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Jose Torres
Tama American Mantra and Other Rituals
(ArteFuturo Productions)

Jose Torres Tama pulls no punches. In his spoken word/ performance art stage shows, Torres Tama has taken on everything from casinos to interpretations of pop culture. His new CD is full of observations on American culture, some his own voice and some enhanced by the electronic trickery of collaborator Billy Atwell.

Torres Tama ruminates on the stereotypes a Latino man must deal with, saying, "I floated in the fragile buoyancy of the immigrant experience." He then switches to a businessman's voice and yells, "I need that A.S.A.P., S.P.I.C." before rapping a verse of taunts between the Sharks and the Jets from the musical West Side Story.

He uses song lyrics, commercial jingles and other pop detritus to connect his experience to the experience of the larger culture. In one piece, Torres Tama riffs that Greg Brady may have been a mulatto trapped in white suburbia. Whether quoting the Talking Heads, interpreting the Dr. Pepper theme song or rewriting the Pledge of Allegiance as a commercial media prayer, he weaves an absorbing spell much like the poet Paul Beatty.

Although much of this type of art is pretentious, Torres Tama never lets you forget that these are spoken word poems, no more, no less. This does not lessen their power, though, because Torres Tama's critique of our culture is provocative and poetic. Pay attention to what he says because the world we live in is a lot closer to Torres Tama's perspective than what one sees on the evening news and listens to on talk radio. -- David Kunian

These Arms Are Snakes
Oxeneers or the Lion Sleeps When Its Antelope Go Home
(Jade Tree)

These Arms Are Snakes' textured hardcore is, if anything, lusty. Probably it's the blurry, sweaty bedroom shots in the album booklet that initially channel this feeling, but once the brain latches on to this idea, the term "orgasmic" seems suddenly apropos for describing the sound of these slithery-armed ruffians. "Tension and release" is another equally apt thought, but though all good music arguably embraces tension and release, much of the Washington, D.C.-inspired hardcore on Oxeneers gets so loud, discordant, droned and (dare I repeat) just plain tense, it sounds like they're playing a musical Thigh-Master.

But, back to "orgasmic" and "lusty." The nice thing about this album is the correlation between the lyrics and the music. The common theme here is the blurred line between love and hate, and how sex complicates the whole equation. For TAAS, the dizzying three-way tug-of-war of those variables results in heavy, intertwining guitars that stew until the lid blows off.

Yet, the word "relationship" combined with the Jade Tree label (Promise Ring, Pedro the Lion, Jets to Brazil) on this album may have emo-haters crying "Weak!" right off the bat. What's more, this band is formed from ex-members of emo-core band Botch (as well as hardcore band Kill Sadie). But from the first listen it's easy to see that this band has little to do with emo. There are no whiney vocals at all, and there's no connection to pop-punk. Though boy/girl problems are central to the album, they only add an intense sexual undercurrent. -- Rob Bryant

The BlueBrass Project
The Same Pocket, Vol. 1
(Meantime Lounge)

A musical combination between brass band and bluegrass sounds like it would never work (See "Strings Attached," Aug. 17). However, chefs and producers Chris and Ashley Thibodeaux Jones, formerly of New Orleans and now of Asheville, N.C., cooked up this idea and brought bluegrass musicians Larry Keel, Aaron "Woody" Wood and Jason Krekel to New Orleans to record with local musicians including members of the ReRirth and Dirty Dozen Brass Band. The result is The BlueBrass Project: The Same Pocket Vol. 1.

What makes this succeed is how the instrumentalists work with each other. The brass musicians give the strings the syncopation inherent in the parade beats, especially the way the drums push the banjo in "Just a Closer Walk With Thee." The string instruments fill out behind the brass instruments to add depth while the blunt register of the trombones rounds out the strings' sharpness (in timbre, not tone) as the band flows into the final chorus.

A lusty energy rips out of the standard "Jesus On the Mainline" as the mandolin reinforces the busy rhythms of the snare drum. The enthusiasm of the singers is matched by both the fast twang of the strings and the bounce of the brass. The album shows that different kinds of folk music can be mixed if done with sympathy toward each music's idiosyncrasies. This synthesis of bluegrass and brass music, though daunting in conception, comes off with conviction and soul in the execution. The "Vol. 1" in the title hints at more to come, but until then, The BlueBrass Project: The Same Pocket Vol. 1 is a most satisfying aural concoction. -- Kunian

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