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AS LYDIA LUNCH writes in her 1977 liner notes here, "To the uninitiated, Mars may sound like listening to a laundromat magnified." Twenty years ago Mars brought an intellectual extremism to the fashion-oriented punk movement, aiming to get back to the core of raw, raging, primal rock while harnessing available technologies. Naturally, Mars couldn't get arrested, which makes these rare and obscure recordings even more appealing. Thirteen tracks, live and studio circa '77 and '78, that optioned rock-funk as if Gang Of Four never existed and injected "space" into unexpected places just to make Sonic Youth possible. A tribal rhythm aesthetic, combined with phlegmatic vocal grunts and sparking-wire fretboard strangulations, further suggested the presence of humans and not programmed automatons crunching out brutal anthems descended straight from the bowels of "White Light, White Heat." They were and remain the sound of men and women in the spin cycle from hell.

--Fred Mills

Charlie Hunter Quartet

Blue Note

GUITARISTS PAT METHENY, John Scofield and Bill Frisell are no longer young lions, but patriarchs. It's too soon to say, but Charlie Hunter shows enough promise to suggest that he may fill one of those vacated positions. Unlike peer guitarists Mark Whitfield and John Pizzarelli, Hunter is not inclined regurgitate their dated bop style. Hunter's primary influence is predecessor Scofield, heard in the wacko guitar tone of "911," the New Orleans rhythms beneath "Teabaggin'," and the relaxed but very twisted feel of "Shango...The Ballad." Shango doesn't mimic Scofield, but rather builds on him, while also updating the funk and rock elements in jazz. Fine stuff, but still not as good as his T. J. Kirk.

--Dave McElfresh

New Edition

Home Again
Three + 1/2 Stars

IT'S BEEN MORE than a decade since New Edition first hit the charts. A blatant Jackson 5 clone which, in turn, would spawn a far more successful white-boy rip-off clone in the form of New Kids On The Block, New Edition produced a few bouncy pop-soul hits before splintering apart. Somewhat amazingly, all of the members had commercial successes after the breakup--Bobby Brown, Johnny Gill and Ralph Tresvant as solo acts; and Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins and Ronnie DeVoe as the trio Bell Biv DeVoe. Recent releases by the splinter acts all tanked badly; but the reunion album Home Again isn't bad.

The first single, "Hit Me Off," is an irresistible groove, while the Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis-penned "Something About You" features an updated version of the new jack swing sound that Brown rode to stardom before settling back into the role of Whitney Houston's bad-boy husband. There are a couple lush ballads and some sweet harmonies here. This isn't a great album, but it's a very, very good one.

--Tom Danehy

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