Ben Vaughn
Mono U.S.A.

The man who gave the world "I'm Sorry (But So Is Brenda Lee)" has done, if not the impossible, then the extremely challenging: Vaughn has taken 18 obscure, thoroughly bitchin' AM-radio tunes from the glory years of the early to mid-Sixties (back when "obscure" and "bitchin'" could describe something on the radio) and made them breathe again. Well, not just breathe, but slither through misty clouds of surf reverb and twang-drenched guitar, into the real world again, exactly where they belong.

But this is not an "oldies" collection or some lifeless re-creation; these are eight-track home demos recorded by Vaughn and Vaughn alone--boss Ben plays everything you hear. And there is simply not a bad cut on this disc. Vaughn can't really sing that well; what he's got going for him is soul, humor and a real love for this music that comes across on each track.

Sure, you've heard of a lot of these artists--the Ventures, Charlie Rich, Nancy Sinatra, Link Wray--but it's doubtful you've heard the songs. Prepare to be enlightened by "Exploration in Fear," "Dark Glasses," "Sundown Sundown," "Magdalena," "Out of Control" and the stunning "Daddy Rollin' in Your Arms," to name but a few. Mono U.S.A., the way it should be.--Peter Gilstrap Green Day


If you've been pining for a 14-song, 39-minute album since the Ramones left home, plant your flag and scream "hallelujah"--Dookie is your salvation. Like those leather and denim-clad demigods of yore, Berkeley power trio Green Day spouts nihilistic lyrics that could seriously depress you if you read them without first hearing the buoyant music they're married to. Not since Hsker D flipped its wig has there been a trio this primed for action. Closer in spirit to Grant Hart than to preachy Bob Mould, Green Day has its own solution to the world's ills: smoking a joint, with jerking off a close second.

It's all spelled out in "Longview," the best song about going blind for self-abuse since Cyndi Lauper's "She Bop."

On midtempo numbers such as "Pulling Teeth" and "When I Come Around," the band proves it's possible to be poppy without rewriting the Big Star songbook. If your idea of alternative music is chirpy, girlie vocalists who sound like Josie and the Pussycats, or if you're looking for something remotely resembling a ballad that could be played "unplugged"--STAY AWAY! STAY VERY, VERY FAR AWAY FROM DOOKIE!--Serene Dominic

The Lurid Transversal of Route 7

You don't go to the Dischord label in search of melodic ditties about love and fluffiness, and Hoover's debut on the label that Fugazi built offers none of the above, thanks.

Lurid Transversal is a dark, lurking thing that wallows in shadowy half-tempos, then blasts out full-throttle with something darn close to good ol' raw punk rage. Even on the more laid-back (if that term is even allowed here) songs--songs such as "Regulator Watts" and the instrumental "Route 7"--such a tension has been created by the previous numbers that you expect something to happen. That it doesn't is a testament to something ominously great about this band, if that means anything--it's a lot easier to hear it than to describe it.

But then, angst is the inherent nature of this album. These guys are upset about something, but what it is ain't exactly clear. Within the pained, caterwauling vocals are lyrics that bitch rather poetically about invasions of privacy, the ultimate doom of the soul of man and pain in general. Dynamic and powerful, Lurid Transversal will have you on the edge of your seat. If that's where you want to be.--Peter Gilstrap

Carole King
In Concert

This concert memento would probably move more units if it was titled Tapestry: LIVE!. Seven of that landmark album's 12 cuts are represented here, and it's to King's credit that she sings them with the same conviction and pitch she utilized in 1971. The arrangements don't insult your memories, and Carole even manages to look like Glenn Close and Sarah Jessica Parker on the insert.

No surprise Goffin-King selections here, but you didn't think she was going to pull "He Hit Me and It Felt Like a Kiss" out of mothballs, did you? Every cut is a time-proven crowd-pleaser. King falters only when she tries to establish herself as something other than a memory merchant.

"Hold Out for Love," the only new cut, is this set's albatross, and not even a guest appearance by Slash (!?) can save this Starship-esque anthem from crashing and burning. For added thrills, hear Carole's bizarre audience-participation instructions. Speaking in New Age, motivational-tape tongues that could make Stuart Smalley wince, she exhorts her disciples to "visualize that love you deserve, feel it in your being," when a simple "wave your arms and sing" would suffice. But at least she doesn't pull that shit during "The Locomotion."--Serene Dominic

Message for the Mess Age

For the last decade, this has been one of your humble critic's favorite bands. Seen em 50-plus times, opened up for em four times back in my band days, got all the albums.

Which makes writing this no piece of cake. As a card-carrying member of the Q cult, I want another At Yankee Stadium. Ex-Georgia Satellite Dan Baird once said of that 1978 album, "No band ever made less mistakes on any record," and he was right. The thing is damn near perfect, a genre-busting masterpiece.

Thus, it pains me to say that Mess Age--the band's first studio effort in five years--is no Yankee Stadium. So what's the problem? The virtuoso musicianship is there, and after 27 years (this incarnation for the last 20), the quartet plays together as few other groups can.

Yet you get the sense that NRBQ is trying a little too hard to maintain and/or propagate its image as an eclectic, kooky group of musical savants. The band can move from style to style, from avant-jazz to candy-pop, with jaw-dropping facility, yet what once came naturally now seems forced.

Cuts such as "Big Dumb Juke Box" and "Everybody's Smokin'" are interruptions at best, and "Spampinato," keyboardist Terry Adams' ode to bassist Joey's last name, is a laugh at live shows, but is best confined to them.

There are saving graces: Guitar megaforce Al Anderson's "A Little Bit of Bad" is about as perfect and pure as pop gets (almost as good as his "Riding in My Car" from 77's All Hopped Up), and "Nothin' Wrong With Me" is a great tribute to the slob-as-deity theory. The soft, breathy "Ramona" is a treat, and "Everybody Thinks I'm Crazy" and "Advice for Teenagers" prove that Adams and Spampinato can write songs equaled only by what Brian Wilson used to be able to do.

But I'm a fan. I still like this album, and I still love the band. I don't think there are four more talented players in any one group; I just wish they'd stop fucking around and get that across to everybody else.--Peter Gilstrap

Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain

The only way Pavement could have outdone 1992's Slanted and Enchanted would have been to make a better album. And that's just what happened. Rain has something for everybody, including a fresh supply of hope for those who think indie rock is beginning to mean nothing more than bad metal.

The opener, "Silence Kit," sounds like Buddy Holly's "Everyday" produced by Alex Chilton during Chilton's deconstructionist period, which is a pretty wonderful thing to sound like.

Many of the songs on Crooked Rain lope along with the slightly uneven gait of a crippled hunchback (that's a positive comment). Guitar parts flit around lyrics both smart and oblique, delivered in Steve Malcomus' enchanted, Lou Reed-esque voice. Which should be good enough for just about anyone.

If it's not, check out the instrumental "5-4 = Unity"; imagine "Take Five" with a bridge by George Harrison. Then there's the Velvet-country feel of "Range Life" and a bit of noisy repetition in "Hit the Plane Down." Do yourself a favor; go trade in that Stone Temple Pilots CD and ask your friendly music clerk to find you Crooked Rain.--Peter Gilstrap

Willie Nelson
The Early Years
(Scotti Bros.)

To many, the "early years" of Willie Nelson mean nothing more than a lack of facial hair. Wake up and smell the teardrops, folks. The 14 lovely jerkers herein were recorded just before Willie signed to Liberty Records in 1962, and even at this stage, the strong, unique voice is there, along with Nelson's trademark acoustic-guitar plucking.

He's become a high-profile artist in the last couple of decades, acting on the big screen, dueting with fellow outlaws Waylon and Johnny, battling the IRS. The songs here, however, are simple in arrangement and feel, tales of broken love and woe. "December Days" even showcases Willie as a light-jazz balladeer.

The Redheaded Stranger rerecorded many of the cuts in later years (I Hope So" reached the country Top 40 in 69), yet these versions are special. Listen to the bottle-ready pain of "I Can't Find the Time," the gentle, shuffle-sway blues of "Everything but You," the Orbison-flavored working of "Some Other Time." This is traditional, early-Sixties-era country music. God love it.--Peter Gilstrap

Vijaya Anand
Dance Raja Dance
(Luaka Bop/Warner Bros.)

It's almost impossible to describe this CD--not just where to begin, but where to end. Dance Raja Dance is 11 tracks made up of the most disparate, bizarre and evocative sounds--not merely styles of music--to come out of the last two decades.

It is the Watts Towers of music.
Really, it is the south India film music of Vijaya Anand, and to use a worn phrase that should be resuscitated for this album, you've never heard anything like it. Anand's name translates to "victory" and "ecstasy," and, coincidentally, those are two of the main plot ingredients of Indian films, ingredients this music was designed to express. In case you didn't know, the country makes four times as many movies per year as Hollywood does.

Virtually all pop music in India is taken from films. There are no "rock stars," but instead professional, relatively faceless singers, hence the importance of a picture's musical director.

And Anand is godlike. Here are a few of the things he throws into the mix of his music: cheesy, Seventies synthesizer effects, programmed disco drums, funk bass lines, a car horn playing "La Cucaracha," Tower of Power-style horn parts, tablas, strings, mariachi salvos, Cuban percussion sections, grunting, chain-gang choruses, melodic licks swiped from New Wave songs, heavily reverbed vocals. Not in English, of course. Beyond that, you'll have to hear it for yourself.--Peter Gilstrap

Sanford Clark
(Bear Family)

Now he builds houses in Payson, but nearly 40 years ago, Sanford Clark was recording in Phoenix for the minuscule M.C.I. label with Lee "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" Hazlewood. Specifically, in March 56, Clark was in the studio--with Waylon Jennings on guitar--recording what was to become a national hit, "The Fool." Heady stuff.

Now, so many years later, Shades gives us a healthy sampling (27 tracks compiled by KZON-FM's "Johnny D" Dixon) of this local artist, tracks cut from 1960 through 82. And what do we hear?

Well, Sanford is a deep-voiced, easygoing country troubadour, a guy who's as comfortable doing up-tempo Buck Owens fare--Where's the Door," "Step Aside"--as he is doing Waylon-style tunes such as "It's Nothing to Me" and "Mother Texas." Sometimes ol' Sanford's a little flat, but that just adds to the weepy majesty of his work. Any up-and-coming roots band would be well-advised to cop a few tunes from Clark's repertoire; I'd recommend a fast version of "The Girl on Death Row."--Peter Gilstrap

Quick Hypes
Mark Lanegan, Whiskey for the Holy Ghost, (Sub Pop). This is a wrenching collection of dark-gray music from the singer for Screaming Trees, a Tom Waitsian helping of acoustic moodiness and beautiful, jagged vocals. Not the voice you want to hear answering the suicide hot line. In Lanegan's able hands, depression is not only enjoyable, but an art form.

Erroll Garner, The Essence of Erroll Garner, (Columbia/Legacy). It's hard to capture the identity of an artist such as Garner in 12 tracks, but this is about as close to the "essence" of his art as you can get. Though he never learned to read music, Garner's fluid, rhythmic playing is some of the most moving you'll hear. It's sweet and lovely--no confusing Monk or Bud Powell stuff going on--but listen to "Misty" and hear why genius is not attendant with innovation alone.

The Squirrels, Harsh Toke of Reality, (Popllama). Wicked, chipper genius from the dark corner of America, Seattle. Yes, there is a rather huge element of humor involved in this cover-ridden album, but don't discount the quality; beside the frantic, passionate vocals of Rob Morgan (some say he's superior even to Peter Tork), Toke features indie superstar Scott McCaughey and ex-Flamin' Groovies member Roy Loney. And the rels' version of "Let It Be" is the best Beatles cover I've ever heard. Really.


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