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Ty Tabor
Moonflower Lane
Metal Blade

Katy-based melodic metal heroes King's X may be the most beautiful losers on the planet. Through 17 years and seven albums together, guitarist Ty Tabor, bassist Doug Pinnick and drummer Jerry Gaskill have refined and reinvented their smooth, progressive rock, examining love, life and the afterlife with rapturous joy and searching doubt. Critics have mostly thrown bouquets their way, and the band's fervent worldwide fan base has increased with each new offering. Yet King's X still remains trapped in an odd bubble of obscurity, largely unheard by the music-buying masses.

Tabor has written many of the band's singles -- "Goldilox," "Summerland" and "Black Flag" -- and the subtle merging of hook-laden pop, psychedelia and metal found on the new Moonflower Lane makes a strong bid for a mainstream listenership. This is technically the guitarist's second solo album, but it actually consists of only four new cuts, plus six reworked songs that first appeared on Naomi's Solar Pumpkin, a limited-edition independent CD Tabor released via the Internet in July 1997. Alan Doss of Galactic Cowboys is the key sideman here, playing drums throughout, and sharing organ and percussion duties with Tabor. Guests with more limited roles include the Cowboys' Monty Colvin and Atomic Opera's Ben Huggins on background vocals, cellist Frank Hart, and Tabor's teenage son Josh on French horn.

But Tabor is the main ingredient, producing and playing almost everything himself. Because of that, his recurrent lyrical themes of love, faith, summer and sensory overload are all in attendance, along with his signature Beatles/Badfinger influences and the usual incisive, minor-chord revelations about Christianity. The ebullient opener, "I Do," is an energized, life-affirming celebration of good fortune set to a lilting pop waltz; "Live in Your House" is one of many ethereal spiritual tunes about keeping one's eyes on the heavenly prize amid the conflicts and distractions of earth.

For those who can't stomach happy metal, there's "The Truth," with talkative drums and multilayered harmonies augmenting Tabor's skewering of what he terms "Church of the Hair" televangelists. Tabor also examines the dank corners of human existence and the trap of a wholly inner life on "The Island Sea," singing, "Inside my window, I imagine I'm a man / And I am free / And I am cool, and I'm not me / The needle doesn't hurt, it doesn't kill / It doesn't steal / It doesn't feel, and I don't bleed."

Those fans expecting to hear Tabor's customary supersonic guitar noodling may be disappointed, but his fluid, expressionist playing is exceptional at any volume. He's never been comfortable with the hard-rock guitar-god tag anyway, and though he does burn a few good solos here, Moonflower Lane makes a case for tranquility as the key to enlightenment. (****)

-- Robin Myrick

Black Grape
Stupid Stupid Stupid
Radioactive

Stupid Stupid Stupid is the kind of release that sounds best halfway through a party, when revelers have had enough alcohol or other chemicals to let loose their inhibitions and go with the flow. It's at that hazy moment when the up-tempo, funky, mindless dance music featured here works its magic. Merging sweet soul horns, chant-along choruses, '70s keyboard noodling and disco-inspired bass lines, British bad boys Black Grape have created a buoyant, jumbled pastiche perfect for long nights of drinking, drugging and overall hell-raising.

The band is headed by Shaun Ryder, whose criminal past was behind U.S. immigration officials' ultimately unsuccessful attempts to keep Black Grape out of this country. There has to be a certain amount of credibility at stake here. Rick James, after all, made good party albums for a reason: He experienced everything he promoted. And so, since drugs are abhorred by the same institutions that stalled the band's overseas progress, Ryder wastes no time in ridiculing America on "Get Higher," Stupid's opening track. Over a swirling funk backbeat, a Ronald Reagan sound-alike reels off outlandish statements like, "Nancy and I are hooked on heroin." Not especially funny, considering that old Ron has been out of office for a decade.

Thankfully, that dated misstep doesn't weigh heavily on the rest of Stupid, which effortlessly intermingles classic soul sweat with modern dance beats. Like a wannabe mixed-race Funkadelic, Grape attempts epic soundtracks pinned to the almighty groove, designed (with a little synthetic enhancement) to free the mind so the ass will follow. Though Stupid is hardly destined for greatness, its real worth is dependent on a specific time and place: that crucial window of nightclub debauchery when it seems the buzz will never end. The morning after, though, is another matter. (** 1/2)

-- David Simutis

Press Ratings
***** Historic
**** Great
*** Worthy
** So-so
* Lame

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