From Dusk Till Dawn
Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino's stab at a vampire thriller turned out to be a wobbly stake in the heart, but the setting of its gore-fest finale--a cavernous, border-town bordello called the "Titty Twister" that's infested with the undead--made a good excuse for a killer soundtrack.
With sweltering solos by the brothers Vaughan, a few sexed-up blues numbers from ZZ Top and several out-of-bounds party tunes by Tito and Tarantula, From Dusk Till Dawn sets forth raw, fun-loving tunes that are as unpretentious as a tequila victim's belch.
The first sounds you hear on this disc are typical Tarantino--the provocative snap of a hammer being cocked and a whispered warning to "be cool"--but From Dusk Till Dawn quickly slams into gear with the alley-cat squeal of the Blasters' "Dark Night." The song's shadowy mood, cast with lyrics like "Hot air hangs like a dead man from a white oak tree," is echoed a few tracks later in Jon Wayne's "Texas Funeral." That cut has a Jim Beamed-up Wayne slurring along to a grossly out-of-tune slide guitar. "She stole my kids and took all my dough," Wayne croaks, "She peed on the carpet and she shot my horse/Now things have gone from bad to worse." Wayne's song heads in a similar direction when he seems to forget part of the chorus, then backs off the microphone mumbling, "Ah, shit, I fucked it all up."
Four of From Dusk Till Dawn's 17 tracks are actually bites of some of the film's better dialogue, including, most notably, "Chet's Speech," which has Cheech Marin hawking the Titty Twister's wares as a vampire pimp on Benzedrine.
A nice counterweight to Cheech going loco is the soft and sensual "After Dark," performed by a throaty Tito Larriva and his band Tarantula. Slopped with reverb and swishing maracas, this finely crafted tune sounds like the Doors gone Latin--which is a good thing, unlike this recording's namesake, which (sorry) bites.--Leigh Silverman
My Name Is Jonny
If this Jonny-come-lately's debut reminds you of Teenager of the Year, it's because Frank Black has been a mentor for, and staunch supporter of, Polonsky's music. As a result, Jonny comes off sounding like Frank's dumber, but more accessible, kid brother--a not-so-bad proposition indeed.
While Black could pick up a True Value circular and be inspired to write a dozen songs about drain valves and weed whackers, Polonsky sticks to more traditional pop-song themes like boy meets girl, boy is unable to resist girl's "scurvy" love, boy loses sleep over girl, and boy eventually dies of souvlaki poisoning (in the album's closer, "Uh-Oh").
Furthermore, Polonsky covers all his metaphysical ground in a third of the time it takes you to play Black's latest album in its entirety. Rolling back to 1964 standards, this 24-minute, 17-second album clocks in at a minute and 54 seconds shy of the Beatles' superbrief Something New. In the time it takes you to grimace through one sitcom or masticate an extremely large macaroon, you could be worn down by Polonsky's guttural charm. And face it, some days you spend that much time wondering what you want to listen to next anyway. Try Jonny Polonsky. He's funnier than Matthew Sweet, uses but one four-syllable word on the entire album ("responsible") and he's got a bigger nose than Blossom. Ya gotta love Jonny! Ya just gotta!--Serene Dominic
Chef Boy R U Dumb
This Seattle three-piece has just the recipe for a nutritious repast that'll leave you plump and happy. Chef Boy R U Dumb is chocked with pop-punk nuggets, smothered in a tangy layer of witty lyrics and zipped up with that rarest of punk spices--optimism. Have some. It's good for you, and it goes down easy.
Fans of Green Day (or, indeed, punk in general) will note that Chef shares many of the same ingredients as their favorite dish: choppy, roaring guitars, breakneck tempos and clean production. But where Green Day recently stirred a liberal dose of cynicism into its stew, Sicko gets by nicely with just a pinch (that stuff's like garlic; a little goes a long way). On "Obsessive Compulsive Complainers," the trio even mocks the sort of knee-jerk negativity that put punk on the map. "A million screaming outcasts can't be wrong," the lyrics note, "... and you're paying me to stand here and complain." Over joyous riffing that sounds like a gang of punkers has crashed the sock hop, it's yummy stuff.
Admirers of the Dead Milkmen will enjoy quick toss-offs like "60-Pound Mall Rats," and They Might Be Giants fans (both of us) will giggle with glee over the goof-core of "Dateless Losers" and "Computer Geeks."
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Name to the contrary, Sicko is a band with wide appeal, and no small amount of talent, that can be as easily enjoyed with Chateau Lafite as Pabst Blue Ribbon. And while Chef Boy R U Dumb is not entirely fatfree (a live version of "The Breakfast Song" will make you want to brush your teeth), there's more than enough flavor andsubstance in this dish to leave all but themost jaded punk fans asking for seconds.--Jon Kinzler
Sicko is scheduled to perform on Monday, February 26, at Hollywood Alley in Mesa, with Stamens, and Spaceman Spiff. Showtime is 8p.m. (all ages).
Cocktail Nation goes South and the results absolutely shimmer. Bill DeMain and Molly Felder have concocted an irresistible smorgasbord of soft-pop styles ranging from Wendy-and-Lisa-era Prince to Everything but the Girl to Crowded House--not what you'd expect to find emanating from Nashville, Tennessee, these days. Swan Dive's use of pedal steel and banjo seems to owe more to the Lovin' Spoonful than the Grand Ole Opry, and the unexpected chord changes of "Broken Compass" suggest Europop more than Americana, which is fine. You're Beautiful, like the best pop albums, is unpredictable at every turn and more deserving of your attention than anything the major labels are offering up for adult-alternative consideration this year. Contact info: P.O. Box 121405, Nashville, TN 37215; 615-383-2497.--Serene Dominic