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[whitespace] Keith Lofton Ex-Basehead Keith Lofton lives 'Life in One Day' on new album

By Nicky Baxter


AS A MEMBER OF THE alternative-minded hip-hop troupe Basehead, guitarist Keith Lofton didn't have much say about how the boozily slow-motion beats flowed in leader Mike Ivey's surrealistic show. Ivey's cockeyed raps subordinated the genre's bad-boy boasting, honing in instead on more personal concerns such as chronic depression, mending dysfunctional relationships or simply maintaining a straight face under the influence.

Lofton's talents were largely wasted in Basehead, though on occasion his pungent guitar managed to knife through the group's bleak vision. Even though he's now on his own, under the name Lazy K, Lofton continues to elaborate on his former unit's lo-fi souladelic themes.

That's not to suggest that Lazy K's debut album, Life in One Day (Mutant Sound Systems), is a delayed Basehead replay. Lofton's album is a relatively more upbeat affair, boasting a generally optimistic outlook that is in pointed contrast to the sometimes numbingly bleak soundscape of Not in Kansas Anymore, Basehead's swan song of four years ago. Lofton's low-key half-sung, half-rapped delivery does bears some resemblance to his former employer's, but that in no way undermines the uniqueness of Life in One Day.

Lazy K creates a captivating swirl of sound on Life in One Day. Sleepy-eyed Southern soul-blues, terse street-corner R&B, stabs of jazz and slivers of Curtis Mayfield funk-rock undulate like lava-light globules--call it black slacker cool.

"Little Brah" begins with a jazz-guitar appetizer before digging into a down-home platter of simmering Hammond B-3 organ, languorously twittering fretwork and unobtrusive rhythm-keeping, all topped off by a sweet-hearted lyric about the singer's kid brother. The positive spin of the song would have been out of place on Basehead's turf, but it fits comfortably into Lofton's gently uplifting repertoire.

Quite often, Lofton comes off like a new blues philosopher. "The Lie" and "Gas Station Blues" both showcase the musician's earthy wisdom. "The Lie" is swathed in an acoustic-guitar rhythm overlaid with a chiming, Grant Green-ish electric lead. With Lofton handling every instrument but bass and drums, "The Lie" pokes along at a groove-friendly pace, allowing the singer to deliver his sermon--"Now the lies in history are certain things that they try to shield / It's no great mystery they're against my own free will. ... Show that you really care / Somebody say 'Yeah, yeah' "--without distraction.

"Gas Station Blues" starts off with a scratchy soundbite of an ancient-sounding singer bleating the blues and winds up entangled in a storm of New Thing saxophone skronk. Lofton's lyrics are decidedly opaque: "From my view, I can see a slanted willow tree. ... When comes down to it, we're all just wastin' time pumpin' gas / Hopin' the feelin's gonna last." But if his message is somewhat circuitous, Lofton is right to the point musically.

Bassist Walt Cosby and drummer Jay Nichols (Lazy K's sometime rhythm contributors) rumble and bash while Charles Bennington provides sax interjections that careen from on-the-beat warbling to off-the-wall scribbling. In the background, a voice wonders about the nexus between rap and blues, but a cursory listen to "Gas Station Blues" renders the question moot: this black-belt South hip-hop essay rivals the best of the sadly departed Arrested Development's best.

"Life in One Day," the album's best cut, is, in fact, a more fleshed-out take on Arrested Development's Southern-fried soul. Its leisurely programmed introduction in particular appears to be a direct nod to Arrested Development. The song's expansive melody, underpinned by mournful strings, strummed acoustic guitar and background vocals, reveals the unmistakable mark of a true pop craftsman.

Against the song's alluring musical backdrop, however, a breakup is being acted out, shrill recriminations and all. As Lofton's wounded narrative draws to its inevitable, unhappy conclusion, you're left wishing this enchanting melody came minus such a heartrending text.

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From the Dec. 18-24, 1997 issue of Metro.

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