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Opening Act 

Johnsinclairradio.com is less family oriented. On Nov. 24, John Sinclair launched his own online radio program, which he is currently recording live from coffee shops in Amsterdam during the Cannabis Cup. The former WWOZ DJ, who left New Orleans for the Netherlands a year and a half ago, says via email, "The show will be like my New Orleans Music Show, with an opening theme, music from New Orleans (and elsewhere of course in this instance), interviews, news and info, etc. It will be different in that each program will be only one hour long instead of three hours, and the guests will not be quite so colorful."

Considering that he plans to interview people from the cannabis industry/community and the sex trade, among other walks of life, that's saying something. Check it out for yourself at the Web site, where the hour-long shows are archived.

Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz
Crunk Juice
(TVT)

Ying Yang Twins
My Brother & Me
(TVT)

Crunk is rebellion music, not in the sense of fighting the power. Like heavy metal, it's music the culture would prefer doesn't exist. This rap hybrid has no redeeming social value, being primarily about getting loaded and getting laid, though those desires are typically phrased more coarsely. Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz have boiled the English language down to 40 or so crucial words, the "F" word, the "MF" word, the "S" word, the "B" word and the "N" word serving as all-purpose vocabulary items.

As dumb as that sounds, if it weren't for those words and the thoughts expressed by them, this music would be tailor-made for sporting events. Because these records recreate the spirit of a party, the tempos are perfect for sing-a-longs and the hooks are too big and immediate to miss. With the shouted, in-your-face vocals, crunk could easily be the soundtrack to a fan's desperate attempt to get the Saints to show signs of life.

Of these two recent releases, Crunk Juice is the more hardcore. Any imagination has been carefully expunged in favor of a celebration of an evocation of a guy's life at its most basic. My Brother & Me by Ying Yang Twins creates the posse atmosphere with an army of guests, including Juvenile, who makes three appearances on My Brother & Me, including a remix of his of "Slow Motion." Ying Yang Twins do, however, approach using a metaphor in "Halftime (Stand Up & Get Crunk!)" and they do have a sensitive side; they dedicate "Do It" to the strippers.

Mos Def
The New Danger

(Geffen)

The New Danger
is African-American rock 'n' roll, and not just because it has big, heavy metal guitars or because Mos Def sings -- or sort of sings -- many of the songs. He's still essentially a rapper, and adopts the macho, tough guy posture of so many rappers that, frankly, really isn't all that different from the macho, tough guy posture of so many rock bands.

What's distinctive is how he synthesizes so many streams of music, not just rock and rap. There's dub and trip-hop in the production murk, and that murk creates the same sort of dread for him it created for Tricky. "Blue Black Jack" is a blues tune with this year's cult hero Shuggie Otis on guitar. Pulling disparate threads together in an unself-conscious way is the hallmark of a lot of great rock 'n' roll, as is the sheer love of sound you hear in "Bedstuy Parade & Funeral March" and "The Boogie Man Song," produced by Raphael Saadiq.

The Late, Great Daniel Johnston
Discovered Covered
(Gammon)

Daniel Johnston is not "late," no matter what his sobriquet says, and his greatness is probably subject to debate. He's thought of as an outsider artist in the music world, having spent time in a mental hospital. His songs lack the production values we've come to expect, often recorded straight to cassette with a mic on top of the piano as he played and sang in his high, childlike voice. His guitar? It was in tune when he bought it, but such niceties aren't his primary concern. His plaintive voice struggles with love, hope and loneliness in affectless, artless, direct lyrics. In "Go" he sings: "So you think you found the one / And she knows just how you feel / And you say that she's for real / And she's fun."

His tentative optimism and plainspokenness is touching, and it isn't limited to love. In "Story of An Artist," it's hard to imagine he's not singing about himself when he says: "Listen up and I'll tell a story about growing old / Everyone and friends and family say, 'Hey, get a job. / Why do you do that only?/ Why are you so odd? / We don't really like what you do. / We don't think anyone ever will. / We think it's a problem you have, / and the problem's made you ill.'"

The self-consciousness in the lyrics suggest Johnston isn't necessarily as "outsider" as some think -- people who have dealt with him in his Austin, Texas hometown bear this out -- but the personal and artistic innocence is sufficiently appealing that he's had a cult following since the 1990s. That cult includes Yo La Tengo, whose cover of "Speeding Motorcycle" on 1990's Fakebook introduced many to Johnston.

Discovered Covered is a two-disc set, one featuring his tracks, the other with covers of those songs by artists like Beck, Vic Chesnutt, Bright Eyes and TV on the Radio. The Violent Femmes' Gordon Gano finds little in "Impossible Love" that Johnston didn't put there first, and Jad Fair -- a similarly wobbly singer -- doesn't do much with "My Life is Starting Over Again" but give it a more assured backing courtesy of Teenage Fanclub.

On the other hand, Tom Waits' take on "King Kong" -- originally an a cappella retelling of the movie's plot -- builds as he slowly adds guitars and bass to a looped rhythm track sung by Waits. Johnston's version is fun in its concept and revealing in his identification with King Kong, but he's not enough of a singer to sustain the piece for its 5:42 duration. Waits' version gains momentum and density, making it one of the highlights of the cover disc. In some cases, it's funny to hear artists approximate Johnston's eccentricities, as when Clem Snide sings, "Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Your Grievience," pronouncing it "gree-vee-ence" as Johnston does. Others like Death Cab for Cutie take possession of the songs. Death Cab ratchets up the drama of "Dream Scream," adding atmospheric guitars and unusually prominent drums. Similarly, when Sparklehorse and the now-ubiquitous Flaming Lips cover "Go," the strings and the lonely keyboard melody between the choruses and verses underscore the song's fundamental beauty and suggest that, for all of Daniel Johnston's eccentricity, his vision's not that unique and it's not as far out of the mainstream as it may seem on first listen.

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