Cajun music is a curious beast. At times it can make for a glorious jolt to the soul. Other times it can be annoying as hell.
BeauSoleil is a bit of both on L'Echo, a collection of old-timey Cajun cover songs.
The good stuff is the same stuff BeauSoleil's been exporting from the bayou for more than 18 years: peppy rhythms alongside waltzes colored with wheezy accordions and leader Michael Doucet's hollerin' vocals. L'Echo's best cut, the traditional "Evangeline Waltz," works the formula with total charm, especially when the weepy melody gives way to an overflow chorus of vocals.
The annoying part comes with some of the dance tunes. They either fritter about with little noticeable melody ("Lizzette la Douce") or they border on being novelty toss-offs ("La Cravate a Ziggy Zag"). It's as if having happy feet somehow requires an empty head.
Granted, it's the challenge of every dance band to try to capture its stage magic in the studio. And BeauSoleil is first and foremost a dance band. But Doucet and his pals have the ability to two-step beyond barn-dance chic. They've done it before. And the moodier moments on L'Echo suggest it can still be pulled off.
Miranda Sex Garden
Fairytales of Slavery
The inside pix of this five-woman ensemble look like either an homage to Frankie Goes to Hollywood or the back of Queen's first album. But Miranda Sex Garden surprisingly rocks harder than both put together. Imagine Clannad if it were served up with glockenspiels and devoured by Megadeth. Despite the fairy vocals throughout, Katherine Blake and company sound ferocious enough to make mincemeat out of L7 and the entire riot girl movement with their violas and fiddles alone. And just when you think it starts sounding too much like an old Renaissance album, the double-bass drumming comes in like a swift kick in the groin. Fairytales of Slavery is a bleak look at the world of domination and submission, reaching its furious peak with the frightening "Wheel" ("I am now an object and I cry an object's tears"). How about a snappy cover to break the mood? Well, MSG gives decadent ol' Kurt Weill's "Havana Lied" a faithful German reading, right down to each clustered consonant. Although you'll have a hard time deciding whether life in the Miranda Sex Garden is a cabaret or a concentration camp, you're in for one hell of a stay.
Kick a Little
While the half-dozen longhaired country boys of Little Texas continue to fancy themselves as rootin'-tootin' modern-day outlaws, the music on this, the band's third release, packs the punch of a squirt gun. It's a bit of a shame, too, for on occasion these fellas show that beneath all that posturing beats the heart of a real band.
Alas, one must first get by such pseudo-Southern stuff as the terribly trite "Redneck Like Me," and the title cut, which has become a minor hit. Basically, the hook in this 'billy-rock bit is the lyric ". . . you've got to kick a little ---," leaving the offending word out. Hey, hombres! Real rebels would just say it: "You've got to kick a little ASS!" Similarly toothless is "Hit Country Song," wherein all the traditional components of a hit hillbilly ditty are listed: "A jukebox and a barstool and old faded love/Mama and Papa, and the good Lord above/Radios and rodeos, horses and trains . . ." Guys, David Allan Coe long ago schooled us on the perfect country-and-western song . . . and was far more clever about it.
But just when you think that Little Texas has little to offer, up jumps a number like the tender, introspective "Inside" or, especially, "Your Days Are Numbered," wherein a softening of lyric, melody and attitude yields a comfortable complaint dappled with a soft steel guitar and truly beautiful harmonies. One gets the feeling that this is the music the band would really like to make. "Your Days Are Numbered," unfortunately, has a poppish, Eagleslike (but less twangy) flavor to it and probably wouldn't be considered for rotation on country radio; of course, that phony outlaw junk--pinkneck stuff, really--will.
Should Little Texas ever find the courage to follow its muse and, thus, violate the dictates of the Nashville Formula--now, that would be outlaw!
If you were to make a list of what the world needs now, this CD would be miles away from "love sweet love." More likely, a collection of Adam Ant B-sides would top a list of things the world doesn't need now, like pestilence, famine, Amway distributors and more Suns coverage. One of New Wave's most minimal talents, Ant's music has always consisted of ridiculous yodeling over Gary Glitteresque rhythm beds. After 1980's Kings of the Wild Frontier, that sound became quickly Ant-iquated and fickle fans moved on to another flavor of the month.
So where is the demand now? Nine Inch Nails may have done a recent cover of Ant's "Physical (You're So)," but you don't see many people clamoring for reissues of Ant-fare like Vive le Rock or Dirk Wears White Socks. Legacy, which has done a fine job of clearing out the CBS vaults in the past, could've saved the trip this time. By nature, B-sides are dodgy affairs, and let's face it--even most of Ant's A-sides after "Kings" weren't so hot. If you want to Ant-agonize over the merits of such questionable nuggets as "Why Do Girls Love Horses" and "Juanito the Bandito," "B" our guest.
In her liner notes on Flyer, Nanci Griffith speaks of a "new writing approach." For those who've sampled the delicacies that are her previous 11 albums, however, don't panic. Griffith continues to be among the finest folk lyricists, melodists and singers we have going for us here in the junk-food-music world of Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks and--God help us all--Michael Bolton. If she perceives fundamental changes in her writing, it's but her own ultrasensitive, introspective nature, and we believe she means it.
On "Say It Isn't So," Griffith teams with country songwriting legend Harlan Howard to produce a rich, elegantly rendered ballad. Griffith's pervasive Irish influences (she signs her notes from Franklin, Tennessee, and Dublin, Ireland, and enlists the Chieftains in one song--"On Grafton Street"--here) come to the fore in the dobro-rich "These Days in an Open Book," and "Fragile," the latter a lilting and lyrical ballad filled with James Hooker's harpsichord as well as rich mandocello and triumphant flugelhorn.
Perhaps the finest offering here, however, is the socially conscious "Time of Inconvenience," a swiftly paced, fittingly strident objection to the way of this white world: "We're living in the age of communication/Where the only voices heard have money in their hands/Where greed has become a sophistication/And if you ain't got money/You ain't got nothin' in this land."
Despite Griffith's claim to have embarked upon some new manner of writing, "Time of Inconvenience"--and most others in this rarefied Flyer--will have Griffith aficionados as appreciative as ever.
No, it's not the Bobby Goldsboro chestnut of the same name--not even suave Bobby P. has that much cheek. Although, after hearing Palmer do the near-impossible a few years back--a Marvin Gaye cover that compares favorably to the original--he could probably make even Goldsboro's "Watching Scotty Grow" an endurable listen.
Honey is yet another stylish runway turn for Palmer, a most intriguing adult-contemporary artist, if that's indeed what he is. How many such artists do you know who can pull off a credible, Jobimlike samba ("Honeymoon"), a Caribbean jaunt ("Honey B"), a Devo cover ("Girl U Want"), a Prince pastiche ("You're Mine") and crunching heavy metal ("Big Trouble"). Unlike Bowie, who now mines the same turf unsuccessfully, Palmer hits the mark because we never considered him a visionary to begin with, just a guy with impeccably good taste in music.
If you wrote Palmer's music off based on the fashion-models-as-rock-band videos of past years, give a listen to the inventive "Close to the Edge" or "Big Trouble." You'll be pleasantly surprised to hear Palmer ruin the crease of his jacket singing lines like "I'll knock your nose right out of joint/The demolition of your whole world of attrition." It's anarchy in a three-piece suit--honest!