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Kathy Fleischmann
Speaking Guillotie
(independent CD)

Just where do you put Kathy Fleischmann's Speaking Guillotine in your record collection? Folk? Okay, you could make an argument for that category: Fleischmann writes poignant and personal tunes and strums acoustic guitar and even has long flowing hair. Rock? For sure the songstress can write Chrissie Hynde-Pretenders style melodies ("Concrete Blankets") and captures a certain alt-rock ethos. Blues? Well, maybe a stretch here, although certainly Fleischmann's voice is inspired by blues belters and accompanist John the Cop Eischen's playing, particularly on the exquisite "Down Syndrome," burns like a Delta levee afire. (The pair sometimes performs as an acoustic blues act with the Other Guy on bass.) But no matter where you decide to put Fleischmann's latest, just be sure to put it.

Intensely intimate statements, Fleischmann's songs cut right to the core. How brave would you have to be to sing: "Call him up/I need a favor/I use him for a while/Make him think I'm his forever/Humiliation in style" as the songwriter does on the incise and introspective title track? Yes, the guy is pathetic, but who hasn't been on the receiving end of that guillotine?

Fleischmann's vignettes are visual and visceral, from "Flipping through the L's in a record store" ("Manhattan") to "You surround yourself with concrete blankets/They never answer back" ("Concrete Blankets," where she draws parallels between someone -- a lover? parent? friend? -- and the Brooklyn Bridge).

Production values on Guillotine are excellent, aided and abetted by Rose Guilot, who also provides acoustic rhythm on the bleak but memorable "Times Up." For selfish reasons, we hope Fleischmann gets signed to a huge label so next time she can release a disc with more than six tracks.

By Bob Weinberg
Kathy Fleischmann performs at Ratstock, Tuesday, October 4, at Blue Steel, 2895 Collins Ave, Miami Beach, 672-1227.

Townes Van Zandt
(Sugar Hill)

If you haven't heard of Townes Van Zandt, you're not alone. The fact he's never garnered more than a devoted following, despite dozens of memorable tunes written and recorded over the past two decades, ought to earn him an entire episode of Unsolved Mysteries. If he ever bucks his curse of obscurity, this talented Texas troubadour might someday find himself referred to as a living legend.

But until that day arrives, it's up to his devotees to offer the evidence that gives the guy his due. Fortunately, with the release of Roadsongs, there's something they can point to as exhibit A. While it may not contain any of his original material, it is listener-friendly, especially for those first-timers.

A chronicle of Van Zandt's live performances, it serves up fifteen cover tunes, with a generous supply of big-name writers as its draw. What's truly impressive is how Van Zandt manages to transform even such well-worn standards as the Stones's "Dead Flowers" and Springsteen's "Racing in the Street," and infuse them with an emotion and intensity that was only hinted at in the originals. A pair of Dylan tunes, "Little Willie the Gambler" and "Man Gave Names to All the Animals," are sung with a sprightly enthusiasm that belies their origins. Similarly, his readings of no less than four songs by the legendary Lightnin' Hopkins demonstrate an affinity and authority that's absolutely critical to credibility when it comes to belting the blues. While it may not be the vehicle that demonstrates Van Zandt's songwriting skills, Roadsongs showcases a performer who always manages to travel in style.

By Lee "Train" Zimmerman

Various artists
Fast Track to Nowhere

Having regressed through retro-fetish hysteria for the Eighties, the Seventies, and the Sixties, the fab Fifties are looming on the alternative-redux horizon. Witness Fast Track to Nowhere, a collection of Kruisin' Klassics as interpreted by the likes of Iggy Pop, who kicks off the LP with Eddie Cochran's "C'mon Everybody." Los Lobos belts out rockabilly by way of East L.A. Sheryl Crow and Blues Traveler tackle Fats Domino. And the Meat Puppets rescue "House of Blue Lights" from the white-bread hell of Ivy League a cappella encores. ("I say, Buffy, this music used to be downright scandalous. How droll!")

Some of these covers don't really work (the Wild Colonials should probably have left Muddy Waters alone), but the ones that succeed tickle the dark underbelly of the Atomic Age. When Babes in Toyland snarl "The Girl Can't Help It," that comfy 1-4-5 progression suddenly sounds mean and nasty. Likewise Concrete Blonde's "Endless Sleep," a David Lynchian spookfest of walking guitar, reverb, and Johnette Napolitano's Elvis impersonation. If there's music for screwing in a graveyard, this is it.

And then there are the Smithereens, who make the Diamonds's "Stroll" into a Loony Tunes cartoon. No one has eviscerated the ducktailed stylings of Fifties idols with such vicious accuracy, ever. Dennis Diken plays the Big Bopper as the Mask. One word: Smmmmokin'!

By J.C. Herz

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