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Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise

MAY 1, 2000: 

BR5-49 Coast To Coast Live (Arista)

I was really curious to see if the new live CD could capture the ribaldry and sheer high energy of this retrobilly band. Although BR5-49 has produced several excellent albums, I've always felt that you really needed to be smack-dab at center-stage or jitterbugging on the dance floor to get the full flavor of the band's experience. Deemed "too country for country," and never played on country music stations (no big surprise there), these guys have a rabidly loyal fan base generated by incessant touring and often play to sell-out shows.

Although it's a tad bit tamer banter-wise than some performances I've caught, Coast To Coast Live doesn't disappoint. Not only does it offer up the most hotly requested older tunes, it also features some good new originals, as well as a bonus studio track, the cornpone classic, "You're a Humdinger."

Like other favorites, the B52s and Southern Culture on the Skids, BR5-49 was born out a feverish love for a particular American art form (in BR5-49's case, it's country and western at its most hokey and revved-up, often to the point where it coalesces into rockabilly). All these bands are fresh because, despite cherishing their chosen genres, they are not afraid to tinker with the originals and rework them for these modern times. Add a healthy dose of self-deprecation, a sick sense of humor, and an exuberance for playing and you've got a combo that can't be beat.

This Nashville quintet's real talent lies in their ability to appropriate obscure, uncharacteristic songs and put their own stamp on them, like the bizarre but wonderful Bob Wills number here, "Brain Cloudy Blues," which they nasty up to great effect. BR5-49 can also churn out originals that have a '40s and '50s signature. Bad puns abound, and you'll swear you've heard that refrain before -- like the slinky swamp snake boogie of "Better Than This," co-written with Todd Snider. Their often requested, practically punk version of Charlie Daniels' "Uneasy Rider," is played at warp speed and updated for 2000.

The band recorded the album at dates all over the country last summer while they were touring with the Brian Setzer Orchestra, and describe it as "our very own bootleg." It certainly conveys the raw energy of their gigs, and was recorded faithfully, with no overdubs, warts and all. In this age where all too often live albums are just an excuse to soak fans for their hard-earned dinero, BR5-49's Coast To Coast Live is more than a good bang for your buck. -- Lisa Lumb

Transatlantic SMPT:e (Radiant/Metal Blade)

God, I get mad at these neo-progressive rock bands! So very many of them release a perfectly fine EP's worth of material which then gets heartbreakingly besmirched by the policymaker's (songwriter's) decision to toss in 25 minutes' worth of glaringly mediocre, often chillingly maudlin slop.

Transatlantic is actually a side-project for each of the band's "members," all of whom are heavy hitters in the misty, airbrushed world of neo-prog. Keyboardist/lead vocalist Neal Morse (Spock's Beard), drummer Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater), bassist Pete Trewavas (Marillion), and guitarist Roine Stolt (Flower Kings) bring consistent to-die-for talent to the party; consistent taste is another issue, however.

As a well-implemented conceptual device, progressive rock brought and brings diverse stylistic musical elements together in such a way as to combine those elements to create a successful synthesis, a sturdy and durable mutation, an interesting new development. And Transatlantic does succeed on this outing. Often. Often enough, in fact. But there's a sizable hole in the filter weave here, and something has to be done to keep the good thing separate from the bad. -- Stephen Grimstead

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