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Schoolhouse Rock
Kid Rhino

Note to consumers: these are the straight-off-the-television originals of your youth. They are not covers of Schoolhouse Rock tunes performed by fashionable rock bands, though that package also is out there somewhere.

Most of us (at least those of us of a certain late Gen X age group) agree that Schoolhouse Rock was cool. We all learned a lot without realizing it, and we're all obviously super-hep to the nostalgic appeal of a youth spent watching cartoons. But no one over the age of 12 needs a four-CD box set of this stuff, even one that's cleverly packaged in a three-ring binder. Unless you grew up without a TV, you already know most of these jingles, and after the first minute or so, it's just not that fun anymore. And it's going to be even less fun by the time your disc changer twirls to CD number four, Science Rock, which features the sleep-inducing ditties "Software," "Hardware" and "Number Cruncher." Certainly, everyone at the party will be groovin' to these chestnuts, especially those guests still in grade school.

Admittedly, Schoolhouse Rock's liner notes are interesting -- the way they let you in on the fact that it was the advertisers as much as the educators drilling these ditties into our collective consumer subconscious. And, oh yeah, that's not rock we were sold at all, but something much closer to jazz. It's cute, it's charming and I'll never listen to it again. (*)

-- Brad Tyer

Storyville
A Piece of Your Soul
Code Blue/Atlantic

While today I cringe at some of the bands I idolized in my adolescence (did I really own every Grand Funk release there was?), my regard for acts such as Al Green, War and Isaac Hayes is as high as ever. This appreciation of soul music made my enthusiasm for Storyville almost predetermined -- and is part of the reason why I contend, with some bias, that this Austin band's major-label debut, A Piece of Your Soul, has the potential to revitalize a genre that, in recent years, has been sadly neglected.

Rest assured, Storyville is more than a retread act. The aching clarity of Malford Milligan's wide-ranging vocals makes him the most striking new voice to come down the soul highway in a long, long time. While many of the style's greats have stood on a platform of horns and backup singers, Milligan's foundation is the blazing guitars of Dave Grissom and David Holt, which are ably backed by Stevie Ray Vaughan power-trio legends Tommy Shannon (bass) and Chris Layton (drums). The resulting sound blurs the line between soul and rock (a delineation that matters far more to critics than it does to fans) considerably. An incredibly funky Texas rock band with a soul singer is a concept that works just fine, thank you.

Milligan's exuberance simultaneously brings to mind joy and pain. When he describes his view of one side of a relationship in a tailspin as the "blind side of a two-way mirror," he radiates emotions that are as personal as they are universal. The concept of Storyville deliberately defies categorization. The execution, however, makes exquisite sense. (****)

-- Jim Sherman
Storyville performs Thursday, August 15, at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge.

Sponge
Wax Ecstatic
Columbia

It's always an ominous sign when you can spot the trademark characteristics of a ton of other artists on a CD more quickly than you can name the band on its cover. Which brings us, rather abruptly, to Sponge, and its second CD, Wax Ecstatic. Left with little choice but to name-drop, I'll try and make it brief: when Sponge isn't busy perfecting its third-generation Bauhaus imitation via that band's post-breakup brood (Peter Murphy and Love and Rockets), or tossing off weak-kneed nods to early glam-noir punks the New York Dolls and the Stooges, they're struggling to stay contemporary by aping the least contemporary retro-habits of the Black Crowes and Screaming Trees. There, enough said. And, most definitely, enough heard. (* 1/2)

-- Hobart Rowland

King's X
Ear Candy
Atlantic

In the eight years that King's X has ruled the land of the unjustly ignored, a loyal army of critics have never hesitated to stick their necks out for their lords, predicting, with each successive release, that this will, most certainly, be the Houston power trio's commercial vindication. And without fail, those same critics have recoiled in disgust when yet another singular batch of artful, hard-rocking power pop is lost on the masses. Foul, ignorant peasants!

With Ear Candy, King's X's sixth bid for stadium glory, you get the feeling that the group knows full well that they're running low on chances. While its predecessor, 1994's Dogman, was all ragged and choppy under the guise of having a "live" sound, Ear Candy returns the band to more produced territory, while providing its most hook-laden grooves to date. Musically, Ear Candy plucks the catchiest elements from previous discs and gives them a fresh change of clothes; lyrically, it traverses the more human territory explored on Dogman, along with the spiritual themes prevalent on 1990's Faith Hope Love (the band's should-have-been breakthrough) and other earlier releases. Perhaps the most comforting thing about Ear Candy is its reliability. It sounds like a King's X CD, with its lush, Beatlesy harmonies, hulking wall of guitars and efficiently ornate song writing. Even if King's X never has its chance to rule the world, Ear Candy proves there's still plenty of nobility left in the struggle to do so. (*** 1/2)

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