While ex-Uncle Tupelo comrade Jeff Tweedy transformed himself into a Tom Petty clone with hand-clap-happy pop-rock band Wilco, Jay Farrar continued the distinction that marked Tupelo's trend-forging alt-country. Just as Farrar sounded broken and tragic up against Tweedy's bouncy little ditties, his band Son Volt took a somber (and sometimes lackluster) route.
Now, though, Farrar's first solo project after three Son Volt records ditches the dullness and tentatively embraces something rare in his genre: new sounds! Well, not entirely. But rather than reaching backward in time for inspiration (his usual shtick), Farrar looks east. Guitars are tuned to sound like sitars, rhythms slant through his keening in anything but 4/4 time, and the unsteady drone of Farrar's voice finally makes sense. His warbly vocals have always relied on relatively solid backgrounds, whether it was Tweedy's husky voice or simply a more traditional guitar-bass-drums sound. Here his melancholy quaver is framed by nothing but swirling, Arabic-tinged guitar flourishes, delicate backing vocals, unexpected rhythms and miscellaneous vibrations. Warble intertwines with warble, lending uncertainty and exotic intrigue to Farrar's gently mournful country-folk songs.
The album is not a complete departure by any means; there's no mistaking that voice or songwriting style. Sebastopol sounds like an extra-good Son Volt record stewing in Eastern spices. But it's a progressive move, a step beyond the whole post-Uncle Tupelo school's cursed fascination with the stale myth of some glorious past. Becky Ohlsen
The Complete In a Silent Way Sessions
A three-disc volume, new in Columbia's laudable reissue campaign, documents Davis' late-'60s abandonment of traditional jazz in favor of the volcanic experiments of Bitches' Brew. Keyboardists Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Josef Zawinul do much to set the demanding agenda. Thirty years later, how can you "review" Miles Davis? Ours is merely to love, honor and obey. Zach Dundas
Once the archetype of bare bones, straight-edged D.C. punk, Fugazi's music grows ever more complex. Like the band's other recent albums, The Argument is a dense, dissonant burst of sound textures, with the band's trademark guitar-feedback feast joined by hints of piano and cello. But, rest assured, the exquisite fury lives on. Brian Libby
Terry Southern, et al.
Give Me Your Hump! The Unspeakable Terry Southern Record
"Terry Southern is the most important literary satirist of the 20th century...," claim the liner notes. That might be tough to swallow. No doubt, though, this selection of readings of the '60s sensation and Dr. Strangelove scriptwriter delivers some refined goods, none more so than Marianne Faithfull's rich-as-cream rendering of a passage from Southern's smutty Blue Movie to a sorta vaudevillian soundtrack. Mmm. Allen Ginsberg, Jonathan Winters, Sandra Bernhardt and the slushy late author himself also lend voice to Southern's arch depravity. Zach Dundas
James Mathus and His Knockdown Society
Antiseptic is damn well right. Mathus shifts from the animation of his retro-swing act, Squirrel Nut Zippers, to unconvincing Mississippi swamp blues. This medley of comatose laments and exhausted juke-joint jams lacks any trace of soul, though the fine musicianship of some well-chosen sidemen ensures all is not lost. Colleen McGraw
The Simple Life
Jazz percussionist Parker's flexibility gives him the freedom to pursue creative directions other drummers might neglect. The Simple Life ranges from a haunting version of Ellington's "Caravan" to live takes at the Village Vanguard to an interlude recorded under NYC's 59th Street Bridge. In a music-as-wallpaper era, Parker's vigorous sonic performance art shines. Chris Hofgren
Temple of Sound & Rizwan Muazzam Qawwali
People's Colony No. 1
(Real World Records)
Former members of world techno pioneers Transglobal Underground team with nephews of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who was the king of qawwali, the devotional singing style of Pakistani Sufism. This collaboration yields an exquisite fusion of technological trickery with ancient vocal gymnastics. Some moments do sound like outtakes from Peter Gabriel's Passion, but other tracks make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. Ben Munat