Australian septet The Catholics follow up their excellent sophomore effort, Simple, with another charming gem, Life on Earth (Terra Nova ND-9020, 55:20). This tightly-focused group, highlighted by swinging, euphoric horns, disarming rhythms and elegant guitars, shows a mastery of joyful improvisation and textural combination on songs like the giddy “Margarita Thing,” with its fluttery Latin guitar work and playful interplay between sax and trombone. The Catholics take multiple influences and stir them with a swizzle stick to produce a signature sound which somehow makes perfect sense-“Turnover” bustles with a conga-fied rhythm, hums with threads of almost Hawaiian-sounding pedal steel, and breaks into be-bop sax, and “Easy There, Big Fella!” combines reggae clip guitar with an appealing old-styled jazzy horn melody. The incredible, tight-focused musicianship makes pieces like the staccato charmer, “Sticky,” crackle with precision as well as energy and fun. These universally accessible elements make for an endlessly adventurous (and highly danceable) effort, which is already on this critic’s short list for the best of ’98!