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Ray Bailey
Blue Street
(Visa Records)

Ray Bailey calls his label Visa because that's how he paid for it--by maxing out his credit card once he got pink-slipped from Zoo Records. Not that it was Zoo's fault. The L.A. bluesman never belonged on the label in the first place; after all, how could Zoo expect to sell an "authentic" blues artist when it was all the label could do to put over a sure-fire pop-rock hit like Matthew Sweet? Bailey was nothing more or less than an experiment, and he deserved better.

Now he's back and in control from start to finish: He wrote all the songs for Blue Street, produced the album, and paid for it like any good do-it-yourselfer who's got faith and fire enough to go it alone. Bailey's no R.L. Burnside, another "traditionalist" selling his soul for a shot at the youth market; there's no irony in his delivery, no Jon Spencer hanging around to kindle his blues explosion. Nor is he like Compton's brilliant Kevin Moore (better known as Keb' Mo'), wearing Delta bluesman's vintage clothing, playing a National guitar and writing pristine, precise roots-pop songs in the spirit of Robert Johnson.

Bailey's merely a purist who knows his way around tradition like any faithful, fanatical student who paid attention during the lectures. He plays like Lightnin' Hopkins when he plucks at the acoustic, like B.B. King when he straps on the electric (sings like him, too), and if the loyalist sound isn't big enough at times, it's at least expansive enough to do justice to history without getting lost in the past. That's what separates the revisionists from the revivalists, those who create from those who imitate.

Blue Street almost divides neatly by sides--the acoustic blues and the Hammond B-3 soul getting equal turns (and the occasional drum-looped numbers only getting in the way). Bailey's less a technician (it's a bonus when a modern-day bluesman doesn't want to be Robert Cray or Stevie Ray Vaughan) and more a songwriter, a guy who understands that the best blues tells its story in the space between the notes. That's why "I Come From the Streets," with its sly humor and wide-open spaces, is more effective than the drum-looped "Saturday Night Special"; or why the thick-instrumental "The Return of Billy Nunn" communicates more than the inexplicably beat-boxed "Back to the Movies." The blues needs room to breathe, to sweat, to speak through a guitar or a Hammond organ or, here, through a guy who claims he "comes from the streets" and is still learning his way around the studio.

--Robert Wilonsky

The Reverend Horton Heat
It's Martini Time

Down here at the New Original First Church of the Holy Rock 'n' Rollers, we--like Our Founding Motherfather Little Richard--believe this fundamental truth to be self-evident: Getting down needs no justification. So, brothers and sisters, I give you a real, live, snake-handlin', talkin'-in-tongues testimonial from the good Reverend himself: It's Martini Time!

Simply read, the Reverend Horton Heat is one of rock's great trash compactors, in a league with the Cramps, the Fleshtones and the Ramones. And It's Martini Time is loaded down with the glorious refuse of American rock 'n' roll culture. The double-time, low-end, knock-down, draaaggged-out, whammy-bar torture (with modulation!) "Big Red Rocket of Love" is all about a car (yeah, right), while the grinding "Slow" sermonizes on the wisdom of putting the proper motion in your emotion. The title cut--its debt to the Ray Bryant Combo's "The Madison Time" stamped "paid in full"--is self-explanatory Western swing. "Generation Why" is tongue-in-cheek faux grunge; and "Sling Shot" jumps and jives with the ghost of Gene Vincent howling in Jeff Beck's face.

A cover of the Kid Thomas R&B rarity "Rock the Joint" sports at least one guitar solo that's straight outta Bill Haley and His Comets' "Rock Around the Clock," while "Forbidden Jungle" is a 151-proof-rum cocktail of tiki-surf exotica served in a Trader Vic's skull mug (speaking of cock tales, the corrosive monologue "That's Show Biz" goes out "to all the little people").

Being from Texas, the band members can actually play their instruments, but instead they choose to play this hunka burnin' trash. How crazy is that? Look, if you found this flipped disc in a thrift-shop vinyl bin any time in the past 30 years, you'd shit fire and eat scrambled brains and eggs for breakfast.

--Dan Waller

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Dan Waller
Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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