Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Primus, Mirabel and Iona Live

By Michael Henningsen

AUGUST 11, 1997: 

Alibi Value Scale Formula:
Total minutes of good music @ 50¢/minute minus total minutes of bad music @ 25 ¢/minute = Value

Primus The Brown Album (Interscope)
Good Minutes: 0
Blah Minutes: 11:44 (no cash value)
Bad Minutes: 45:57
Actual Retail Price: $14.97
Value: -$11.39

Who gave Primus dictator/bassist/vocalist Les Claypool the right to mouth off and call it art? If I were Italian, connected and crusader of musical well-being for the general public, the first thing I'd do is seal his fate--death to the loudmouthed, white trash Geddy Lee impersonator! The Brown Album is a freaking crime against humanity. Such is the way of the long-term contract. If the folks at Interscope are cringing half as violently as I am, then I feel that much better, for I haven't hated a record this much since Boston's third movement.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, Claypool plays bass like most guitarists wish they played guitar, Primus is tight as a rat's ass, and no one in their right mind would even attempt to cover the band's music, but who really gives a shit? If it's crap, it ain't worth covering--or even a second thought in this case--anyway. If Claypool--Primus' primary songwriter--were to ever venture beyond the K-Mart-inspired white plastic picket boundaries of his musical trailer park, he might happen upon inspiration at least as mundane as that which resulted in Suck On This. Until then, you, as a record buyer, are stuck with thoughtless noodling, unfunny lyrics and insulting attempts at rock. Don't lower yourself.

Mirabal Mirabal (Warner Western)
Good Minutes: 38:15
Blah Minutes: 10:08 (no cash value)
Bad Minutes: 0
Actual Retail Price: $15.97
Value: $19.08

Taos pueblo-based poet/musician Robert Mirabal is widely recognized as a premiere Native American flutist, and there's no question that he has more recently emerged as a spokesperson for Native American issues. This refreshingly unique self-titled recording--consisting of Mirabal's formidable musical talent, thought-provoking lyricism and guest musicians including guitarist Andy York of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, drummer Kenny Aronoff and percussionist Reynaldo Lujan--enjoys the perfect balance of music and message. Not overly preachy like selected works by John Trudell and Robbie Robertson's Music For Native Americans, yet not so enamored of Western music--the rock and pop elements thereof--that the core messages simply become spectacles or selling points. This project sounds as though it were built on pure instinct rather than with political, racial or other motives in mind. Mirabal says what he means; the various musicians play their hearts.

Mirabal himself is not much of a singer, but his music is so ut-terly thoughtful and brilliantly arranged that it hardly matters. Most of the vocals come off more like spoken word pieces than they do verses and choruses. And instead of forcing such contemporary formulas as the verse-chorus-bridge-repeat method of songwriting, Mirabal has chosen to allow spontaneity to reign. The result? Living music, literally.

For non-Native Americans, there are certain facets of Native American and Native American-based music such as this that will remain foreign and beyond the realm of intellectual understanding. But the primal element of Mirabal's music evokes a spirituality and emotional response that is easily, though uniquely, shared by all who may listen. And the spirit that inhabits this record is a strong one.

Iona Live: Heaven's Bright Sun (Forefront)
Good Minutes: 19:03
Blah Minutes: 58:03 (no cash value)
Bad Minutes: 34:19
Actual Retail Price: $24.97
Value: $.97

Remember Jethro Tull? Remember Marillion? Put 'em together, toss in a Joe Satriani-like character, put 'em on a stage and you have Iona Live. The musicianship is grandiose, the songs are long, precisely arranged affairs and the overall feel of the two-CD set is sterile, homogenous and rather boring. Occasional dueling guitar and violin solos make for scattered high points and vocalist Joanne Hogg provides a handful of glorious moments courtesy of her near-perfect voice. But the downside of perfection is that it tends more toward the lifeless than the awe-inspiring. And so it goes.

--Michael Henningsen

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