Remembering the dead with safe sounds
Safe and Sound
Sometimes, a grave situation can bring artists together to raise money and awareness for the cause. Safe and Sound was born from this concept, commemorating the senseless loss of Shannon Lowney and Lee Ann Nichols, both brutally murdered inside women's health clinics in Dec., 1994. David Keene, Lowney's fiancé, writes in the liner notes, "Shannon and Lee Ann died as they lived, dedicated to making a difference. Safe and Sound is about just this making a difference."
The commemoration begins with members of the band Letters to Cleo arranging a benefit show. Word caught on within the Boston musical community from acts as diverse as Morphine to Aerosmith. Shortly after, the event grew to a total of nine shows, donating the proceeds to organizations dedicated to health care, safety and services for women and children.
The benefit led to the CD Safe and Sound which includes 16 artists and ranges musically from virtually unknown acts to well-known artists such as Tracy Bonham, Juliana Hatfield and Bill Janovitz from Buffalo Tom. The musical styles take the listener for roller-coaster rides through pop, incense-burning folk, tube-amp humming punk and chin-stroking alterations.
The smooth parts of the ride include Aimee Mann's track, "Driving With One Hand on the Wheel," which combines sweet vocals, a simple beat and cleverly woven lyrics, such as, "Driving with one hand on the wheel/ Ordering luck with every meal/ Feeding on hope again/ Never mind how small the portion."
The CD progresses to two diverse acoustic applications, namely Mary Lou Lord's acoustic version of "Polaroids" and Scarce's "Naked Freak Show." Mung concludes the compilation with its fast-moving, distorted, minute-and-a-half offering entitled "Red Light." This track leaves the listener a little jolted perhaps the compiler's intention.
Chocolate Supa Highway
Blastin' across the freeway at Mach 10 in a pink Cadillac to ragged Rasta chants, droppin' down into a slippy gear to boombastic east coast drum n' bass and finally cruisin' inner-city style to phat herb-hop beats Spearhead's sophomore outing is a solid lexicon of hip-hop wonderment.
Musically, it's all over the map a gamut of freaky styles and power-house rhymes. There's something here for all the schools smooth Shaft-style funk, trippy bong-rattling beats that would make Cypress Hill run for their rolling papers and sexy jeep shaking R&B guaranteed to put the Soul back in front of the Train.
Michael Franti, ex-Beatnik and former MC for the sensational Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy fronts the Bay Area crew. The group's critically-lauded debut LP broke new hip-hop ground in 1994 with the track "Positive," the acclaimed single calling for increased AIDS awareness among the African-American community. Chocolate Supa Highway is no less topical.
Whether he delivers scathing socially-poignant cat-calls ("I remember Oklahoma/ You tried to blame an Arab but a whitey was the bomber") or paraphrases Jambi from Pee-Wee's Playhouse ("Mekka-lekka-shake-your-heimey-ho,") Franti's get-fresh flow is always on the attack. His ultra-basso lyrical dynamics make Barry White sound like Screech of Saved by the Bell infamy and are guaranteed to rattle your rear-view mirror.
As a middle-class, suburban white boy, I hesitate to use the term "superfly" to describe the tight, Family Stone-style grooves that wrap around Franti's lyrics like a funky boa constrictor, but no other adjectives in this honky's vernacular would do the jams justice. The James Connection (Gray, David, and Oneida drums, keyboards and bass, respectively) re-invent Isaac Hayes funk as delectable herbal rapture. Meanwhile, Rasta chanter, Ras I Zulu offers gruff praises to Jah and the vocal styling of the sumptuous diva, Trinna Simmons, almost drip with sex. Even Ziggy's younger brother, Stephen Marley, makes a guest appearance on the smoky dub track "Rebel Music."
In the tradition of life-affirming, socially conscious hip-hop acts like The Fugees, Tribe Called Quest and Digable Planets, Spearhead offers an essential alternative to the nihilistic narcissism of gangsta rap. While the sunny, Coolio-esque jams of "Gas Gauge" may almost distract you from Franti's depiction of inner-city tragedy, the strangely beautiful melodies in "Water Pistol Man" are a reminder of the importance of "tending to the flowers in your own backyard." This is indispensable music and hip-hop at its finest.