Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings
Many listeners discovered A or rediscovered A singer-songwriter John Prine with The Missing Years, his brilliantly crafted 1991 album (produced by Howie Epstein, of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers fame) that won the whiskey-voiced vocalist a Grammy.
Not nearly as ambitious, Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings is still a satisfying followup.
Epstein returns to the control board, concentrating on rocking arrangements and keyboard-based grooves (courtesy of Heartbreaker Benmont Tench) rather than the gentler acoustic folk of the last album. The results are not quite as spectacular musically, but Prine's biting wit and often poignant songcraft transcend the sometimes formulaic song structures.
Much of Lost Dogs feels calculated to reach wider audiences. Nonetheless, Prine remains prickly and playful, lacing the ear candy with barbed wire, and mixing stream-of-conscious nonsequitur with straight narrative. Click to track four: An infectious sing-along-with-the-chorus-style rocker, "We Are the Lonely" demonstrates an almost maddening musical banality. Yet Prine captures the isolation of modern-day living with deft strokes, describing, for instance, a woman in his apartment building he's never met: "She hangs her clothes out on the line/They're hanging there right next to mine/And if the wind should blow just right/She could be in my arms tonight."
Prine's trademark goofy but tender love songs also appear, such as "All the Way With You," which takes the horny high school question "Can I go all the way with you?" and grows it up into "Are we in this for the long haul?" Prine goes solo on the lovely "Day Is Done," a gentle and bittersweet reflection of an illicit love affair: "We'll carve our names/On a tree/Then we'll burn it down/So no one in the world will see." And if things don't work out, the singer says, "Yeah, we'll say goodbye/And go back home while we still have one."
Although there are some memorable melodies here A nothing like Prine masterpieces "Angel From Montgomery" or "Hello in There," from his 1971 debut record, or "Daddy's Little Pumpkin" and the title track to Missing Years A the images and characters in Lost Dogs will stay with you and provide you a legal, if slightly crooked, smile.
By Bob Weinberg
John Prine performs at 8:00 p.m. Wednesday, June 14, at the Pompano Beach Amphitheatre, 1801 NE 6th St, Pompano Beach; 946-2402. Tickets cost $21.
People & Places
Like the Loch Ness Monster, the celebrity status accorded Kato Kaelin, and French film critics' admiration for the cinematic work of Jerry Lewis, the ongoing obscurity of singer-songwriter-guitarist Clive Gregson remains one of the great paradoxes of modern existence. Gregson boasts an impressive resume: front man for smart, melodic early-Eighties Brit popsters Any Trouble; a key member of Richard Thompson's band; and more recently one half of a memorable musical collaboration with Christine Collister (now his ex-wife). But Gregson's records with Any Trouble and Collister A filled with evocative, heart-wrenching ballads, shimmering harmonies, and riveting guitar work A went largely unappreciated.
With the dissolution of his marriage, Gregson has gone solo with an album on Nashville's fledgling Compass label. People & Places betrays his folk roots, a collection of bare-bones ballads that ring with honest conviction and unabashed emotion. In fact, only one track A the chugging, blues-drenched rocker "Black Train Coming" A breaks from the mellow mood. While some people may complain of an initial inability to distinguish between several of the tunes, the individual beauty of "Camden Town," "Feathers," "Gabriel," "Box Number," and "When Time Is Over" becomes apparent with repeated listenings. Taken as a whole, People & Places sounds both fresh and familiar. (117 30th Ave. South, Nashville, TN 37212)
By Lee "Train" Zimmerman
Encomium: A Tribute to Led Zeppelin
In my dream, Robert Plant and Henry Rollins are locked in a steel cage in the middle of a huge, throbbing arena. It's a Texas-style death match. Rollins is stripped to the waist, as usual, and wearing combat boots. Someone has given Plant a miniature revolver with a single bullet. He is wearing a codpiece and whimpering. The referee, Tiny Tim, is playing a medley of Led Zeppelin tunes on his ukulele. Rollins comes barreling in on his foe. Plant raises his tiny gun and shields his eyes dramatically. A single shot rings out. Tiny Tim falls dead.
I know it's only a dream, but I think it's safe to draw this conclusion: Encomium, the new Zep tribute compilation, is truly awful.
And not just awful for its inherent musical vacuity A which is considerable A but because the disc is such a blatant attempt to remarket the tyrannosaur of classic rock by pimping covers from mainstream hipsters such as Sheryl Crow, Blind Melon, 4 Non-Blondes, and Hootie and the Blowjobs.
Sure, Zep had some juice. Once. About twenty years ago. At this point, the band is one big, fat musical cliche.
There is also the matter of precedent to be considered here. The success of a project such as this can only mean we'll be getting more of the same. Green Day does Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Pearl Jam on Styx. It'll be like swimming in our very own baby poop.
I mean does anyone in their right mind really want to hear Rollins A whose sole talent is that he can bench-press his own ego A rant through a version of "Four Sticks"?
I'd almost rather hear Tiny Tim cover Foreigner's "Head Games."
By Steven Almond
Perez Prado and His Orchestra
Mondo Mambo! The Best of Perez Prado and His Orchestra
If the word mambo conjures up anything at all in an age when the most popular forms of dance are "line" and "slam," it is probably some kind of slightly silly, Ricky Ricardo-esque vision, with a couple of ladies wearing hats made of fresh fruit bumping and grinding away. And if that's the case, step up and let Perez Prado, numero uno boss of smooth, seductive, hot-blooded music, set you straight.
The diminutive Cuban was a fave of Latinos and jazz aficionados in the U.S. in the early Fifties, but didn't catch on in a big way until 1955 with "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White," a dreamy, midtempo throbber led by a liquid trumpet solo. The tune A track one on this well-chosen batch of twenty A went right to number one on the pop charts, buoyed by its use as the theme to the Jane Russell-and-Jayne Mansfield-in-bathing suits vehicle Underwater!
For the rest of the decade, there was no stopping him. The nation was in love with the mambo, and Prado gave the people what they wanted. A wild man on stage, the bandleader would goad his orchestra A and the crowds on dance floors A into a delirious frenzy with cries of "unngh!!" and "dilo!!" (Spanish for "say it"). And say it they would, with shameless, blaring horns, syncopated sax lines, and the constantly percolating bongo-conga-claves rhythm section that kept the whole glorious machine moving. Granted, there is a definite formula to these tracks, but there's no denying the joyful party spirit in every cut here. The mambo may have faded from memory, but don't let Perez and his music follow the same fate. Trade in those Santana albums and demand Prado. "Unngh!!"
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By Peter Gilstrap
Eccsame the Photon Band
Lilys (really just Kurt Heasley) float airily atop the psychedelic-pop Bifrost, making quiveringly tuneful head-nod music occasionally reminiscent of Atom Heart Mother-era Pink Floyd. Over the course of 51 minutes, Heasley and several contributors weave a sleepy bliss by craftily mixing fuzzy, slowly strummed guitars; breathy vocals; a poky, metronomic beat; sundry instrumental fillips (vibraphone, staticy loops, organ, flgelhorn, French horn); and trippy, makes-no-difference-what-they're-saying lyrics, as evidenced by titles such as "FBI and Their Toronto Transmitters," "The Turtle Which Died Before Knowing," and "Overlit Canyon (the Obscured Wingtip Memoir)." Here and there they quicken the pulse with a melodic epiphany, while between cuts they insert seconds-long snippets of artful noodling, reverberating sound effects, and cartoony sonic bric-a-brac. Most lovely. Set the controls for the heart of the sun. (P.O. Box 1798, New York, NY 10156-1798)
By Michael Yockel