Weekly Wire
Tucson Weekly Rhythm and Views

JUNE 1, 1999: 

TOM WAITS Mule Variations (Epitaph)

TOM WAITS' WORK falls into two broad categories: gruff, world-weary ballads on one hand, the stuff of early albums like Closing Time and The Heart of Saturday Night; and on the other, surreal Howlin' Wolf-on-Mars hollers, the meat of outings like Swordfishtrombones and Frank's Wild Years. Mule Variations looks back on both sides of Waits in roughly equal measure, yielding soon-to-be-classic tunes like the heartachingly lovely "Georgia Lee," the paranoiac "What's He Building," the eerie but appetizing "Filipino Box Spring Hog" and the strangely inspirational "Come On Up to the House." Stick this in the deck and let it roll a few times, loud enough to frighten the neighbors and wake the dead. The world would be a better place, after all, if everyone were humming "Eyeball Kid" and "Get Behind the Mule" and sharing Waits' happy view of things.

--Gregory McNamee

VARIOUS ARTISTS This Note's For You Too: A Tribute To Neil Young (Innerstate/Inbetweens)

SITTING IN THE audience at the March 25 Neil Young solo concert in Vegas really brought home what a massive, eternal collection of tunes the man has penned. And despite my ongoing aversion to tribute albums in general, this sprawling, double-CD, 37-artist collection brings the same message home once again. It will be of particular interest to Tucsonans, as several current and former Old Pueblo dwellers deliver the goods: Rich Hopkins & Luminarios offer a spookily atmospheric "Like A Hurricane"; Chris Burroughs' down-to-earth reading of "Powderfinger" is twangy and tasty; Chris Cacavas literally inhabits the creeping dread of "Tonight's The Night" with a jazzy, effects-strewn terrorvision version; and Van Christian (abetted by Al Perry, Chris Burroughs, David Herbert, Bruce Halper and Craig Schumacher, on horns, no less!) revisits the mean-spirited "This Note's For You" with such nasty, animated verve you half expect MTV to step in and ban his video, too.

Indeed, a great cover version makes you laugh, cry, tap your feet or otherwise revisit fond memories. Check these: The Walkabouts' celestial take of "Albuquerque"; Eric Ambel's edgy, visceral "Revolution Blues"; Sonya Hunter's tremulously sorrowful "Expecting To Fly"; Steve Wynn's goofy booze-up "Time Fades Away"; former True Westers Russ Tolman and Richard McGrath's note-perfect "Old Man"; the Continental Drifters' ferociously crunching "When You Dance I Can Really Love"; and Bevis Frond's sweet psychedelic dronefest "I've Been Waiting For You." The record's emotional high point, "After The Gold Rush," is recast as a trembling slice of baroque pop at the hands of former Pearls Before Swine impresario Tom Rapp.

The set is cleverly sequenced in order of Young's recording history; the first cut, "Aurora" (by Holland's Treble Spankers) hails from Neil's pre-Buffalo Springfield years in Canada with The Squires, and the closing one, "Piece Of Crap" (by Texas' Slobberbone), originates from the '94 album Sleeps With Angels. In between, a lot of fertile territory is covered, both chronologically and stylistically.

--Fred Mills

VAN MORRISON Back On Top (Pointblank Records)

YEAH, MORRISON releases predictable albums of Irish-influenced ballads and blues-based up-tempo cuts, but they all prove worth checking out--if for no other reason than to hear him somehow wring even more killer melodies out of the same handful of simple guitar chords. Then there's the prurient element in feeling like we're accidentally privy to the vulnerable lyrics of this ultra-defensive figure who seems to hate the press and his fans. His newest again covers his favorite topics: there's the spiritual angle on "Philosopher's Stone," the self-congratulatory "Back On Top" and the misanthropic griping of "Golden Autumn Day," which criticizes the world through the awkward tale of a mugging he once endured. Strange guy, he is, but Morrison's once again so infectious as to suggest that he could put a ransom note to music and woo us.

--Dave McElfresh

PAT METHENY Self-titled (Telarc Jazz)

NEXT TO WES Montgomery, probably no one has influenced Metheny's style more than Jim Hall, whose elegant melodicism here blends with the younger guitarist's playing so well that sometimes it's hard to tell who you're hearing. Individually, Metheny tends to favor big, textured productions while Hall has always preferred small group settings. This duo album pursues Hall's simple and intimate style, which makes it a great album for Hall fans but somewhat disappointing for Methenites accustomed to a greater degree of flash. Nonetheless, this mentor/protégé summit bridges the gap between Hall's post-bop guitar approach and the almost orchestral productions of Metheny. The latter has already done duo albums with peers Bill Frisell and John Scofield, making this outing the only remaining face-off that begged to be recorded. While far more intimate than the aforementioned duets, it's also less engaging...but no less important given the push-and-pull element between the two players' generations and styles.

--Dave McElfresh

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