DESERT-COOKED SOUNDS

One Foot in the Grave
Lookin' Good! Who's Your Embalmer?
(Triple X)

Move over, California, Arizona now has the dubious distinction of being the novelty-rock-act capital of the world. We've even got both ends of the age spectrum covered--tots (Litl' Willie) and the tottering (One Foot in the Grave). In both cases, what were once great jokes have become bands serious enough to put out albums.

Also in both cases, it's easy to admire the spirit involved. With One Foot, it's a gas to see and hear two Sun City septuagenarians who ride around in golf carts by day bashing out watered-down punk at night. It's enough to touch even the most jaded rock n' roll heart. And anything that scandalizes the white zinfandel, cucumber sandwich and "Bring Back Reagan!" crowd gets my vote.

Lookin' Good completely encapsulates One Foot's brief but celebrated career. Although "Menopause" is its tour de force, so to speak, most of this band's best material is really geriatric lyrics put to known rock tunes. The most successful of this breed is the amusing "Mrs. Fletcher's Tribute (I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up)," which is set to the old Suzi Quatro hit "I Hear You Knockin' (But You Can't Come In)." After that, though, things go downhill fast. The two originals by the band's youth, 50-year-old Gavin Weiser, are dreadful slices of his career as an accountant.

Musically, the less said about this band, the better. The instrumental support is rudimentary at best. JoDina's voice is more a girlish squeal than a voice, per se. Her "You pig!" exclamation that closes her mom-on-the-rampage tirade, "Clean Up Your Room," is her best moment vocally.

But listening to this band is not the big attraction here. What One Foot is really selling is a sight gag. To listeners unfamiliar with the band's trip, this album and the resulting tour will be a kick--once. And therein lies the problem. Where does it go from here? Can a novelty act become an actual band? More important, are this band's rock n' roll fantasies fulfilled to the point where it's members can let it go? So far, they're gung ho to tour and make another recording. Whether Triple X or any other label will agree is another matter. Unless it gets serious--which may be impossible--One Foot is destined to become an old joke that's no longer funny.--Robert Baird Ted Newman

Where Does Love Go?
(local CD)

Mesa resident Newman's new collection won't send many hard-core, country-disco denizens two-stepping to record stores, but it's obvious that's not his aim, anyway. With a pair of exceptions, this is an album of warmly innocuous, G-rated love songs clearly designed to appeal to older folks whose idea of a big evening is a couple of brandy Alexanders, a foxtrot or two, then an early exit to catch the ten o'clock news at home.

And what's wrong with that? Songs like "Long Range Love Affair" and "I Can't Make You Love Me" are simply arranged, wholly danceable ditties with easily digested lyrics that prove perfect for parents and Eddy Arnold enthusiasts, while "I Can't Stand It" gently bemoans the nine-to-five routine without threatening to roust the neighborhood with an Uzi. Like his very gentle lyrics, Newman possesses a clear, clean tenor that matches his music well.

Still, while Newman's tunes are generally nontaxing, there are a few songs that are, well, a bit weird. "He Left the Bar Alone," for example, contains maudlin subject matter, but is married to an upbeat melody. And despite the strange title, "Happy Blues" is not an anthem for masochists. The two out-of-place offerings not only don't fit in Where Does Love Go?, but also border on the bizarre. "Gold of Superstition," a song about the Lost Dutchman Mine, sounds a bit like "Ghost Riders in the Sky" as performed by the Irish Rovers, while "Enrique Camarena," an ode to the DEA agent slain by south-of-the-border drug lords, contains the Raffi-like line "The sacrifice you offered/Was for all grown-ups and kids." Not words that will roil our righteous blood. Both of these songs should have been reserved for another project.

On the other side, however, "Weekend Love" is a fine, pure ballad which shows off Newman's impressive vocal range, and the album's best song, "The Phone Call," displays writer Newman's latent lyrical abilities with this outstanding opening line: "I was sittin' in a barroom/When I heard that telephone/Three guys hollered, 'I'm not here'/And a fourth said, 'I've gone home.' . . ." The lovelorn singer, you see, wishes it were for him. Now that's country!--Larry Crowley

Rainer
Worried Spirits
(Demon)

One night years ago, I walked into a corner bar in the barrio in Tucson and sat down to listen. Along with a handful of other people, I watched a breathtaking solo talent work his spell. From that day until now, I've never wavered in the belief that Rainer Ptacek is a major talent. White bluesman, electric funk blues rocker, master of anything with strings, Rainer is Arizona's great undiscovered musical treasure.

Unfortunately, talents this quirky are hard to market. They resist easy labels. Which is why Worried Spirits is out on Demon, an obscure English label that's difficult to get in the States. If you're determined to get a copy, the big mail-order houses like Roundup Records in Boston, Midnight Records in New York and Roots n' Rhythm in San Francisco either have it or can get it. This album contains only Rainer's distinct voice--midrange, with lots of mumbly, nasal, Dylanesque phrasing--and his incomparable playing on a National steel-bodied guitar. Although he's a marvelous slide player, Rainer's gift goes far beyond playing the blues. At heart, Rainer is an idiosyncratic balladeer in the mold of Terry Allen. His originals display a bittersweet, Tom Waits-minus-the-booze world view. Having penned 11 of the disc's 15 cuts, Rainer also has a penchant for equally off-center songwriting. On the best original, "River of Real Time," the tense lyrics and moody singing come together in splendid fashion. But it's a cover of the beautiful traditional tune "Long Long Way to the Top of the World" (. . . only a short fall back down") where the breadth of Rainer's gift becomes apparent. His yearning vocals and busy guitar make for an exquisite and powerful whole. It's exactly the kind of performance that first convinced me of the genius that makes this moody disc shine.--Robert Baird

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