By Steven Almond
We don't honestly expect this band's third full-length to score their deserved breakthrough, particularly if Americans prove as lazy and gullible as usual (did someone say "Donny Osmond comeback"?). But hey, Michael Jackson's face is still structurally sound. Anything's possible.
Less insistent than 1990's mind-bending Road Apples, this is a work of mood more than attitude. With no discernable loss of energy, the Hip's dual ax attack has been leavened with flourishes of dobro and acoustic guitar. Hard Folk, they'll be calling it soon. Whatever.
Singer Gordon Downie isn't much for rock cliches. Nix to failed relationships and pop politics. He's more likely to muse about a worn Air Force cap, or the logistics of dumping a corpse, or the hopeless feeling in a small town where "All you hear are the rusty breezes/Pushing around the weather-vane Jesus." That's just Downie A genius intense, rake irreverent, a front man with enough grizzled charisma to scare off the little girls, though he'd probably, given a shot, beg them to stay.
Of course, the Hip can still leave a mighty set of skid marks ("Locked in the Trunk of a Car," "100th Meridian"). On the album's half dozen blazers, Paul Langlois's backing guitar has grown only boggier, and the band's rhythm boys can put your Average White Butt A hey, wasn't that a Seventies band? A into ghetto-wag without grinding much elbow grease.
But what persists here is the riveting merger of Downie's contralto poetry with Bobby Baker's langorous fretwork. The tunes that resonate, that keep you up at night, are stripped bones, all marrow and melody. ("Pigeon Camera," for instance, which gives a pretty good sense of what R.E.M. would sound like with the help of extreme psilocybin.)
The Hip may never bust the Yankee move. But in the end, that ain't so tragic. At the 100th Meridian, they still outsell Madonna. Steven Almond
Short Fuse Blues
By Alex Gomez
When blues pioneer W.C. Handy first saw someone press a knife edge against guitar strings at a Mississippi Delta railroad station in 1903, he described the sound as "the weirdest music I ever heard." Since then, "bottleneck," or "slide," guitar has, of course, become a steady current coursing through the blues mainstream. And yet while many blues guitarists incorporate slide into their repertoire, few specialize in the style. David Hole is a slide-guitar specialist.
The evidence supporting Hole's case that slide alone is enough gets full presentation on the Australia native's debut recording, which has been out for a while, though you'd never know it from the lack of recognition. Sizzling with the type of modern Chicago blues most often heard on radio and television, Hole's thing is up-tempo, polished, and tightly produced.
Hole slides over, not under, the guitar neck. The story goes that an injury forced the bluesman to play slide "overhand" while recovering and, upon getting better, he continued with it. The approach gives Hole a unique sound, which may be why the tunes on Short Fuse Blues seem to stand out from the din of blues recordings currently being released.
"Dark Was the Night" is a glowing example of the slide style. On this instrumental cover, Hole chooses to interpret the piece on electric rather than acoustic guitar, as it was originally recorded by Blind Willie Johnson. Even so, Hole doesn't limit himself to blues tunes. He lays down a somewhat bizarre version of Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze," for example, something W.C. Handy might think "weird" if he were around to hear this fresh and fully magnificent slide guitarist.
Reachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space)
By Joey Seeman
If you're one of those addicted to this Next Big Thing's "Cool Like Dat" single, remind or inform yourself that Digable Planets are not a one-trick phoney. This is a breakthrough band, like Arrested Development and A Tribe Called Quest before them, marking a brave new trend in rap. By infusing their hip-hop with jazz samples (from Art Blakey to Miles Davis), the Planets have injected their chosen art form with new life, resulting in an album easily digested in one listen, but worth plenty more. Interlocking samples, fat beats, and unusual vocals add up to a smooth flow all the way through.
Main lyricists Butterfly and Ladybug provide a perfect complement to one another, and their use of Beat Generation slang fits like, right on, daddy-o, with the music behind that. "Cool Like Dat" has vaulted Digable Planets into a bright spotlight, and if people are really tuned in, they'll check out the whole slab. Here's your relief from the hard-core gangsta copycatting currently flooding the planet.
This Dutch band, made up of former members of De Artsen A guitarist Peter Visser and bassist Herman Dunskoeke A plus vocalist Carol Van Dijk, creates here a timeless masterpiece of great songs possessing simple warmth. With an unexpectedly American sound, Van Dijk's vocal lines weave and sigh along with her guitar. "Leg" is warm introduction, the title track is most impressive, and then "Kids Allright" kicks it with some up-tempo hard rocking. "Brain-Tag" is a song so crafted even Neil Young should take notice. And all that is just the build up for "Tom Boy," the single that lives up to anything that's come out of Athens, Georgia, recently. "This Thing Nowhere" is far more focused than its title suggests, plus there's a cover of Sebadoh's "Healthy Sick" and the finale, "Sundazed to the Core," to deal with. Get this album and ride it up to red in your VU meters.
By Christina Henriques
Three rules: Never linger on one rhythm too long. A solo can never be too complex. And if something sounds too jazzy, immediately rock it out. The authors of this philosophy are C.P.R. and they're not what you might expect. (The initials, by the way, stand for Randy Coven on bass, Al Pitrelli on guitar, and John O. Reilly on drums.) Rooted in jazz but streamlined into rock, this eponymous debut is heavy on substance and appropriately named considering the trio seeks to resuscitate the dying art of instrumental rock.
The merry band of musicians' musicians offers some serious fodder for thought and some serious fun on the trivia front. The track "E-11" is named after the room Coven and famed ax slinger Steve Vai once practiced in while studying at Berklee. And "Sbass Secrets," dedicated to Coven's guitar column, begins with a sloppy lick that Coven cleaned up by experimenting with Vai's Eventide Harmonizer programs. And they're willing to throw in a vocal, as in their version of AC/DC's "Back in Black," which features singer Randy Jackson of Zebra, plus solos by Vito Bratta (White Lion), Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne), electric violinist Mark Wood, and session whiz Mark Hitt. Pitrelli himself reels out riffs that leave Angus's original solo at the starting gate.
They also brought in pal Steve Morse to abridge a song originally called "Hour Mouse" into "Minute Mouse." Nice editing when you can get him. And speaking of that, two of Morse's three solos were hacked out. Simon Says: Let's hear them.
What we're left with is either an album that will have other players intimidated to the point of never picking up their instruments again, or a welcome addendum to the instructional guides of Mel Bay.
The DiY Series
The Stiff Records Box Set
By Greg Baker
If I read one more critic's reiteration of the Meaning of Punk, or worse, the Meaning of New Wave, I'm gonna pull a Sid Vicious. The second half of the Seventies was not the second half of the Sixties, sports, and obnoxiousness, a talent though it may be, is not a virtue. Admittedly much of the music of those glory days is virtuous indeed, but even so the genre was never, as Rolling Stone critic Ira Robbins recently suggested, "a metronome for a chaotic world." That sort of aggrandizement is exactly what caused the music classified as "punk" and "new wave" to fade away long enough for the nostalgically correct to resurrect it. Punk and new wave, and any other form for that matter, was and is a bunch of people making songs, recording them, and other people buying and listening. I lent an ear to the Sex Pistols and Devo and the Ramones when they first came out. But at the same time I was also happily indulging in Springsteen and Seger and (God forgive me) Van Halen.
So can we please set aside the cultural tie-ins, the media creations, the alleged agendas, the bigger picture, and pop that safety pin out of our cheek? Just listen.
And be selective, because unlike the colorful singles and poster-included albums of the late Seventies' independent-label emergence, we're talking serious investment of cake with Rhino's packaging of (some of) the best of that era. The DiY series consists of nine CDs (173 songs), the Stiff Records Box Set crams 96 songs onto four discs. Frankly, I'm not sure anyone needs or wants to hear all of this, but that's a problem inherent to any compilation. On the other hand, if you grabbed up all that groovy import stuff way back then, you can now have a bunch of your fave music in the handy-dandy and wholly anti-punk CD configuration. If you're too young to have been there, here's your primer.
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DiY features two CDs representing British punk from 1976-78, two of U.K. pop from 1976-79, two of American power pop from 1975-80, and three representing various scenes A Boston, L.A., and New York. Without nitpicking over what was chosen and what was neglected, I'll just say that Blank Generation, which culls from the Big Apple pie from 1975 to 1978, is the first of the nine I'd buy. No Talking Heads, true, but vintage takes by the Ramones, Blondie, Patti Smith, Television, Richard Hell and the Voidoids (yes, "Blank Generation"), Dead Boys, Heartbreakers, and others. The rest of the series is pretty much hit and miss, a matter of taste.
There is no such selective choice with the Stiff stuff, but the four slabs contained are more worthwhile than any four from DiY. Before going out of business in 1987, Stiff spawned and nurtured some of the major artists of any generation, blank or not: Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Graham Parker, Devo, and, of course, Pookiesnackenburger. Rhino smartly allotted the most slots to the almighty Ian Dury, who checks in with "What a Waste!," "Inbetweenies," "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll," "Razzle in My Pocket," and "My Old Man." Hit me, hit me, hit me... .
I'm glad someone finally decided to mine a neglected aspect of one of my favorite musical eras, and no one does this sort of thing better than Rhino, whose Gary Stewart spent three years putting together the DiY project. Now if we can just violently overthrow the tired mores of a bloated and useless culture by creating anarchy in the streets as an anecdote to the dehumanization of a metronome for a chaotic society....