St. Boss

Everybody's making a fuss over Bruce Springsteen's silver-screen debut. In the movie High Fidelity, Springsteen plays himself dispensing wisdom to some aimlessly wandering youngster. But hasn't the Boss been illuminating life's murky corners for all of us for years through song? The state of New Jersey will testify to that.

But if there was ever an artist whose reputation unfortunately preceded him, it's Springsteen. Most know him either as a mouthpiece for the common man ("The River") or as the purveyor of danceable pop ("Dancing in the Dark"). Still, most don't get him. Renowned rock critic and former Rolling Stone editor Anthony DeCurtis even once said on VH-1, during a Springsteen special, that "Born in the U.S.A.," off Springsteen's multiplatinum album of the same name, was a slice of Americana. The implication was that the song was as comforting as Grandma's apple pie. Then there are the lyrics: "Got in a little hometown jam / So they put a rifle in my hand / Sent me off to a foreign land / To go and kill the yellow man." Did DeCurtis ever hear the friggin' song?

Nevertheless, it seems everybody loves Springsteen because loving Springsteen is cool. Now that he's back with his original group, the E Street Band, people are again making a fuss -- as if they never realized he was sans band in his Grammy-winning The Ghost of Tom Joad days or on his Oscar-winning "Streets of Philadelphia."

Listening to Springsteen isn't enough. Maybe some should actually hear what he has to say. Who knows? They might not even like him. -- Anthony Mariani

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform Tuesday, April 18, at Compaq Center. For ticket information, call (713)369-2700.

Papa Mali -- Someone must have dusted Malcolm Welbourne with dragon's blood powder and black cat bone. He's no longer playing sunny reggae. Welbourne has gone way down to his Shreveport-New Orleans roots for his new sound. This change may surprise fans who know him from his 19-year stint in Austin's reggae scene. These days, when the reincarnated Welbourne takes the stage, he's fronting Papa Mali, an ominous-sounding ensemble. Must be black magic.

On Papa Mali's first CD, Thunder Chicken (Fog City Records), Welbourne turns in a magnificently menacing version of the Dr. John classic "Walk on Gilded Splinters." Whereas Dr. John merely hinted at walking through the fire, Welbourne touches on real wounds -- and pulls out the splinters to prove it.

Credit drummer Barry "Frosty" Smith with laying down the deep groove. He has perfect command of how to drive syncopated beats and where to place accents, the building blocks of the New Orleans sound. On a cover of the Wild Magnolias' "Fire Water," Frosty constructs the loose rhythmic patterns that allow Welbourne to lope freely around the simple lyrics. The two work together well.

The Papa Mali road show comprises only Welbourne and Frosty. The lineup hearkens back to the '70s, when Frosty toured with Lee Michaels: just a drummer, an organist and a stack of Marshall amps. The two could blow out any band twice their size; these two road warriors attack their shows with as much intensity. Papa Mali performs Friday, April 14, at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Avenue. Tickets are $8. The Basics open. For more information, call (713)869-COOL. (Aaron Howard)

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Aaron Howard
Anthony Mariani