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Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

An eclectic survey of recent recordings.

APRIL 26, 1999: 

Tommy Hoehn and Van Duren, Hailstone Holiday (Frankenstein)

Tommy Hoehn and Van Duren are veteran Memphis singer/songwriters who've been recording and playing individually since the '70s. Although they've been friends for 25 years, this CD marks their first musical collaboration. Recorded at Ardent Studios, Hailstone Holiday features 15 tracks, all co-written by the two -- classic pop-rock that we've come to associate with both of them.

Tommy Hoehn is one of those figures like Tav Falco, the late Memphis Slim, and a host of other indigenous musicians who are revered abroad but barely receive any recognition on their home turf. It's a sad commentary on Memphians' tastes in music when all these shining lights are forced to emigrate to be appreciated.

Although Hoehn has never moved across the Pond, he sure sounds like it. His forte is '70s-era Brit-pop, with more than a passing nod to the dynamic duo, Lennon and McCartney. Van Duren, like his partner, has also released critically acclaimed solo work, but he's best known for his efforts with the favorite local band Good Question. Joining forces has been a good move for both of them. Hoehn's uncanny Beatlesque detailing (complex chord changes, unusual harmonies, and diverse instrumentation) brings an added dimension to Duren's more straightforward approach to rock-and-roll. And Duren's input proffers some welcome rough edges that tempers Hoehn's inclination to lapse into saccharine mush on occasion. He also brings a deeper dimension to Hoehn's sometimes lightweight, sugarplum-fairy lyrics.

Like their previous work, it's this album's carefully crafted details that make certain tracks stand out. The sitar-like 12-string background frolic on the wonderful "Outsmarted" reminds me of a similar joyous mess on Traffic's "Paper Sun." The rogue harmonica accompaniment on "Nowhere and Back Again" recalls Lennon's sassy harp on "Love Me Do." The slightly campy, Bowie-ish delivery of "So Over It" is prime Hunky Dory material, and certainly as fine as anything from the excellent, recently released Velvet Goldmine soundtrack. And "Swoon," a lovely acoustic number, comes close to recapturing the simple charm of a classic Lennon-McCartney ballad.

Still, there are a few flaws that are hard to overlook. One is the aforementioned treacly tendency that rears its sugar-coated head on some cuts. And a few songs, including the closing track (a piano ballad with dramatized vocals and delivery) just remind me of '80s-era Billy Joel, and sound very dated and MOR. Ironically, this band's pseudo-'70s material sounds very fresh indeed, and that's clearly where their talents lie.

Hailstone Holiday is a promising collaboration between two very talented native sons, and I look forward to their next project. -- Lisa Lumb

The Iguanas, Sugar Town (Koch)

It's no secret that nowadays the best music is being produced on smaller, independent labels. By "best," I mean music that hasn't been tampered with by corporate bean-counters, as Keith Richards called them. In this time of fevered label consolidation, the more interesting characters (you know, the ones who can't appeal to the mainstream) are being driven to the fringes. It is in this shadow of the giants that New Orleans' wide-ranging roots rockers the Iguanas released Sugar Town.

Sounding somewhat reminiscent at times of Los Lobos' recent releases (and in no way am I implying plagiarism, merely shared influences), Sugar Town features the same mix of slinky R&B and Latin-powered pop stylings that has always been the Iguanas' staple.

This one has a little different feel, however. The groove is emphasized more here than on previous works, its dark, funky ambience largely fueled by the twin-saxophone sounds of Joe Cabral and Derek Huston.

"La Llanta Se Me Poncho," "La Guera Felix," and "Si Amanece Nos Vamos" provide the more exotic element that has always been prominently featured in any Iguanas endeavor, albeit with the same late-night vibe.

Musical boundaries are being smashed with an increasing fervor as artists fuse various styles. It is in this spirit of diversity and eclectic proficiency that Sugar Town most deeply satisfies. -- David Kendall

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