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Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

By Stephen Grimstead

APRIL 6, 1998: 

Kitchens & Bathrooms, These Modern Nights (Rockingchair)

Three years in the making, this new release from the high-profile local band Kitchens & Bathrooms is pleasantly poppy and promising. Anchored by the songwriting, vocals, and guitar of frontman Elijah Harris, K&B are made up of four twentysomethings who’ve done their time working with various Memphis bands for the past decade. By virtue of their age and subject matter, the group would normally be classified as a college band, but this is unabashedly a pop album, relatively angst-free and upbeat. The guitars are wonderful and rampant, swarming throughout the cuts, playing melodies and counter-melodies, swirling through choruses and jump-starting the tracks. Think Gin Blossoms, but with more adventurous chord changes. Little pop signatures from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s reverberate from track to track. Rockingchair Records boss Mark Yoshida and the band have performed a stellar production job, making These Modern Nights sound crisp and cutting.

“Talk Talk Talk To Me,” with its Ramones power-chord blitz intro, is an oblique story of heartbreak down at the doughnut shop, complete with rude references to Jim Jarmusch. “April Is The Cruelest” is a charmingly juvenile treat, with its litany of ex-girlfriends and their salient traits, and a sampled handclap that reminds me of the Romantics. The blue-eyed soul of “Have I Lost You,” featuring trembly falsetto and Sam & Dave “Soul Man” guitar licks, works well, as does “When I Save the World,” an axe-dominated melody a la Matthew Sweet that’s embroidered by some tasty Hammond organ. “Touch and Go,” with its “doo-do-doo-doo” response and clever lyrics, smacks nicely of the Replacements. “Cork” features a shimmery groove trance and primal drums graced with viola that conjures up images of Booker T. & the MGs (although I’m not crazy about the alternative-style ending). The closing track, “Whispering to Me,” sounds suspiciously like that song by British one-hit wonders the Sundays. All in all, though, the album delivers a consistently satisfying array of pop tunes which showcase Harris’ considerable songwriting talents and the band’s musical potential.

Kitchens & Bathrooms: relatively angst-free and upbeat

A couple of bones to pick: Although Harris’ voice works well on most tracks, with his effective mix of sardonics and humble pie, in a few cases his vocals get overpowered by the guitars. Another minor beef is the lack of a lyric sheet. Cerebral stuff like this cries out for one, and I think a lot of sly humor gets lost without it.

Despite a few minor glitches, These Modern Nights is a welcome addition from a young band to the growing cache of good, home-grown Memphis music.– Lisa Lumb

Ted Hawkins, The Ted Hawkins Story: Suffer No More (Rhino)

An itinerant singer who spent most of his life either in jail or busking along the beaches of Los Angeles, Ted Hawkins recorded sporadically. Hawkins’ first single from 1966, “Whole Lot of Women,” was a forgotten shot of soul in the Stax vein. His next recording session was in 1971, which yielded an album’s worth of material not released until 1982. Hawkins finally “made it” in 1994 when he released his major-label debut The Next Hundred Years for Geffen, to sweeping critical acclaim, and embarked on his first-ever tour at the age of 58. That tour was cut short on New Year’s Day 1995 when Hawkins died of a stroke.

For a figure of relative obscurity, Hawkins’ voice has become a semi-legendary instrument, drawing comparisons to icons like Sam Cooke and Otis Redding. As a black singer with Mississippi roots whose music is often more folk and country than blues, Hawkins’ musical story is a small but important one. With that big, attention-getting voice at the forefront, Hawkins’ American music rightfully blends soul, folk, country, and blues into a seamless whole. This posthumous, 20-song compilation will likely be the definitive document of Hawkins’ career.

One thing that Suffer No More establishes is that the elementary accompaniment of Hawkins’ solo, acoustic material (seemingly transposed directly from his busking sessions, and comprising the bulk of his recorded output) does a disservice to his tremendous vocal ability. The full-band backup of the early single and the tracks from The Next Hundred Years brings out the warmth and rhythmic juice of Hawkins’ great vocals in ways the street-singer records can’t. – Chris Herrington

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