Mysteries of Funk
Higher Ground/Columbia

It has been said that if there is one person we can thank (or, for some, punch in the eye) for that electronica phenomenon known to the kiddies as drum 'n' bass, the popular vote leans toward UK DJ Grooverider.

Sure, his name doesn't spring to mind with the same notoriety of techno superstars like The Chemical Brothers, but the man has been called "the Godfather of Drum 'n' Bass." Without him, we wouldn't have jungle-music mavens like Goldie (whom he helped bring into the drum 'n' bass fold by playing one of his records at a London club one night). And after years of making a name for house music, he finally makes a name for himself with his debut, Mysteries of Funk.

Mysteries of Funk is not so much a journey into syncopated funkdom as it is a techno-colored playhouse. Out-there sound effects wander amiably with heavy bass riffs, exotic instrumentals and various other rhythmic occurrences. But while most of his contemporaries go for that aggressive, in-your-eardrums tone in their digital compositions, Grooverider (or Groove, to his close, personal homies) is a laid-back mixer. From the sounds of things, Grooverider has his music clearly cemented in acid jazz. Melding bebop components with whatever noises he can conjure out of drum machines and synthesizers, Grooverider has a broad, enjoyable bounce in his music -- something he perfects along with engineer Matt "Optical" Quinn -- that doesn't teeter on self-indulgence. He peels away at all the scabbiness that has encrusted drum 'n' bass over the years and comes back with melodic, sensual jazz/jungle fusion.

But don't worry, kids -- the funk is still there. It can be found in the track respectfully titled "C Funk." You can also catch whiffs of it in the "Imagination" trilogy as well as the frumpy "Rainbows of Colour," which features some Bjork-like vocals from Roya Arab.

Mysteries of Funk may sound a little uneven in some areas (that out-of-tune electric piano chord he throws into "Cybernetic Jazz" sounds like it belongs in a late '80s porno film), but that's not enough to dismiss it as inferior work. Besides, Grooverider practically invented this damn genre; shouldn't he be able make a few new arrangements here and there if he wants to?

-- Craig D. Lindsey

Various Artists
Tammy Wynette ... Remembered
Asylum Records

When "First Lady of Country Music" Tammy Wynette died in her sleep earlier this year, the obituaries were mostly full of details about her turbulent personal life, with the more unimaginative scribes breathlessly pointing out that it often resembled a country song: dirt-poor beginnings, battles with depression, drugs and intestinal ailments, and five marriages (most famously to country legend George Jones).

Fewer took time to discuss her actual music or the very real impact that she had in the '60s and '70s (along with Loretta Lynn) on opening the doors for women country performers and encouraging them to address highly personal issues with their music.

This tribute album brings together a wide range of artists to interpret her most famous material, including Roseanne Cash ("D-I-V-O-R-C-E"), Melissa Etheridge ("Apartment #9"), Trisha Yearwood, Faith Hill, Lorrie Morgan and even the aforementioned Jones. There's not a clunker in the bin save, unfortunately, for Elton John's (yes, you read right) wretched take on Wynette's signature number, "Stand By Your Man." And in fact, there are several wonderful surprises -- Sara Evans on "I Don't Wanna Play House," K.T. Oslin on "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad," and Wynonna's gospelly-dirty "Woman to Woman."

Much of the lyrics and all-too-topical material is just as strong today as it was more than a generation ago. But what this disc achieves best is what all too few "tribute" records actually do -- and that's to either fire the memories of older fans or stoke the curiosity of the uninitiated to investigate the source, in this case Wynette's own original versions (I know I'll be looking for some).

The last track on the CD is Tammy Wynette's own last recording, a duet of the Beach Boys' classic "In My Room" with head Boy Brian Wilson. And one can't help but draw a comparison between the two despite the difference in preferred musical genre. While the pressures of life and the industry at the height of their careers caused the delicate Wilson to crack and retreat for decades into a haze of LSD and psychoses (becoming something of a joke in the process), Wynette gathered all her strength and soldiered on through the real world when faced with the same situation. And that took guts -- something Tammy Wynette, and her music, had in abundance.

-- Bob Ruggiero

Duncan Sheik

When Duncan Sheik's 1996 pop masterpiece "Barely Breathing" crossed over several formats and spent a miraculous 55 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, it was a bit of a surprise. Who would have thought the best pop song of the decade would have that kind of staying power with the masses? Sheik's eponymous debut was a solid freshman effort with some good songwriting and adventurous, if occasionally overdone, arrangements. A pensive album, some categorized it as art-pop as it usually sounded more like "She Runs Away" than "Barely Breathing."

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