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Jen Trynin
Gun Shy Trigger Happy
(Warner Bros.)

Jen Trynin may ponder love's great existential questions to death, but Gun Shy Trigger Happy is a brilliant bit of navel gazing. This is a confident and cagey second outing, with more of the coy balladry and tough guitar-wrangling that made 1994's Cockamamie so exceptional. She sticks with the rock-trio feel she steadfastly adores but allows a little more groove and atmosphere into the songs this time, along with a sense of raw space in the arrangements that perfects this overdriven haiku to modern love.

Blasting off strong with "Go Ahead," Trynin sets the tone for the record, proclaiming, "I'd grab a needle and a ledge/But I don't wanna hurt my head." She's a romantic for sure, opening all manner of veins to immerse herself in the moment and to exorcise the pain. But she's also too practical to ignore the stench of souring affections or to let them go without applying a swift kick to someone's rear during the big exit scene. The tender, lingering affection and conflicted emotions of "Getaway (February)" immediately give way to the hard-edged wah-wah pedal soul of "Bore Me," on which she delivers the "I hope we can still be friends" line as if it were a cleaver to the sternum. "Washington Hotel" is another grand, guitar-drenched kiss-off, in the I'll-drop-you-before-you-can-drop-me tradition: "I can see your Chevy parked by the pool/Where I could leave you a note but I'm too cruel," she chides before adding the coda, "I'd rather die thinking you can't live without me."

Sure-footed as Trynin appears, she is as hard on herself as she is on her mercurial lovers. "I miss who I used to be," she laments in "Writing Notes," pining for the truth of times when she "could barely keep anything inside." But her doubt bites back in "Under the Knife," a metallic creeper that escalates into a Stones-style romp with a sarcastic, graphic spin. "I want to go under the knife/So that maybe my life could be like yours," she snarls, challenging those who might change her with "I wanna suck me out, I wanna stick you in, I wanna know what I can do for you."

Trynin's questions are never really answered on Gun Shy Trigger Happy, but she's delivered a powerful testament to getting through it all with honesty, beauty, and distortion.

-- Robin Myrick

Early Years -- 1979 to 1983, Live

From 1979 to about 1987, Jeff "Monoman" Conolly, leading a shifting cast of bandmates in the Boston-based Lyres from behind his vintage Vox Continental organ, almost single-handedly kept alight the American garage-rock flame, utterly oblivious to various prevailing commercial and critical trends (disco, new wave, hardcore, whatever). Conolly freely mixed obscure Sixties bedrock nuggets ("Soapy," "Busy Body," "Lily") with his own brutally primal compositions ("Don't Give It Up Now," "Help You Ann," "High on Yourself"), all of them imbued with a gutbucket, unselfconscious simplicity and a careening, head-spinning passion. Guided by Conolly's quavering Vox and vocal delirium and abetted by a series of guitarists' (Little Man, Danny McCormick, Peter Greenberg) frontal lobe-piercing chordal assaults, the Lyres tapped into a direct line to rock's pure pulse.

Although their studio EPs and LPs, notably 1984's On Fyre, successfully documented the band's fiercely signature sound, the Lyres were best experienced in a live setting, where, depending on Conolly's mood and alcohol intake, they could be either brilliant or abyssal. (I count among my most transcendent rock moments a sweaty 1982 Lyres show in a tiny D.C. club.) These 24 tracks, culled from 1979 to 1981 New England gigs and two live-in-the-studio Boston radio broadcasts (1979 and 1983), capture the band's innate rapture, ping-ponging from rave-up to rave-up: "Little Sally Tease," "Nobody but Me," "I Really Want You Right Now," "How Do You Know," "Long Gone," and "Never Met a Girl Like You Before." An unvarnished testament to rock's primitive throb and the sheer rush of letting go. (Crypt, 1409 W. Magnolia, Burbank, CA 91506)

-- Michael Yockel

Smash mouth
Fush Yu Mang

Rock and roll isn't calculus. At least it shouldn't be. The rules are pretty simple: Find a hook, throw the appropriate pose, and keep the beat slamming. All of which this San Jose quartet does with laudable gusto. No doubt its sudden popularity has been aided by the band's ska and punk leanings, but there is also the single to consider. "Walkin' on the Sun" is, to put it mildly, a monster. The swirling organ and copacetic lyrics are an unabashed Sixties come-on, derivative as all hell, and utterly impossible to shag from the memory banks. An album filled with this stuff might grate, but the band has a few more tricks than you'd expect on Fush Yu Mang, their rambunctious debut. "The Fonz," for instance, is a curious little piece of power pop, a groovy, bottom-heavy paean to all things cool. "Beer Goggles" opens with a burst of falsetto voices that is positively Beach Boys before launching into a scorching verse/chorus/verse fueled by Gregory Camp's blunt but effective guitar leads. Steve Harwell's raspy vocal work takes on a certain strained poignancy on the campy Mafia number "Padrino," and rhythm dudes Paul DeLisle (bass) and Kevin Coleman (drums) do their part to keep the mayhem effectively anchored in the low end throughout.

Smash mouth isn't about to break any IQ barrier -- "Heave-Ho" sees them relating a tale of eviction while swilling Meisterbrau -- nor is the band's record on gender relations especially encouraging. Indeed, they exude the kind of good-natured misogyny familiar to denizens of frat row. I know I should be offended when Harwell yelps, "I want someone, anyone/Tall one, short one, skinny one," but I find myself singing along. And so do my women friends -- even the uptight ones.

In the end, Smash mouth argues, life's a party, and we'd all do best to get along with our neighbors and not vomit on the furniture. This lighthearted approach makes it hard to begrudge the band its excesses. So what if its hyperactive cover of WAR's "Why Can't We Be Friends" doesn't add much to the song? They're having fun. So will you.

-- Steven Almond

Smash mouth opens for U2 at 8 p.m. on Friday, November 14, at Pro Player Stadium in Miami.

When I Was Born for the 7th Time
(Luaka Bop/Warner Bros.)

Critics have been saying it for some time now: Rock music is on life support. Heavy hitters such as U2, R.E.M., and Pearl Jam just aren't showing a strong pulse. Meanwhile ska is just a 24-hour flu, and no one's quite ready to diagnose electronica. Moan all you want, but consider the upside -- with such ill health comes experimental medicine, which means cool, disparate artists like Ben Harper, the Dandy Warhols, and the Geraldine Fibbers actually get a chance to snag a teensy bit of the spotlight for a second. And if the musical gods are feeling kind and virtuous, they might shine a bright light on Cornershop, the most happening Anglo-Asian-Indian altrock/folk-hop/Punjabi-singing groove outfit to emerge since, well, since the beginning of time, really.

With sitars, dholkis, turntable scratching, and loose backbeats cohabiting with drone-y guitars, cheesy keyboards, sci-fi synth noises, and an all-around folksy coziness, Cornershop's When I Was Born for the 7th Time traverses such fresh territory that it's almost pointless to play the comparison game. It may be best to consider When I Was Born as one might Beck's Odelay: a discombobulated collage of sounds and hooks that are as pop as they are a part of the underground. Also, like Beck -- who, for the record, just might be the greatest benefactor of these rudderless, post-Nirvana times -- lead Cornershopper Tjinder Singh champions a slacker-ish vibe, singing as if only halfinterested, but all the while conveying genuine vitality. Not that he and Beck really sound alike. Singh has a mousy, thickly accented voice that lends an even greater Third World quality to the Cornershop experience.

The London band's third album tops 1995's Woman's Gotta Have It -- itself a plenty fab experience -- by limiting the sloppy guitar rock and upping the groove quotient. As a result, the treats are endless -- including the lazy funk of "Good Shit"; the squirrelly scratching of "Butter That Soul"; a reading of the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" sung in Punjabi; an otherworldy, countryish duet with Tarnation's Paula Frazer ("Good to Be on the Road Back Home"); and a buoyant, Velvet-y pop homage to Indian movie songstress Asha Bhosle ("Brimful of Asha"). Bet you didn't know she even existed, did you? The things you learn when rock music is in the infirmary.

-- Neal Weiss

Bob Dylan
Time Out of Mind

Coming on the heels of Bob Dylan's bout with a potentially fatal heart ailment, Time Out of Mind has been hailed as the legendary songwriter's best offering in twenty years. Recorded (prior to the illness) at Criteria Studios in Miami, the disc has received so many four-star reviews that it's already being mentioned in the same breath as classics such as Blood on the Tracks and John Wesley Harding. In extensive profiles The New York Times raved and USA Today gushed. Even Newsweek weighed in with a "Dylan Lives" cover story. And the hype is well deserved. In what qualifies as some sort of premillennium miracle, Time Out of Mind is indeed brilliant.

Thirty-five years after the release of his debut record, Dylan has embraced the folk and blues styles of his early career. This time, however, he bends the genres to resonate at strange frequencies and tunes in to his midlife crises. Humbly he confronts his own mortality, acknowledges the ravages of time, and battles an almost overwhelming sense of apathy. It's a surprisingly candid self-portrait for a rock icon of Dylan's stature.

In the past Dylan came across as the cocksure bard, the grand juggler of the English language. He seemed to live neck-deep in oceans of oblique phrasing that rolled in from the horizon, passed through him, and broke majestically on the shore. These days he sounds as if he's casting a line into still waters, hoping to hook a single truth. But he doesn't even get a nibble, and the silence can be devastating. On "Not Dark Yet" he sings: "I was born here and I'll die here against my will/I know it looks like I'm movin', but I'm standin' still/Every nerve in my body is so vacant and numb/I can't even remember what it was I came here to get away from/Don't even hear the murmur of a prayer/It's not dark yet, but it's gettin' there."

Dylan's hushed, haggard vocals are set against Daniel Lanois' supple, sympathetic production. Lanois strips songs to their core and creates a sparse, spooky vibe that relies heavily on Jim Dickinson's electric piano and Augie Meyers' organ. Used for ambient and percussive effects, the keyboards give songs such as "Love Sick," "Dirt Road Blues," and "Million Miles" a Twin Peaks shimmer and a Howlin' Wolf shake. The instrumentation functions as a kind of pillow for Dylan's prickly singing, and subtly reinforces Time Out of Mind's status as a dreamy masterpiece.

-- John Lewis

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