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PAPA'S CULTURE (Buy CDs by this artist)
Papa's Culture, but ... (Elektra) 1993

Somewhere between a greased-gears Steely Dan and a pleasantly sedated They Might Be Giants, this ingenious Northern California duo — a bassist/composer raised on Count Basie and a post-punk folkie/toaster guitarist with a wry funnybone — belies its members' roots to create warm, jazzy, reggaefied funk-pop laced with charmingly odd lyrics. Laying down infectious rhythms reminiscent of the early Beat, and playful soul stylings that would do Sly Stone proud, Harley White (bass, music) and Blake Davis (guitar, vocals, words) make memorable songs like "Swim," "It's Me" and the Zappa-esque "Muffin Man" effortlessly enjoyable while describing a world of their own fantastic imagination. The album can barely contain the band's hyper-invention: tracks burble over with adroitly applied instrumental variety (horns, strings, reeds, harmonica, sitar), samples (Charles Mingus and Carl Reiner) and lyrics that mingle Jacques Cousteau, Brian Wilson, mom, grandpa, Bob Marley and Black Uhuru without ever getting bogged down in topicality or random referencing. Still, the relaxed grooves and sophisticated studio craft move it along with smooth ease.

[Ira Robbins]