One-man band Pat Ferrise writes ineffable, lazy-hazy pop melodies, while lyrically musing about nothing in particular in his unaffected, boyish voice. Reflective, wistful, and unself-conscious, Ferrise's songs indicate sentiments more than coming right out and stating them ("big bones break, small ones bend"). He constructs these tunes around his strummy acoustic guitar, then fleshes out the sound with the aid of a pack of Washington, D.C., indie stars (Edsel's Sohrab Habibion, High Llamas's Mike Hampton, and D.C. producers du jour Geoff Turner and Ted Niceley) on the usual pop-rock instrumentation, plus flecks of banjo, xylophone, dulcimer, and accordion.
Lovely and likable, the sixteen songs range from seconds-long fragments to such fully realized pop manifestoes as the irresistibly hummable "Green Jacket," the sighing, chugging "Sugarpale," and the chiming "Shiny Black Penny," the last recalling Bobby Sutliff's best work as one-half of the Windbreakers. In toto, Trampoline's dormer successfully embroiders on a sound previously plumbed by other one-guy-band auteurs A E (Marvin Etzioni), Ultra Vivid Scene (Kurt Ralske), LMNOP (Stephen Fievet) A resulting in a charming, engaging pop meditation. (P.O. Box 1798, New York, NY 10156-1798)
By Michael Yockel
Do Right Man
(Sire/Warner Bros./Blue Horizon)
Who said white guys got no soul? Dan Penn's remarkable career certainly goes a long way toward disproving that stereotype. While you may not know him by name, you likely know his work, especially if you're old enough to remember Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, and the others who set the standard for soul music throughout the Sixties.
Penn helped pen many of the classic hits of that era, songs that went on to become an unmistakable part of our the vocabulary, among them, "The Dark End of the Street," "Do Right Woman Do Right Man," "It Tears Me Up," and "I'm Your Puppet." On this, only the second solo set of a 30-year career, he revisits those tunes with soul-stirring performances powered by compassion and conviction.
Aided and abetted by long-time colleagues Spooner Oldham, Reggie Young, and the rest of the legendary Muscle Shoals studio team, as well as Black Crowes producer George Drakoulis, Penn offers the ultimate interpretation of his well-worn staples, demonstrating an urgency and integrity that's all but disappeared from soul music in the Nineties. It's an album that breaks down barriers, exposing common threads that wend their way from Memphis to Nashville, through the mean streets of Detroit down to the backwoods of Alabama. In Penn's hands the bleak despair of "The Dark End of the Street," one of pop music's all-time great brooding ballads, becomes a statement about heartbreak and humiliation. However, the same can be said of the newer selections, "Cry Like a Man" and "Zero Willpower," songs imbued with a timeless feel. Listening to this is like gazing on a yellowed post card or coming home to a place half-remembered, its soothing images evoking an all-too-fleeting past when life was simpler and somehow more secure. Do Right Man is the sort of album where you can't go wrong.
By Lee "Train" Zimmerman
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Nothing But the Truth
The illustration gracing Son Seals's seventh album, depicting the guitarman as a larger-than-life character from a Mexican mural (or maybe as a comic-book colossus) is fitting. Seals personifies the blue-collar hero, his blues sweaty, musclebound. Tough and urban, his voice is as raw as the edge of a brick. Seals's guitar is just as profound and affecting, but never so low that the bottom looks like up. The Arkansas-born Chicago club fave is in excellent form here, backed by his fire-spewing horn sec and some dead-on session wizards (Johnny B. Gayden walking the bass, Tony Zamagni with some tasty keyboard fills).
Tracks such as "Life Is Hard" and "Tough As Nails," are Seals's stock in trade, full of grit and self-determination ("Life may try to knock me down/But the wind is in my sails/I'm as tough as nails"). His positive puff-out-your-chest and do your best motto flows throughout and Mr. Bad Axe certainly has no self-esteem problems (he tells a bartender on "Can't Hear Nothing But the Blues" to put his last dime in the jukebox on "B.B., Ray, or me"). Gleeful romps such as "Before the Bullets Fly" and "Sadie" (dedicated to Hound Dog Taylor) further keep the album grooving along at machine-gun pace. Mix in a few slow-grinders, such as the Albert King homage, "Can't Hear Nothing," and you've got a fiery exemplar of Chi-town blues from one of its greatest living exponents.
By Bob Weinberg