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Tucson Weekly Rhythm & Views

JUNE 8, 1998: 

RAMBLIN' JACK ELLIOTT

Friends Of Mine
Hightone Records

RAMBLIN' JACK IS the Woody Guthrie of the last three decades; a rootless cowboy admired by the truckload of folk-influenced artists who show up on this disc of duets. John Prine, Jerry Jeff Walker, Nanci Griffith, Emmylou Harris, Guy Clark, Arlo Guthrie, Tom Waits--here's a full-fledged tribute to Elliott's legacy that fortunately appears ahead of Jack's tombstone. Jack tends to take the backseat on most of the cuts, the musical equivalent of what he's done during his years of appreciatively accepting the rear-window view during his legendary hitchhiking ventures. Contemporary folk music has little to offer in the way of first-hand, legitimate road stories, suggesting that Elliott may literally be the last of his kind. This is as solid a bridge between folk generations as Dylan's first album of paeans to the patriarchal Guthrie.

--Dave McElfresh


LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III

Little Ship
Charisma Records

LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III, the singer/songwriter best known for "Dead Skunk" and his appearances on M.A.S.H., returns with Little Ship, a collection of 15 songs centering on a recently failed relationship. Produced by Grammy winner John Leventhal, the music on Little Ship alternates between rootsy John Hiatt rave-ups and pared-down acoustic numbers supplemented with banjo, mandolin, piano and horns. While the sound is good, nothing really jumps out; it's the lyrics that take center stage. Through appearances on Nightline and NPR, Wainwright has acquired a reputation for wry topical commentary (sort of a hipper Mark Russell), but Little Ship is most effective when the material is strictly personal. The album's theme of reciprocal pain and hurt from a break up gets a matter-of-fact treatment with a refreshing lack of self-pity and more than a little humor. Willing to expose his own moral weaknesses and confusion, Wainwright's not afraid to confront his bastard side. On "So Damn Happy" he plays off his conflicting feelings of guilt and relief at being out of a relationship without being maudlin. Family relationships receive a deft touch on "Bein' A Dad" and "What Are Families For?" Like Twain, Wainwright's humor touches a universal nerve that can make you squirm with recognition rather than laugh. Things bog down when he gets self conscious or tries too hard to be clever. The food/sex metaphors of "Breakfast In Bed" are tired and annoying, while the wordplay of "OGM" convolutes rather than delivers a message. When he's on though--as he is for most of the album--Wainwright manages to connect with feelings too often held in check and thoughts too often unspoken, an admirable accomplishment. Besides, anyone that writes a jaunty, incredibly cynical banjo ditty just to piss off Pete Seeger (albeit good naturedly) can't be all bad.

--Sean Murphy


NEW BOMB TURKS

At Rope's End
Epitaph

THE NEW BOMB Turks are currently the best punk band on this planet (sincere apologies to Tucson's own punk rock heavyweights, the Weird Lovemakers)--hands down. This drunken Columbus, Ohio, foursome has been blazing a trail of punk rock overindulgence since 1992, with the sloppy lo-fi garage punk rawnch of Destroy Oh-Boy. These bad boys of rock and roll have turned full circle back to a meaty thick, bone-rattling invasion that embraces everyone from the Stones to the Nervous Eaters. The New Bomb Turks whip these ingredients in a musical blender of Minor Threat-meets-MC5 alcoholic fuel that could be drunk all night without a hangover. On "Defiled," the Turks add the same random saxophone squawking that littered the Stooges' Funhouse album. Stun-guitarist Jim Weber attacks his instrument like the snot-nosed little brother of Ron Asheton, shredding his Marshall speakers on "Streamline Yr Skull," a massive wall-of-fuzz that detonates like a heart full of napalm. Singer Eric Davidson sounds as nasally relentless as the possessed soul of Darby Crash on "Bolan's Crash," a not-so-subtle commentary on the T-Rex founder's fatal car accident. Davidson wishes he was young enough to contribute to "Exile On Main Street," as evidenced by his raspy Gram Parsons-gone-Motorhead pin-up fascination on "Veronica Lake." His hyper-manic voice would've scared the Glimmer Twins shitless. Produced to squalid Stooges-fied extravagance by Tomas Skogsberg, At Rope's End, the Turks fifth and best long player, the break-neck pace chugs throughout with gargantuan riffing and ass-ripping vocals that result in nuclear meltdown.

--Ron Bally


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