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Yo La Tengo
Genius + Love = Yo La Tengo
Matador

Odds-and-ends compilations rarely feature a band's best work, but surely that's the fun of them. There's a certain voyeuristic thrill in hearing all the weird B-sides, dusty outtakes, alternate versions and obscure covers a group never thought to put anywhere but in storage. But wait -- Yo La Tengo is already weird, thoroughly alternative (even before alternative was big business) and has long made a practice of reworking other people's music, whether on its many EPs or on its 1990 all-cover Fakebook.

What, then, is new about Genius + Love = Yo La Tengo, the group's double-CD rarities collection? Well, the great thing about Yo La Tengo is, they sound new even when they're doing the same old thing.

In an indie-rock genre that demands originality, Yo La Tengo has defiantly presented itself as the coolest cover band in the world. Out of the attics and onto Genius + Love come renditions of songs by Wire, John Cale, Beat Happening, the Urinals, the Velvet Underground, Daniel Johnston (with Johnston providing lead vocals over the phone) and the Ramones (an easy listening version of "Blitzkrieg Bop"). In addition, the CD features cuts from the band in all its moods and periods from 1988 to 1995: the early dream-pop ("Fog over Frisco"), the Velvety dark minimalism ("Walking Away from You"), the disciplined Sonic Youth guitar noise ("Evanescent Psychic Pez Drop"), plus an entire disc two of instrumentals. Boasting 30 tracks in all, Genius + Love may be the first rarities collection to satisfy the needs of both obsessive completists and beginners looking for an accurate introduction to a group. (*** 1/2)

-- Roni Sarig

Maxwell
Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite
Columbia

By design, soul music -- with its sensuous bass lines, smooth-as-silk melodies and honey-dipped vocals -- is the ultimate soundtrack to foreplay. And Maxwell owns the latest love-soaked CD of the moment, Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite. From the start, this coital concept piece sets a heavy-breathing mood, the scratchy, jazz-inflected grooves of "Urban Theme" providing the simmering prelude to the funk-laced make-out anthems "Welcome," "Sumthin, Sumthin" and "Ascension (Don't Ever Wonder)." And when the Puerto Rican/West Indian crooner gets to his gritty centerpiece "... Til the Cops Come Knockin'," it's treated as both an intermission and a main event.

The rest of Urban Hang Suite basks in the afterglow of those five tracks. A crisp acoustic guitar drapes across "Whenever, Wherever, Whatever," while a saucy electric piano guides the soul of "Reunion." At times, Maxwell's voice hints at a more mature Michael Jackson, and like Jackson in his prime, Maxwell offers up a sexy vibe without ever getting downright nasty.

(*** 1/2)

-- Craig D. Lindsey

Maxwell performs Monday, October 7, at Rockefeller's.
Ashley MacIsaac
HiTM How Are You Today?
A&M

The photo of Ashley MacIsaac on the back of his major-label debut, HiTM How Are You Today?, speaks volumes about this Nova Scotian fiddler's music. The scowling, stubble-jawed MacIsaac is attired in Doc Martens, a baggy flannel shirt, a black T-shirt and a kilt. Grunge Celtic; why the hell not?

There's all kinds of odd mixtures that work here: MacIsaac's "MacDougall's Pride" mixes fiddle, guitar and bagpipes with oboe and the strings of the Quartetto Gelato for a refreshing and highly original bit of chamber music; his fiddle-and-screaming-guitars turn the 19th-century Celtic standard "The Devil in the Kitchen" into something that puts me in a moshing mood; the smooth, polished techno-pop of "Sleepy Maggie" is balanced by lyrics sung in Gaelic; and those who have an instinctive aversion to swaggering, boasting beer-joint bullies will find the sarcastic, hard-rocking "What an Idiot He Is" to be an anthem after their own hearts.

MacIsaac has taken the core of his cultural identity, merged it with a cutting-edge knowledge of production, stirred in a fervent belief that the fiddle is a rock instrument and created one of the more innovative discs in recent memory. While there's much here that will delight fans of traditional Celtic music, there's also much that indicates MacIsaac would be as comfortable whipping up a post-punk frenzy at Emo's as he would performing for the tables-and-chairs contingent at the Mucky Duck. (****)

-- Jim Sherman

Pet
Pet
Igloo/Tag/Atlantic

If you dig Tori Amos, you should relate to the new self-titled debut from the Los Angeles band Pet, which features lyrics that reflect morose, unsociable withdrawals and a female songbird with a wispy vocal range. Basically, it's Amos sans piano bench. In fact, Amos helped produce the CD, the first offering of her Atlantic-supported Igloo label. At first, many of Pet's 13 songs have a disagreeable aura, but they grow beyond those first impressions. Pet begins on a catchy note with "360", then slows and lopsides into moods ("Lil' Boots", "Bed" and "Hero Life") sullen enough to coddle the gloomiest of dark rangers. "Skin Tight" is a blasting, restless number; "Meat-e," however, is a pouty acoustic piece worth skipping. Things pick up again with the bright "Fatherland" and the perky "I've Been a Gaylord."(***) -- Damon O'Banion

CDs are rated on a one to five star scale.

 
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