Friday, February 24, 2023

Buzz Kuts: Big Meteor, The Pietasters, John Popper, Marky Ramone & the Intruders, The RZA (1999)

The Pietasters' Awesome Mix Tape #6
Reviews originally published as a “Buzz Kuts” column, Alt.Culture.Guide™, August 1999

Wild River

Canada’s Big Meteor – the duo of David Wimble and Larry Wayne Church – deliver an engaging set of country-flavored folk-rock tunes with Wild River. Featuring Wimble’s songwriting skills and understated vocals and some tasty lead guitar from Church, Wild River’s thirteen songs delve into the various facets of interpersonal relationships. Although Wimble’s lyrics can, at times, be a bit oblique, in other instances he can be as transparent as glass. With sparse accompaniment, songs like “Honest Man” or “Mission” reveal Wimble’s philosophical side while “The Waitress” uses simple lyrics to create a beautiful, complex portrait of love and desire, the song underlined by Danny Artuso’s fluid steel guitar lines. The otherwise subdued “Alive In Every Hour” nonetheless offers some mesmerizing six string playing; “Until You Take Your Leave” is one of Wimble’s better songs, a radio-friendly pop country ballad. Wild River suffers from thin production, probably due to Big Meteor’s budget, the resulting loss of dynamics underplaying the charisma of the songs. With fuller production, a bit more vocal projection on Wimble’s part and a little fatter instrumentation, Big Meteor could be a serious contender. As it is, Wild River shows a great deal of promise, Big Meteor a band with a bright future. (Big Meteor, self-produced CD)

Awesome Mix Tape #6

A lot of the current crop of ska bands take their cue from the previous generation of island music aficionados, who were themselves mere carbon copies of an earlier generation. I’m not saying that you have to go all the way back to mid-‘60s Jamaica to cop the proper influences, but like an original that fades with each photocopied duplicate, so too do a lot of today’s trend-following ska-mongers sound like pale imitations of the real thing. Not so with the Pietasters, who have obviously studied the old masters and sound as refreshing and energetic today as those old Maytals’ records once did. Due to this musical diligence, Awesome Mix Tape #6 comes across as a vital and enjoyable addition to the recent ska-punk explosion. Songs like “Chain Reaction” or “Crying Over You”, with their low-key dynamics, sparse use of the brass section and soulful vocals come mighty close to duplicating the original island sound. Much of Awesome Mix Tape #6 is like this, a thoroughly enjoyable blending of ska, reggae and R & B with just a touch of punk posturing. While some bands try to make up with volume and attitude what they lack in style and finesse (not that there’s anything wrong with that), the Pietasters bring an authentic feel and obvious love for the music to Awesome Mix Tape #6. Bringing just enough contemporary feel to the material to make it fly in the nineties, the Pietasters do so without sacrificing the sincerity and heart that made original ska so charming in the first place. (Hellcat Records)


With Blues Traveler taking a well-deserved year off, shrugging aside their responsibility as the H.O.R.D.E. Festival house band for a season, frontman John Popper nonetheless found the need to make some music. The result is Zygote, Popper’s first solo effort, and one that may come as a surprise for many longtime Blues Traveler fans. With Zygote Popper begins a process that sees him expanding upon his work with Blues Traveler, traveling, as it were, across some different musical landscapes. The album opens with “Miserable Bastard”, a lengthy, funky number that, save for Popper’s trademark mouth harp work, comes across as closer to Dave Matthews than Blues Traveler. It sets the stage for what is to follow – an hour-long work that deviates from our expectations. Popper experiments with sounds and song structure on Zygote, sometimes diving right off into the deep end – as with “Lunatic” – into a sort of jazzy free-form improvisation that blues-based jam bands can only flirt with. Other material, like the haunting “Evil In My Chair”, are based more on Popper’s vocal abilities than his harp playing – heck, he even plays a little guitar on Zygote. That’s not to say that Blues Traveler fans won’t find something of interest here. I see a handful of tunes from Zygote, notably “Growing In Dirt” and the soulfully bittersweet “Love For Free” that would work in the band setting. Zygote is an altogether brave venture, familiar enough as to not alienate existing fans but allowing Popper room to breathe, artistically. A solid musician and songwriter with deep roots and frequent flashes of brilliance, Popper’s first solo attempt garners an A grade for conception and a B for execution. (A & M Records)

The Answer To Your Problems

As a member of proto-metal hard rockers Dust, Marky Ramone (née Bell) had a musical career prior to his becoming the skinman for the legendary punk foursome. From the sound of The Answer To Your Problems, he’s trying to forge an identity outside his former life as a Ramone as well (although he’s not too proud to capitalize on the name, eh Marky?). Produced by Rancid’s Lars Frederiksen, The Answer To Your Problems offers a take-no-prisoners punk outlook similar to that band’s, with a bit of straight-forward hard rock bombast thrown in for flavor. Brimming with attitude and energy, the songs here – mostly written by Ramone and Intruders’ guitarist/vocalist Ben Trokan – are surprisingly good, showcasing a slightly skewed sense of humor like the Ramones’ best material, but without the sometimes grating pinhead intelligence level. “Peekhole” is a pretty damn funny sidelong look at paranoia, “Life Sucks” could easily become a punk anthem, and Trokan’s duet with punk goddess Joan Jett, “Don’t Blame Me,” is a precious throwaway. Ramone and the Intruders stomp out an unlikely cover of the Beatles’ “Nowhere Man” that will have you humming the tune for days while cuts like “Lottery” and “Middle Finger” are as mentally infectious as flesh-eating bacteria. Overall, The Answer To Your Problems is a hell of a lot of fun, a rocking album with tongue placed firmly in cheek and amps turned up way past ten. The Rev sez “check it out!” (Zoe Records/Rounder Records)

The RZA's Hits

Much like Public Enemy did a decade ago; the Wu-Tang Clan redefined hip-hop culture during the 1990s, propelling rap towards a headfirst collision with the twenty-first century. Made up of nine distinct personalities, backed by an innovative, world-class producer in the RZA, Wu-Tang changed rap music forever. Bringing the music to an ever-growing crossover audience, Wu-Tang’s debut album hit hard with a unique blend of mad rhymes, crazy beats, sonic experimentation and an unparalleled mix of style (especially Hong Kong kung-fu flicks), street imagery and imaginative use of graphic and musical icons. (What fan isn’t familiar with the Wu-Tang logo?) Not to take anything away from the rappers who front this hip-hop posse, but props should be afforded production wizard RZA. Showcasing the best of his work with both Wu-Tang and the Clan’s individual solo efforts, Hits brings the RZA’s talents into sharper focus. Including milestones like Wu-Tang’s “Protect Ya Neck” and “C.R.E.A.M.” along with solo tracks like Method Man’s “Bring The Pain”, Ghostface Killah’s “Winter Warz”, and others from Raekwon, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and the GZA (“Genius”), Hits draws heavily from the producer’s early milieu, ignoring more recent (and less acclaimed) works. Although dedicated Wu fans will already have all or most of this material – there’s nothing new here, although Hits does include “Wu Wear, The Garment Renaissance” from the High School High soundtrack. For those who remain in the dark, though, Hits serves as an excellent introduction to the wild world of the Wu-Tang. (Razor Sharp Records/Epic)

No comments: