Friday, March 29, 2024

Archive Review: Trick Daddy's Book of Thugs, Chapter A.K., Verse 47 (2000)

Trick Daddy's Book of Thugs
The world of hip-hop is getting crowded with rappers only half as clever as they think they are, spitting out histrionic “gangsta” rhymes that are so feeble that you’d think that Vanilla Ice was ghostwriting the shit. Trick Daddy, on the other hand, isn’t one of those whack wannabes, but rather a Southern-fried master of rhyme with street smarts a plenty and the good sense to step away from the mic when guest stars like Mystikal or Society step up and get the job done. Not as well known, perhaps, as Master P’s roster of rappers, or as newsworthy or Puff Daddy and his crew, Trick Daddy is nonetheless a serious contender for the crown worn so proudly by Tupac, Book of Thugs a logical extension of Shakur’s “Thug Life” mythology.

In between the sexual braggadocio and ghetto tales on Book of Thugs are some fine rhymes and smooth tunes. “Get On Up” is a funky, “the roof’s on fire” styled barnburner assisted by the Lost Tribe and Money Mark. “America” is a haunting, insightful look at modern oppression in a country where the majority of young African-American males are imprisoned, or have been. “Shut Up” features the beautiful Trina, Duece Poppito of 24Karatz, and Co of Tre +6 in a battle of the sexes with complex verses and more pop culture references than you can shake your gat at, backed by chaotic music that includes ringing cell phones. “Thug For Life” and “Thug Life Again” revisit old turf with a fresh perspective, the first song showcasing the talents of Kase and Mystic of the Lost Tribe, the second featuring Money Mark. A rock-solid collection of songs, Books of Thugs, Chapter A.K., Verse 47 is a bull’s eye shot from the new hip-hop capital of Miami, Trick Daddy and his Slip-N-Slide crew joining rap’s elite talents. (Slide-N-Slide Records)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™ zine, 2000 

Archive Review: Black Rob's Life Story (2000)

Black Rob's Life Story
The bulk of these tracks have been sitting in the box for a couple of years, rapper Black Rob patiently waiting for beleaguered Bad Boy boss “Puffy” Combs to release his debut disc. Now it’s Rob’s turn at the plate, batting in the place of the legendary Notorious B.I.G. in the Bad Boy line-up and these ears tell me that he’s hit a home run with Life Story. It’s a tribute to Rob’s skills as a songwriter and performer that the rhymes he recorded even a couple of years ago play as fresh and contemporary as those captured on tape a month or so ago.

Life Story is a cathartic collection of material, with Black Rob drawing on his own experience, writing songs in prison in anticipation of his shot at the brass ring. The resulting collection of songs is brutally real, and sincerely heartfelt, the first shot from a major new hip-hop talent. Guest stars abound on Life Story, from the scandalous, always sexy Lil’ Kim and the underappreciated Mase to the chairman of the board himself, Puff Daddy. It’s Rob’s commanding presence, however, along with his finely delivered rhymes that dominate the proceedings on Life Story. Much like other young talents like Beanie Siegel and Sisquo, Black Rob is stepping out of the background with a set that earns the artist a well-deserved spotlight of his own. (Bad Boy Entertainment)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™ zine, 2000

Friday, March 22, 2024

Archive Review: The Forty Fives' Get It Together (2000)

The Forty Fives' Get It Together
A single glance at the cover of Get It Together – ultra-cool blue tinting and black bars across the front end of what appears to be a Dodge Challenger – would lead one to believe that they’d be in for some serious retro shit with this CD. After a single spin of this turbo-charged effort from the Forty Fives, you’d know that your first impression was right. Fuck trends, the Forty Fives kick out some honest jams with Get It Together, reminding one of the halcyon days of rock when a man cruised around the city streets in a high-powered, solid-steel muscle car and cranked tunes out of the stereo eight track.

A sociologist might have looked upon this ritual as a sort of rapidly moving mating dance but it was more like a “coming-of-age” music thing – attracting the opposite sex was just an additional benefit. The Forty Fives sound like the best of what was playing on those car stereos in the late sixties and early seventies, skillfully blending surf guitars, Motown soul, Beatlesque Britpop and roots-rock with a garage feel. With a musical mix like that you’d expect Get It Together to be a lively affair, and it is, jumping off the line like a heart attack and hitting 100mph before you can blink an eye. If you have to ask, you never lived it, bunkie. This is real sledgehammer rock ‘n’ roll for guys who like it straight, no chaser, and if none of us can revisit those old days again, the Forty Fives are living proof that the memory lives on… (Artemis Records)     

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™ zine, 2000 

Archive Review: The Tarbox Ramblers' The Tarbox Ramblers (2000)

The Tarbox Ramblers
Listening to the Tarbox Ramblers CD is like taking a trip back in time to a different musical era. This talented foursome renders authentic covers of antique songs like a counterfeit artist kicks out phony C-notes – seamlessly and with a great deal of skill. Mining a musical milieu that is exclusively early twentieth century, the Ramblers deftly jump from delta blues to pre-war jazz to jug band hoedowns. The results are intoxicating, each song bringing with it a welcome rush of recognition as the Ramblers lend a contemporary feel to this traditional material without robbing the songs of their rustic roots.

Among the high points on this self-titled debut are a knock-down version of Bukka White’s classic “Shake ‘Em On Down,” the mesmerizing prison song-styled “Stewball” with call-and-response vocalization and a magnificent, laid-back reading of “St. James Infirmary.” Although they add a few lyrics here and there and have arranged the material in a manner that is guaranteed not to scare away the weak of heart, the Tarbox Ramblers nonetheless offer a great deal of respect to these songs. They treat the material with the reverence that it deserves even while having a lot of fun performing it. For anybody interested in early American music, I’d heartily recommend the Tarbox Ramblers’ debut as a primer, a gateway to greater pleasures beyond. (Rounder Records)    

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™ zine, 2000 

Friday, March 15, 2024

Archive Review: Osker's Treatment 5 (2003)

Osker's Treatment 5
Back in the day, if one had a mind to, you could drive up to Birmingham, Michigan (home of the legendary Creem magazine) and cruise down Woodward Avenue all the way into downtown Detroit. There was no reason, really, to do so – any such trip would take about an hour and put a carload of overzealous alkies at risk in several police jurisdictions. Sure, there’d be stops along the way – at burger joints, clubs, wherever – looking for something else to drink, something happening or somebody special. Mostly we did it just to get our ya-ya’s out, driving down the highway with the windows down and a rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack fueling our youthful dreams of a better place. A good cassette deck might boast of a playlist that included Iggy & the Stooges, the MC5, Ted Nugent, and maybe indie artists like Destroy All Monsters, Flirt, or the Mutants.

Osker’s Treatment 5 would have fit in right nicely with that weekly tradition. Cranking out the same sort of high-voltage tuneage that used to accompany us on those much-anticipated Saturday night drives, Treatment 5 is chock full of snotty vocals, ringing guitars, and relentless rhythms. Powerful punk rock with a vital edge, songs like “Life Sucks,” “Lucky,” or the appropriately reverent “Radio” would sound great blaring out of a car radio, driving towards whatever conclusion fate has in store. Mining a musical vein not unlike early Green Day or Offspring, Osker puts enough frantic energy into their material to prevent it from being watered down by pop influences. As a result, Treatment 5 is a non-stop rock ‘n’ roller coaster, a thrill-a-minute punk rock ride that you’ll want to take time and time again. (Epitaph Records)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™ zine, 2000

The View On Pop Culture: John Hiatt, Pearl Jam, Elvis Costello (2003)

John Hiatt’s Beneath This Gruff Exterior

Next year’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductees were recently announced, the list including the late George Harrison, Bob Seger, and Prince, among others. The foundation that nominates inductees has consistently overlooked many credible “hall of famers,” especially in the genres of punk (no Sex Pistols), heavy metal (no Black Sabbath) and R&B artists (too many to mention). Of course, not every performing musician can, or should be inducted into the Hall of Fame, but too many excellent artists/bands have been overlooked to believe that the process has any intelligence behind it at all.    

As a recording artist, John Hiatt has never achieved much more than cult status. He has never sold a lot of records; certainly not as many as other artists have recording Hiatt’s songs. Over the course of almost thirty years, however, Hiatt has forged a career of quiet excellence, creating nearly twenty consistently solid albums and writing hundreds of remarkable songs that lesser talents will be recording for decades to come. Entering his fourth decade of writing and performing, Hiatt epitomizes the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll, and if he never makes the Hall of Fame, it will be that institution’s loss.

Hiatt’s Beneath This Gruff Exterior (New West Records) is another fine effort on the part of the underrated songwriter and his top-notch band the Goners. For those unfamiliar with Hiatt’s creative “modus operandi,” he pens literate songs that are peopled with brilliant characters – losers and lovers, the lost and the redeemed. Hiatt’s rough, soulful vocals are kind of like a frayed blanket, scratchy and worn but warm and familiar. The music is a mix of roots-rock, Memphis soul, Delta blues, country and folk, which is why Hiatt’s material lends itself so well to various interpretations. Beneath This Gruff Exterior showcases both Hiatt’s songwriting skills and the road-worn chemistry of the Goners. Hiatt is not a bad guitarist, but he smartly steps aside and lets maestro Sonny Landreth fill his songs with whiplash slide work and a hint of bayou swamp-rock instrumental gumbo. The seasoned rhythm section of bassist Dave Ranson and drummer Kenneth Bevins keep an admirable beat beneath the festivities so that the magician Hiatt can weave his lyrical tales.

The radio-ready "The Nagging Dark” rolls along like the runaway hearts of the song’s characters while “Circle Back” remembers the fleeting nature of friendships and family and the passage of time. “Almost Fed Up With the Blues,” fueled by Landreth’s red-hot picking, is a brilliant anti-blues blues song, the protagonist sick and tired of being sick and tired. Hiatt’s imagery on “The Most Unoriginal Sin” is nearly the equal of vintage Dylan, Landreth’s shimmering fretwork creating an eerie atmosphere behind Hiatt’s somber vocals, the song’s star-crossed lover doomed before the first chorus strikes. Beneath This Gruff Exterior may not be the hall-of-fame caliber talent’s best album, but it doesn’t fall far from the top.

Pearl Jam's Lost Dogs
As one of the two most important rock bands to come out of the early ‘90s Seattle scene, Pearl Jam are pretty much ensured a spot in the hallowed hall. With the band’s multi-million selling 1991 debut Ten, Pearl Jam created a blueprint for much of the rest of rock ‘n’ roll to follow during the decade, spawning dozens of sound-alike bands. During the ‘90s, though, Pearl Jam deliberately turned its back on stardom, eschewing the trappings of celebrity in favor of making honest and, at times, difficult music that will take critics years to digest. With literally over a hundred live performance discs released, it’s hard to believe that Pearl Jam built its legacy on the strength of a mere seven studio albums.

Lost Dogs (Epic Records) is a two-CD collection of rare tracks, obscurities and B-sides compiled by the band. Presenting only a portion of the wealth of unreleased/barely-released material allegedly recorded by the band, Lost Dogs is nevertheless a nice bookend to Pearl Jam’s major label years. The thirty songs here include a couple of legitimate hits, including “Last Kiss;” a handful of the band’s live staples, like “Yellow Ledbetter;” and some great undiscovered songs like “Hitchhiker” and “All Night.” Hardcore fans probably have a lot of the songs here, but it’s nice to have it in one two-disc set with song-by-song liner notes by the band members. Pearl Jam’s importance and influence on rock ‘n’ roll has yet to be truly measured, and as the band begins a new era among the ranks of the indie label world, who knows what great music they’ll create in years to come?                  
Elvis Costello's Get Happy
Inducted into the Hall of Fame last year along with his backing band the Attractions, singer/songwriter Elvis Costello may well receive a second induction in the future as a solo artist. Rhino Records has done an excellent job reissuing Costello’s entire recorded oeuvre as low-priced, double-disc sets overflowing with bonus material and extensive liner notes by the artist. It’s been a veritable bonanza for Costello fanatics, no single album so much as the recently reissued Get Happy!! No small creative achievement when it was originally released as a 20-track vinyl album in 1980, Costello’s overlooked fourth album recasts the angry young punk as a blue-eyed soul crooner.

Get Happy!! ventures into Motown-styled pop, Stax-flavored R&B and classic Northern soul all delivered with punkish intensity by the world’s best rock band. It’s a magnificent collection, with highlights like “New Amsterdam,” “High Fidelity,” and “Riot Act” standing tall among a strong collection of songs. The “bonus disc” offers an astonishing thirty more tracks, highlighting both Costello’s prolific late ‘70s songwriting and the Attractions’ unflagging devotion to the material. No mere rehashing of unnecessary crap, the second disc provides valuable insight into Costello’s work with wonderful alternative takes, live tracks and early versions of songs that would appear on later albums. If you stopped listening to Elvis Costello with 1979’s Armed Forces, you owe it to yourself to discover Get Happy!!

Costello’s 1981 album Trust (Rhino) proved to be somewhat of a departure for the artist. The album benefited from the immense workload taken on by Costello and the Attractions during the previous four years: four full-length albums, numerous tours and over 100 recorded songs shaped the composer and his mates into tight musical machine. As such, they tackle various styles and musical experiments with confidence and gusto. The beginning, perhaps, of Costello’s turn towards more “serious,” adult-styled music, Trust holds several gems, from the raucous “From A Whisper To A Scream” to the manic pop of “White Knuckles” to the charming “Pretty Words.” The bonus disc includes 17 songs and, while none are as revelatory as the material included with Get Happy!!, there are some nice moments, such as “Black Sails In the Sunset” and “Sad About Girls.” Considered by Costello connoisseurs as the artist’s last great album with the Attractions, Trust is well worth checking out. (View From The Hill, 2003) 

Friday, March 8, 2024

Archive Review: Metallica's S & M (2000)

Metallica's S & M
Working with a symphony orchestra is a lengthy, time-honored tradition in rock ‘n’ roll. Procul Harum did it, as did the Moody Blues, among others, while extraordinary guitarist, music satirist, and rock icon Frank Zappa used to write his own symphonies and hire the orchestra to play them. So it should have come as no surprise, really, when Metallica decided to collaborate with the San Francisco Symphony for a couple nights of heavy metal sturm und drang. The result, captured by the two-CD set S & M, is quite stunning. Although the recording has stirred up mixed feelings among hard-line, old-time head-bashers, the twenty-one songs presented here are a wonderful pairing of Metallica’s brand of grandiose hard rock and the dignity and electricity of a classical symphonic setting. Classical composers like Beethoven, Mozart and Wagner were the rock stars of their day, and any music lover recognizes the majesty and power of their works. Metallica’s James Hetfield has always been one of the more larger-then-life, Wagnerian songwriters in rock, so the virtual “greatest hits” line-up on S & M showcases the band’s talents in a different light.

Metallica sacrifice none of the iron and steel sound of their material here. In fact, Hetfield’s voice sounds even more powerful and dominant, soaring to new heights for these performances, while the rest of the band enthusiastically kicks ass as well. The San Francisco Symphony gets to show its considerable chops on a very different style of music, both entities playing well off each other, infusing songs like “Enter Sandman,” “Until It Sleeps,” “Master of Puppets” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls” with new life and energy. Ever the fan favorites, Metallica include a couple of cool new tunes in “Human” and “No Leaf Clover” among the better-known material. If you’re a music lover unfamiliar with Metallica, you should check out S & M and if you’re a long-time fan of the band who have written them off as ‘has-beens’ you should listen to S & M again. If the potent mix of Hetfield’s vocals, Kirk Hammet’s raging guitar and the San Francisco Symphony’s swirling strings and loud percussion on “Wherever I May Roam” doesn’t send a surge down your spine, then you’re either dead or too fucking stupid to appreciate art when you hear it. (Elektra Records)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™ zine, 2000

The View On Pop Culture: Jet, The Juliana Theory, Ted Leo (2003)

Jet's Get Born

If you’ve read this column, or any other music-oriented scribbling during the past year, then you are probably aware that a full-fledged “garage-rock” revival is underway. What all the scribes and rock crits are actually trying to say is that after a decade of grunge, alt-rock, hip-hop, and nu-metal (all of which have their charms), there is a new wave of honest-to-Chuck Berry, guitar-driven rock ‘n’ roll edging its way onto the airwaves. Three chords, no waiting, and good times are right around the corner (if you live in Detroit or NYC, maybe). Led by bands like the Strokes, the White Stripes, and the Vines, the new “garage-rock” revival is nothing more than the Seeds and the Barbarians dressed in modern garb for 21st century sensibilities.

Which is not to say that there isn’t some great music being made behind the commercially-driven trend. The major labels, may Elvis smile down upon ‘em, can’t help but root up a truffle every now and then in their blind attempts to discover the “next big thing.” Around these parts, the biggest thing to hit the box this month is from Australia’s Jet. The band’s debut, Get Born (Elektra Records) is the most bone-rattling, toe-tapping collection of rock tunes to come down the pike since Julian Casablancas of the Strokes discovered a hair style that he liked. As measured by the Reverend’s trusty riffometer, Get Born averages an impressive forty-thrills per minute.

Get Born rips open its own shrink-wrap with the pavement-pounding “Last Chance,” kicking off with a monster drumbeat, slash-n-burn guitar riffs, and young, loud and snotty vocals reminiscent of the Yardbirds in the band’s prime. “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” is the best White Stripes knock-off that you’ll hear this year, a full-blown blues-rock rave-up that roars like a rabid freight train ready to twist off the tracks. The rest of Get Born is equally audacious, songs like the fuzzbox romp “Get What You Need” and the bouncy “Rollover D.J.” mixing sloppy, Nuggets-inspired throwback rock with vintage ‘70s vibe (think Mott, as in the Hoople) and chart-happy ‘90s-styled Britpop (i.e. Oasis). Unlike a lot of garage-rock poseurs hopping on today’s bandwagon, Jet sound like they were weaned on old 45s, delivering the real goods with a smile and a sincerity largely missing from their kissing cousins in America.

Somewhere in the shadowy Netherlands between punk rock and hardcore lies the audience-friendly musical sub-sub-genre dubbed “emo” by my fellow rock crits. Featuring personal, almost confessional lyrics that are actually sung, rather than shouted behind the glorious din of instrumentation, the style has spawned its own heroes in bands like the Promise Ring and Jimmy Eat World. Emo is beginning to creep into the mainstream, and the Juliana Theory will be at the forefront of the movement when the masses embrace the music as their own. The Pittsburgh band recently jumped from the indie ranks into a major label deal, releasing the impressive album Love (Epic Records) in late 2002.

Live 10.13.2001 (Tooth & Nail) is the last gasp for the band on its former label, and not a bad document of the Juliana Theory’s indie rock roots. Recorded live in the band’s hometown just weeks before signing with Epic, Live 10.13.2001 draws its material from the Juliana Theory’s first two albums. The performance reveals a band in transition, discovering its power and evolving beyond the cultish emo audience and into a radio-friendly, ready-for-primetime rock ‘n’ roll band. Songs like “Music Box Superhero” and “Into the Dark” showcase soaring vocals matched by rattlesnake guitars and earth-shaking rhythms, intelligent, emotionally accessible lyrics reeling in young listeners like a trout gobbling an worm. With decent songs and a sound that connects to the audience, Live 10.12.2001 is a welcome addition to the Juliana Theory canon.

Ted Leo's Balgeary, Balgury Is Dead
In the perfect world that critics and the crazed like myself are always referring to, Ted Leo would be a fat and sassy rock ‘n’ roll superstar and Justin Timberlake would be a mere footnote in the annals of popular music. Leo has been around for over a decade, fronting the influential tho’ little-known band Chisel and working the solo angle with his mates the Pharmacists. Leo released the excellent Hearts of Oak (Lookout Records) earlier this year, the album a shoo-in for many rock crit’s end-of-the-year “best of” lists. The lengthy nine-song EP Tell Balgeary, Balgury Is Dead (Lookout Records) is a nice follow-up, a tasty collection of new songs, covers, and a couple of overlooked tunes from Hearts of Oak filling out a highly recommended disc.                
Leo so effortlessly mixes punk and folk-rock with shades of British mod and Stax-styled soul that one wonders why the world hasn’t recognized his genius. Influences here include Billy Bragg and Elvis Costello, the Kinks and the Jam, but with a world of music to draw from, Leo isn’t one to be limited to a single style. His voice is a passionate, high lonesome wail that reminds me of the substance, if not exactly the style, of Roy Orbison’s wonderful vocals, Leo capable of great verbal gymnastics. The verbose, poetic lyrics of songs like “The High Party” and “The Sword In the Stone” and the title track showcase a sardonic intelligence and clever wordplay, evincing a certain world-weariness, syllables rolling off Leo’s tongue like rainwater from a tin roof.

The choice of cover songs is spot-on, Ewan McColl’s charming “Dirty Old Town” reverently delivered as a fast-paced raver while Leo easily mimics Neil Finn with a spry reading of Split Enz’ “Six Months In A Leaky Boat.” Leo’s original “Loyal To My Sorrowful Country” is a tour de force, the patriotic artist turning his back on a country that has turned away from its people, Leo’s energetic six-string work channeling every musical dissident from Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan and Billy Bragg. Why waste your hard-earned money on commercially approved dreck like Sheryl Crow or Clay Aiken when an artist as thought provoking, intelligent and entertaining as Ted Leo waits on the fringes of pop culture? (View From The Hill, 2003)

Friday, March 1, 2024

Archive Review: Joseph Arthur's Come To Where I’m From (2000)

Joseph Arthur's Come To Where I’m From
Joseph Arthur is the latest in a long line of acoustic-based folk-rock troubadours that probably began with Tim Buckley and will carry on in an eternal, unending cycle of songs appealing to teenage girls needing a sensitive male artist to swoon over. Not that I have anything against such artists – they’re certainly preferable to the pre-fab and coldly-calculated pop dreck of boy bands like N’Sync. Truth be told, there was something morbidly satisfying about Buckley’s suicidal death-wish poetry and anti-celebrity introversion that even brought down as stalwart a rocker as Kurt Cobain (not to mention probably cursed his son Jeff at birth).

With the exception of a couple of songs, however, Arthur only displays two speeds on Come To Where I’m From – morose and moroser. Those exceptions can be pretty crunchy, like the Nirvana-styled “Exhausted” or the rambling “Creation of A Stain.” More often than not, however, Arthur merely provides us with a teasing false start, as with the wickedly distorted guitar that opens “History” or the discordant percussion that frames “Eyes On My Back.” Mostly Arthur merely drones on above a lush musical soundtrack produced with his usual deft hand by T-Bone Burnett. If you’re into the sensitive, troubled troubadour kind of thing, you’ll find that Arthur does it as well as anybody on Come To Where I’m From.

Personally, I’ll take my pain straight, no chaser, with blues artists like Robert Johnson or Son House, or just bludgeon myself into an uncaring, blissful state with a glorious din from the likes of Motörhead. Either way, I’ll wake up in the morning with only a fraction of the self-loathing and lack of respect felt by Arthur and his ilk. Extra bonus: the cover art and inside graphics for Come To Where I’m From are from paintings by Arthur, a sure sign of multi-artistic compulsion. (Real World/Virgin Records)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™ zine, 2000

The View On Pop Culture: Corb Lund Band, Steve Wynn & The Miracle 3, Gordon Lightfoot Tribute (2003)

Corb Lund Band's Five Dollar Bill

There are a lot of imitation cowboys shuffling down the streets of Nashville’s “Music Row” these days, with snakeskin boots, tight jeans and hats blocked just right. It’s a safe bet that none of them have even a small portion of the soul, guts and, most importantly, the understanding of country & western musical tradition that Canada’s Corb Lund shows with Five Dollar Bill (Stony Plain Records). The third release from the Corb Lund Band, which includes moonlighting members of the Smalls and Nickelback, this one came out last year but as it just now crossed your columnist’s desk and demanded my attention, we’re going to let it swing…
The opening title cut of Five Dollar Bill rocks harder than the Broken Spoke Bar on Saturday night, noted pedal steel maestro Dan Dugmore adding his twangy flourishes to this spry tail of (dis)honor among thieves and whiskey running between Canada and the United States. The rest of the album offers an inspired blend of countrified rock, blues, and swinging honky-tonk with lyrics that are smarter and more entertaining that anything the scribes in the Music City are scribbling these days. “Apocalyptic Modified Blues” mixes Biblical and mythological imagery with a talking blues undercurrent in creating a story of woe and despair. “Time To Switch To Whiskey” offers a sure cure for what ails you while “Roughest Neck Around” is a larger-than-life tale about a modern-day John Henry. As we say down here in the lower 48, Five Dollar Bill offers up real poop-punting cheap thrills, Corb and his Canadian cohorts serving up country music more authentic than anything you’ll find coming out of Nashville.

Steve Wynn's Static Transmission
Steve Wynn
is one of those greatly underrated artists that critics love, a songwriter and performer of unusual depth and atypical perspective. As founder of ‘80s cult band Dream Syndicate, Wynn spearheaded LA’s “Paisley Underground” movement with feedback-soaked, guitar-driven rock ‘n’ roll that was easily a decade ahead of its time. Wynn’s lengthy solo career has had its ups and downs since his first album in 1990, tho’ it’s been mostly up as of late. Static Transmissions (DBK Works), credited to Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3, represents another solid effort of what could be called, for lack of a better term, “psychedelic folk music.”
The tunes on Static Transmissions feature Wynn’s imaginative songwriting and wan vocals, blending folk sensibilities with ‘60s rock influences and ‘80s punk attitude. “Candy Machine” is a fuzz-drenched story-song with beautifully chiming guitars and muddy sound complimented by a melodic hook; the song belongs on modern rock radio, where it would force many bland rock wannabes back to their day jobs. A percussive guitar riff transforms into a slinky, psychedelic wall of sound on “Amphetamine,” a rocking road song with explosive six-string work and unrelenting energy. The hyperbolic instrumentation that introduces “One Less Shining Star” leads into a shimmering dirge of sound and obscured vocals while “Hollywood” cuts like Bob Dylan, or maybe Dan Bern, providing a gutsy look at California’s famed city of dreams. Truth be told, there’s not a bad song to be heard on Static Transmission, Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3 delivering one of the year’s best, if sadly obscure, rock albums.

During a recent visit to the Reverend’s hometown, my old buddy John W. was extolling the virtues of legendary Canadian singer/songwriter Gordon Lightfoot. Anybody who listened to the radio at all during the ‘70s and ‘80s would have had to be deaf not to recognize Lightfoot’s trademark baritone and literate songwriting. Beyond the hits – larger than life tunes like “Sundown” and “If You Could Read My Mind” – I have to admit that I didn’t know much about one of Canada’s favorite sons. After our conversation, what should cross my desk but a copy of Beautiful: A Tribute To Gordon Lightfoot (Northern Blues Music). Usually tribute albums are a spotty proposition, and it seems that Northern Blues has been releasing more compilation discs than real albums as of late, but after a few spins of Beautiful, I have to admit that they got this one right.

Beautiful does a wonderful job of honoring Lightfoot’s considerable songbook. Featuring mostly (heck, maybe exclusively – what do I know?) Canadian artists, Beautiful offers up talents like Bruce Cockburn, Jesse Winchester, Maria Muldaur, and the Cowboy Junkies. As is usual with affairs of this type, some performances work better than others do, and it’s not any different here. Jesse Winchester turns in a fiery reading of “Sundown,” sounding like dusk on the Bayou, while Cockburn’s somber take on “Ribbon of Darkness” stands in stark counterpoint to Marty Robbins’ 1965 hit with the song. James Keelaghan frames Lightfoot’s classic “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” perfectly, evoking images of the wild lands tamed by the iron rail while the Tragically Hip bring appropriate power and passion to the social commentary of “Black Day In July.”

For this writer’s money, tho’, it is Maria Muldaur’s haunting reading of “That Same Old Obsession” that defines Beautiful, the song showcasing both Muldaur’s immense talents as a vocalist and Lightfoot’s ability as a timeless songwriter. Terry Tufts, Blue Rodeo and Ron Sexsmith all deliver solid performances of lesser-known Lightfoot gems while Aengus Finnan’s original song “Lightfoot” is an impressive tribute to the artist and a fitting way to close the album. Beautiful is a fine collection of songs and an inspired tribute to the musical treasure that is Gordon Lightfoot and well worth finding a copy! (View From The Hill, 2003)