A Random History of the Avant-Groove
From the capital of the Confederacy comes a quartet of white boys named Hotel X, venturing forth into the realm of cool jazz that goes with late nights and cigarettes like braces go with crooked teeth. A Random History is a fantastic collection of music: rarely covered tunes by Coltrane (his "India" is particularly inspired), Mingus and guitar-noise genius Sonny Sharrock, alongside strong Hotel originals like "Ocean Floor," which sounds like a soundtrack for a camel walking underwater, and the bitchy, sax-trombone conversation of "Jake."
You'll catch touches of Sun Ra, early-Sixties Miles, warped blues and percussive Cu-bop throughout the release--elements reminiscent of territory covered by John Lurie's late Lounge Lizards--but it's the two-bass sound that keeps Hotel X intriguing. With both fretted and fretless, the instruments tease and meander between themselves constantly without becoming overbearing. You don't have to be a jazz head to appreciate this history.--Peter Gilstrap
Lee Roy Parnell
On the Road
Former Texas Jew Boy to Kinky Friedman, longtime Nashville sideman Parnell has a justifiably highly regarded rep for his electric guitar/slide work. It's just been in the last few years that he's let his fine voice out of that studio corral and gone it alone. Thanks, Lee Roy.
Packed with a passel of shuffle-friendly tunes, On the Road is a solid, if generally unspectacular, piece of work. Parnell's smoky-smooth baritone lends itself especially well to the pickup-truck blues of "Straight Shooter" and "Country Down to My Soul." The title track, a Bob McGill-inked gem, has spent a spell on the charts, but Parnell's take on Fred Rose and Hy Heath's 1952 classic "Take These Chains From My Heart (and Set Me Free)," with vocal help from Ronnie Dunn (of Brooks and Dunn fame), is downright swell. While this is a slick, Nashville product, Parnell does get the opportunity to display his superb slide work on the rollicking "Fresh Coat of Paint." Why producer Scott Hendricks didn't allow Parnell to show off his stringsmithery more often herein, however, is a tad tough to fathom.
Well, maybe next time. We will be listening.--Larry Crowley
Sometimes it can be really cool to play the same two or three distorted chords over a plodding beat, not really be able to sing, and to choose a funny/stoopid band name that might offend, oh, someone's great aunt.
But it didn't work for Piss Factory. The music put out by this band is just plain boring. Not scary, not wicked. Boring. It sounds like some record exec ordered this one up thinking the nihilistic youth of today would swallow it whole. Factory sounds like a million videos you've seen before. Do yourself a favor, go buy a White Zombie album or something.--Peter Gilstrap
Some plumb-lucky George Strait concertgoers already have an inside track on this sultry-voiced newcomer, who has set the stage for Ol' Possum Eyes on a number of occasions. But if there is a God--or a smart Music City suit with a soft spot for old-fashioned country music--Bobbie Cryner should soon be the last act out.
This ballad-rich inaugural effort is that good. From the spooky opening, "He Feels Guilty," through the Cryner-penned "You Could Steal Me"--complete with vocal and mandolin help from country songwriting-singing legend Carl Jackson (who also co-produced)--Cryner's low-pitched complaints and effortless vocal acrobatics might remind one of Jessi Colter, Wynonna Judd and--no foolin'--George Jones.
"Too Many Tears Too Late," with its righteous fiddle preamble and Emmylou Harris' gorgeous background goose, exemplifies the general theme of a woman's self-sufficiency and personal power, while the album's finest cut, "I Think It's All Over Now"--rendered even more soul-searing thanks to master dobroist Jerry Douglas' finger work--is simply slow-dance heaven. Betcha can't cling close enough.--Larry Crowley
From Monday to Sunday
Why you shouldn't like it:
1) Nick Heyward was the idea man behind early-Eighties Brit-pop band Haircut 100, short-haired, cardigan-clad preppies who made the New Christy Minstrels look subversive.
2) The words "ordinary" and "plain" creep up enough times in Heyward's lyrics to make you think you're listening to Paul McCartney trying to be down-to-earth again. Worse, Heyward's likely to draw kudos from your mom with lines like "Love's a better place with all the dishes put away."
3) The Tom Petty theft evident in "Mr. Plain," in which naughty Nick appropriates the three-note piano hook of "A Face in the Crowd," as well as the swiping of Jeff Lynne's signature slide-guitar sound.
Why you should buy it, anyway:
1) "Kite," the shimmering single, evokes the childlike splendor you only thought Kate Bush pulled off convincingly by singing three keys too high.
2) Heyward's pretty generous with the hooks. You won't find a trace of filler until the last cut, a song so banal that Alan Parsons Project has probably already reported it missing to the police.
3) If McCartney made this album, it'd be called a magnificent return to form. For Nick Heyward, it's more like discovering an old friend we never knew we had.--Serene Dominic
Course of Empire
Course of Empire's sophomore release arrives with all the subtlety of a runaway 18-wheeler. Driven by dual drummers Chad Lowell and Michael Jerome, COE's sound is a dense one. Like Skrew, another superior dual-percussive act, Dallas' COE uses this added dimension to thicken its hard-edged, alternative sound. Topping the tribal beats with noisy, frantic guitar spasms, Initiation showcases the band best on tracks like "White Vision Blowout" and "Hiss," while the rockabilly-style rhythm of "Infested" displays diversity and humor. And even though the studio version of COE can't quite capture the all-out, cathartic intensity of the band in a live setting (kettle drums are tossed into the audience to add a new dimension to its already-over-the-top percussive sound), Initiation provides a good introduction to a promising, adventurous band.--Joy Lambert
Ride the Wild TomTom
Why aren't the dB's famous? Was the band too clever for its era? Were the songs too intelligent, too perfectly crafted? Were the dB's just too damn good? The answer is yes. To everything. Songwriters Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple created a wonderful chunk of pop music through the group's 1978 to 88 lifetime (though Stamey went solo in 82), enough so that the dB's will always have their own little niche in rock history.
In other words, the critics loved em more than the general public did.
Which brings us to this release, a 26-cut collection of home and field recordings that were mostly made before the group's Stands for deciBels debut in 1981. These are studio-quality demos that go from squeaky-clean, New Wave hypermelodies (Bad Reputation," "What's the Matter With Me?") to twisted hooks (Dynamite") to honestly wrenching ballads (Nothing Is Wrong"). Longtime fans will recognize a few numbers that surfaced on actual albums, but don't think the mystery titles are unfamiliar because they stink; there's nary a bum track here. TomTom contains the sound of a young band as hopeful and energetic as it was--at the time--unknown. If this were a perfect world, the dB's would still be riding high, and we'd all be whistling these songs.--Peter Gilstrap Various Artists
First and Last Forever: A Tribute to the Sisters of Mercy
Let it be known that Sisters of Mercy, the gloom-rock gothic band of the Eighties, has reached idol status. Like Kiss, Frank Sinatra, Neil Young, and the Monkees, the band has its very own tribute album. And who is paying? A mlange of unknown, Sisters-influenced bands from around the country, including Flesh of My Flesh from Scottsdale.
The covers are all taken from the album First and Last and Always--go figure--and a few early-Eighties singles that are being rereleased now. And at the risk of upsetting diehard fans, I dare say some versions are more interesting than the originals--the Sisters are shown no mercy. Highlights here are Automatic Head Detonator's industrial version of "Black Planet" and Eleven Shadows' vampirish take of "Afterhours." I'm also partial to the Shroud's cover of "Alice" and Flesh of My Flesh's "Marian." These artists have definitely paid their respects, and well.--Evelyn Sheinkopf
The One Thing
The one thing that'll stop nine million women from buying The One Thing is if the king of Adult Contemporary Pop were to empty a fully loaded Uzi into a cluster of small schoolchildren. That's about as likely to happen as nine million men buying this or any Bolton title. Yet a marketing strategy may already be under way to win over the men forced to live with Bolton fanatics. No, he doesn't get around to singing about power tools or hand-to-hand combat, but at least he desecrates only one soul classic this time, "Lean on Me."
Def Leppard producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange has been tapped to toughen up the proceedings and collaborate with Bolton in the songwriting department. A cursory glance at the lyrics of "Ain't Got Nothing If You Ain't Got Love," the lone rocker here, reveals Bolton trying to be one of the boys. If he were to insert a few "misters" here and there, the song could be mistaken for a Springsteen outtake from Human Touch. Also, the CD booklet is advertising Michael Bolton's Winning Softball, an instructional videotape giving irrefutable proof that he wants to impress someone else besides his dyed-in-the-wool female following.--Serene Dominic Artie Shaw
More Last Recordings
Though More Last Recordings may seem a bit of a non sequitur--kind of like being almost pregnant--what's actually on this CD makes perfect sense. What you will hear is Shaw's quintet (augmented on a few tracks by guitarists Tal Farlow and Joe Puma); the group had been playing at Embers, the hip Manhattan jazz club, for five weeks when these sessions took place in February and March of 1954. The players were accustomed to each other, and it shows. Shaw's playing is subtle and always inventive, whether the clarinetist is digging into his bag of hits (Stardust," "Begin the Beguine") or bop (How High the Moon") or easygoing tunes like "Don't Take Your Love From Me" and "I've Got a Crush on You." Shaw quit music and moved to Spain in 1955, because he was "getting bored," according to the liner notes. On More Last Recordings, you'd never know it.--Peter Gilstrap
Cure for Pain
There's no way you're going to hear any music through reading words on a page, but some descriptions are easier than others. This is not one of them. Morphine has a sound that is pretty damn close to original--part pop-blues hooks, part dour midnight jazz. Yeah, it does echo Tom Waits here and there, but that's okay. Bassist-vocalist Mark Sandman plays a homemade, two-stringed instrument; beyond that, Morphine's message comes only from a baritone sax and drums. That's right, no guitar. Lots of space, lots of air; this allows the trio to raise the dynamic level only slightly, and it still feels drastic--but never overwrought.
On songs like "I'm Free Now," "Candy" and "A Head With Wings" the band produces a feel you can truly describe as muscular yet sensual without feeling like a pompous music critic. These are melodies, these are songs, but there is also a wonderfully somber feel to this stuff that falls somewhere between a bar and a lounge, between jazz and blues. And that's an interesting place to fall.--Peter Gilstrap Tool
Like the photo on this album's inner sleeve, which depicts a grossly obese nude woman lovingly embracing an equally nude--but diminutive--man, Tool surrounds the listener with layer upon layer of sonic excess. Overpowering, dense and enveloping, Undertow's bottom-heavy sound leans heavily toward the often-imitated essence of grunge. But it leans only so far--the album utilizes refreshingly melodic vocals, solid song structure and pure angst to distinguish itself from its peers.
"Prison Sex," which graphically (but correctly) depicts rape as an act of violence rather than of sex, and the MTV hit "Sober" are standouts both musically and vocally. And Henry Rollins' cameo, a spoken-word contribution on "Bottom," helps to legitimize Tool with the hard-core crowd.--Joy Lambert
Here's to the Losers
A first listen to this dead-on send-up of a sizzling lounge combo will have you checking the packaging to see if it's not XTC in disguise again. The members of Love Jones are regulars at the 4-H Club of Hooks, Harmonies, Humor and Horniness, and they know how to have a hot time without taking the chill off your Dubonet. Only a grump could resist titles like "Paid for Loving" and the seductive "Warming Trend." Ditto for untried pickup lines like "My heart is on the half-shell" and "I like that dress/I'd like to see it on the floor." A second listen will have you wishing you could program out the spoken-word intros and sound effects that stop this from being the perfect soundtrack for your next dirty weekend.
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But time's a-wasting, and you're not getting any younger. Wake up and smell the Cafe du Monde! Grab that rinsed-out-blonde divorce two barstools away and give Here's to the Losers a listen before these guys get booked on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno for the umpteenth time and stop being funny. For now, you won't find a better double-entendre than "your swimsuit is a-peeling" anywhere else.--Serene Dominic
(Touch and Go)
Caballero's instrumental-only For Respect takes up where Austin, Texas' WatchTower--the critically acclaimed, commercially ignored, progressive-metal purveyor--left off a few years back. Combining influences and inspirations as far-fetched as Metallica, Rush and Yes--with some jazz-style noodling thrown in for good measure--the disc showcases the Pittsburgh band's highly technical musicianship.
Guitar aficionados and fans of like-minded musicians such as Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Stuart Hamm will be overjoyed. For the average rock fan, though, Don Caballero's self-indulgence and schizophrenic melody lines will undoubtedly wear thin.--Joy Lambert