Friday, April 21, 2023

The View On Pop Culture: Los Straitjackets, Witness U.K., Alice Cooper, Moses Avalon's Secrets Of Negotiating A Record Contract (2001)

Los Straitjackets' Sing Along with Los Straitjackets

It’s an established fact among experts in these sorts of things that Los Straitjackets have long been the coolest psychotronic surf guitar band in the known universe. Clad in Mexican wrestling masks, these mutant offspring of an unholy marriage of Dick Dale and Joey Ramone have kicked out four incredible albums of surf-garage-rockabilly instrumentals since 1995. With album number five the fantastic foursome hit upon a novel idea – why not add vocals to the songs?

They do just that on Sing Along with Los Straitjackets (Yep Roc Records), enlisting the help of accomplished vocal technicians like Raul Malo of the Mavericks, Leigh Nash of Sixpence None The Richer, Dave Alvin, Allison Moorer, Exene Cervenka of X, and many others. The result is a glorious collection of cover tunes, Los Straitjackets providing the power and various singers contributing the finesse to classic rock, pop, and country material like Roy Orbison’s “Down the Line,” Jessi Colter’s “I Ain’t the One” and Scooter Davis’ “The End of the World.” Guitarists Danny Amis and Eddie Angel blaze like a house afire while beatmeisters Peter Curry and Jimmy Lester hold down the bottom line behind folks like the Rev. Horton Heat, Big Sandy and Nick Lowe. The hippest CD you could buy this year, Sing Along with Los Straitjackets cements the reputation of these maniac musicians as the baddest surf-rocking daddios ever!

The recipients of the biggest British music press hype since Oasis recorded their first demo tape, Witness U.K. have lived up to every compliment thrown their way. With their second album, “Under A Sun” (MCA Records) they seem to be poised to break through to a stateside audience unaware of the furor the band has created in their homeland. Treading the same introspective folk-rock vein as R.E.M., who Witness U.K. is often compared to, the band also incorporates influences as diverse as Tim Buckley, Van Morrison, and Neil Young into a distinctive sound. Beautifully crafted songs like “Here’s One For You” and “Dividing Line” feature singer Gerard Starkie’s powerful and engaging vocals. Delicious harmonies, multi-layered guitars and a dense rhythmic undercurrent match the band’s thoughtful lyrics. Radio-friendly, intelligent, and charismatic, “Under A Sun” shows that Witness U.K. is much more than the typical British pop band.

Alice Cooper's Dragontown
Rock legend Alice Cooper never really went away, you know – he’s been busy recording albums, performing live and inspiring dozens of lesser artists. Like many aging rockers, the major labels want nothing to do with Cooper, who still commands a sizeable following even if he can’t move the multi-Platinum™ numbers that a copycat like Marilyn Manson can. The five families’ ignorance is our loss, however, ‘cause with the indie effort Dragontown (Spitfire Records), Cooper delivers his best solo effort since Welcome To My Nightmare. Dragontown kicks off with the unrelenting “Triggerman,” an ultra-cool tune that, in a better world, would dominate FM radio. From there Cooper jumps into a collection of songs that portray a rock ‘n’ roll purgatory where Jim Morrison, John Lennon and Elvis Presley rub elbows with disgraced nuns and psychotic soldiers in tunes like “Sex, Death And Money” and “Disgraceland.” Cooper’s theatrical style and macabre vocals are perfectly suited for the nightmarish imagery of his lyrics while unrelenting instrumentation both cuts wide swaths of destruction and jabs precisely like some manic musical sword duel. After thirty-plus years, Alice Cooper still creates music that is both hypnotic and horrifying, Dragontown proof for young metalheads that the old dog still has a few tricks up his sleeve.

Every youngster who has ever picked up a guitar or a drumstick has dreamed of achieving fame and fortune playing music – “following that rock ‘n’ roll star” as songwriter Threk Michaels has called it. Out of the thousands of bands that begin this sojourn, some will manage to make a name for themselves on the regional bar circuit while a mere handful ever get the chance sign a recording contract. Without exception, though, every single one of these superstar wannabes is at a disadvantage when dealing with even the smallest of labels. Secrets Of Negotiating A Record Contract (Backbeat Books), the second book by pseudonymous author Moses Avalon, shows that the label always holds all the cards.

An award-winning engineer and producer, Moses Avalon has a unique perspective forged by almost two decades experience in the music biz. If his excellent first book, Confessions of A Record Producer (Backbeat Books) blew the lid off the industry’s dirty little secrets, his latest effort deciphers the various pitfalls, loopholes and booby traps found hidden among the dense legalese used in the typical recording contract. Avalon offers segments of real contracts, explains what the provisions mean in real life and offers an analysis that is educated, informative and tempered by a great deal of experience and humor. Working with several music industry lawyers, Avalon has created the first blueprint available for musicians to negotiate their contract with knowledge and insight. Heed the Reverend’s warning – if you are a musician, no matter the genre – you should carry a copy of Secrets of Negotiating A Record Contract with you until you know it like you do your instrument. Get it now! You’ll thank me later... (View From The Hill, October 2001)

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