Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Echo (Columbia)
Richard Thompson, Mock Tudor (Capitol)
Chumbawumba, WYSIWYG (Republic)
Enter the Traveling Wilburys: George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison--legends all--and Tom Petty. [Uh, Kev, what happened to original Wilbury Jeff Lynne--hardly a legend in the USA, but the man who probably bore the greatest responsibility for the overall recorded sound of the group, as you seem to acknowledge below?-- KWN]
Tom Petty?. Well, yeah, he had a great band, cut some great albums, but had, er, burst on the scene in 1976, a relative newbie. Petty and the original Heartbreakers (Stan Lynch on drums, Benmont Tench on keyboards, Mike Campbell on guitar, and Ron Blair on bass) had certainly paid homage to the masters: adopting the Byrds as patron saints, even recording with Roger McGuinn, producing Del Shannon's last album, touring with Dylan. Still, for all of his and their popularity, one was hard pressed to claim that Petty was on the same plane as the rest of the Wilburys. And perhaps significantly, Petty and the Heartbreakers' own output faltered. After the gutty originality of Damn the Torpedoes and Hard Promises, Southern Accents, Let Me Up (I've Had Enough), and Into the Great Wide Open suffered from a self-conscious artiness. They were able and competent, but seldom shook bootie.
Petty responded with his first solo disc, Full Moon Fever, on which all the Heartbreakers performed but was produced by Wilbury Jeff Lynne and was redolent of the Wilbury's sound. Wildflowers, which again featured the Heartbreakers, was similarly well-received, but one wondered: whatever happened to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers? One need wonder no more. Echo, well, echoes back to Torpedoes and Promises with caustic, Stones-like riffs, Petty's sardonic, Southern take on life, and the rebirth of the Heartbreakers as a band.
Echo opens with "Room At the Top": "I've got a room at the top of the world tonight/And I ain't comin' down," defining the disc's pugnacious, defiant, indeed triumphant, tone. Songs like "Swingin'," "Billy the Kid," and "Won't Last Long" find Petty resisting unseen forces that would leave him down and out--literally, like for a ten count. Another vein portrays Petty's women poised on the brink of liberation ("Counting on You") or on emotional parole ("Free Girl Now"), the latter with numerous lyric references to the Stones, "No longer are you under his thumb ... no longer will you have to crawl." And on "Lonesome Sundown" Petty dons his best Dylan voice to bid a tender, perhaps temporary, farewell to a young girl: "Brings me dreams in a box she made for me," a poignant turn on the liberation theme.
Amid the turmoil of a shared life ("Echo"), Petty still finds a place for the upbeat, "Stand Accused of Love," and finally stakes out his own territory ("This One's for Me"), not so much a refuge as an affirmation. Echo is charged with the real stuff, a beefy disc of potent rock and roll that takes on life's issues with rage and sympathy. The Heartbreakers have seldom sounded more confident, staking out their own territory as one of rock's premier bands, not quite yet ready for consignment to classic rock FM.
We've chronicled Richard Thompson's output over the years. What distinguishes Mock Tudor is its accessibility. Oh, Thompson hasn't let up his wanton attacks on the English middle and upper classes. In fact, Mock Tudor ups the ante with gleeful perversity. However, this time around Thompson has produced a rock and roll album as dependent on traditional forms as his trenchant wit. Tudor is divided into three books, the first of which, "Metroland," opens with "Cooksferry Queen," a gospel-tinged hymn to a hippie drug dealer to the influential who doubles conveniently as the protagonist's fantasy lover. "Sibella" finds the protagonist enraptured by a proper, novel-reading and spiritually unfaithful lover who remains just out of his grasp. The Bathsheba of "Bathsheba Smiles" is an urban oracle, running a rejuvenation parlor for the spiritually bereft: "Bathsheba smiles ... and veins turn to ice/ ... She works the room/Air-kisses every victim/She spreads her joy around ... She shares her love/And sharing love is sharing wealth/Dig in your pockets please." The last actors in this disaffected quintet inhabit "Two-Faced Love" and "Hard On Me," both inflicting unimaginable pain on Thompson's persona.
Tudor's second chapter, "Heroes in the Suburbs," opens with a reggae number, "Crawl Back," in which the singer squirms with pathetic angst after having been put in his place/ class in the uniquely understated manner that only the British can manage. "Uninhabited Man" croons Goldilocks' refrain, "Who's been sitting in my chair/Who's been sleeping in my bed?" "Dry My Tears and Move On" and "Walking the Long Miles Home" echo "Metroland" as Thompson's feckless, lonely soul, the forever loser at love, can only sigh in resignation. In the third chapter, "Street Cries and Stage Whispers," London glistens while Thompson peels back its cultural veneer, exposing the devastating effect of its false promises--or that of any urban metropolis--on the unsuspecting. And, as usual, his victims' dashed wishes are poised on the lips of betrayal. Tudor concludes with a heartless portrait, "Hope You Like the New Me," in which he declaims, "To steal is to flatter," then admitting "I stole your jokes--just the good ones ... /I stole your walk--the one with purpose ... /I stole your wife--hope you don't mind."
Mock Tudor, like its predecessors You? Me? Us? and Mirror Blue, is another scathing indictment wrapped in free-flowing cultural pathology. For many, it will be merely another roundhouse right to the chops, Thompson's unrelenting penchant for dwelling on man's incredible capacity for pain. Still, without the point of view, Mock Tudor wouldn't be Thompson. And while Tudor is darker and less witty than recent output, its musical attributes are considerable. His guitar work, less evident on You? Me? Us? and Mirror Blue, is in full flower. One can argue that not since Link Ray has anyone made the guitar laugh, jeer, curse, and cry--at lease not with the consistency that Thompson displays on this disc. Each solo bites, growls, or titters with the nervous edge that is his trademark.
Those of you who switched off the CD player after the title cut of Chumbawumba's last disc, Tubthumper, missed out on one of the year's real treats. This Leeds-based anarchist collective somehow managed to agree to at least one set of rules and cut a rock album of Brobdingnagian proportions. One would expect anarchists to fall out squabbling among themselves, unable to agree on what they should do next. Either Chumbawumba got through that one, or once again came to rare agreement because WYSIWYG, if anything, is equal to Tubthumper for its breathless pace, panoramic vista, and sense of history. However, the difference between Chumbawumba's historical sense and, say, Richard Thompson's or Tom Petty's is their reference point, which in this case seems to be the commercial montage that is today's media, notably the Internet. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
First, WYSIWYG--"what you see is what you get," either from Lotus 1-2-3's archaic graphic overlay utility or a wry commentary, but probably, like everything else on this disc, both--is a marvelous pop record, great melodies, fine vocals, and superb arrangements. After that, all bets are off. Lyrically and thematically, if indeed one dare posit that there is an actual theme, WYSIWYG wanders helter-skelter across cultural and musical landscapes, freely associating odd snippets of media dross, tract broadsides at the moneyed classes, and forms culled from pop's furrowed past.
"Shake Baby Shake" opens with the chorus from "Great Balls o' Fire," but instead of taking a bull by the horns, Barbie, masquerading as Barbi Benton, shakes off Hugh Hefner, who in turn shakes off Lisa Marie Presley and Pamela Lee Anderson. The song seems a random shuffle of images packaged, like a gel cap, in an easy-to-swallow pop confection. But a tag line to the lyric sheet complains, "What ever happened to the riot grrls?" Apparently the song is a lament disguised as a slam on one segment of pop culture. "Pass It Along," the phrase a time-honored coda to gossip mongering, puns on "word of mouse ... because a virtual office in a virtual home means you never have to drive through the wrong part of town ..." The song builds to a chorus from The Specials' "Our House," another semi-elegant pun which asks "Where do you want to go today?/Somewhere you could never take me." "Hey Hey We're the Junkies" perverts the Prefab Four's theme song while taking straight aim at a culture hooked on the tube.
"The Health and Happiness Show" takes its title from Hank Williams' 1949 radio show: "It's a no-no I have to heave-ho/I've got no stomach for a dumbed-down tomato/Gene genie rogue soya beanie/Get thee behind me patent margarinie." Even the clever Bowie reference doesn't save the lyric from too much obscurity. And just in case you don't get the point, Chumbawumba has thoughtfully provided extended, generally blunt commentary for this and all the songs on the lyric sheet. While not quite so arrogant as Eliot's footnotes to "The Wasteland," they'll do. The balance of the disc continues in much the same vein, measured shards of pop culture and pop music furiously pureed in an Osterizer. Some of the moments are hilarious ("I had a fling with Doris Day/I almost got her in a family way" sung by a lesbian in "I'm Coming Out") and some merely tedious (Charleton Heston as "Moses with a Gun"), but all are breezily entertaining if not clever. For instance, on "I'm Not Sorry, I'm Having Fun" a Joni Mitchell line is juxtaposed with last year's bonfire free-for-all: "By the time I got to Woodstock/It was going up in flames ..."
Thematically, WYSIWYG is preoccupied with the numbing effect of too much media, too much television, and the tendency of mass media to define the least common denominator. In short, WYSIWYG is the kind of panoramic rant, statement indeed, one would expect from those still exploring life's possibilities while having firmly rejected the path well taken. It is a political statement. Chumbawumba is preoccupied with the far shore of the pond. Besides Hefner, Heston, and Doris Day, they draw a deadly bead on Calvin Klein, McDonald's, Celebration, Florida, and so on. But cultural icons, especially those once-removed by an ocean's span, are easy targets, and one hopes that as this incredibly talented octet matures, its focus will shift from word play to more complex issues. Leveling a cross-bow at Her is one thing; addressing, for instance, third world hunger is quite another. For all of this, the one song they perform without irony is a lovely a cappella version of the Bee Gees' "New York Mining Disaster 1941." Then again, British anarchists covering transplanted Ozzies' story of an American accident ... oh, never mind.
David Grisman, Jerry Garcia, and Tony Rice, The Pizza Tapes (Acoustic Disc)
Rice, Rice, Hillman, and Pedersen (Rounder)
Transatlantic Sessions (Ceili Music)
Grisman and Garcia traded licks until the day Garcia died. Certainly, Grisman's bottomless vault of unreleased material is fast becoming an ongoing testament to their enduring musical partnership. After co-founding the original David Grisman Quartet, Grisman and Rice shared the sublime Tone Poems, even though it was oddly and perhaps unfairly weighted toward Grisman. Then again, it's his label, and he'll do what he wants to. The three of them together, however, is an event, one of those rare confluences whose apocrypha preceded its actual release. Seems that the three sat down in February 1993 for a couple of nights of improvisation and, one would glean from the liner notes, mutual admiration. Some time later Garcia's pizza delivery boy ripped a cassette lying around on the kitchen table. It wasn't until after bootlegs started showing up at Grisman and Grateful Dead shows, that anyone realized that the purloined tape was from the fateful jam sessions. Hence, The Pizza Tapes.
The songs are mostly traditional, like jazz standards--bluegrass's profane kin--, the kind veteran players don't need to rehearse to explore tempi, grooves, and improvisational experiments: "Man of Constant Sorrow," "Little Sadie," and "House of the Rising Son" to mention a few. The playing is excellent, but less than inspired. For all of the self-conscious commentary ("this shoulda happened a long time ago ..."), there are few transcendent moments that vault the sessions into the stuff of which legends are made. And too many of the solos, especially Garcia's, lapse into inchoate wishes. Nonetheless, on songs like "Shady Grove" and "So What," the groove is deep and wide and the playing willful, muscular.
One feature of any unedited control room tape is the inevitable banter, noodling, false starts, and raunchy jokes. Grisman has kept many of these apparently to retain the session's air of informality. But with the exception of the extended intro ("Shall we noodle at the beginning?.") to "Summertime," they're mostly uninformative and, I think, could have been left on the cutting room floor without too much hand-wringing. As with Grisman and Garcia's Shady Grove, Garcia's vocal chords are shredded, a life's abuse exacting a terrible revenge. And maybe because of this, his rendition of "Amazing Grace" haunts like muted footfalls in a dark cathedral. The Pizza Tapes is valuable for its historical significance--it is an archivist's treasure. However, one would have anticipated more genuinely captivating musical moments from this stellar trio.
I saw Chris Hillman, Herb Pedersen and the Rice brothers, Larry and Tony, perform as Woodworks--from their first CD, Out of the Woodwork--a couple of months ago at The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia. Accompanied by Fred Travers (Seldom Scene) on dobro, and the Simpkins brothers, Ronnie and Rickie on bass and fiddle respectively, this genuine super group put on an amazing show, remarkable for the fact that they hadn't any of the endings down and, despite two CDs, it was only their fourth concert as a group. For all of the aggregation's legendary credentials, the inadvertent star was Rickie Simpkins, who stole the show with impish grins, devilishly clever solos, and the relaxation that comes from not having to live up to a star billing.
Rice, Rice, Hillman & Pedersen, however, is clearly relaxed, a lovingly crafted set of songs that are deceptive in their ease, yet tackle complex issues within the stricture of bluegrass's compulsion to tell a story. The CD opens with Hillman's and long-time collaborator Steve Hill's "Doesn't Mean That Much Anymore," a gentle tribute to Hillman's enduring marriage and the awe with which an uninterrupted union can catch one unawares. Hillman and Hill contribute the bulk of the songs, including "Moment of Glory," "I Will," and `The Walkin' Blues." Hillman focuses on a panoramic view of his extraordinary life and career, continuing the summing up that so preoccupied Like A Hurricane. Larry Rice contributes two originals, "Side Effects of Love" and "The Year of El Nino," a flowing, jazz-tinged tribute to the forces of nature over which we have absolutely no control. "El Nino," indeed most of the disc, showcases Tony Rice's astonishing facility with almost any genre. His guitar lines are unfailingly appropriate, neither wasting nor tossing in the superfluous note.
Pederson, besides arranging the groups extraordinary vocals, contributes poignant lead vocals on Adam Mitchell's "Out Among the Stars" and Earl Montgomery's "One of These Days." And Larry Rice leads on the group's acknowledgment of rock forebears, the Grateful Dead's "Friend of the Devil" and Delaney Bramlett's "Never Ending Song of Love."
That night at The Birchmere, most of the folks I talked to had come to see Tony Rice, and the back bar fans beset Hillman like one of El Nino's tsunamis. But the concert and this disc demonstrate that Rice, Rice, Hillman and Pedersen are more than the sum of their parts. Some "super group" sessions, like Grisman, Garcia, and Rice, fall fiat; this one soars.
The Transatlantic Sessions is the soundtrack to a BBC Scotland television specie that aired last year. After a highly successful series of Scots, Irish, and various European roots music programs, film producer Douglas Eadie and director Mike Alexander brought a number of American acoustic musicians to explore the Irish, Scots, and even French roots of American folk music. American musicians Jerry Douglas, Ricky Skaggs, Michael Doucet, Rosanne Cash, Russ Barenberg, among many, joined forces with Scots and Irish musicians Aly Bain, Tommy Hayes, Breda Smyth, Sharon Shannon and others in a genial mix of traditional and original songs.
From the outset each combo--no one musician dominates and no two combos are alike--combines American, Irish, and Scots players. The set opens with Aly Bain's arrangement of an historical American song, "Waiting for the Federals" with Bain and Doucet on fiddle, Douglas on dobro, Donald Shaw on accordion, Barenberg on guitar, Danny Thompson on bass, and Hayes on the Irish hand drum. Skaggs returns the favor with a lovely rendition of Mac McAnally's "A Simple Life" with Barenberg switching to mandolin, Skaggs on vocals and guitar, and Iain MacDonald on pipes. The Irish traditional "Bachelor's Walk" gets a workout from Breda Smyth's tin whistle, Hayes, Douglas, and Barenberg. Nanci Griffith contributes "Always Will" and "Trouble in the Fields"--with an enchanting Maura O'Connell vocal, Doucet "La Danse de la Vie," Barenberg, "Magic Foot," Rosanne Cash, "September When it Comes," and Boo Hewerdine, "Hummingbird."
What's remarkable, from Radney Foster's plaintive "Nobody Wins" to Gilles Alasdair's arrangement of "Puirt A Buel," is the interchangability of the musicians. Each style blends seamlessly with the others without false starts or misplaced emphases. Sharon Shannon punches out Doucet's "La Danse" with a Cajun's intensity as much as Donald Shaw's accordion races aside Gaelic tongue twisters in "Sanseptique Set." Transatlantic Sessions is another super-group agglomeration, one of international proportions, that produced some sublime music making, the result of obvious simpatico among the musicians. The musicians switch in and out so frequently that no combo establishes an identity like Rice, Rice, Hillman, & Pedersen, but the parts are exquisite, and the sum of the parts extraordinary.
The List. Like KWN, TL, SGB, and perhaps you, I'm fond of used CD emporia, where one can occasionally rummage up a forgotten gem or something more au courant that someone else has given up on. A couple of weeks ago my monthly visit to High Tech Services in Falls Church, Virginia yielded some interesting discoveries.
Rolling Stones, Between the Buttons (Abko). This album, tucked in between Aftermath and the quirky Flowers, bore witness to the World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band's struggle between the blues and flower power. The blues won out, but not after a long and painful struggle. Buttons still yielded its share of hits: "Let's Spend the Night Together," "Connection," "Ruby Tuesday," "She Smiled Sweetly," "Complicated," and "Something Happened to Me Yesterday."
Albert King, Wednesday Night in San Francisco (Stax). Students and aficionados of blues guitar consider Albert the Third King, after B.B. and Freddie. Listen closely and you'll hear where Clapton learned an awful lot of his chops. Cream covered King's legendary "Born Under a Bad Sign" in belated homage on Wheels of Fire.
Albert King, Thursday Night in San Francisco (Stax). King's dates, June 26 and 27, 1968, unwittingly presided over the imminent demise of the original Fillmore Auditorium. By the end of the summer, the Fillmore would close. Bill Graham, the Airplane, and the Dead would rechristen the decadent Carousel Ballroom down on Market Street as Fillmore West.
Frank Sinatra, I've Got a Crush on You (Legacy/Columbia). Okay, this is a dressed up disc of vintage, big band Blue Eyes from the late [is greater than] 40s--a bit of sony.com marketing hype. But for all of that, his renditions of the Gershwins' "Embraceable You," Berlin's "How Deep Is the Ocean," Styne's "Time After Time," and others by Kern, Hammerstein, and Mercer are masterful.
Ray Charles, Birth of a Legend, 1949-1952 (Ebony). An unknown 19-year-old Florida transplant's first recordings for Seattle's Down Beat and Swing Time labels. Charles has always been acknowledged as a master of timing, phrasing, and piano. What is remarkable about this collection is the maturity of his voice and the emotional depth of the material.
End Note. To allay the dreary dullness of a couple of days' worth of unavoidable commuting, I took along The Beatles Anthology 1 and 2. Each leads off with Paul, George, and Ringo's production of unfinished song demos from the Lennon Vault, AFree As a Bird" and "Real Love." When they were introduced, both songs took some undeserved swats from the critical elite: "not really Beatles songs," "Lennon would never have permitted it," and so on. After five and four years respectively, and with a little, er, historical distance, you know, they actually sound pretty good. And after a raft of "hads"--had John not been murdered, had Sir Paul not turned into such an awful drudge, had the band patched things up, etc.--one has to laud the lads for their effort. Both are decent, sympathetic treatments of a couple of good songs. And I think John would have approved.
E-mail: WonderLzrd@aol.com. The love you take is equal to the love you make. -- KE
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|Date:||Sep 1, 2000|
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