of repellent anti-Semitism ("Man of the Year") that comes dangerously close to the satiric knuckle - for surely (you hope) this is satire, a devastating first-person critique of everything that makes America grate.
Particularly effective are "Lazy And Cool", and the hysterical, punk- rock amphetamine anthem "Crank", featuring a grimly evocative knife-grinder solo. Scary and hilarious.
JOHN MARTYN The Church With One Bell (Independiente ISOM 3CD)
Something of a backwards step from the subtly modernistic grooves of 1996, this is John Martyn's blues album, co-produced by the singer with Norman Dayron, the man responsible for The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions back in 1971.
But Martyn's is an understanding of the form that can locate the blues in songs by Brecht, Portishead, Ben Harper, Bobby Charles and Randy Newman, alongside Lightnin' Hopkins, Elmore James and the Reverend Gary Davis.
Again, Martyn rather hides his guitar-playing under a bushel, though his voice is suitably ingrained with care and world-weariness on tracks such as "Death Don't Have No Mercy", where a sombre bowed-bass solo provides a solitary landmark in the wasteland of Davis's song. Newman's bitter "God's Song" is taken as a 3am piano blues, and Hopkins' "Feel So Bad" a light shuffle, but the real meat of the album lies in a central sequence where Harper's "Excuse Me Mister", Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" and Elmore James' "The Sky Is Crying" approach an almost unbearable, funereal absorption, before the release of Martyn's version of Portishead's "Glory Box".
BABY FOX Dum Dum Baby (Roadrunner RR 8733-2)
"Electric dub blues" is the way their press release describes Baby Fox, and it's as good a description of their style as any, I suppose. But as pleasant as Dum Dum Baby is, it lacks both the immediacy and the shape of its predecessor, 1996's lovely A Normal Family.
Where that album seemed to be held together by its sense of relaxed euphoria, this one drifts inexorably apart: after about half a dozen tracks, it's started to blur into one long smear of sound. That's the danger with dub: it's so easy to float free of a track's moorings into a Sargasso Sea of effects.
There's too much intelligence behind the music for it to be a total failure, though. "Nearly Beautiful", for instance, is a gentle soul suspension reminiscent of The Beach Boys' gorgeous "Feel Flows", and "Fury To Forgiveness" involves a neat inversion of venerable blues cliche when it opens with the singer feeling "like a childless mother".
But there are too many moments here like "The Rookery Part 1", where they slip into sluggish Portisheadisms with neither the tension nor the passion necessary to spark the song into life.
VARIOUS ARTISTS Jackie Brown - Music From the Motion Picture (Maverick/A Band Apart 9362-46841-2)
Despite opening with a devastating three-punch combination of Bobby Womack's "Across 110th Street", the Brothers Johnson's "Strawberry Letter 23" and Bill Withers' funky inquisition "Who Is He (And What Is He To You?)", Tarantino's third soundtrack flags badly in the later rounds, where a combination of syrupy soft-soul and annoying novelty music puts it on its knees.
As before, Tarantino looks primarily to the Seventies for mood and inspiration, but this time the kitsch elements effectively sabotage the power and direction established by the early tracks.
To make matters worse, the obligatory dialogue excerpts lack the zip of previous clips like the Madonna debate and the Ezekiel speech - and there's no Steven Wright on hand to provide the kind of unifying presence that might bring it all together.Reuse content