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Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

By Stephen Grimstead

JULY 6, 1998: 

Various Artists, The Best Of Godzilla – 1954-1975 (GNP Crescendo)

The original Japanese Godzilla films possessed a quirky charm that the recent bloated Hollywood version totally abandoned in its misguided quest to modernize the character. The only familiar aspect of this new (but vastly inferior) digitized lizard is its roar, the last true vestige left of the source material.

Thank God (or Godzilla?) for this compact disc to remind us of just how entertaining the big green guy was in his native habitat, when he walked on two legs – like all legendary impressive oversized conquering beasts – instead of scurrying around on all fours like some gutter trash. The collection (which comes with a fully illustrated and informative booklet) captures Godzilla in all his raging glory, with 43 selections (including a variety of monster roars and sound effects) spread over an enthralling hour-and-19 minutes.

So much for Tokyo…now, where’s that candy-assed imposter?

Although several composers are represented, the bulk of the memorable music featured here originated from Akira Ifukube, creator of the unforgettable “Godzilla” theme. A larger-than-life figure like Godzilla deserves accompaniment of the same stature, which the Toho Studio musicians deliver in abundance.

The appeal of these films hasn’t diminished over time, partly because there’s always something quite cathartic about viewing an atomic-awakened behemoth squashing metropolitan areas flat (“Music To Trample Tokyo By” would be a fitting subtitle for these soundtracks). The Best Of Godzilla – 1954-1975 elevates the music of these films to new heights and provides a rhapsody of themes for some overworked guy in a sweaty rubber monster suit.

Now that’s entertainment!

– David D. Duncan

Don Walser, Down At The Sky-Vue Drive-In (Sire/Watermelon)

Oh, what a voice this guy has got! “Well-seasoned” is a distinct understatement. Don Walser sounds like he’s spent the last 30 years or so quaffing bourbon on the porch of a shotgun house. He’s got George Jones’ slight nasal drawl, country gentleman Jim Reeves’ velvet tone, with just enough of a Cracker twang to keep things from getting schmaltzy.

The natural skeptic in me balked at liner notes describing this man as the “Pavarotti of the Plains,” but this CD, his major-label debut, truly delivers. A retired military man from the Texas panhandle, Walser’s previous limited releases were lauded by critics, and he’s since become the media’s darling. Fortunately, Down At The Sky-Vue Drive-In lives up to all the hype and then some. It features classic old country tunes, a few Walser originals that sound like classic country, plus some honky-tonk, swing, and cowboy songs. Accompanied by the amazing Pure Texas Band (check out the Texas Playboys-style solos on “Marie”), Walser transports the listener to a dance hall somewhere outside of Lubbock 40 or 50 years ago (or maybe just last week – this part of the Lone Star State has a thriving dance-hall scene and Texans of all ilks and ages share a huge appreciation for this great traditional fare).

This artist has been mainly spotlighted for his yodeling ability, which doesn’t kick in until the fourth track, the sizzling “In My Dear Old Southern Home.” But when it begins, it stops you in your tracks. The man’s ability in this department is nothing short of a force of nature. This style of yodeling is a distinctly American art form, that, despite its backwoods connotations, is extremely difficult to do well. I think the Pavarotti comparison is entirely apt, for yodeling, like opera singing, requires incredible stamina, range, and sheer vocal strength. What’s unusual about Walser is that, as well as being able to yodel your socks off, he’s also such a great all-around vocalist. Many past practitioners of this art were not great singers, but one listen to “The Devil’s Great Grandson” reveals Walser to be a sterling exception.

Raised on the Grand Ole Opry, the singing cowboys of the silver screen, and “the Top 40 from 40 years ago,” as he puts it, Walser has created a record that sounds like it could have been made in 1948 instead of 1998. The only non-traditional touch here is actually one of my favorite tracks, “Rose Marie,” with Walser joined by the avant-classical strings of the Kronos Quartet. The song is by turns simply lovely, then psychedelically dreamy, and his voice sails sensually along for an enchanting effect. That sampling makes me curious about other possible unexpected collaborations to come. Apparently the Butthole Surfers are big fans – now that might be interesting.

– Lisa Lumb

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