Recordings

Thankfully, Green on Red founding member Chris Cacavas steered his destiny along a different route. Following the aforementioned split in '87, he wound up in San Francisco and put together a new band, Chris Cacavas & Junkyard Love, issuing a pair of excellent albums for the Heyday label in '89 and '92. Cacavas then spent the bulk of the '90s focusing his sights on Europe, where pretty much any Yank with a folksy/bluesy guitar sound could earn a steady living releasing records and touring.

That's where Dwarf Star comes in. It is not, despite the CD's '99 copyright date, a new recording, but rather a reissue of the songwriter's 1995 album. However, it was released in Germany on the Return to Sender label as a hard-to-find limited edition. (The label also issued Cacavas' '93 album Six String Soapbox plus recordings from Giant Sand, Steve Wynn, and others.) So, it's a welcome release.

Significantly or not, Cacavas' reintroduction to the U.S. market is one of his more low-key efforts, with Dwarf Star finding Junkyard Love doing the unplugged thing, and to great effect. Cacavas can rock out with the best of them, but his upper-register, slightly fragile vocal style -- roughly, a cross between Alex Chilton and Neil Young -- is fully complemented by the semi-acoustic arrangements and boozy/woozy ambiance that are registered here.

In fact, the first cut is named after some misbegotten dive ("The Crying Shame"), and, against a backdrop of twangy dobro and acoustic guitars riffing on a melodic "Sweet Jane" variation, Cacavas none-too-delicately chronicles one of his favorite subjects: misery ("Self-control's up on the shelf/I checked in here to drown myself/Set up another/So much pain I can't forget/With your help I'll get there yet"). That subject turns out to be a recurring one; in the solo acoustic ballad "Riverside Drive" Cacavas predicts that "bitter tears will soon be wept," while his lone cover choice, not so coincidentally, is Matthew Sweet's "Someone to Pull the Trigger."

Misery and self-loathing have always been fertile ground for songwriters. Unfortunately, that territory has been staked out of late by alterna-bands whose concept of misery revolves around not having gotten, as a kid, the proverbial pat on the head from Mumsy and Daddy. Cacavas, true to his traditionalist roots, invokes classic imagery to suggest something deeper. The opening line "driving my Barracuda in the middle of the night," for example, in "Honking at Demons," can be taken at face value, but when the singer's musings turn to dark memories and even darker fantasies, it's clear that the nighttime journey involves more than just gassing up and peeling out. The song has an astonishing purity to it. Its lachrymose accordion, tense guitar strums and hesitant, subtly martial percussion are the very models of sonic introspection.

As a songwriter, of course, Cacavas honks at his demons in order to exorcise them. And most likely the "I" in at least some of his songs is that of a writer's character speaking in the first person. Of course, this is a man who sings "I like Lyle Lovett/I'd like to shake his hand/He can write a song/That I can understand" (in "I Like Lyle Lovett"). Lovett, of course, is not exactly known for stockpiling sunnier-than-thou ditties. But misery, as the saying goes, can be sweet. Especially if you've got someone like Cacavas on the other side of the bar, ready to pour the drinks and willing to commiserate. -- Fred Mills Go to Stan Freberg

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