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This ish we find rock'n'roll alive and breathing, but a different kind of air, shared freely with genres like country, blues, and jazz--one would think they all came from the same roots! Nah, can't be. If we have one highlight this month, it's Bill Frisell's Unspeakable, a remarkable journey through '60s and '70s soul, funk, and jazz, all whipped up in your friendly, neighborhood Osterizer for easy digestion. So dig in ...

Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros, Streetcore (Hellcat)

Released ten months after his death, Streetcore, Strummer's epitaph, is nothing less than a thundering, cymbal-crashing, gong-banging celebration of punk, rock, and reggae sprung from the life core of rock'n'roll. Streetcore is at the same time as accessible as Strummer ever was, on a par with The Clash's epic Sandanista!, chock full of choppy rock steady rhythm, colliding dynamics, raucous noise, and a fervent center anchored by Strummer's manic devotion to the verity of his craft. From the weary beauty of "Redemption Song" to the ironic whimsy of "Silver and Gold" ("Gonna take a trip around the world/Gonna kiss all the pretty girls/Do everything silver and gold/And I gotta hurry up before I grow too old"), Strummer dances gleefully amid the Babel of the street, the calamitous crossroads that is the world's marketplace.

There persists a myth among America's urban planners that if you have the right land use plan, the right zoning, you can carve out commercial and residential enclaves that coexist in serene harmony. The trouble with this is that America is Route 9 through Absecon, New Jersey, an almost accidental melange of storefront accountants, beauty shops, car dealerships, paint stores, biker bars, cut-rate motels, fast food joints, and a Moose lodge. This is a place, like Queens or Bombay, in which Strummer felt most at ease, where planning is forgotten and life burbles out from its seams with chaotic unpredictability, where the pursuit of living dwarfs the pursuit of wealth, where freedom ascends above order.

Streetcore is dedicated to Don Van Vliet, Captain Beefheart, the quintessential visionary and the model for sonic patchwork assemblages, the aural equivalent to Strummer's world view and what informed his own visual acuity. Where else would anthemic voices rise in unison to celebrate the "Ramshackle Day Parade"? There is no more Joe Strummer, and we are poorer.

Bill Frisell, Unspeakable (Nonesuch)

Bill Frisell, the once and future exponent of pan-American music--a library unto himself, again tackles a genre yet unexplored in his oeuvre with a set of compositions based on afro-funk and urban soul, turned on their ears, spun wildly, and fed back through the polyglottal vocabulary of his guitar. While "1968" recalls Wes Montgomery, "White Fang" as much conjures Sonny Sharrock or John McLaughlin's acidic solo work with Miles Davis--all of this hovering over an incessant, densely percussive backbeat and embraced by a either a string trio or horn section. Then "Del Close" blends the two with a Montgomery-ish octaved figure cutting through a speed-driven background, drummer Kenny Wollesen playing fast like Tony Williams's work on Bitches Brew.

Unspeakable switches gears with "Gregory C.," Frisell's lone guitar looped around samples plied by producer Hal Willner, before picking it back up with "Stringbean" and "Alias," two hyperkinetic funk attacks sandwiched around the contemplative "Hymn for Ginsburg." By the time Frisell is done, Unspeakable has spoken very loudly about the urban troika of fusion, funk, and soul, revisiting another building block of our musical heritage. By the time he's done, my guess is that Frisell will have artfully reinvented the entire American musical experience

in his own image-somewhat like how Roy Lichtenstein reinvented 20th-century painting by deconstructing its multiple genres in his own style. So far, Frisell has measured up to a daunting task.

J.J. Cale, To Tulsa and Back (Sanctuary/Blue Note)

J.J. Cale is still best known for writing a bunch of songs which became hits for others: Lynrd Skynrd's "They Call Me the Breeze," Clapton's "After Midnight" and "Cocaine." In fact, Cale's tunes have been covered by an amazingly diverse clientele including Jose Feliciano, Santana, Deep Purple (!), Johnny Rivers, Poco, Herbie Mann, and Maria Muldaur. It's a shame that he's still best regarded as a "cult artist," which roughly translates into "monster talent, zero commercial appeal"--shedding more light on the industry's and its journalists' values than it does on Cale or anyone else similarly tagged. Truth is that Cale's released 16 albums over the last 30 years, about one every other year, a fairly prodigious output for a "cult artist."

Cale was raised in Tulsa, and returns there periodically for "rejuvenation," as with Merle Haggard, an Okie's just gotta go home for a spell. What he finds is what he's been writing, singing, and playing about since the beginning: workingman's blues ("One Step"), the despoliation of the Midwest's natural assets ("Stone River"), out of touch politicians ("The Problem"), and the "Homeless." Musically, Cale beats out the same honky tonk shuffle that's been his staple. And although a Cale-by-Cale composition is instantly recognizable, he still manages to avoid becoming his own cliche. Of course, To Tulsa and Back is liberally salted with Cale's signature guitar work, the kind that inspired Mark Knopfler and the kinder and gentler Eric Clapton of recent vintage. If you haven't any Cale, start with Naturally, his first, and add Really, Troubador, Travelog, and of course To Tulsa and Back. Or try them in any order ... difficult to go wrong.

The Hives, Tyrannosaurus Hives (Interscope)

Your heard it here first: Howlin' Pelle Almqvist is the best rock'n'roll vocalist since Johnny Rotten and Little Richard. Okay, maybe that's stretching it a tad, but The Hives have come roaring back from 2002's, er, howling success, Veni Vidi Vicious, with Tyrannosaurus Hives, which is even funnier, punkier, throatier, faster, and louder than anything you've heard since the demise of The Ramones. It's not like Almqvist and cohorts have "borrowed a page" from the likes of the Sex Pistols, Clash, and Buzzocks; they've ripped whole chapters down to the spine and shredded them with maniacal glee. It's possible to detect in The Hives' unstoppable twin guitar attack additional plays on The Monkees (told you they were a, er, howl--"Two-Timing Touch and Broken Bones"), The Who ("Walk Idiot Walk"), and every speedpunk drummer who ever banged skins.

Tyrannosaurus Hives delivers more of the precious wit that made Veni, Vidi, Vicious so endearing. "Abra Cadaver" accuses "them" of trying "to stick a dead body inside of me," a curious exercise until the tag line: "Wanted to stick an office worker inside of me ..." But the balance are short on metaphor and longer on clever word play "You don't get the picture your [sic] getting framed" ("A Little More for Little You") and puns "whining and dining" ("B Is for Brutus"). Nonetheless, the righteous punk smirk is never far away--although, as we pondered last time, one wonders what there is to rage about in a nurturing cradle-to-grave society, where brain surgery is a buck-twenty-five. I guess it pays with The Hives not to look to very closely to the message below the medium; the medium in this instance is enough.

Keane, Hopes and Fears (Interscope)

The Washington Post distributes a 24-page morning tabloid called The Express free of charge at Washington metropolitan area's subway stations and bus stops. It offers small summaries of the leading stories in that day's Post, some original features on plays, movies, and live music events in the local area, one comic strip, a smattering of Reuters-variety screwball news, and a better than average crossword puzzle. The Express is a cut above USA Today's quasi-jingoistic content and a frank come-on to buy the "real" newspaper, the Post. Its hidden appeal is its phalanx of gifted, young, under-the-radar writers, and one of its regular features is rave review of something the old farts have never heard of. Um, that would include me and Hopes and Fears.

One byproduct of youthful enthusiasm is a penchant for premature gushing, something occasionally observed among Express's dynamic cadre. I'm afraid Hopes and Fears falls into the "Hype! Rave! Oops ..." bracket. The playing is first-rate, and the songs hold together musically, but if you expect Hopes and Fears, like the title suggests, to be swathed in cliched angst, your wish has been granted. "Somewhere Only We Know" starts with "I walked across an empty land/I knew the pathway like the back of my hand/I felt the earth beneath my feet/ Sat by the river and it made me complete"--vying successfully for this month's Juliana Hatfield Memorial Mixed Metaphor Trophy. Other lyrics are simply intelligible: "When you, when you forget your name/When old faces all look the same/Meet me in the morning when you wake up" ("Bend and Break"). It doesn't get any better.

Keane is Tom Chaplin (vocals), Tim Rice-Oxley (piano, bass--in the Ray Manzarek mold), and Richard Hughes (drums), who have evolved from an Oasis/U2/Beatles cover band into the polite confection they are today. Keane is earnest if nothing else, and this trait will garner the band a substantial following. However, for their sophomore effort we'll look forward to emotional maturity and beefier language.

Franz Ferdinand (Domino Recording Co.)

In the immortal vein of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, The Village People, Fabulon, and the Pet Shop Boys, we bring you Franz Ferdinand, a band with guts, licks, and a whole lot of serious music to make. Aside from the megahit "40," the disc careens madly from one style to the next, straight ahead Britpop like the Blur-inflected "Tell Her Tonight" to the disco drenched "Auf Achse" and "Come on Home" to the faintly '60s-ish guitar rock of "Take Me Out" and "The Dark of the Matinee." Franz Ferdinand are bassist Bob Hardy, guitarist Nick McCarthy, drummer Paul Thomson, and singer/guitarist Alex Kapranos. Although they've created quite a buzz in their native Glasgow, mostly for commandeering a warehouse in which their rehearsals functioned as raves, in this case, unlike The Vines and The Strokes, the buzz is well justified. Franz Ferdinand is a fully formed, coherent rock band without the excuses.

Lyrically, Franz Ferdinand indulges in the frankly erotic, ignoring the British/American penchant for sublimating passion and the massive caloric generation of heat: "You can feel my lips undress your eyes ... Words of love and words so leisure/Words are poisoned darts of pleasure ("Darts of Pleasure"). Even their sexuality is ambiguous--or at least to an outside observer: "This is where I'll be/So heavenly/So come dance with me Michael" ("Michael") contrasts with "She only shook her hips ... /She only licked her lips .../ Gonna have to tell her tonight ..." ("Tell Her Tonight"). What tumbles out of this hash of styles and sentiment is compelling rock'n'roll. Good band. Great disc.

Talking Heads, The Name of This Band is Talking Heads (Rhino)

The Name of This Band ... is the first official CD reissue of the Heads' first live album from 1982, covering various live performances and versions of the band from 1977 through 1981. Oddly, what was a revelation in 1982 is now more of an essential archive. These sets leave the indelible image that Talking Heads was a great band but more an extension of David Byrne--despite sharing most of the songwriting credits with bandmates and uber influence, Brian Eno. This notion was italicized, underscored, and bolded with Stop Making Sense, the killer funk concert of all time, where Byrne emerged from his quirky, hiccupping new wave cocoon as a fully fleshed rock star.

The Name of This Band ... starts with the minimalism of the original band (Byrne, Chris Franz, Tina Weymouth, and Jerry Harrison) of Talking Heads 77 and More Songs About Buildings and Food with dead-on live versions of "New Feeling," "Pulled Up," "Psycho Killer," and others. The second disc displays the first of Byrne's expanded Heads with Bernie Worrell, Adrian Belew, Steve Scales, and Busta Jones and vocalists Nona Hendryx and Dolette McDonald. The latter band takes on the polyrhythmic complexities of Fear of Music and Remain in Light, a presage of course of Stop Making Sense, in one measure the tour behind Speaking in Tongues. Dense compositions such as "I Zimbra" and "Once in a Lifetime" get a treatment that wouldn't have been possible with the original quartet. And, like Joe Jackson particularly, Byrne takes the opportunity to rework standards such as "Take Me to the River."

The Name of this Band ... is a fascinating journey through the first half of Talking Heads' recorded output and demonstrates how hard Byrne worked to recreate the studio sound live. The LPs have remained in my "high circulation" rack for 20-odd years, so it's nice to have this collection finally issued on CD. In one "Carousel Corner" long ago, I mentioned that this album had a killer version of "Artists Only/Stay Hungry." That particular version is on the first disc. The version of "Stay Hungry" on the second disc is a bonus track that frankly lacks the monumental punch and drive of the former.

The Call, The Best of ... The Millennium Collection (UMG)

If The Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star" was the first video shown on MTV, then The Call's "The Walls Came Down" had to be the second. Whether or not true, that video, with a grizzled Garth Hudson winking slyly in the rear, launched The Call as both a video and radio staple of the early '80s. UMG's various Millennium Collections have turned out to be convenient ways to stock up on songs from two- and three-hit bands whose full output didn't necessarily make it into one's orbit. In that light The Best of The Call is a blessing. All the hits are there: "Let the Day Begin," "Everywhere I Go," and a marvelous live version of "I Still Believe." The collection allows you to discover a nugget such as "War Weary World" while appreciating founder Michael Been's overt political anthems ("Turn a Blind Eye," "Modern Romans").

Sniff'n'the Tears, Driver's Seat, The Best of Sniff'n'the Tears (Chiswick)

Sandwiched between stadium rock (Frampton, Heart, The Eagles) and the punk fury of The Dead Kennedys, Fugazi, and The Ramones, the late '70s and early '80s found stray bands such as The Greg Kihn Band, Pearl Harbor and the Explosions, and Sniff'n'the Tears maneuvering the airwaves like so many mongooses in a stampeding herd of elephants. The great thing about radio then, before the homogenization of our era, was that a slick hook and a cool arrangement could break a band wide open. For example, where would Tom Petty be today without "Breakdown?" So it was with Paul Roberts's Sniff'n'the Tears (a very unsubtle reference to The Cocaine Decade) and "Driver's Seat." It's more than fair to say that after this little gem the band sank from sight--like concrete overshoes. This collection, however, does the band justice by including the excellent "New Lines on Love" and "Sing" from their debut album, Fickle Heart.

Sniff issued three more albums before disbanding in 1982. While they never succeeded in capturing the public's aural imagination as with "Driver's Seat," their output was solid, workmanlike, and eminently listenable. Even though open knock-offs such as "The Driving Beat" fall short, others such as "Poison Pen Mail" and "Hungry Eyes" acquit well the band's legacy.

The Radio Paradise Section. For the nonce, this is becoming a fairly regular feature ... at least until I get burned enough and cut out the hoary practice of buying a whole CD based on hearing one song and start haunting iTunes. Not there yet.

The Shins, "Saint Simon," Chutes Too Narrow (Sub Pop); Oh, Inverted World (Sub Pop)

Chutes Too Narrow leads off with "Kissing the Lipless," spare handclaps and two acoustic guitars churning tentatively before blasting into high octane rock and back, "You tested your metal of doe's skin and petals while kissing lipless who bleed all the sweetness away." Oy. Okay, lyrically The Shins (James Mercer, Marty Crandall, Neal Langford, and Jesse Sandoval) rely on fey metaphors, oftimes mercilessly mixed, and outright obscurity--witness, "An address to the golden door I was strumming on a stone again pulling teeth from the pimps of gore ..." ("So Says I"). In the end it's a pop world of their own invention, sometimes carefully drawn and other times recklessly splashed about. Of the two discs, Oh, Inverted World is more accessible and better recorded, although that's a bit like saying Sgt. Pepper's is better recorded than Revolver. Both Chutes Too Narrow and Oh, Inverted World are remarkable discs, both worth investigating.

Tom Waits, "Tom Traubert's Blues (Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen)," Small Change (Elektra/Asylum)

It takes a certain maturity, decidedly not the brand found in most pop pundits, to get into much less appreciate the genius that is Tom Waits, and I admit to catching on only as we both dispensed with too-gray beards. Small Change of course has been around for ages, as has "Tom Traubert's Blues." But for the handful of you out there who haven't gotten the word, hear it now: scarf up Tom Waits in whatever platefuls you can manage, but by all means scarf him up. "Tom Traubert's Blues" describes, like most of Waits's efforts, someone who inhabits the seamier side of life, the curbs and gutters of The Tenderloin. What makes this particular song so fascinating is his cooption of the chorus to "Waltzing Matilda," a poignant, desperate counterpoint to the ineffable sadness of life on the bottle or on the streets or both. Waits sings with dyspeptic fragility and bone crunching lyricism--he invites oxymoronic metaphors so disparate is the gulf between his voice and his libretto. He is in the end indispensable.

Jesse Cook, "Fall at Your Feet," Free Fail (Narada)

Okay, I got suckered into this one. Jesse Cook is right out of Ottmar Liebert's flamenco lite. Free Fall is a pleasant disc of easily digested guitar instrumentals in the Liebert/Gypsy Kings vein. The remarkable Neil Finn composition, from Crowded House's Woodface, is sung by Rembrandt Danny Wilde and is the only thing close to a pop song, but what a lovely rendition it is. It's a keeper, but just barely. Oh, I like Jesse Cook as much as Ottmar Liebert, but one disc is enough.

My Morning Jacket, "Golden," It Still Moves (ATO/RCA)

"Golden" is one of those incandescent, trance-inducing tracks that reels you in not so much with melody or dynamics as with atmospherics. The balance of the disc, however, is reminiscent of early San Francisco hippie bands: thin sound, spacey lyrics, overdriven and overwrought guitars, all presided over by a recording engineer who can't keep his paws off the reverb knob. My immediate reaction to It Still Moves was " ... and please somebody step on it before it multiplies."

Spinning Jennies, "Three Minus One," Stratosphere (Jam Records)

This San Francisco trio spent ten years and five albums trying in vain to crack the big time, finally hanging up their spurs this past spring. Shame. Stratosphere is unaffected power pop at its very best: deft melodies, irresistible hooks, robust guitar, driving percussion. Sigh. "Three Minus One" backs off the overdriven Marshall stack, favoring the jangly side of power pop and soaring into the heights one would expect Stratosphere to scale. Get it while it's still around ( and before it becomes, somewhat like The La's, a pop curiosity.

Calexico, "Close Behind," Feast of Wire (Quarterstick Records)

Calexico is a loose collection of musicians orbiting around the Tucson-based Joey Burns and John Convertino, a couple of eclectic guys with an ear for Sergio Leone soundtracks, Afro-Peruvian pop, surf rock, '50's jazz, and homegrown Anglo-Mexican folk music--all played on a variety of equally eclectic instruments. What flows out of this is a mesmerizing, whimsical melange of waltzes ("Sunken Waltz") dramatic interludes ("Black Heart"), ironic introspection ("Not Even Stevie Nicks spaghetti Western driven "Close Behind"). Feast of Wire is one of those rare discs that will engage you from its first note to its last. You won't know exactly what's been going on, but the ride's worth it.

Toots and the Maytalls, "Blame on Me," True Love (V2 Records)

Frederick "Toots" Hibbert and bandmates Jerry Mathias and Raleigh Gordon were there at the beginning, as rock steady and ska evolved into reggae, and their work over the last 30 years, especially seminal albums such as Funky Kingston and In The Dark, is unassailable for its authenticity and influence. Then why cut a disc covering old tunes with an odd assortment of latter-day stars? Most of the guest spots, including Eric Clapton, Trey Anastasio, Bonnie Raitt, Jeff Beck, Keith Richards, Ryan Adams, and others, sound mailed in, and the retakes simply lack the vitality of the originals--although Clapton's wah-wah lead on "Pressure Drop" is probably as hard as he's worked in years. In a way, since The Maytals are also working with latter day reggae acts like No Doubt, The Skatalites, Shaggy, and The Roots, True Love can be considered a torch passing of sorts, but it is weighed down by the "appreciativeness" of it all. There are a couple of saving graces: Bootsy Collins's tongue-in-cheek vocal on "Funky Kingston" and Rachel Yamagata's breathless vocal on "Blame on Me."

Noir Desir, "Le vent nous portera," des Visages des Figures (Barclay)

Noir Desir is a French alternative rock band that specializes in a unique blend of techno, Franco-rap, and punk rock. Since leader Bertrand Cantat has been jailed for the murder of his girl friend, actress Marie Trintignant (yes, daughter of Jean-Louis Trintignant from Un Homme et Une Femme) last year, the band is no more. des Visage des Figures is undistinguished without offending. "Le vent nous portera" is clearly the disc's standout, demonstrating that Noir Desir is as much about musicianship as posturing--and there's plenty of the latter: e.g., "Des Armes," "L'Europe." Noir Desir translates into "black desire," which should be fair warning.

Jude Cole, "Speed of Life," I Don't Know Why I Act This Way (Island)

Ex-Record Cole (he joined the band after the hit "Starry Eyes") can be unfairly characterized as power pop's Phil Collins. Just as Collins took Genesis away from Brian Eno's eco-maze pop and toward a lighter, inoffensive, and certainly less dense repertoire, Cole's post-Records output is laden with lush arrangements, inviting melodic hooks, and not a little here-comes-the-rock-star hype. I Don't Know Why ... certainly lives up to his reputation. Each song is centered around a guitar or drum rift or melodic key. "Speed of Life," frankly, doesn't resonate as it did on the radio. Nonetheless, it is an excellent tune, which leads into a whole disc's worth. Cole is criticized, like Collins, as too slick for his own good, but I Don't Know Why ... belies that notion. This is good stuff, well recorded to boot.

Kim Richey, "This Love," Rise (Lost Highway) Richey's fourth CD finds a songwriter and vocalist of promise fulfilling it. Vaguely country in flavor--she works out of Nashville and even served a stint as a cook at the Blue Bird Cafe--Rise showcases an artist in full flower. Backed by a sympathetic band (Bill Bottrell, Chuck Prophet, Brian McLeod, and Birdie the Bassman), Richey puts a unique spin on life's quirks, especially "love ... timeless as a story I've been told" ("This Love"). Even "we talked it out" parting songs like "Hard to Say Goodbye," one of the great songwriting clich6s ever, ring with authenticity--Richey makes you remember how every parting ever felt. While reckoning with a voice comparable to Shawn Colvin or Clair Marlo, one's tempted to dismiss the clever wordplay of "Cowards in a Brave New World," but in the world order of the 21st century, Richey probably echoes a truer sentiment than most are prepared to admit.

Cut'n'Paste. In No. 100 1 gave a fraternal plug to Paste magazine, an unabashed fanzine, a bit of lackey running dog to music industry suits (but aren't we all?), and all music. Their bi-monthly sampler generally boasts about 20 singles, all from discs that haven't been released by Paste's publication date. The release of advance copies of discs for trade review is a time-honored practice (tho' I seem to have been dropped from the smattering of labels who once sent me freebies: either the reviews didn't glow sufficiently or T$S's, er, leisurely publication schedule ill serves the record companies' intents--probably a bit of both). Paste ratchets up the ante with its sampler. So, ever a creature of habit ("Just put your head over this basket, your Grace ..."), I popped for a number of discs based on the single on a Paste sampler. The format is the same as the Radio Paradise list: artist, "song," and disc. BTW, all the discs reviewed in this column are bought and paid for. Sucker.

Old 97s, "The New Kid," Drag It Up (New West Records)

Would you believe country punk? The critics have cast Old 97s in the alt-country mold, probably because a tranche all their own would seem indulgent. Deal with it. Phil Peeples's speed drums on "Won't Be Home" are enough. Seriously folks, the 97s are straight out of Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, Son Volt, and the early Jayhawks, though founders Rhett Miller and Murry Hammond, ably seconded with Ken Bethea's mournful guitar, seem as comfortable with a shuffle as a cow pie rocker. Oddly, "The New Kid" owes more to German beer hall cadences than Texas twang. No matter. Good disc. Good band.

The Subdudes, "Morning Glory", Miracle Mule (Back Porch)

My mid-life mentor, the late and dearly missed Albert Sullivan, used to greet the first person he encountered each day with the sardonic, "Mornin', Glory." Albert, who periodically haunted the soul clubs in Detroit, Chicago, and St. Louis, would have grinned knowingly at The Subdudes' Philly soul/ gospel composition and marveled, "These guys are white!?" Ah, yes, Virginia, but they're from Nawlins, where those distinctions are ever subtler musically. The 'Dudes' sixth release, Miracle Mule, is another feast of soul, R&B, gospel, all recorded live in the studio, achieving an immediacy and intimacy that's irresistible.

The Polyphonic Spree, "Section 12 (Hold Me Now)," Together We're Heavy (Hollywood Records) Spawn of Tim DeLaughter and the late, barely lamented Tripping Daisy, The Polyphonic Spree is more of a neo-hippie agglomeration like Chumbawumba or Rusted Root with a raft of musicians bound by allegiance to an idea. With Rusted Root, the idea seems to be expressing acoustic world music; with Chumbawumba, class warfare-from the viewpoint of the underclass of course--; and with The Polyphonic Spree, a group hug. Indeed, the relentless uplifting tone will either have you joining the band or running for cover. "Section 12 (Hold Me Now)" lands somewhere between the Mike Curb Congregation and the Flaming Lips, leaning heavily on post-Revolver Beatles psychedelia, with its anthemic chorus and martial trumpet counterpoint. "Section 13 (Diamonds/Mild Devotion to Majesty)" encourages you to "hold on to your sunshine." Kinda hard to argue with.

Drive By Truckers, "The Day John Henry Died," The Dirty South (New West)

DBT's artwork is done by a guy named Wes Freed, whose primitive style is characterized by death's heads for the guys in the band, heavily cleavaged women, and mythic creatures of indeterminate species. However crude the artwork, it seems appropriate for the Truckers' hardscrabble, barb-wired, neo-Skynrd rock'n'roll. This stuff offers no quarter or compromise--you are welcome to drop in on their world, but keep your distance and show proper respect. The lyrics are typically blunt, "And all them politicians, they all lyin' sacks of shit/ They say better days upon us but I'm sucking left hind tit" ("Puttin' People on the Moon')--a sentiment I hear fairly frequently here in suburban Northern Virginia, mostly from guys who worship Bud Lite and NASCAR. This is pure redneck rock, honest, unadorned, and a bit scary with its "us or them" vision.

Rilo Kiley, "It's A Hit," More Adventurous (Brute/Beaute)

Any group that can fit Betty Everett's "shoo-bop-doo-bop, my baby" ("Hello There--It Seems Like a Very Long Time") into a Gen-Y whine gets my vote for Most Original Citation of Rock History This Year. The whine? Oh, something about writer's block, not getting what's due for being an artist much less paid, and what a wasteland the middle class is. Aw, gee, haven't we been here before? Well, apparently not if you believe Rilo Kiley's version of life in South California: broken marriages, broken dreams, broken hearts, broken everything. Then you hit a lyric like, "There's blood in my mouth cause I've been biting my tongue all week/I keep on talking trash but I never say anything ..." ("Portions for Foxes"), and suddenly you understand the whine. And you run ... very fast ... away.

Tift Merritt, "Stray Paper," Tambourine (Lost Highway)

When your debut record boasts Mike Campbell on guitar and Gary Louris and Maria McKee on backing vocals, either your producer has many chits he's called in or you've got something special brewing. Tambourine is muscle-bound rock. Merritt's writing sounds as if she learned at the feet of the likes of Lindsay Buckingham, McKee's Lone Justice, and Tom Petty, and she's got the pipes to back it up. Part of the appeal of this record is the vitality of the production and the extent to which session musicians can be pushed by bona fide stars. Then again, all the stars in the world can't work a miracle with poor material. And George Drakoulias's production (Black Crowes, Jayhawks, McKee, Tom Petty, Dan Penn) doesn't hurt a bit.

Gomez, "Silence," Split the Difference (Virgin)

Split the Difference veers away from the dub atmospherics that typified their last release, In Our Gun (No. 99), bringing in producer Tchad Blake to make an easily flowing rock'n'roll disc. Difference is nonetheless all over the place, touching on rock references as disparate as rockabilly, early Stones, gutbucket blues (a lovely remake of Junior Kimbrough's "Meet Me in the City"), and straight ahead Britpop. Gomez is still a second-rank British band, but one that deserves attention for originality and inventiveness.

Fastball, "Airstream," Keep Your Wig On (Rykodisc)

I don't know why I can't get into this band. The songs are okay. The arrangements are decent. Perhaps it's the vocals. After their huge hit "The Way" from All the Pain Money Can Buy, I expected some skosh of growth from Fastball, expanding their musical vocabulary to build on the nascent songwriting talents of Miles Zuniga and Tony Scalzo. Keep Your Wig On suffers from the same bar band ethic that characterized the production of All the Pain. The songs have muscular ideas (even the clever cooption of Stories' "Brother Louie" in "Lou-ee, Lou-ee"), but the arrangements have a disturbing sameness, as if there's only one way to craft a recording: instrumental intro, verse, verse, chorus, bridge, verse, chorus. It's this feckless lack of dynamics that stands between this band and a real winner. "Airstream" is a beautiful song--the other eleven are too much like it.

Karrin Allyson, "All I Want," Wild for You (Concord Records)

Jazz vocal interpreters, especially women, battle an uphill challenge when confronting the genre's forebears. Anyone with the chutzpah to take on Ella, Sarah, Cleo, Billie, Joni, Diane, and Diana better have the imagination and chops to stand up straight at the mike, much less choose material that stakes out territory that no one's yet claimed. Karrin Allyson has the chops, and the road she travels is fairly novel. I suppose the real standard bearer in this bunch is Joni Mitchell, who's written more than most have interpreted. Allyson pays her dues straight off with a lovely rendition of "All I Want"--not that she's Joni, but her phrasing and tone mark a style that is all her own without betraying the strength of Mitchell's composition. Allyson takes on James Taylor's "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight," Cat Stevens's "Wild World," John/Taupin's "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word," and Carole King's "It's Too Late" among many. Wild for You is Allyson's fifth disc and a strong offering.

RIP. Johnny Ramone, Rick James.

E-mail: Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are ...

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Title Annotation:music albums
Publication:Sensible Sound
Article Type:Sound Recording Review
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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