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Rooster Head
Tasting Your Molester
By Greg Baker

Is this a musical recording about child sexual abuse? The repercussions of a violent society reflected in its art? Does this represent a change in sound direction from their three earlier albums? Do we really have to say goodbye? Just remember, I love you.

And I haven't got a clue. I know I'm not qualified to review Rooster Head, although that doesn't bother me because Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John couldn't scribble anything coherent in the face of this life-changing eight-song sneak preview of Michael Kennedy and company's forthcoming, fourth full-length (oh, seventeen or eighteen songs) release, which will be titled Confronting Your Molester. (It won't be out until after Xmas, God bless 'em.)

Let me just say I'm crazy about Tasting. Crazy because of it. Maybe just plain crazy. This cruelly fucked-up world can do that to you. That's why people like Kennedy and rock bands like Rooster Head -- despite personnel changes -- are saviors. They care enough to be.

They care enough to write and record the first great anthem for the posteverything Nineties. "G.O.T.," like much of the music here, is pure innocence slammed against raw sex and even rawer violence. The infectious raveup guitar-churns and rhythm-burns slash and crash as the lyrics dagger your heart, then the rage stills itself for these words: "I understand/The Son of God/'Scarborough Fair'/And Axelrod/Give me your love/So violently/So like a child/So like a dog." By the way, Axelrod, first name Julius, won a Nobel (in 1970) for his biochemical research into how nerve impulses are transmitted. That is, how we think and why we are what we are as human beings, as animals. Now we're getting somewhere.

But not to Heaven. "You'll never get to Heaven when you're sodomizing God," Kennedy sings, leaving to you the decision about what your fate might be should you do that, should you confront your molester, confront truth. There aren't too many writers -- lyrical or otherwise -- who confront anything, much less truth, these days. Doesn't sell.

And speaking of the Xmas crush, Mr. Lampshade pays a visit, providing an antidote to the smarmass cheesorama that plays out in the malls every year and has about as much to do with your god, or even Santa Claus, as the cigarette I just stamped out does. In "Mr. Lampshade's Violent Christmas" your holiday icon isn't toting a bagful of goodies, he's packing heat, and now your children get to watch you die. Bam-bam-bam. Ho, ho, ho.

That's about as lighthearted as things get in this mystical and musically magical world. The most brutal song has little to do with sex, religion, violence, or overextending your credit cards each December. The most ruthless and painful song of the eight is a ballad: "Tough Old Man," which makes me cry every time I listen to it, which has been about 50 times in the past three days.

Give me a break, Kennedy. We don't need to know ourselves, our humanity, this well.

Do we? Can't we just go with it for X number of years and die and disintegrate without thinking, or caring, or caring to think real hard about something so bogus as what it all means, what reality is. No clue. All I know is that "Tough Old Man" should be heard by the father of every son.

It's not exclusively Kennedy's literateness and passion and twistedness that makes this sneak preview emotionally overwhelming. For one thing, Bob Wlos sings the soothing and plaintive "I Only Need a Break," a song that hits home with all of us who work 60-80 hours each week. Dave Cook's megafat bass intro to "G.O.T." and Mike Vullo's skin-and-blood drumming throughout and Bob Wlos's supersweet pedal steel grooves in "Tough Old Man" and John Tillman's scalding guitar assaults and Kennedy's pop-friendly, rock-mean vocals -- all that together, with Wlos's typically brilliant engineering, adds up to extremism exciting the polarity that makes emotion possible. Rock and roll they call it.

"Confronting your molester is an easy way to go," Kennedy sings, "insane." Sodomy, genocide, rape, insanity A it's all as close as your nearest Bible. Or Michael Kennedy's next lyric.

God knows. Nothing. God is a chicken. Or did I take this, as one lyric puts it, to "the point of true obsession"? You listen. And remember, I love you.

And in his deep dark heart, Michael Kennedy does, too. He's just better at saying it.

Johnny Tonite
Live Tonight
By Greg Baker

Randy Ruffner and Pete Moss, who worked with Rooster Head's Michael Kennedy in Spanish Dogs, with Moss also participating in one incarnation of Rooster Head, struck hard and smart with their first album, The Savage Ones, a pure rock attack as deep and rich as an oil well.

Now they've rounded out this thing called Johnny Tonite, adding Rob DiAco (guitar), Clint Lewis (bass), and Arthur Neil Ashworth (drums). On October 6 they spent four hours with Rat Bastard at Sync Studios and came away with this keeper A no overdubs, no punch-ins, no synthesizers. No malarkey, just four balls-out originals and a surprisingly sincere-sounding cover of Jethro Tull's best song, "Locomotive Breath."

Though what Rat Bastard calls "real critics" might spit up arguments about a Seventies influence or punk approach, all I hear is straight-ahead rock played with the blazing energy of someone forced to record when "a religious war is knocking at my door," as Ruffner sings in "Madness." Not to push this theological stuff too far, but the following lyric goes "I wonder what their God would have to say/They said He took off today."

Where Michael Kennedy goes mystical, Ruffner and Moss stay topical. And if Kennedy is depressed, Ruffner and Moss are angry. For example, in a song that may or may not be about Xmas, "Suspicious Holiday," which Ruffner co-wrote with former Chant (the old one) guitarist Rich DeFinis, you hear this: "Business it's the money/Blood runs in the streets/Hiding in the Wetlands/Witness is at your feet."

"Locomotive Breath" is what it is (they changed some words, damn it!) and "Almost Home" is the slowest, softest thing here (and even it rocks), sounding more like the material on The Savage Ones than the ragers that precede it on Tonight. Beautifully evocative. The most potent piece is a Ruffner-Moss collab called "High School Books." With guitars spattering like overheated grease, the players lay out the story of a guy who gets caught stealing rope - that he intended to use to hang himself. Yes, life is pain. And yes, rock and roll can make it better.


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