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Iggy Pop
Avenue B
(Virgin)

Iggy's getting old. And somewhere between immolating himself onstage with shards of glass and blowing out fifty candles on his birthday cake, he realized it. Fortunately, he makes no bones about the event. Instead of checking into the rock and roll geriatric wing, where aged rockers try to strut their stuff despite faces that resemble a pair of worn leather chaps, Pop has decided to take Marianne Faithful's approach: no delusions of youth, but a hell of a life worth reflecting upon.

Pop made his name pissing off critics by ignoring them altogether, and he will continue to do so with this foray into mood music, just as they were coming to terms with his abrasive hits. But who couldn't take an hour of the soft baritone voice David Bowie has always tried to emulate?

Avenue B is certainly reflective, even mellow. In fact, Avenue B is a sit-on-the-couch-with-wine-and-candles album. Nestled among the thirteen tracks are two bona fide Pop gems, "Shakin' All Over" and "Corruption"; the others are acoustic numbers and a handful of spoken-word memoir tracks. Opening the album, Pop promises "no shit" on the track of the same name, and he means it. This album was not written to satiate a record contract, but to try to repair the tattered nerves of his own life and the lives of those who came in contact with him. Somehow, the pre-punk pulls it off. Avenue B is the flip side of Raw Power; for lack of a better epithet, it's raw emotion.

To say Pop is apologizing for his life is inaccurate, though. Avenue B is a glimpse at the man beneath the well-manicured (albeit scarred) body, finally attempting to explain his motives and what drives him. He admits guilt and sorrow, and the underlying message is that he's not proud of the hurt he's caused, but he is proud of who he is, nonetheless. That, and he couldn't have done it any other way. — David Powers

Taj Mahal and Toumani Diabate
Kulanjan
(Hannibal)

Recorded in an Athens, Georgia studio, Kulanjan, a collaboration between veteran American bluesman Taj Mahal and Malian kora (it's a 21-stringed instrument) master Toumani Diabate, sounds like it was recorded half a world away. In a different time. In a completely different culture. Bridging American and African blues, and treating these original songs as if they were heralded traditionals, Mahal, Diabate, and a small band of Malian players create an ad hoc jam session that feels as though it was lifted from the earth and filtered through some purifying apparatus. It's nature calling, and its blues are anything but gloomy.

Trading vocals with the Malian crew, Mahal is typically dusty and gruff, lending the reserved tones of his West African guests a more potent sweetness. Songs occasionally take off from nowhere, ending up as a cultural blues stew with each player taking and adding to the mix. And with a variety of string instruments swirling around, the result is at times spiritual and majestic, often sexy. Even when the overload of musicians appears to be on the verge of adding a little too much weight to these delicate numbers, they hold back while one member picks away in the foreground.

And despite the names above the title, Kulanjan is really a group effort among everyone associated with it. Mahal and Diabate are clearly the leaders of this informal project, but it's the combined contributions of the six back-up players that hold it together. There's no stuffy pretense within the grooves, and the world-hopping blues exchange program that Mahal and Diabate share is certainly a goodwill effort. You can practically hear the smiles busting out in the studio as the soft acoustic touches of "Queen Bee" and "Guede Man Na" gather momentum.

Trying to separate the American and African blues traditions within Kulanjan is futile. The two merge so naturally that you begin to wonder if Mahal's six-string guitar and Diabate's lute-like kora were carved from the same wood. Their picking styles are similar (the title tune is an exercise in restrained, gifted beauty), as is their nontraditional approach to tradition. Not since the Buena Vista Social Club opened its doors has world music sounded so inviting. — Michael Gallucci

Josh Wink
Profound Sounds Vol. 1
(Ovum/Ruffhouse)

On his second major-label outing, Philadelphia DJ Josh Wink replaces the isolated artiste trip that dominated his debut, Herehear, with a solid mix album that's powered by what made him an underground dance star in the first place. Almost seventy minutes of spinning, mixing, and retooling old-school-style techno is at the center of Profound Sounds Vol. 1, but its real star is Wink, who deftly unites fourteen tracks from clubland (like DJ Dozia's "Pop Kulture" and Merio's Dubwork Meets Kathy Lee's "Kmart Shopping") into a cohesive piece that, while maybe not quite as profound as the title lets on, is certainly head-spinning.

Last year's Herehear was a huge and way misguided grab for some of the electronic spotlight that the Chemical Brothers and Prodigy were hogging. It tried to be techno for too many people (with a Trent Reznor cameo to boot) and ultimately had little sense of purpose. Profound Sounds, on the other hand, scales back on the ambition and tosses Wink into a familiar situation. And given the opportunity to shine, he does. The cuts here are spiced with classic house and rave-on techno — and a pounding beat that steps its way from one track to the next. It's also a nonstop booty-shaking machine.

Wink is often capable of turning even the steely edge of electronic music into a fuzzy, warm ear massage. Profound Sounds isn't quite that purr-fect, but it is funky and occasionally sexy. As the tracks build in momentum — think of the aural trip as a long night's journey into dawn — Wink throws in a few more adventurous notes (like vocals and a near-stop during one piece) to reward the faithful. It pays off to stick around to the end; Profound Sounds is structured for that very reason.

And for that very reason, it's not going to break Wink in the mainstream (that was Herehear's job; it failed, and now Wink can go back to making records for people who care about his art rather than trying to fill some music-industry electro quota). Limp Bizkit fans won't give a shit about Johannes Heil and Heiko Laux and Percy X, let alone pick up on Wink's subtle mixes of their "D2" and "Track 2," respectively. But club kids will appreciate his return to grace. — Gallucci

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