Listening to Nashville acoustic guitarist Doyle Dykes on H.E.A.T., you get a different take on the situation. Dykes, who plays solo throughout, is a virtuoso, like many of the cool Nashville cats, but he's no showoff. He's about emotion, pouring his heart and soul into the tunes (all of which he wrote, with the exception of two hymns). Yet he's no wild-eyed throwback to honky-tonk days -- he weaves his spell subtly, distracting the listener with some thumb picking while his fingers spin out figures that sneak up on you until your eyes are moist from the depth of his passion.
Dykes is a deeply religious family man and a jazzhead, yet none of these things have to matter to you. He's such an accomplished artist (and, of course, there are no words on the album) that he leaves it up to the listener to adapt the music to his or her personal situation.
At times, there's an almost Christmas-like bounce in the tunes, yet instead of feeling like "Here comes Santa Claus," they come across as a very convincing "Peace on earth, good will toward men." Then on "Battle in the Valley of Elah," Dykes's take on David and Goliath, he paints such an action-packed picture that the song could easily be from the soundtrack of a Quentin Tarantino movie.
There surely are other Nashville players yearning to breathe free who will find their way to disc. Doyle Dykes has set a high standard for them to aim at. (Step One, 1300 Division St., Nashville, TN 37203)
Like their heroes the Ramones and Jonathan Richman, Shonen Knife occupy dubious territory, where the punch line is often obscured. They are sweet and small but play loud and aggressive. When they take the stage at any rock club, their hummable melodies and odes to life's simple pleasures become lovable yet questionable schtick.
Brand New Knife is the first album they've done outside Japan. Recorded in L.A. and produced by the Robb Brothers (Lemonheads, Rod Stewart), Knife builds on simple rock chords and rhythms, and fashions everything into a strong cumulative punch. Take the guitar solo in "Loop Di Loop." Technically it's nothing -- a few stray notes without inflection. But as pop guitar it's perfect, fitting into the song like the missing piece of a puzzle. Or try the harmonies in "Wonder Wine." Just a few sloping notes, nearly trite, transform the track like fairy dust.
Subtle joys are obvious. "Explosion!" takes off like a great unwritten Ramones tune, just bopping along without fanfare until you realize how much you're looking forward to hearing the chorus come around and hook you all over again. "Wind Your Spring" is slower and sounds like the kind of thing Potsie Weber would've sung to his date. "Magic Joe," on the other hand, finds the Knife attempting "heavy rock" without quite knowing how to go about it. The result is not what they wanted.
A few of these tracks are supplemented with Japanese versions -- cute, but they don't mean much to those of us not conversant with the language. Brand New Knife, however, holds enough pure pop to engage you whether you're a "now" person or not.