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MARCH 30, 1998: 

*** The John Doe Thing


(Kill Rock Stars)

Having thrown off the shackles of major-label oppression -- methinks he got dropped for lack of album sales -- our hero reconnects with the kind of visceral rock thrills that made him our hero in the first place on this, a wonderfully scruffy five-song EP. As X-man John Doe puts it in the disc's almost illegibly scrawled liner notes, "Here's what happens when nobody's breathing down yr neck as recording goes down. Freedom & making things for beauty or ugliness sake is a great way to go." Yes, it is. Doe (and the rest of X) apparently lost sight of that for a time (particularly on his blandly overproduced Geffen solo debut, Meet John Doe), which is part of what makes this gritty return from country gentleman to rock scoundrel so refreshing. Recorded with Beck sidemen Smokey Hormel (guitar) and Joey Waronker helping out, the tunes on For the Rest of Us range from the wistful "This Loving Thing" (co-written by Dave Grohl) to the rough and rocking "Big Bad Feeling." Not a bad consolation for those of us waiting patiently for the long-rumored X reunion, which may yet happen.

-- Matt Ashare

**1/2 The Family Stand



Following a gliding slope away from the guitar-driven, turbo stance of Scorpio Moon (Family Stand's last record), the Family drift over crooning soul and R&B grades on their fourth full-length. Shades of Parliament funk, delicate psychedelia, and Sly tint an otherwise slick contemporary groove, where at times too-sleek production slips the soul right out of the mix. Each band member -- Jeffrey Smith, Peter Lord, Jacci McGhee -- sings his or her heart out against a backdrop of '70s pop-funk bass and, on the title track, orchestral strings. There's a cool sincerity in this kind of slickness, and it's supported by lyrics that address all orders of connection, from the graphic intentions expressed on "More and More" and the honeyed love jive on "Butter" to the plaintive broken heart and sweeping social awareness of "What must I do now?" Although they were rumored to have broken up a few years ago, the Family Stand have eased into a bittersweet reconciliation that, apart from some hoky synthetic digressions, is conveyed lushly and earnestly.

-- Chesley Hicks

*** Peter Case



When Peter Case gave up the power-pop Plimsouls for an acoustic guitar and a harmonica in 1984, his mutation into a baggy-suited balladeer may have seemed to some like a passing indulgence. But 14 years and a half-dozen solo discs later he's still drawing from a deep well of folk and blues roots.

Full Service No Waiting is his most subdued, stripped-down collection of original songs yet, and it's also his most overtly personal. He reflects on his rootless youth -- some of it spent as a homeless street singer. The narrator of "On the Way Downtown" returns to his old haunts to reconnect with a past when "anything could happen, anything could change." "See Through Eyes" meditates on lost youth; "Crooked Mile" delivers straight autobiography over some furious blues fingerpicking. Case has always been intense, but here he's sweet as well. He muses on his current domesticity in the breezy "Beautiful Grind" before bringing it all back home with the album closer, "Still Playing," in which, "older than I ever thought I'd be," he rejoices that he's still around, and that music still sustains him.

-- Chris Erikson

**** Matt Wilson Quartet



Matt Wilson's second album as a leader is one of the year's freshest and most passionate releases. He's a hard-swinging melodic drummer in the tradition of Ed Blackwell and Max Roach, with a sense of humor and adventure.

His working quartet, featuring reed players Andrew D'Angelo and Joel Frahm and bassist Yosuke Inoue, are just right for his charmingly skewed music. They deepen the lighter moments of "Schoolboy Thug," a hilarious send-up of heavy metal, but they don't take themselves so seriously that the complex aspects of "Andrew's Ditty" descend into self-indulgence. The title track features Ned Sublette auctioning off farm equipment as the instruments "bid" on a tractor -- a marvelous bit of comedy that's also musically sophisticated. The Sun Ra-inspired "Searchlight" and Herbie Nichols's "Chit-Chatting" are disciplined, swinging explorations that push the compositions without dissolving into chaos. Saxophonist Lee Konitz duets with Wilson on a short track dedicated to the late guitarist Attila Zoller and joins the band in a collective improvisation on Wilson's "Land of Lincoln." It's only March, but this album is going to be high on my year-end Top 10 list.

-- Ed Hazell

** Various Artists



"When I die they'll say, 'He couldn't play shit, but he sure made it sound good.' " That's Theodore Roosevelt "Hound Dog" Taylor, quoted in the notes of this tribute, which is being released 23 years after the blues man's death. One of the most raucous performers on a raucous instrument -- the electric slide guitar -- Hound Dog spent his life powering small, tough-as-nails combos around Chicago. On this collection contemporary blues guitarists slip a steel tube over a fret finger to pay respects, including George Thorogood, Lil' Ed Williams, and Magic Slim. Nearly every tune is lifted from Taylor's own playlist, though -- as Elvin Bishop notes before kicking off "Let's Get Funky" -- Taylor was not inclined to heed lists.

The late Luther Allison's take on "Give Me Back My Wig" is a primer on the simplicity, power, and rock-and-roll energy of both the slide guitar and Taylor, as he builds a brick-and-mortar solo between howling, growling vocal choruses. Gov't Mule, Thorogood, and Australian pyrotechnician Dave Hole crank the volume on their cuts. Only one tune would be unfamiliar to Taylor: the beautiful elegy "Wayward Angel," written by guitarist Ronnie Earl and sung by Paul Rishell.

-- Bill Kisliuk

**1/2 Course of Empire



When you consider where modern rockers from Jane's Addiction to Tool have taken hard guitars, there's little that could reasonably be called groundbreaking about Course of Empire. The Dallas quintet do boast two potent drummers, a ripping guitarist, and a savvy ability to rework rock idioms with an ear toward industrial, club, and world-music influences. The metallic crunch and thudding electro-drums on "The Information," the Reznor-esque "Automatic Writing #17," and the spaghetti-Western/dub/Middle Eastern deconstruction of Rodgers & Hart's "Blue Moon" suggest that Course of Empire might not be ready to dive headlong into techno. But the band are ambitious -- check the darkly drum 'n' bass-inspired hidden track -- in their pursuit of recombinant possibilities. The results on Telepathic Last Words are occasionally (unintentionally?) bizarre. "Ride the Static," with its woozily flanged guitar, sounds like a Soundgarden outtake channeled through a Ween-like genre exercise. All of which gives the disc an oddly futuristic depth.

-- Mark Woodlief




Don't know about you, but I'm sick of that fat, funny-looking guy trying to pass himself off as a bluesman. But enough about Blues Traveler's John Popper, who provides this disc's longest, dullest track. The rest is an enjoyable mix of funny faux blues, by Dan Aykroyd and company, with a few shots of the real stuff. Dr. John does a gritty funkification of Donovan's "Season of the Witch," a song so far up his alley it's surprising he's never done it before. Aretha Franklin still sounds vital on her umpteenth remake of "Respect." And the two tracks credited to the Louisiana Gator Boys -- a supergroup fronted by B.B. King and including celebrity guests Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Koko Taylor, Bo Diddley, and nearly two dozen others -- are a blast. Aykroyd's singing hasn't improved much since the first film, and he should have known better than to trade harmonica licks with the late Junior Wells. But he and new Brother John Goodman are smart enough to stick with lighter material like "Funky Nassau," which isn't much sillier than the Beginning of the End's original. And Aykroyd's enough of a fan to let the real R&B veterans steal the show.

-- Brett Milano

** Bill Wyman & the Rhythm Kings



It's well known that Wyman can't sing his way out of a paper bag, but on his latest solo project he gets lots of help from the likes of Georgie Fame, Paul Carrack, and the lesser-known Geraint Williams, who adds rough-hewn verisimilitude on cuts like Willie Mabon's "I'm Mad." Only twice on the 12 selections do we get the Stone singing by himself: he goes for an expressive-laryngitis approach on his original "Stuff (Can't Get Enough)" and drops the "expressive" part for "Going Crazy Overnight." This project was at first conceived as just Wyman in a trio or quartet setting but fortunately (for once) fame accrues a certain amount of production excess, and so we have, aside from the guest singers, Eric Clapton supplying expert fills on the Stones' "Melody" (a whimsical number plucked from Black and Blue) and certified raunch from, uh, blues great Peter Frampton on "Tobacco Road." None of this quite coheres and nothing ever catches fire -- or even gives off little sparks. It seems, in the end, a CD composed entirely of filler.

-- Richard C. Walls

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