MC 900 Ft Jesus
One Step Ahead of the Spider

The first time I considered MC 900 Ft Jesus, on the occasion of his Welcome to My Dream solo debut, I imagined the man behind the band name, Dallas' Mark Griffin, sitting in some dark corner of a suburban bedroom making construction paper cutouts of car wrecks to a soundtrack of ominously mellow jazz-funk pastiche. Griffin's self-consciously Jim Thompson-esque lyric spiels annoyed me then, and they annoy me now, but what I didn't realize when I wrote that first review was that the music would set its hook so deep. Though I initially set it aside to tape over, Welcome to My Dream has become a funky staple in my stereo. One Step Ahead of the Spider seems destined for the same fate.

The misconception that Griffin's out to dispel here is his broadly accepted characterization as a rapper. He's not. Griffin's a monologuist, in his way, though even if he pumps a certain amount of cleverness into tunes like "If I Only Had a Brain" ("Suppose," it starts, "I accidentally got my shit together"), to my ear, Griffin's verbal skills continue to take a back seat to his talent for layering loopy beats, funky guitar riffs, shard-sharp scratching and atmospheric jazz into candy-coated grooves that have about as much to do with rap, black or white, as Danzig's got to do with the blues -- which is to say, zilch.

But if this isn't rap, and it's not strictly jazz or funk either, it's a hybrid that nobody but Griffin has built on properly. It's a mostly mellow, quirky blend that makes for an awfully sweet background on rainy days when you're considering the possibility that, under certain circumstances, you just might muster the nerve to off someone who's been bugging you, and that's good enough for a place in my CD collection.

-- Brad Tyer

Sara Hickman
Necessary Angels
Discovery Records

Necessary Angels is the album Hickman and her fans -- the necessary angels of the title -- bought back from Elektra after the label dropped the Dallas-based singer-songwriter a few years back. As such a labor of love, you'd expect it to be something pretty special, but instead, it just sounds precious.

Most of the songs collected here are recognizable from Hickman's live shows of the past year, and almost without fail, they sound better in the stripped-down live versions, with just Hickman's versatile voice, inventive acoustic guitar and bubbly presence floating the tunes. Here, they're burdened with the heavy weight of over-production. Enlisting hired help like Tony Levin on bass and Robert Fripp on guitar might sound like a good idea, but it adds no benefit here.

The songs themselves are lovely, though the collection would benefit from an injection of the humor that makes Hickman's first record, Equal Scary People, and her recent work with Domestic Science Club so accessible. But in the end, Hickman's necessary angels may have saved an album better left to drown.

-- Brad Tyer

Sara Hickman plays two shows, at 7 (non-smoking) and 9:30 p.m., Sunday, July 17 at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk, 528-5999. $12.


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