Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

By Stephen Grimstead

NOVEMBER 17, 1997: 

The David C. Travelin' Medicine Show, The David C. Travelin' Medicine Show (Hogwash)

Based on their name alone, you might guess that the David C. Travelin' Medicine Show are a bunch of former rockers doing the bluegrass thing with equal parts respect and ram-bunctiousness, cut with just a hint of tongue-in-cheek tomfoolery. Well, the whiskey bottle on the cover of the disc -- not to mention what's inside -- pretty much cinches it. Imagine local hillbilly hipsters Professor Elixir's Southern Troubadours, but with half as many members.

The self-released debut from this neo-backwoods combo -- with its 10 tracks and short length (30 minutes) -- suggests a bar band documenting itself, which is to say that the real pay-off with these guys is probably seeing them live, preferably with a couple of beers in your belly and one in your hand. The ensemble features drums, harmonica, double-bass, mandolin, fiddle, guitar, slideand the songs run the genres that can be coaxed out of same: from roguish Celtic ("Scattered with the Wind") to Western swing ("One Joint to Go") to, yes, even a little bit of soul ("Been Too Long").

The production is a little off in places, occasionally allowing the vocals to upstage the pickin', but there are some nuggets to be found nonetheless. "Low Down" is one track where everything seems to come together, fading away with an almost Mazzy Starrish lilt wrapped around the slide and fiddle. And "Floatin' Down the River," meanwhile, successfully combines the river and murder ballad ("He'll wash up in Lincoln with a bullet in his head" goes the lyrical synthesis) in a twangy hybrid that might have tempted the Violent Femmes once upon a time.

Speaking of temptation, David C. et al might be summed up as sounding like a band you might be tempted to book for your wedding, resting assured that they would have as good a time as you and your guests while displaying the good taste not to play "Rocky Top" no matter how much anyone begs. Until, of course, they get around to that bottle of whiskey; I'm guessing it's not just for show. -- Jim Hanas


Space Ghost, Zorak, and Brak, Cartoon Network Space Ghost's Musical Bar-B-Que (Kid Rhino)

Inspired concepts are few and far between these days. Modern Hollywood exemplifies this dearth of new ideas through its endless recycling of vintage television series -- enlarged in size for the big screen, but actually reduced to a shadow of the original source material due to lazy and obviously revisionist (and ultimately reductionist) formulas.

The crazy cats at 24-hour cable-channel Cartoon Network were clever enough to devise a fresh twist with their revival of Space Ghost, a somewhat obscure Saturday-morning costumed crusader from the 1960s. Instead of simply rehashing and updating the past, the character was reintroduced in 1992 under the guise of Space Ghost Coast To Coast, a hip and happening quarter-hour featuring the titular figure as a contemporary talk-show host broadcasting from the "Ghost Planet."

Now, some five years and dozens of episodes later, a bastard offspring has reared its yelping head in the form of Cartoon Planet. A free-form, half-hour concoction of satisfyingly silly song, sketch, and shtick, Cartoon Planet features two mainstays of the parent show -- the ever-earnest but thick-as-a-brick Space Ghost and the evil, oversized, malevolent mantis, Zorak. However, one remarkable addition pushes Cartoon Planet into the realm of loony legend -- the latest cult hero, Brak, the Tiki tribal-masked buffoon who speaks with the voice and wisdom of a benevolent brain-damaged alcoholic amnesiac.

The hilarious high jinks of this tumultuous triumvirate are dutifully portrayed on Cartoon Network Space Ghost's Musical Bar-B-Que, an audio documentary of Cartoon Planet, featuring "25 Hickory-Smoked Harmonies" and a baker's dozen of dialogue snippets with sound effects. Since the animation on Cartoon Planet is visually static (i.e., nothing ever moves very much), the pictures aren't really necessary to tell the story. The genius of entertainment like this is that so much is accomplished with so little. Only three tracks out of 38 exceed two minutes in length, proving once again that brevity is indeed the soul of wit.

For the record, the voice talent is George Lowe as Space Ghost, C. Martin Croker as Zorak, and Andy Merrill as the befuddled Brak. These colorful Caucasian cut-ups cover a gamut of genres in the ditty department -- ranging from rap ("Don't Touch Me," "Oh Fun Key Bay Bee," and "De Der Down") to blues ("Down To The River" and "Put Your Sox On Mama") to even Elvis ("I Love Almost Everybody"). With only one clunker among the whole bunch (a misguided Dylan pastiche, "Highway 40 Unplugged"), Cartoon Network Space Ghost's Musical Bar-B-Que will bring a smile to the face of even the crustiest curmudgeon.

Despite what the networks would have you believe, most cutting-edge television animation in the 1990s (Cartoon Planet included) is not really intended for adolescents. Baby boomers in advanced states of arrested development are most likely to find this material priceless, and all others can just scratch their heads in wonder. Check your intelligence at the door, and join the short-attention-span theatre of life as detailed in Cartoon Network Space Ghost's Musical Bar-B-Que. Terminal stupidity is likely to be the ruin of us all, but benign stupidity (as conveyed by all things Cartoon Planet) may actually prolong our existence. Highly recommended for demented children of all ages. -- David D. Duncan


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