Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

By Edited by Stephen Grimstead

AUGUST 4, 1997: 

Cordell Jackson Live In Chicago (Bughouse)

IT'S HARD TO BELIEVE THIS IS Cordell Jackson's first release on CD. After all, Jackson, who turns seventy-four this year, founded Moon Records -- thought to be the oldest continuously operating label in Memphis -- in 1956 and is often credited with being the first female recording engineer. Nonetheless, it's true.

Recorded in late 1995 at Schubas in Chicago and released by the Bughouse subsidiary of Pravda Records, Live In Chicago is a faithful document of the "rockin' granny" burning up the frets on her trademark Hagstrom guitar with the style that is hers and hers alone.

Most of the songs here are instrumentals -- fiery hybrids of rockabilly, surf, and country -- performed with the spontaneity of improvisational jazz but with the ferocity of punk. In fact, many a punk band would trade a tattoo or two for the frantic chops in "Basketball Man" or "Antsy," a song she tells the crowd is from her teenage years in a wild style she calls "rocket roll."

But Live is not all driven by rocket fuel. There's also the beautifully cynical snapshot of a singles honky-tonk in "Midnight Rodeo" and the just plain beautiful country tear-jerker "No More Bridges To Burn."

For those who caught her occasional shows at the Antenna, or for those who wish they had, Live In Chicago is digital testimony to the originality of Memphis' own "Grandmother of Rock and Roll." -- Jim Hanas


R.B. Morris Take That Ride (Oh Boy)

LOOKING FOR ALL THE WORLD like some backwoods Tom Waits, R.B. Morris blasts out of Knoxville with this stunning debut. With a sturdy pair of workboots and fire in his soul, Morris stands poised to do for East Tennessee what Joe Ely once did for West Texas -- inject a rock and roll poet's sensibility into the heart of that region's indigenous music.

Steeped in the Scotch-Irish folk, bluegrass, and country music of the hills of East Tennessee, Morris adds his own brand of outsider rock and roll with a beat attitude. Take That Ride conjures up images of the best American singer/songwriters, both past and present.

The opening cut pairs Stonesy insolence with a tumbling blues riff. From there Morris gallops into "Riding with O'Hanlon," a Pogue-ish joyful romp of an Irish drinking song with Dylan inflections and faux bagpipes. "Hell on a Poor Boy" exposes Morris' working class roots, while the title track is a poignant country ballad that hints at Guy Clark. "Roy" is pure distilled John Prine, a tune about a wino, with Hank Williams-style yodeling and steel guitar. Like Prine (who adds guest vocals here), Morris can detect tragic and heroic elements of mythic proportions lurking in the lives of the most ordinary Joe. Just for fun, Morris transforms the campy bootlegger movie theme, "The Ballad of Thunder Road," into sheer rockabilly grunge. "Bottom of the Big Black Hull" is an apocalyptic little ditty with enough quirky metaphors to satisfy Steve Goodman, and Morris closes with some very traditional gospel-tinged bluegrass with a Hallelujah chorus featuring pal Lucinda Williams.

Take That Ride offers an irresistible musical journey that's sure to make a name for R.B. Morris as a true modern day Tennessee troubadour. -- Lisa Lumb


David Byrne Feelings (Luaka Bop/ Warner Bros.)

AS THE LEADER OF THE TALKING Heads, David Byrne was one of the most innovative and profound musician/songwriters of the late '70s-early '80s. His lyrics were wide ranging, going from the downright paranoid ("Psycho Killer," "Life During Wartime") to the oddly surreal ("Once in a Lifetime"). He could even spin out a beautiful love tune if so inclined ("This Must Be the Place."). Musically, the Talking Heads evolved from early punk rock instrumentation to the complex arrangements of Remain In Light (1980) and Speaking In Tongues (1983), albums noted for their use of African polyrhythms. Byrne's career after the Heads' demise has found him dabbling in Brazilian music and straight ahead pop/rock, with mixed results.

Byrne's back in fine form with Feelings. A cynical and sardonic wit permeates this disc, resulting in some wonderful tunes that comment on contemporary politics, society's evils, and unstable relationships, all with a dark glee. Metaphor runs pleasantly amuck in "Miss America," where the good ol' USA's foibles and inconsistencies are presented in the light of a rocky relationship. Musically, Byrne successfully incorporates Brazilian influences, electronic tape loops, a string quartet, polyrhythms, cabaret accordion, and plenty of straight up rock guitar into these tunes. Musically eclectic and lyrically rich, Feelings is David Byrne's best recording in over a decade. It's good to hear some outstanding music once again from this quirky-voiced innovator.

-- Gene Hyde


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