Some people have argued that bands such as Sonic Youth and Urge Overkill, simply by forsaking their indie status and signing with a major label, have made a Faustian pact with the corporate alt-rock devil. But that kind of knee-jerk analysis does a disservice both to the bands, who surrender a measure of independence to attain widespread distribution of their work and, not incidentally, actually have some pocket change, and to the majors, who, between grinding out megasellers by Mariah Carey and Michael Bolton, take first chances on likable newcomers such as Wanderlust while giving second and third chances to habitually nonselling notables such as Joe Ely.
No, the embodiment of corporate alt-rock -- or corporate punk or corporate AOR or corporate Nashville or corporate new wave or corporate metal -- can be found in faceless, soulless, any-way-the-wind-blows bands and solo artists. You know them: Journey, Tribe, Highway 101, Pablo Cruise, Exile, Survivor, Cutting Crew, Mr. Mister, Cinderella, Power Station, Motels, Missing Persons, and on and on and on. Not forgetting Sun 60, a pretend alt-rock band (a little Letters to Cleo, a little Mazzy Star, a little of whatever you want) intrinsically bereft of ideas and passion, a band practiced at replicating a reasonable facsimile of what they perceive to be the current big thing, a band that seems most likely to contribute the lead track to a Quarterflash tribute album.
By Michael Yockel
Organic is a fitting title for tenor saxophonist Don Braden's so-funky-you-can-smell-it new release. Following in the Sixties tradition of tenor-organ teamups such as Lou Donaldson-Jimmy McGriff and Stanley Turrentine-Jimmy Smith, Braden ensconces his lush, late-night tone in bubbling, bluesy Hammond B-3, tightly coiled guitar lines, and easy-swinging fatback rhythm.
At the age of 32, Braden, like other young jazz lions, has made all the right moves, attending Harvard and graduating from the "schools" of Wynton Marsalis and Betty Carter, both of which have produced excellent musicians. What sets Braden apart from many of his youthful counterparts is his gift for natural, unselfconscious melodic invention: muscular without being overpowering, swinging without being hypnotized by the metronome, sort of a Soul Trained Sonny Rollins.
Braden is joined on several tunes by jazz vets "Brother" Jack McDuff on organ, Tom Harrell on trumpet, and Leon Parker on percussion. McDuff's "Walkin' the Dog" (not Rufus Thomas's R&B standard) is a standout, with McDuff's churchy tone digging a deep groove and Russell Malone providing a bee-sting guitar solo worthy of Steve Cropper. The other organist here, Larry Goldings, plays on half the tunes, displaying a lighter touch than McDuff on the keys. His style works well on the sprightly, laid-back Braden original "Brighter Days," as well as on a surprisingly swinging version of the Whitney Houston hit "Saving All My Love for You."
Braden displays a great flair for balladry as he reheats the old chestnuts "Moonglow" (accompanied only by Malone's sensitive chordings) and "It Might as Well Be Spring" (accompanied only by McDuff). Like the sad-eyed Lester Young, Braden gauges the emotional temperature just right, sidestepping bathos and cliche, but still remains deeply affecting. Organic cooks with a loose, limber, jazz-club feel, as if you were listening in on an after-hours jam or the last set of the night. Braden's playing and smart compositions neatly straddle the soul-jazz line, balancing spontaneity and improvisation with adherence to groove.
By Bob Weinberg
Rank and File
The finest Nashville songwriter this side of Steve Earle, Mark Geronimo continues to amaze and edify with his acerbic anthems and tuneful ballads. This self-proclaimed "liberal redneck," usually found fronting an electric band (the Sluggers), goes acoustic on Rank and File, with splendid results. Geronimo's raspy growl is a perfect complement to the masterful slide guitar work of Mac Gayden, and the gentler sound has done nothing to diminish the moral outrage that fuels Geronimo's lyrics. He still rails against civilization and its dependable stock of hypocrites and moneygrubbers on the dozen songs collected here, and his knack for gently unspooling a melody remains as keen as ever. If you have any affinity for antiestablishment country music, then Geronimo's your man.
By Steven Almond
With her lofty, boisterous mezzo-soprano and her flare for securing the songwriting talents of others (Paul Brady, Shawn Colvin, and Mary Chapin Carpenter here), Maura O'Connell is one of a breed of singers -- minus the "songwriter" tag -- whose every vocal turn embraces the lyrics and music as if they were hers alone. Relocating to Nashville after spending her formative years in her native County Clare, Ireland, O'Connell creates a subtle blend of brogue and twang on her seventh album, Stories. Swaying easily from the stirring two-step waltz of Carpenter's "Wall Around Your Heart" to averring Norma Rae bravado on Dana Cooper's "Hit the Ground Runnin'," O'Connell's depth and conviction settle like a gentle pat on the back. On "Love Divine," with background vocal support from James Taylor, she wakes up to smell the heartache, declaring "in your good time/I won't be waiting for tomorrow." And on the mellow acoustic shuffle "This Town Can't Get Over You," O'Connell laments leaving the Crescent City after a soured affair, knowing the city ain't big enough for her and her memories. There's one ill-fitting track -- Lennon and McCartney's "If I Fell" -- which should have been left on the Star Search stage. Otherwise, O'Connell's interpretations of life's lessons leave a sense of fulfillment, not futility, making her Stories the rainbow that follows the rain.
By George Pelletier
Pennywise wants to be your newest punk-rock pals. They've got the '77-style riffs you know and love, and they've honed their young-and-pissed attitude into something palpable enough to get them signed to Epitaph, the hot-shit indie home of Rancid and the Offspring. The lyric sheet to About Time, the Hermosa Beach, California, quartet's most recent piece of rant and roll, reads like a checklist for angry underground rockers: You get your existential angst ("Waste of Time"), your the-future-looks-horrible pessimism ("Peaceful Day"), and, of course, your distaste for social conformity ("Try"). What you don't get is a sliver of originality or a taste of something you haven't sampled a zillion times before. The hoarse, shouted vocals; the amped-up, pseudo-metal guitars; the pummeling rhythm section -- About Time is a punk-by-numbers throwaway as hollow and dull as any pop piffle on the Billboard charts. Everything on it has been done better by a legion of current superpunks, from Gaunt and New Bomb Turks to the Oblivians and Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, all of whom have released recent albums that maintain the traditions of punk rock while adding bruises to the music's battered face. Can Pennywise pull it off live? You be the judge.
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By John Floyd
Pennywise performs with the Joykiller and Quit at 8:00 p.m. on Friday, October 20, at the Edge, 200 W Broward Blvd, Ft Lauderdale; 525-9333. Tickets for this all-ages show cost $13.
In from the Storm
This London Metropolitan Orchestra-driven (never heard of 'em, either) tribute to Jimi Hendrix is misguided, misbegotten, mis-every-damn-thing-you-can-think-of. It's produced by former Hendrix engineer Eddie Kramer, who's turned into the kind of guy who settles on harmonica hack Toots Thielemans when he wants a really, you know, heavy kind of jazz cat. Thielemans's mercifully brief "Little Wing" takes the tune straight to the elevators, while Sting is at his self-satisfied worst on "The Wind Cries Mary." In fact, not only are the orchestral arrangements and rock-combo playing by the likes of Carlos Santana, Stanley Clarke, and Cozy Powell far too clean and worshipful, but none of the vocal performances here come anywhere near Hendrix's warmth. (Buddy Miles's rendition of the stoner dialect on "Rainy Day, Dream Away" is a disgrace to the artistic and intellectual legacy of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers.) Nice to see the master's songwriting given a nod, I suppose, but you'd never guess from this slop that Hendrix compositions had ever been successfully adapted to other musical idioms in the past by worthies such as the Kronos Quartet, Gil Evans and Emmylou Harris.
By Rickey Wright