There is nothing quite as kickass as a power trio that clicks, nothing that jangles the nerve centers so sweetly as three naked instruments -- in sync. A trio means the bare minimum of sounds required to qualify as rock, with no room for screw-ups. Or down time. Trios don't lie. Either the sonic macrame works, or it's a couple of cocks short of a circle jerk.
That said, it's probably time to reintroduce the finest three-man in America: Dada. You may have missed them first-time around. Their October debut, Puzzle, didn't get any fancy reviews in Rolling Stone, which, as far as I'm concerned, is a good reason, prima facie, to like them.
Ignore the pretentious name. The band has nothing to do with not exactly A absurdist art and slicing eyeballs. Just three dudes from Northern California who wail. Michael Gurley's guitar leads bounce and bend and scorch, Joie Calio's bass thumps, and Phil Leavitt's drums flat-out shame the arrhythmic. Two-part harmonies pure as Simon and Garfunkel's soar over melodies fresher than anything rock can tolerate.
Which is why the label-Nazis have relegated Puzzle to the alternative ghetto. Whatever. Anybody with half a cerebrum knows "alternative" is just another name for stuff the suits say won't make money.
They're probably right. The chowderheads who have molded the mainstream would probably pop a synapse trying to follow Dada's word pics. Check out their description of "Dorina," the ephemeral goddess of barfly: "I tried to make you happen/Tried to make you real/Tried to make your face/From a broken ferris wheel."
Dada did get a chunk of college play with the single "Dizz Knee Land," but as catchy as the tune is, there are a half dozen songs on the album that beat it to a pulp. Most of the faster stuff here is delivered with wry detachment, whether the subject is hero-worship sex ("Posters") or love lost ("Dim"). The new single, which we can bravely predict will fall flat on its arse, is "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow," a 'lude-woozy travelogue that belongs in a William Burroughs novel.
Most unlikely of all is a dark ballad titled "Timothy," which climbs inside the head of an abused child as he loses his grip on reality. Calio's bracing baritone sets the tale gently atop the pleading saws of a string quartet. This isn't cheap sentiment -- it's scary shit.
And anybody who thinks Dada is some Jurassic Park freak-of-the-studio should have been on hand a few months back at the Edge when the trio opened for Izzy Stradlin and the Ju Ju Hounds -- and wiped them off the stage.
Based on that set alone, here's another safe prediction: The meltdown cover of "California Dreamin'" -- set for release, let's pray, on the next LP -- will vault Dada into heavy MTV-FM rotation.
Most recently, though, the band has been opening for Sting, appropriate considering that Dada is the finest trio to roll off the line since the Police. Maybe finer.
Dada. Look for them in the alternative ghetto nearest you.
Although nowhere near as powerful as 1990's Damn Right I Got the Blues, Buddy Guy's second album for the British Silvertone label is an entertaining romp though a variety of styles and genres. From the opening chords of "Superstar," a Seventies soul-funk that dances in the vocal stratosphere of Curtis Mayfield, Buddy pays tribute to Jimi. And ironically, it's almost unthinkable that a Hendrix would have evolved without a Buddy Guy. (Legend has it that Hendrix once blew off a gig in Chicago, spending the time instead at the feet of his idol, who was playing that night at the famed Checkerboard on the Southside.)
With credentials like these, you would think Buddy wouldn't exactly be hurting for credibility. And yet Feels Like Rain is sprinkled with guest stars. Bonnie Raitt's subdued and beautiful backing on the title track notwithstanding, most of these guest shots are superfluous and detracting (although who knew Travis Tritt could sing blues so well? Makes you wish they'd picked something more challenging than J.C. Fogerty's "Change in the Weather."). And do we really need another version of Grand Funk's "Some Kind of Wonderful," or was this just an excuse to give Paul Rodgers something to do? One visit that does work is from the hoary Brit bluesman John Mayall, whose keys and vocals haven't sounded this trenchant since he played with some kid named Clapton.
Despite the few mediocrities, Buddy still emerges triumphant, his buzzing Strat and heartfelt vocals balancing out some of the more condescending elements. "Nineteen Years Old," in which Guy does an incredible Muddy Waters imitation, and the original "Country Man" ("I'm as green as a pool table," Buddy sings, evoking his overalled photo on the cover, "and just as square") are worth the price of admission alone. Still, one wonders what might have been with better song selection and more thoughtful invites. If you've heard his restrained yet powerpacked contributions to the Rush soundtrack, and the material recorded with Buddy's best foil, Junior Wells (Alone and Acoustic), you already know the answer.