The Beat Farmers
Viking Lullabys
From Hell To Eternity
Sector 2

What's the next best thing to a local band? A local label, of course. Especially one that refuses to pigeonhole itself when it comes to genre or region. Such is Sector 2. And these three releases on the Houston-based label, though by no means a hat trick, bode well for Sector 2 and (through it) "the scene."

San Diego's Beat Farmers have three basic lines of performance: heroic singer/songwriter, blues/rock and goofball '50s retro-groove. Unfortunately, they cover these three bases admirably in the first three songs, and it's all fairly redundant from there. There are some exceptions -- "Are You Drinkin' With Me Jesus," which benefits from New Orleans-style horns, and the Black Oak Arkansas boogie of "Are You Gonna Love Me" among them. But all in all, this is a precipitously underwhelming effort.

A different kettle of fish altogether is Pushmonkey, which deals out heaviness from a zone somewhere between Faith No More, the Galactic Cowboys and Mother Tongue. They'll be performing at the annual Foundations Forum music-industry metal gathering this week in Los Angeles and are beginning to generate a buzz unlike anything Sector 2 has yet experienced.

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Are the goods there? Well, if you consider flawless musicality, detailed songwriting and a flair for remaining darkly, quirkily (yet accessibly) heavy to be assets, the answer is most definitely yes. The themes range from an assortment of twisted personal relationships to such PC subjects as media manipulation, environmentalism and child abuse. But even on these latter topics the delivery (almost) never seems contrived. Pushmonkey is the most pleasant surprise to come my way in quite some time.

Which leaves Splatter. Known for years as Elvis Hitler, my initial response to them was, "Don't the Supersuckers already do this ten times better?" Reminders of this response are scattered throughout From Hell To Eternity -- particularly when the band exceeds a certain speed limit. But when they settle into their own groove on numbers like "Hard Rockin' Daddy" and "It Was Love," some true disposable genius emerges. When this is combined with the autistic jazz/visceral self-realization of "Bad Stuff" and the garage metal of "Smurf," an album somewhere on the positive side of average emerges.

-- Chris Smith

Warner Bros.

If there was a sex camp, a place beyond gender where the pure art of slithering was taught as an all-American value, Prince would be everyone's favorite counselor. In the early tunes on his latest release, Prince's bouncy funk noodles on about sex as per usual. The usual for Prince, of course, is no simple "hey baby." Believable slurping sounds, graphic yet pragmatic descriptions of various acts and cheery horn music skip through the first few tracks. Without Prince's Pollyanna-ish enthusiasm for sex, and his humor, this would be more whiny "I want you" stuff. Ever fey and easily bored, he soon slips into something less comfortable, as "Loose!" flirts with industrial sounds and "Papa" is just Prince being awkward with his inner child.

The best cut, and the biggest surprise, is "Solo," a spooky gothic gospel of solitude. This chilly experiment is completely self-indulgent and ludicrous and the sort of thing that could creep out anyone with a scintilla of angst. The weird vocal keening with harp accompaniment of "Solo" is followed by "Letitgo," wherein we'd like to believe that Prince is just putting us on with the Ann Landers stuff. That ode to positive thinking segues into "Orgasm." The woman in question (a voice credited as "She knows") is having a bang-up time, to Hendrix guitar, but Prince doesn't seem to be exerting himself. Then he mentions what she looks like "from across the room." Being there, for Prince, is in the studio.

-- Edith Sorenson

Ray Wylie Hubbard
Lost Train of Thought
Misery Loves Co.

Ray Wylie Hubbard sings so pretty that it's downright annoying when guest artist Willie Nelson pipes up on "These Eyes." Get back to the golf course, Willie, 'cause Ray Wylie is clear on the concept of country-and-western music. Lost Train of Thought, written, produced and performed by Hubbard, has everything a western band needs.

Hubbard finds comfort in Jesus and his momma in "When She Sang Amazing Grace," indulges in the guy thing with "Rockabilly Rock" and doesn't forget trains when it comes to subject matter. From the first note to the last, Hubbard is chugging along, confident as all get-out, and the songs are simple, seamless and not at all trivial tunes about love and loss, hootchy-koo and doom. Lost Train of Thought is a multipurpose recording. It might serve as a primer for those unfamiliar with the music of our people. (Bugs Henderson plays some guitar, Reese Wyman plays some piano and, as previously mentioned, Willie lends his quaver to "These Eyes.") And pretty much every track is danceable, though "Love in Vain" would be an extremely slow dance.

-- Edith Sorenson

Uncle Joe's Big Ol' Driver
Uncle Joe's Big Ol' Driver
Headhunter Records

Uncle Joe's Big Ol' Driver is a self-described "American bandÓ from Costa Mesa, California. And while its music is certainly earthy, its general direction is more a loosely crafted, supercharged pop. When the opener, "Red Room," kicks in, some might even call it punk as it's been popularized (Green Day, Offspring, etc.) of late.

Dave's and Andrew's (this is a first-names-only outfit) guitars bash out the trebly chords in fine form and play solos that range from straight-ahead rock to sounding as if they were sampled from an Eagles album and given a near overdose of hallucinogens. Their vocals, meanwhile, cover much the same ground as old Paul Westerburg/Dave Pirner.

The songs themselves? Well, there are two archetypes at work: the finely crafted pop/ rock songs, which are okay, and the less restrained, more free ranging moments of musical expression, which are pretty close to fantastic. All in all, a highly entertaining if not instantly memorable album.

-- Chris Smith

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