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Mature Content

The Eminem Show (Interscope)

After 2000’s introspective The Marshall Mathers LP, Eminem’s old persona returns in full force, reestablishing the Detroit rapper as one of the more controversial figures in hiphop history. It is easy to discredit a man who is directly responsible for the resurgence of the tennis visor as a fashion statement, who so adamantly wears his self-absorbed, unresolved adolescent despair on his sleeve for suburban teens to hoist like yet another misappropriated middle finger in the face of authority. Nonetheless, his acerbic wit, insight and mathematical precision with verse belie his self-centered ire. Producer/mentor Dr. Dre embellishes the rhymes with low, sweet vibes borrowed right out of TVland, The Nutcracker and classic rock, or purloined from the vast repetitive heartbeat of The Wall and incalculable bytes of ephemeral Americana.

The texture of each track is seamless, made even more formidable by painfully poignant rapping. The Dre-Eminem coalition has relentlessly compiled a polluted scrapbook of Eminem’s immersion in the cesspool of fame. “White America” and “Without Me” are downright haunting, learned assessments of the music industry. Here the raps transcend the genre and enter into a more beat-era digression. “Superman” and “Soldier” gravitate toward the more familiar, gratuitous Shady. “Say Goodbye to Hollywood,” in light of the rest of the CD, is a poor disclaimer for white males 14 to 21 that this is all vaudeville, all acting, the old Alice Cooper “I do this so you don’t have to” bit. And cries of censorship? Even the metalheads realized long ago how essential the Parental Advisory label is for sales.

In the end, for all the ego, misogyny, hatred, gunplay and disturbingly ritualistic immersions in thug-style brutal murder, Eminem’s latest effort is frighteningly mature. As mature as he’s gonna get, anyway.

—Bill Ketzer

Starlings, TN
The Leaper’s Fork (Chicken Ranch)

Starlings, TN are a trio of former rock-band practitioners who offer respect and confidence with their own take on rootsy Americana. The band are mentored by dulcimer virtuoso David Schnauffer, who is an important component on this debut album (but he leaves it at that, eschewing touring). Sometimes the enthusiasm of a newcomer can yield tipsy results, but in this case there’s a fearless melding of front-porch spontaneity and subtle space-age components. “Grey Cat on a Tennessee Farm” and “Red Rocking Chair”—two of the set’s four traditional numbers—have quietly subversive arrangements and mixes; iconoclastic, but oh so friendly. The only thing that doesn’t ring true is the brief call-and-response vocal opening to “Nothing but the Blood of Jesus,” during which they sound like the young whippersnappers and former rockers that they are. But as a whole, Starlings, TN are a fully formed and believable world.

—David Greenberger

The Blasters
Testament: The Complete Slash Recordings (1981-1985) (Rhino)

For those who care about this sort of thing (and I do), it’s all here. The Blasters were not content to simply be revivalists, and their brand of rockabilly and roots-rockin’ blues was shot through with a hot white bolt of punk energy. The group emerged with their vision fully intact on the heels of the West Coast punk explosion, and during four prolific years beginning in 1981 churned out the canon found here. The Brothers Alvin were the two-headed monster behind the Blasters. And much like the Band’s Robbie Robertson, lead guitarist Dave Alvin was the creative force behind the group, providing his brother, vocalist Phil Alvin, with tunes that seemed to have been culled from some enchanted border radio station adrift in time. While both Dave and Phil subsequently embarked on solo careers and periodic Blasters reunions, this is the fervent period upon which their careers are staked. And it’s not hyperbole to state that Dave Alvin wrote instant classics. Even at first listen, tracks like “So Long Baby Goodbye” and “Long White Cadillac” are so right and so familiar that they seemed to have been embedded in our DNA. The early ’90s collection was solid, but this, the band’s first career spanner, far outdistances it. Testament also features the Blasters live album and a bunch of rarities, including “Justine” with X’s John Doe on vocals. Dave Alvin served as a consultant, and this mother swings.

—Erik Hage

Dr. Eugene Chadbourne
Texas Sessions: Chapter Two (Boxholder)

The Woodstock, Vt.-based Boxholder Records is shaping up into a vibrant and vital champion of non-classifiables and envelope-pushers. Eugene Chadbourne is of course not really a doctor, but he truly did record this album in Texas. The set is subtitled “To Doug,” as in Doug Sahm. Chadbourne and Texas’s late musical ambassador to the world have more in common than one might initially think: Both men fully inhabited any music they turned their attentions to. Granted, Sahm’s country-R&B grooves fell more squarely in a preexisting tradition, while Chadbourne lovingly pummels the forms with free-jazz cacophony, horror-movie hijinks, comic asides, and homemade instruments (all of which ends up proving the utter resilient durability of the material he chooses to explore).

Texas Sessions: Chapter Two offers up 11 songs: some by Sahm, some associated with Sahm, and five Chadbourne originals. Chadbourne is joined on the album by a rhythm section that played separately with Sahm at different times during his life, drummer Ernie Durawa and bassist Speedy Sparks. Also on hand from the previous Texas chapter are pedal-steel guitarist Susan Alcorn and harmonica player Walter Daniels. They made a delightfully flowing, unified whole out of Sahm classics like “Give Back the Key to My Heart” and “Old Habits Die Hard” and Chadbourne’s free-ranging tunes (from the sad country portraiture of “The Bottled Labeled Losers” to the social commentary/protest of “Today’s Gun Permits” and “The Bully Song”).


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