Short Cuts

The sultry sway of "Piece" allows Coppola to luxuriate in soul stylings, while "Forget Myself" showcases her considerable talent as a violinist (like Cherry, she's the daughter of musicians). Strings resurface in far grander style on the operatic "Soon (I Like It)," its ornate melody spackled with exuberant percussion. It's enough to make any closet Queen fan giggle with glee.

There are moments of excess on Chupacabra, as might be expected from any artist aiming this high. "Legend of a Cowgirl" is a quasi-feminist anthem that describes sexual liberation using a Western metaphor. It's too silly to take seriously, especially because it sounds awfully similar to Kool Moe Dee's irritating, old-school rap "Wild Wild West."

But the lapses are few and the joys are many here. To those lamenting the sudden (and unexplained) disappearance of the divine Ms. Cherry, this sexy, soulful album should be a godsend.

-- Steven Almond

Maria Fatal
Pasiones, Torturas y Otros Misterios

One of the many bands knocking down the musical barriers between Hispanic and Anglo cultures is Maria Fatal ("Fatal Mary"), which records for San Francisco's Aztlan imprint. Adding Spanish lyrics to American rock might cause gringo listeners to worry about missing the gist of the songs, but Maria Fatal transcends translation with its music, an eclectic mix of circuit-breaker-tripping feedback, folkie melodies, and bouncing ska beats. After all, Pearl Jam is totally unintelligible, too, but that doesn't stop millions from loving that band's songs (or hating them, for that matter).

The Los Angeles-based Maria Fatal consists of three Ramirez brothers -- Fernando (vocals), Ernesto (guitar), and Gabriel (drums) -- backed by "honorary brother" Cesar Hernandez on keyboards. On the band's self-titled debut album, released in 1995, it tried to strike a balance between addressing political concerns and playing kick-ass rock and roll. On this, its followup, Maria Fatal settles into a more sexy, dreamy sound. "Antes Que" exhorts the listener "Pegar mi rostro a tu seno/Tierno, suave, perfecto" ("Press my face against your breasts/Tender, smooth, perfect"). It's not all mush, though. On "Silicón," Fernando declares, "No me beses/Con tus labios plasticos/Ni me entreques/Tu sexo de silicón" ("Don't kiss me with your plastic lips/Don't leave your silicon sex open for me").

Musically, the group often recalls the L.A. band X, with its combination of punk rock fury and roots-rock authenticity. But Maria Fatal also recalls L.A.'s goth-rock scene with hypnotic, gloomy numbers such as "Sadico Oscuro" ("Sadistic Dark") and "Estoy Mutando" ("I'm Mutating"). These nodding tracks are not exactly the band's finer moments.

The best song on the album also happens to be the most traditional. "Poetas con Fusil" ("Poets With Guns") is built around the simple, quavering notes of a single guitar, much like a Mexican folk song. Unfortunately its intense emotion is all but washed away by the overly polished production. In rock en espanol, producers often equate "professional" with "slick," probably in an effort to ensure that the music world doesn't take them for amateurs. Perhaps when the genre finally gets its critical and commercial due, they'll be more willing to let the raw material speak for itself.

-- Curt Hopkins

G. Love & Special Sauce
Yeah, It's That Easy

The female gender has recently been glutting the market with scorned-by-my-lover pop songs: Alanis Morissette, Ani DiFranco, Jewel, Lisa Loeb, et al. But the bluesy, Boston-based rapper G. Love is the new champion of the man-left-behind. It's not the most original stuff, but at least G. Love (backed by his band of parking-lot palookas, Special Sauce) has a refreshing sense of humor, unlike many of his angry female counterparts.

Lyrically, G. Love's third release offers both adolescent emotion and sophisticated wit. On "You Shall See," he promises, "You'll go crazy, but I don't mind/You're gonna wish you never left my side." Conversely, on the album's hip-swinging single, "Stepping Stone," he cracks, "In every bar they know your drink, what should I think?/I turned around to look, and you gave some dude a wink." In true male fashion, he easily switches his attention from his broken heart to sports: Right after "Stepping Stone" comes "I-76," a hearty shout out to the Philadelphia '76ers.

Less successful, however, are G. Love's sociopolitical statements. The title track deals with race relations, while "Lay Down the Law" addresses drug addiction. These songs sound overly polished, lacking the energy and soul of "Stepping Stone." G. Love is much better when laying down the funk and talking jive with his buddies, as he did so well on "Shooting Hoops" and "Cold Beverage," from his 1994 self-titled debut.

Still, this album is great fun, an inventive mix of rock, rap, funk, Latin percussion, and even skating-rink organ. The lovelorn G. Love has apparently discovered that the best way to get out of a deep funk is to get into one.

-- Liesa Goins

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