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Brave Combo
Group Dance Epidemic
Rounder

What Pavement said about Smashing Pumpkins was mean but true: Too much popular music is bereft of purpose. Most records coming out are neither enjoyable enough to qualify as real entertainment, nor enlightening enough to be particularly good art. So when Brave Combo advertise their music as "Fun ... and Functional!" on the cover of their new CD, Group Dance Epidemic, it's wise to take note.

Group Dance Epidemic is Brave Combo's response to the dual plagues afflicting organized dance these days. On one side, there's the undisciplined gyrations and moshing of youth dance; and on the other, there's the remedial stepping of the electric slide and the macarena. Brave Combo are out to remind us how fun formal dance steps can be when they're named things such as "The Hokey Pokey," "Hand Jive" and, of course, "The Hustle." To help us relearn the moves, Group Dance Epidemic's CD booklet includes, in place of the lyrics, photos and instructions for each dance. (Who listens to words when they're dancing anyway?)

Of course, this is Brave Combo, Denton, Texas's best (and only) new wave polka/ wacky world music sextet, a group that recorded "Stairway to Heaven" as a swing tune, "Hava Nagila" as a twist and "Satisfaction" as a cha-cha. It's not surprising, then, that Brave Combo's take on popular group dance would be dizzyingly dynamic and eclectic. In the group's capable hands, "The Hokey Pokey" gets both a rock (with Led Zep drums and twang guitar) and a cowbell-funk go-go reading; the "Jeopardy" theme song becomes a schottische; "The Hustle" interweaves bits of "Walk on the Wild Side"; and "The Bunny Hop" quotes Duke Ellington's "Cottontail." Other (relatively) straightforward numbers take us globetrotting: There's a Greek sailor's dance, a Mexican hat dance, a Yemenite-Israeli folk dance and a Cuban conga line.

Instead of trying to explain the joys of this disc, I defer to its eloquent liner notes: "Why is group dance all the rage? (1) Because it's fun! (2) Because it is for everybody; even the shy and the uncoordinated can find pleasure and security in the structure of organized dance. (3) Because it is spiritual; we lose ourselves in synchronized movement like schools of fishes or flocks of migratory birds and experience our interconnectedness with others." Two-left-footers of the world, unite! (****)

-- Roni Sarig

Brave Combo performs Saturday, July 19, at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge.

Del Amitri
Some Other Sucker's Parade
A&M

Scotland's Del Amitri are smitten by American rock and roll -- so much so that if bandleaders Justin Currie and Iain Harvie never opened their mouths except to sing, you'd swear they were from the U.S. Lead vocalist Currie has long since refined his thick Glasgow brogue into a well-enunciated, soulful croak with a curious hint of a Midwestern drawl. And the group itself traded loyalties for good on 1989's Waking Hours, moving from what was initially a breezy, Beatles-derived sound to an easy-listening blues-rock blend somewhere along the lines of a spunkier Steve Miller Band -- though guitarist Harvie's jagged riffs can always be counted on for the occasional nod to the Faces and the Rolling Stones.

For Some Other Sucker's Parade, their fifth release, Del Amitri reunite with Waking Hours producer Mark Freegard, and the Yankee-loving trend continues. "What I Think She Sees," the title track and "Not Where It's At" -- all foolproof jangle-pop confections -- are the best of a splendid first half. "Not Where It's At," in particular, perfectly pools the band's winningest attributes: sweet, streamlined harmonies; equally rich, layered guitars; an uncanny instinct for the drop-dead chorus; and a flair for the obvious (the tune's Byrds-ish Rickenbacker intro). And while Currie's wounded barfly routine can verge on the tiresome at times, it's perfect here. "She don't want me, 'cause I'm not where it's at," Currie sings, flitting playfully between self-pity and sarcasm. "I don't have my finger on the pulse of my generation / I just got my hand on my heart, I know no better location."

If the songwriting on the disc's second half is noticeably less engaging, there are still inspired spurts. Indeed, Del Amitri rarely stray far from matters of the heart, dissecting their personal relationships in a mildly cynical tongue-in-cheek manner. "Roll to Me," the band's top ten single of two years ago, was nothing more than a teasing, two-minute come-on, its lighthearted disposability effectively flushing out the sour vibes lingering from 1992's Change Everything. On that intensely personal release, Del Amitri achieved a level of musical and emotional catharsis they'll likely never tap into again. And that's okay. Because one brooding, underrated masterpiece is enough for any pop band -- especially when it sells as miserably as Change Everything did. Given Some Other Sucker's Parade's handful of potential hits, the disc shouldn't meet with a similar fate -- even if, on the whole, it falls a half-dozen hook-filled insights short of excellence. (***)

-- Hobart Rowland

Belle and Sebastian
If You're Feeling Sinister
The Enclave

With a name like Belle and Sebastian, you might expect some precious and terribly earnest duo of harmonizing folk strummers in ruffled shirts. And though you'd be wrong about this camera-shy seven-piece pop orchestra from Glasgow, Scotland, you'd still somehow have the right idea about them. Led by singer/songwriter Stuart Murdoch, Belle and Sebastian make exquisitely gentle and lush folk-pop that would blend into a pastoral country scene the way long grass or a rolling brook -- or a pair of folksingers -- would.

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