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Let the musical orgy commence

By Dave Chamberlain

OCTOBER 5, 1998:  You'd think Christmas was tomorrow. In the past six weeks, CDs and records have been flowing like the Hurricane Georges storm surge to my mailbox, as the record labels and major distributors gear up for the holiday retail orgy.

And it's not just limited to national and international bands; local players from all fronts are releasing records just in time for the really early shoppers. In addition to the already fine sampling that has appeared in this space - such as Bobby Conn, The Blacks, Pinetop Seven and the Aluminum Group - here's a sampling of what else is just out, and what's to come in the next month or so.

First and foremost is Robbie Fulks major label debut, "Lets Kill Saturday Night," his first record on Geffen after getting his start on Bloodshot. Unfortunately, the major label demons have spread their evil once again, as the record is hands down his worst. The big problem? The Robbie Fulks on Bloodshot played 100 percent, pure hick country from the heart, but "Let's Kill Saturday Night" is - gasp! - primarily a rock record. I can't fathom why he would have done this. Robbie has the single best country music nasal twang you could hope for, but by playing the rock music, the twang sounds completely out of place. By the time you get to songs you'd expect Robbie Fulks to play, it's nine songs into the CD, and if you're one of those country-only fans, chances are you stopped listening around track six. Only one song, "Can't Win for Losing You," sounds like the Robbie Fulks that Chicago has supported wholeheartedly for more than two years.

Bloodshot Records has not, however, stopped putting out successively higher grades of country music. Its latest release takes the form of yet another Jon Langford project (dammit man, get some rest), The Pine Valley Cosmonauts "Salute the Majesty of Bob Wills, the King of Western Swing." Featuring an armada of guest musicians both from and outside of Chicago - including Chris Mills, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Kelly Hogan, Brett Sparks (Handsome Family), Sally Timms, Robbie Fulks and Alejandro Escovedo to name just a few - the Cosmonauts cover nineteen songs from the cigar-smoking king of the Texas Playboys.

With so many of Bob Wills' recordings sounding hokey because of the recording quality in the thirties and forties (Wills' popularity peaked in the forties), Langford and buddies update the sound, but reproduce the songs faithfully. Especially not to be missed is Brett Sparks version of "Roly Poly," Sparks' much-deeper-than-Wills-voice adding sardonic charm to the lines: "Roly Poly, eatin corn and taters/hungry every minute of the day/Roly Poly, gnawing on a biscuit/As long as he can chew it it's okay." Edith Frost has released a new record, and judging by the amount of electricity she added to her sound, Ms. Frost was tired of being drowned out by the Chicago social clubs masquerading as concertgoers. Her new CD, "Telescopic" (Drag City), dramatically changes directions from her previously ultra-spare, acoustic sound, adding electric guitar and an eerie sound texturing. The songwriting takes a different direction as well, with a nearly hallucinogenic quality added to her kitten-soft, perfect-pitched voice. Only the last song, "Are You Sure?", is reminiscent of the Edith Frost of old, while the record's opening track, "Walk on the Fire," is almost noisy, and three others ("On Hold," "You Belong to No One" and "My Capture") are the kind of material the college kids seem to love. A major move forward by Ms. Frost.

And finally, also worth mentioning. The masked madmen of creeping, The Goblins, are about to release "Millennium" (Truckstop/Atavistic), nine songs of healthy, modern-day punk-rock trash. However much it costs, "Millennium" is worth it for two cuts alone: "Monkey Chow" and "Bruce's Empty Bottle 1999," which contains the lines: "I see Bobby Conn, he's hangin' out with Jim O'Rourke/Cash Money is acting really funny, they're cookin' pork."


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