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SEPTEMBER 21, 1998: 

*** Waylon Jennings

CLOSING IN ON THE FIRE

(Ark 21)

It's been a long and swerving road for Waylon Jennings, from being a member of Buddy Holly's Crickets, then the longhaired leader of the Waylors, to an esteemed place as a grand old outlaw of country music who recorded Closing In on the Fire with reverent young guests like Sting, Sheryl Crow, Randy Scruggs, and Mark Knopfler. There's probably nothing in the music world that Jennings hasn't seen at least twice, and it shows in this earthy set that ranges from muscular, polished rock arrangements to good old loose-limbed country soul.

Jennings drawls in a flat but comfortable bass about money slipping through his fingers, a Chrysler that won't turn left, and other colorful things. The tune with Crow, "She's Too Good for Me," is a strange one: the song grinds to a halt as a Crow-led chorus busts in like Seinfeld's Kramer. The finer cuts are the several -- "Easy Money" and "Just Watch Your Mama and Me" among them -- where the good ol' boy talks and the pretense walks. Jennings also turns the tables on the Rolling Stones, giving a ringing contemporary Nashville spin to the diamond-in-the-rough from Beggars Banquet, "No Expectations."

-- Bill Kisliuk


*** Tripping Daisy

JESUS HITS LIKE THE ATOM BOMB

(Island)

Temporary retirement has served this Dallas-based outfit well. Burned out after relentless touring behind their second Island disc, i am an Elastic Firecracker, the band called it a day back in '95. Or so they thought. But with Jesus Hits, a well-rested Tripping Daisy sound rejuvenated. The line-up is now a quintet, with two new members, guitarist/trumpeter Philip Karnats and drummer Ben Curtis, and their contribution to the band's, uh, trippy sound is seamless (the horns add a dash of Pepper, as in "Sergeant," to the group's psychedelic feast). Tim DeLaughter's woozy, rippling voice still sounds eerily similar to Flaming Lips singer Wayne Coyne's (in fact the whole band sound like the Lips), and their warped brand of oxygen-depleted ozone pop -- not to mention their chattering about Martians and golden eggs and such -- owes a serious debt to Jane's Addiction. But songs like "Sonic Bloom" and "About the Movies" remain striking daydreams, lovely pastels shot through with vivid jags of Technicolor.

-- Jonathan Perry


**1/2

TINY TOWN

(Pioneer Music Group)

Tiny Town have been called a roots-rock supergroup, though to the extent that the tag implies a pedigree distinguished by commercial triumph, it's a misnomer for sure. Tiny Towner Pat McLaughlin has logged years as one of the country's most overlooked talents, most recently with 1994's criminally neglected Unglued. The band, and the album, are what developed when the Nashville-based McLaughlin took to jamming with two former members of New Orleans's long-running Subdudes, bassist Johnny Ray Allen and guitarist Tommy Malone, and drummer-about-town Kenneth Blevins, formerly of John Hiatt's Goners.

All four share songwriting credits on Tiny Town, an affable disc with a grab bag of soul stylings and percolating rhythms that span the Stax-inspired strut of "Hollywood," the blue-eyed stroll of "Baby Ain't Got No Home," and the hard-edged funk of "Straight Up." Few of the tracks stand out, and in truth McLaughlin, who shares vocal duties with Malone, is capable of much more (the vocal-burying mix is also culpable). But Tiny Town has a breezy camaraderie that makes for a likable-enough listen and bodes well for this Saturday's live show.

-- Chris Erikson


**1/2 Sex Mob

DIN OF INEQUITY

(Columbia/Knitting Factory)

When slide-trumpeter Steven Bernstein (Spanish Fly, Don Byron, Lounge Lizards) squeezes out his precisely etched "wrong" notes over drummer Kenny Wollesen's bustling brush work and bassist Tony Scherr's noir-ish eight-note walking blues vamp, it's new-jazz heaven. Likewise Briggan Krauss's tenor-wide alto sax (he joins Bernstein on the sprightly, angular theme of "Holiday of Briggan" before sailing off into his own land of the new). Sex Mob also play with funk beats and echoey dub effects and cover a wide range of "standards": Leadbelly's "House of the Rising Sun," Ellington's "Come Sunday," Hoagy Carmichael's "New Orleans," Prince's "Sign 'O' the Times," the McCartneys' "Live and Let Die," and even "Goldfinger." Utility neo-funk organ guy John Medeski makes a few appearances, and so do guitarists Adam Levy and London McDaniels.

Some of the covers are supposed to be hip and funny, but sometimes -- like "Goldfinger" -- they just sound thin. I'd rather hear Krauss driving fast, hard, and raspy (Shepp-style) over a straight-time beat, or the band doing up Bernstein's funkified originals as opposed to approximating the lushness of John Barry with an airless squeak. The dry production doesn't help either. Oh well, I guess that's the price of jazz hipness these days.

-- Jon Garelick


** Paul Hillier and the Theatre of Voices, with Terry Riley

LITANY FOR THE WHALE, BY JOHN CAGE

(Harmonia Mundi)

Paul Hillier directs and sings with a vocal group, the Hilliard Ensemble, that's known for its interpretations of early music, but he maintains an interest in new music and has worked with the likes of Steve Reich. This CD is his ode to John Cage: in the liner notes he remarks that he's been working toward this recording ever since the founding of the Theatre of Voices.

The program is a well-chosen selection of Cage's vocal music, illustrating a number of his techniques and concerns. Yet others have interpreted Cage with far greater subtlety and musicality. Hillier can make Cage sound almost like chant, or he can let loose an exuberant palette of sounds that border on the silly; but what he never uses to effect is Cage's principal material: silence. The Theatre of Voices fill every available space in these pieces, depriving them of their quality of delicate surprise. This CD may bring Cage's music to some who would otherwise not have heard it, by relating it to more popular forms of classical music, but in the context of other Cage recordings, it's not a major contribution.

-- Damon Krukowski


*** Joe Fonda

FROM THE SOURCE

(Konnex)

Bassist Joe Fonda proves his versatility as a composer and accompanist on this unique date. With tap dancer Brenda Buffalino and throat singer-vocalist Vicki Dodd in a sextet featuring Anthony Braxton and trumpeter Herb Robertson, the ensemble sound is unlike any you've ever heard. Yet the quality of the compositions and the performances make this disc more than just an oddity; Fonda is a serious seeker of new musical horizons, and he's clearly thought about ways to deploy his musicians and work to their strengths. "Something About the Past" drifts slowly through contrasting tone colors from Braxton's many reeds, the short, dry clicks of the taps, Robertson's kaleidoscopic use of mutes, and a wide variety of vocals sounds. For more variety, there's the medium groove of "High Tech #1," which features some sensitive group improvisation and a flute solo accompanied by voice and tap. Fonda's feature on "My Song" highlights his rich tone, clear articulation, and lyrical imagination.

Fonda's liner notes speak of his utopian social agenda in bringing together men and women as equals in an ensemble that also integrates dance and the healing arts (vocalist Dodd is a body therapist). Certainly all the elements on this date -- musical and otherwise -- work together for an album of uncommon warmth and intelligence.

-- Ed Hazell


** Various Artists

FOR THE MASSES

(1500/A&M)

Depeche Mode have been making sonically inventive hits for nearly 15 years. Those who've colored this very English outfit pop wimps because of gentle vocals and simple rhymes have missed Mode's dark wit and pioneering use of samples and found sounds in mainstream music.

Some of the artists paying tribute to Depeche Mode on this 16-track CD also miss the point. Rabbit in the Moon's "Waiting for the Night" gets lost in a lukewarm bath of generic trip-hip. The humor of "Stripped" eludes Rammstein (no surprise). And Veruca Salt -- in one of their final appearances -- ruin "Somebody" by eschewing their trademark loud guitars for a near a cappella treatment. See, one point about Depeche Mode that's been lost on rockers is how well their songs take to guitars. Billy Corgan knows this, so Smashing Pumpkins' "Never Let Me Down Again" plays like a beautiful missing track from the Pumpkins' own recent CD. The Deftones also come on Marshall-strong, as do Dishwalla. God Live Underwater hew faithfully well to the dour classic "Fly on a Windscreen," but the same strategy makes Meat Beat Manifesto sound unimaginative. Ultimately, For the Masses has too many misses.

-- Ted Drozdowski



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