Isaac Hayes
Movement: Raw and Refined
Point Blank

Like many promotional CDs, Isaac Hayes' first two albums since 1986 came stickered and stamped from Hell to breakfast with warnings that they couldn't be sold or exchanged and had to be given back to the label on demand. Tell you what: Movement: Raw and Refined and Branded aren't getting sold or exchanged in my lifetime, but if Point Blank wants them back they'd better send the record-police SWAT team.

Or that's the way I felt while Black Moses was turning John Sebastian's "Summer in the City" into a furious commentary on inner-city life. By the time Hayes had eloquently and passionately moved through an assortment of basso profunko ballads such as "Let Me Love You" and "I'll Do Anything (To Turn You On)" to his classic "Soulsville" I had calmed down considerably, and was contemplating the emptiness of a life lived without blacklight-lit love.

That's the real triumph of these two discs. Soul music has always been incredibly sexy stuff, and nobody does sexy better than Hayes. Hayes makes Barry White sound like Barry Manilow; he could get your blood racing simply by reading the phone book aloud. He's also spent decades as a trend-setting composer, arranger and keyboardist; Hayes' grooves have probably been sampled by more rappers than any other artist's. Both aspects of his talents are showcased in this sold-seperately-but-buy-'em-both set: Branded collects Hayes' recent vocal efforts, and Movement: Raw and Refined is the funkiest instrumental CD I've ever heard. This is some seriously lustful music; if these two discs can't put some magic back into your latest dysfunctional relationship, then therapy would just be a waste of money.

-- Jim Sherman

David Knopfler
Small Mercies

Having spent a summer in the late '70s convinced that only two tapes were needed for a road trip, because that's all the albums Dire Straits had out at the time, I'm suddenly wondering why Mark is the Knopfler brother most frequently associated with that band.

Small Mercies has its moments of Dire Straitsness, and they are delights, but what is showcased here more than anything else are David Knopfler's considerable skills as a songwriter. His songs range from "Weeping in the Wings," the mystical, non-partisan pleas for social involvement of which are as complex as a Celtic knot, to the blunt, unabashed declaration of paternal love found in "Rockin' Horse Love" -- a cut that by itself makes this release recommendable to parents of preschoolers. Love and image-laden mysticism are frequent themes here, and Knopfler manages them without the petulance or pretentiousness that often affect attempts at "serious" songwriting. Small Mercies is carefully and well orchestrated, with excellent mandolin and banjo work from Harry Bogdanovs and interesting use of the accordion from Graham Henderson, but there's little doubt that these songs and Knopfler's talents as a vocalist and pianist/ guitarist would be just as strong alone and live as they are supported by a strong session band on a recording.

-- Jim Sherman

Thurston Moore
Psychic Hearts

Just so you know, the CD's typography reads not "Psychic Hearts" but "Psychic" followed by three little heart signs, because that's the way Thurston is, all cuddly and accessible and full of love and understanding, especially toward those of the female persuasion. You can see it in the sleeve photo of a smug young Thurston, flanked by two neighborhood girls, proving that really, some of his best friends are, you know, women. Maybe it's just me, but the whole kindly Uncle Thurston bit rubs the wrong way, like the nuevo hippy freshman who knew that a nice, friendly back rub would get his ugly butt laid faster than any direct approach ever could.

But the nuevo hippy freshman couldn't mangle a pop song into something altogether weirder and better like Thurston can, and since this is, presumably, a rock CD and not a term paper on feminist fetishists, I'll let Moore's matron-wannabe grasping slide in favor of the music.

That music doesn't sound terribly different from recent work Moore's done as one-quarter of his main band, Sonic Youth. That's not much of a surprise, since Youth drummer Steve Shelley sits in here, along with non-Youth bassist Tim Foljahn. The three-piece format is predictably less noisy than Sonic Youth's double guitar whorl, but raw guitar dissonance still leaks from every riff.

After the commercial grab of Goo, Sonic Youth seems to have given up trying to write a conventional pop song, and the solo Moore leaves that dropped thread on the floor, keeping both hands free for the sort of nervous punk noodling and off-key one-riff blues that obviously wake him up in the morning. The first two tracks, "Queen Bee and her Pals" and "Ono Soul," make good arguments that a single idea can carry a song, if the idea is good enough, and the song is short enough (they are). But following that there are increasingly long expanses of wallpaper between windows -- "Cindy (Rotten Tanx)" is a sparkling exception -- until the album finally descends into the 15-minute-plus "Elegy for All the Dead Rock Stars," which, appropriately enough, only a dead rock star, or perhaps one pinned under a truck, could stomach for more than five minutes before getting bored and walking away.

-- Brad Tyer

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Jim Sherman
Brad Tyer