Ladies Edition

Back in 1993, three local boys with the handles G.I., Shazaam and Dino made good nationally with a smoldering little ditty called "Knockin' Da Boots." The song peaked at number two on the Billboard pop charts, and for a while there, it looked as if H-Town would become one more of Houston's claims to fame.

But then the moment passed, and others took the spotlight. Not that you need to feel sorry for these bare-chested balladeers. After all, they're back in full-on schmooze mode with a new CD, Ladies Edition, on a highly reputable label, Relativity. As you can probably guess from the title, H-Town is sending this one out to all the foxes -- and hoping it won't get thrown back in their faces.

Not that Ladies Edition is all late-night heavy breathing and sex-soaked booty calls. Believe it or not, it actually boasts some serious, politically correct content. Most of the tracks advocate showing females the utmost understanding and respect, and when you reach the next-to-last song on the CD, "Julie Rain," you'll understand why: The tune is about a woman relatively close to H-Town who died of injuries suffered as a result of spousal abuse.

But there are other things going on behind the scenes here as well. Though it may not always sound like it, Ladies Edition is the equivalent of one big cleansing session -- a proverbial hot shower with turpentine and scouring pads -- from the creative and financial soiling the group experienced over two releases with mumble-mouthed Floridian Luke Campbell and his Luke Records. While H-Town never went to the same scandalous lengths as Campbell's 2 Live Crew, things veered toward the embarrassing thanks to their interminable hip-thrusting on-stage and lyrical lowlights such as "Back Seat (Wit No Sheets)."

Relying on themselves to write and produce Ladies Edition, H-Town entertains a healthy share of both highs and lows. Though some of the socially sensitive outings ("Natural Woman," "Woman's World") feel unnatural and forced, when the guys tone down the PC rhetoric and, guided by Dino Conner's smoky pipes, cut to the hopelessly romantic quick ("Special Kinda Fool," "Beggars Can't Be Choosy" and "They Like It Slow"), things come into powerful emotional focus.

With Ladies Edition, H-Town seems to be striving a bit too hard to solicit forgiveness from all the women they've wronged over the years. News flash, fellas: They were never that mad at you to begin with. They simply forgot you existed. Now, get back to thrusting those hips. (***)

-- Craig D. Lindsey

Unsound Methods

Five years ago, Recoil had a reason to exist. Depeche Mode's Alan Wilder, together with guest vocalists Douglas McCarthy of Nitzer Ebb, Moby and Toni Halliday of Curve, made up a dream collective of alterna-talent that, while no better than the sum of its parts, was also no worse. True, it was nothing more than a sideline, but it was an intriguing diversion from the more serious projects that were coming down the pike for everyone involved.

This time around, however, with Wilder and McCarthy on permanent vacation from their respective groups, Recoil's Unsound Methods seems pointless. As if Depeche Mode were not dark enough, Methods aggrandizes Wilder's obsession with the depraved side of the human spirit. In assembling his fantasy-horror sequences about various sickos and psychopaths ("Stalker," "Luscious Apparatus"), Wilder works from obvious sources, as if smitten by the Hollywood blockbuster version of psychosis.

Musically, Wilder dips into his knowledge of jazz and blues in an attempt to round off the serrated edges. As a result, Unsound Methods feels mostly secondhand, a series of sound bites and samples -- some used and some new -- strung together haphazardly: Two collaborations with singer Hildia Campbell haplessly rework gospel standards, and Siobhan Lynch's "Drifting," the first single, is aching to be Portishead. The lyrics are equally derivative. "Incubus," the first of two songs with McCarthy, quotes liberally from the dialogue of Apocalypse Now, but worst of all is Maggie Estep's pedantic "hot sex ... worthless sex ... sex, sex, sex" contribution to "Luscious Apparatus," which is spoken over a numbing Nine Inch Nails-like onslaught.

By the end of the disc and the slick and hollow "Shunt," it's more obvious than ever that Wilder's departure ought to be a blessing in disguise for Depeche Mode. Unsound methods, indeed. (* 1/2)

-- Stephen Gershon

Various Artists
Knights of the Blues Table

With this unexpectedly solid tribute, Cream lyricist Pete Brown proves you can go home again. For Knights of the Blues Table, Brown shepherded 20 or so graying English rockers and a few younger blokes into a London studio to salute the African-American music that led most of them into the world of rock and roll.

Nearly all of Table's participants, famous or not, wrestle honest feeling from every word sung and every note played. On a pleasing interpretation of Lonnie Johnson's "Racketeer Blues," Mick Jagger conjures decent Elmore James-like harmonica screams while joining vocal forces with his kid brother Chris Jagger. Bassist Jack Bruce (Cream) hits it off famously with guitarist Dave Clempson (Colosseum, Humble Pie) on an inspired romp through the British-blues warhorse "Send for Me" and on the slow-blues outing "I've Got News for You." After years of seclusion, Fleetwood Mac's Peter Green returns to action in the company of fellow guitarist/singer Nigel Watson for a slightly ragged acoustic rendition of Robert Johnson's "Traveling Riverside Blues."

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