GARY HIGGINS
Red Hash
(Drag City)
****

Brought back into circulation via Drag City's Herculean efforts, this 1973 album is one of those works mostly heard by record-collecting royalty. Often, these reputedly legendary LPs fail to live up to the sky-high hype. Red Hash, however, is all that and a bag of kind bud.

The album begins with the gorgeously blissed folk number, "Thicker Than a Smokey," wherein a hushed campfire glow and lilting, seesaw rhythm betoken the sonic grace that suffuses Higgins' compositions. "It Didn't Take Too Long" follows with a glorious dollop of sundowner folk rock, enhanced by a radiant peal of glass-fingered guitar. Red Hash should've shifted Cat Stevens-sized units, but, alas, it sank into obscurity. Drag City's benevolent resurrection of it--with two quality bonus tracks--is a major event. DAVE SEGAL

KEVIN BLECHDOM
Eat My Heart Out
(Chicks On Speed)
****

With its radioactive semen, HIV jokes, and joyful bestiality, Kevin Blechdom's (born Kristen Erickson) Bitches Without Britches was as brilliant as it was garish--and more patently offensive than virtually any other album I own. And while Eat My Heart Out tempers her menstrual blood fixations slightly, it's no less garish--a 19-track conceptual love opus that drags listeners through too many stylistic hoops to even begin to list. A Mills College grad and former member of Bay Area duo Blechdom From Blectum, Kevin's solo work has always been an explosively polarizing affair, and even in that, Eat is a serious challenge. As per usual, the shit comes off like an estrogen-infused update on the Zappa motif, as filtered through ridiculously cartoonish midi presets--in other words, not for the faint of heart. But if the previous paragraph doesn't immediately sound like the worst idea you've ever heard, have I got a record for you. ZAC PENNINGTON

FRUIT BATS
Spelled in Bones
(Sub Pop)
***

Chicago singer/guitarist Eric Johnson has a knack for creating sweeping melodic songs that stick in your head, which is the very definition of great pop. With a rotating cast of Chicago music luminaries, he has generated a soaring songbook of dreamy indie pop over the course of three albums. The latest addition is Spelled in Bones, which finds Johnson and company leaving the twangier elements of earlier outings behind. It's a wise choice that lets his pure pop sensibilities free reign. The album title sounds dark, but the music belies it with sunny, sweeping compositions that will remind many of a folkier strain of labelmates the Shins. The album zips by in a sunny burst, encouraging you to play it again and again. NATE LIPPENS

**** Stolen Kidneys
*** Escaped Convict's Hook on the Car Door
** Pop Rocks & Coke
* Mexican "Dog" Turns Out To Be Hairless Rat