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Doc Watson: Doc Watson at Gerde's Folk City (Sugar Hill). The assertion that this 1962 engagement was Doc's first as a solo act would seem inaccurate; my understanding is that Watson appeared in Philadelphia for a month's run the previous year. But these recordings do document Watson at the beginning of his career, when his then-revolutionary approach was being defined. It's interesting to realize how few traditional singers take the kinds of simple liberties with melody that Watson uses to excellent effect in his version of "The House Carpenter." The well-conceived arrangements will fascinate specialists, but the masterful delivery will captivate anyone who's not tone-deaf. Watson is a great vocalist and solid on the banjo; as a guitarist he's as close to perfection as anyone who ever picked a flat-top.
--By Duck Baker


Irony's Maiden

Maybe I'm jaded, or maybe I'm just naive. But after more than 25 years of concentratin on my main musical loves, hip-hop and elecctronic, music that doesn't flip expecations in some semi-novel way makes no impression on me. Not that the selections on my 2001 list are avant-garde or even cutting-edge (that blade has swung all the way 'round by now -- until a new genre pops up, no limbs remain to be hacked off). But if I can't tell that an artist has questioned the tropes of his or her presumed scene even a little, the disc gets pitched on the sell-back pile. Perhaps a few of these records are relatively safe genre pieces -- diversions are needed now more than ever -- but most have a wee twist. Next year irony might be out, but don't they say that every year?

Buck 65: Man Overboard (Anticon). There was a deluge of eccentric, polysyllabic whiteboy rapper records this year, and many of them were well worth the money. I do have reservations about the obscurantism that seems to motivate their lyrical approaches -- too many WPMs (words per minute) and opaque references. Buck 65 gets my vote for enunciating clearly and making his clever wordplay meaningful. Any emcee who can eulogize his mother who died recently of breast cancer and not sound corny gets mad props in my book. He also scratches like a DMC champ, samples Metallica, and declares, "I can't wait until the day I ride around in rocket cars/ wear short-sleeved shirts/ and all I eat is chocolate bars." The Anticon label has been accused of making rap safe for the alternative rock crowd -- I say bring on the thrift store sweaters and shoegazing. Emo-hop deserves its time to shine, and might prove to be the ideal antidote for victims of rap's platinum-poisoning epidemic.

Fugazi: The Argument (Dischord). One of these kids is doing his own thing ... every other record on my list relies heavily on computer sequencers for arranging its sounds; Fugazi is a real live rock band. Since Fugazi's 1990 album Repeater remains on my all-time fave list despite my tastes becoming far more beat-centric since my teenage years, it's one of the very few guitar-drums-bass groups I still check for. I've always thought Fugazi has been misclassified as punk/hardcore/emo when it's actually a funk band with an attitude. Either way, The Argument displays a maturity very few fifteen-year-old outfits reach without scrapping the original charter. A very encouraging return to form after End Hits, which many read as the creative dénouement.

Gold Chains: Gold Chains (Orthlorn Musorks). "Gold Chains muthafukah, is knockin' your lights out!!" Ever notice that every hard rocker has a secret cache of aggro rap tapes stashed away somewhere -- especially Eazy-E and Public Enemy -- and can chant every line right along with them? It's because the testosterone-driven rhythms, plodding rhyme cadences, and vivid nature of the lyrics are right out of Slayer. Gold Chains spits verses and punches out beats in this long-forgotten and ignoble tradition. "Yeah, my headphones, they're large/ my speakers are in charge/ cash advance on my vocal cords like a Visa card." He's utterly and completely spoofing hip-hop while utterly and completely paying homage to every one of its tenets. Another curveball: Techno abstractionist Kit Clayton shares production credit. So Chains is speaking literally when he boasts, "I just ordered 20 DATs and 50 Moogs, a couple of ARPs, five 808s, as I take over the pop charts," which are references to old music machines drooled over by dance music knob-twiddlers. That last bit about the pop charts might be more honest than even he's willing to admit -- this shit is impossibly infectious, and with an accompanying video (I'd love to see that one), has TRL written all over it.

Interfearence: Take That Train (Ubiquity). I'm not sure how they made all of this stuff, but it sounds like acoustic disco to me. Flutes pick up melodies in place of synths, hand percussion supplants programmed thuds, and tribal/ devotional chants that don't sound lifted from National Geographic specials echo all throughout the mix. But it's not the novelty of the instrumentation alone that earns my vote -- these two Londoners know how to whip the shindig into overdrive with toe-blistering tempos and savvy build-and-release dynamics. In the same constellation perhaps as the confounding and (in my opinion) overly flapped-about broken beat scene, but sans the yuppie snootiness and preoccupation with supposedly rarefied subtlety.

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