Record reviews for Dec. 3

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Rush Hour

Wesley Willis

This is one of those albums I really want to like but don't. However, it's also the kind of album I think everyone should hear at least once.

Willis, who died in 2003 at age 40, was from Chicago -- a formerly homeless, schizophrenic street musician whose monotone rants change only in their ever-increasing pitch.

In his life, Willis recorded more than 200 songs set to the music of a Casio keyboard. Willis was recorded and introduced to the world outside Chicago by the Alternative Tentacles label -- a record label founded by former Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra.

I discovered Willis as most people do: by accident. It was in the sale rack at Wax Trax. "Rush Hour" is the kind of album you play when you want your friends to say, "what is this crap?" You laugh at first as Willis screams profanity-laden lyrics about kicking Batman's (butt) or kicking Superman's (butt). But after a few listens, you have to wonder whether Wesley Willis was more than a sideshow novelty to the people who regularly aired his "music" -- such as MTV. After a few listens, the Willis record goes back in the sleeve. And stays there.

Wesley Willis' "Rush Hour" can be ordered from All That Jazz for $13.98.

PF456 redux

Wire

There is something about anger. It sounds so much better with a British accent.

I liked this band immediately. Wire was born from the British punk scene in 1976, and that's as much of a band bio as I can write.

This isn't a band I know much about or one I'd even heard of before I bought its album, but since buying "PF456 redux," I've listened to it over and over, enjoying hints of the permutations Wire has gone through since their early punk days.

These days, the band is more art rock than punk rock.

Labeled "post-punk" or "experimental rock" by music critics, Wire is better known on this side of the pond for covers of their songs done by R.E.M. ("Strange"), fIREHOSE ("Mannequin") and Dead Milkmen ("X-Lion Tamer"), and their sound may seem familiar via the bands they influenced, such as the Minutemen and Sonic Youth.

The album I bought ("PF456 redux" is a limited edition vinyl release of edited songs from the "Send" and "Read and Burn 01 & 02") is a fun place to start with this band, but "Pink Flag," the group's release from 1977, might be a better purchase and a way to dip deeper into the early days of punk rock.

"Pink Flag" can be ordered from All That Jazz for $14.98.

The Progressives

Various jazz artists

This album is hard to find and probably the best dollar I ever spent. I found it in the near-empty $1 record bin in Casper, Wyoming's (way-too-cool-for-Casper, Wyo.) Sonic Rainbow music store. Instead of looking for the original two LP collection (which you probably will never find), I recommend digging through the table of contents to introduce yourself to some of the most interesting jazz artists available on wax or whatever petroleum product CDs are made out of.

"The Progressives" was released in 1973, the year I was born, by Columbia Records.

The four sides include songs such as "You Know You Know," by the Mahavishnu Orchestra, "Living Time: Event V" by Bill Evans, "Unknown Soldier" by Weather Report, (my favorite) "Jump Monk" by Charles Mingus, (my other favorite) "The Men Who Live in the White House" by Ornette Coleman and "Sundance" by Keith Jarrett. The basis of the album -- besides being a cheap way for Columbia to make more money off music it had recorded already -- is best summed up in the liner notes: "The boundaries between styles and categories continue to blue and disappear, and the process is an extremely creative one. The new musicians seem to have take Bob Dylan's "Don't Follow Leaders" dictum to heart. Where is it all leading? Some of the answers are here in these grooves."

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