To lend the proper post-punk savvy to their first major-label outing, Knoxville, Tennessee's Superdrag chose well-connected Bostonian Tim O'Heir of Fort Apache fame to be their producer. O'Heir had done a hell of a job of slapping the right amounts of grinding guitars and proto-pop restraint on releases by the Yankee outfits Sebadoh and Belly. So, the hope was that he'd work the same magic for a quartet of reluctant rednecks who sometimes think they're British. That's exactly what O'Heir did on Regretfully Yours, applying just the right amount of muscle to Superdrag's delightfully fluid fuzz-rock to make it sound like E well, like it came from somewhere a few states north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Not to discount, in any way, the raw goods supplied by the band. Superdrag churns out the sort of hooky, fresh-faced good times that make the college girls squeal and give the frat boys permission to expose their sensitive sides without having to feel all embarrassed about it. On occasion, Superdrag's desire to be liked drifts into imitation (the all-too-Sugary "Destination Ursa Major," the almost-Sebadoh "Whitey's Theme"), but more often, the CD offers the sort of vibrant, dizzying melodic rush that makes you want to drive your car around in circles just to finish the cassette before heading home. If Regretfully Yours is part of the new garage-pop resurgence that everyone's been blathering on about, then count me in. -- Hobart Rowland
Superdrag opens for Echobelly Thursday, April 4, at the Urban Art Bar.
The Score's cover art -- with a lettering style reminiscent of The Godfather and shadowed headshots of the group suggesting Goodfellas -- would have you think there's a gangster mini-opera inside. But once you're beyond the cover of the Fugees' second release, it becomes clear that nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the folly of gangsta rap is a recurring theme of the CD. Lauryn Hill opens things by rapping, "I get mad, frustrated ... thinking of all them kids that try to do this for all the wrong reasons." Then on the next track, she's rhyming, "While you be imitating Al Capone / I'll be Nina Simone."
Fugees fight gangsta power with more than lyrical jabs, however. They also exhibit a musical power all their own. On The Score, smart production and arrangements combine hip-hop loops and beats with heavy reggae flavoring, soulful singing and live instrumentation. Sure, the talented threesome rap about sucker emcees and crooked cops, but they also cover deception ("The Mask"), loyalty ("Family Business"), raw emotion ("Manifest") and hope (Wyclef's take on "No Woman, No Cry").
There's still, though, something cinematic about The Score. Perhaps it's the group's remarkable intelligence and sense of narrative drama. Whatever it is, it all makes for thrill-a-minute hip-hop. -- Roni Sarig
Fugees perform Friday, April 5, at Boomerang.
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