CDs by Eric Bachmann's new project and Chuck Prophet

JACKIE-O MOTHERFUCKER, Fig. 5 (Road Cone) Twelve musicians entered a Portland basement to record what they thought would be Jackie-O's fourth rock-based LP. What the collective emerged with, however, was Fig. 5, an "anthropological foray" (hence the bone on the cover) that travels back in history to sample electronic music, folk, country, free jazz, and post-1950s avant-garde. And it uses an impressive array of tools to do so: Besides the usual ingredients, the predominantly instrumental album features ukalin, harmonica, banjo, bells, oboe, toy piano, clarinet, lap steel, shells, shakers, organ, flute, and electronics. Like "Chiapas! I MUST GO THERE!" and "Native Einstein," most of the tracks begin with quiet repetition, then build a foundation with layers of recorded voices, chopping violins, and spidery guitar before climbing to a crescendo. Only two tracks feature vocals: A heartfelt retake of the classic spiritual "Go Down, Old Hannah" introduces a bluesy chorus, and Honey Owens coos sweetly on the drifting "Beautiful September." Other songs, like "Analogue Skillet," consist only of electronic drones and loops. Like the more experimental recordings of John Zorn or Sonic Youth, Fig. 5 is a technically varying work of art, at times aggravating in its monotony, but provocative in its intelligence.—David Massengill

CHUCK PROPHET, The Hurting Business (Hightone)Q magazine once called San Francisco songwriter Chuck Prophet "the missing link between Paul Westerberg and Bob Dylan." That was nearly a decade ago, and unfortunately Prophet's still missing. (At least here in the US, where he chocks up loads of critical praise and only pinches of record sales.) On his fifth solo album, the former guitar slinger for LA psychedelic cowboys Green On Red puts his roots-rock devotion on hold for an excursion into urban rock and soulful pop ballads. Prophet's lyrical structure remains Dylan-like, but the sparse simplicity of earlier records moves aside for several organs, mellotron, sax, DJ scratching, and Prophet's spaced-out vocals, which echo Kurt Wallinger's more than Tom Petty's. Farfisa and maracas shoot the title song across a new wave in a story of soured relationships where Prophet sings, "We don't need no referee/Honey, if you go down you're gonna fall on me." The guitar comes to life on "La Paloma," where a bluesy riff one-ups Chris Isaak's "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing," alongside cool lyrics: "I spied that dragon/I chased him off in a stolen Lexus/Rose across the plains/Through the state of Texas." But the record's (and the artist's) most glorious moment is "Dyin' All Young." Singing over and around a sampled rap lyric ("Didn't even get to see the summer setting/Dyin' all young"), Prophet reminds us through a mother's eyes that many of our youth die before their time. It's a bona fide radio hit, if only someone with the right credentials would hear it.—Scott Holter

CROOKED FINGERS, Crooked Fingers (Warm) As the frontman for the Archers of Loaf, one of last decade's finest bands, and the auteur behind Barry Black, whose self-titled first album remains one of the only worthwhile indie-rock side projects ever (don't bother with the follow-up, Tragic Animal Stories), Eric Bachmann is one of the secret heroes of '90s rock. So it probably shouldn't be surprising that he takes another stylistic turn with Crooked Fingers, offering neither the six-string snarl of the Archers' jagged-guitar paradise nor Barry Black's humorously experimental sound-daubings. Instead, he rebounds after the Archers' 1998 dissolution with Crooked Fingers, a disquieting debut that evokes the Pogues without the cheerful sense of community or Rain Dogs-era Tom Waits with the gonzo attitude drained out of the surreal character sketches. Those comparisons don't come lightly: Bachmann, never the world's smoothest crooner, sounds like he's gargling buckshot on songs like "New Drink for the Old Drunk" and "Man Who Died of Nothing at All." (Archers fans will note his thematic continuance of song titles.) But his sense of tune is still strong, particularly on the lovely "Juliette" and "She Spread Her Legs and Flew Away." Crooked Fingers' acoustic arrangements, heavy on plucked and bowed string instruments (violin, mandolin), are just as striking. —Michaelangelo Matos

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