Record Reviews

HOMEGROAN III
(Reservoir)

This new Deja-phooey disc is driving me nuts! The only cover song I can pick out is Flowerhead doing "Pump It Up" by Elvis Costello. Oh, wait, I forgot. Homegroan III returns to the format of collecting new, original material by Austin bands. It's not a bad sampler, either. The relatively small number of previously released songs are well-picked highlights from the albums or tapes they're off of (the Wannabes' booze-fueled "Every Star Mary," the Adults' "Gringo," and Prescott Curlywolf's Nirvanarama "Candyface" come to mind), and the rest read like a primer on new Austin acts, from Plowman's industigrunge to the Sidehackers' flat-out, bust-ass rock. Add to that a couple of examples of the Austin neo-ska mini-movement (Bowler Boys, Gals Panic) and an advance peek at a pair of hot new Trance Syndicate acts (Sixteen Deluxe and Starfish), and you've got a well-thought-out compilation. Good recording, too. I don't see any reason not to give this...
3 1/2 stars - Ken Lieck


BRUCE ROBISON
(Vireo)
CHARLIE ROBISON
Bandera (Vireo)

After several years (possibly a lifetime) of comparison, the issue can finally be put to rest: The Robison brothers may have grown up together in the honky-tonk heaven of Bandera, and they both play music, but they don't dress as twins, or have the same ambitions, and they don't appreciate your saying so, mister. You don't need any more proof than their first admirable country CD efforts with Vireo Records, which use virtually the same backup players and techies. Charlie drives the band like a team of horses through (sometimes slick) pumping Nashville dance tunes, but thankfully, the ballads and the lyrics belie a savvier singer with a whiskey-dry desperation. It's a respite from what could have been, and indeed looks like: the first album from a wannabe country boy toy. Bruce's album feeds the soul, wells up longing you didn't even know you had, and then satisfies it. The mix is a little rough, but worth the trip, especially to hear "Travelin' Soldier" and "Torn and Tangled." Rich Brotherton races both albums with his guitar work.
3 stars (both) - Louisa C. Brinsmade


FAITH NO MORE
King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime (Slash)
Faith No More has never been subtle. Perhaps that's why, facing a lack of serious hooks, the biggest surprise on FNM's latest is the discovery of texture. Even if these melodies, deeply buried within King for a Day's greasy funk and industrial swing, are easily dismissable at first, later listens indicate that attention-grabbing leader Mike Patton rarely seems as creatively alone as he did on FNM's earlier efforts. And because FNM's done something more than just winding up Patton and letting him go, King for a Day substitutes the way understated ("Star AD," "Take This Bottle") and subversively straightforward ("Cuckoo for Caca," "Evidence") for overwrought schmaltz. If all this makes the album too complex to call a great record, King For A Day may have legs - making much more sense when somebody like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones or Big Chief re-lay the more commercial groundwork FNM's Epic originally provided way back when. (Faith No More play the Austin Music Hall Wednesday 3)
3 stars - Andy Langer


MIKE WATT
Ball Hog or Tugboat? (Columbia)
Tugboat. When I was 16, Mike Watt drew me a map to his Pedro, California, home on scratch paper, and told me to stop by sometime. I never did. But judging from the 50 guest artists on his new record, I'm starting to think he's made a lot of friends and drawn a lot of maps. Featuring the likes of Thurston Moore, Adam Horowitz, Mike D., Frank Black, the brothers Kirkwood, Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic, J Mascis, Evan Dando, Henry Rollins, Eddie Vedder, and Flea, this album is a veritable museum of famous map-holding, white-boy alterna-rockers. The first solo record from the former Minutemen and current fIREHOSE bassist, Ball Hog or Tugboat? varies in quality in direct proportion to how much you like who Watt is playing with. For example: I hate Eddie Vedder, therefore two songs down the drain. The record has a nice cover of "Tuff Gnarl" off Sonic Youth's Sister, as well as a Mascisian rendition of Parliament's "Maggot Brain." Mike Watt gets four stars as a human being but this record gets...
2 stars - Taylor Holland


OL' DIRTY BASTARD
Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version (Elektra)
Hip hip-hop fans know that far too many hip-hop albums have intros... damn near every one. Well this one is no different, except on Return... Ol' Dirty Bastard plays the host, and gives himself a gushing, tearful, two-minute intro, "The Baddest Man in Hip-hop." From then on, you know who you're dealing with; he's the Ol' Dirty Bastard because there's no father to his style. While some should be warned that, at times, ODB evokes Biz Markie on Robitussen - total madness - those not deterred by this know that's what makes this solo joint both anticipated and controversial among Wu-Tang Clan fans (Ol' Dirty was one of the first four Wu-Tang Clan members to sign a separate solo agreement). ODB's voice is pretty much unmistakable. On at least five songs Ol' Dirty sings, screams, and waits until the moment you decide he's lost it before he starts to rhyme. But this is no Enter the Wu-Tang... and might have seemed different if not hyped as a return to such. It comes close, though, especially when Wu-Tang members Raekwon, Method Man, Ghost Face Killer, The RZA, and The Genius round out the rawhide sound.
2 1/2 stars - Ben Plimpton


CHARLIE HADEN/HANK JONES
Steal Away: Spirituals, Hymns and Folk Tales (Verve)
It's not often that I hear new music that instantly touches me like this has. Ironically, the source of this "new" music, as the title implies, comes from one of the oldest and riches of American musical traditions, that of African-American spirituals. The interpretations rendered here by bassist Haden and pianist Jones are nothing less than exquisite. Charlie Haden comes from a background of Ozark hillbilly gospel singing, and has long favored folk forms in his Liberation Music Orchestra projects. In fact, Haden's LMO composition, "Spiritual," is included in this set. Hank Jones, older brother of Thad and Elvin and the house pianist for the prolific Savoy Records during the Fifties, has always had a remarkably subtle touch to go along with his impeccable taste. Both attributes are clearly evident as Jones adeptly combines the soulful ("Wade In The Water") with the sublime ("Go Down, Moses"). It goes without saying that a duet on this high an order takes the form of an intimate musical conversation. Haden's warm bass tones are equal partner with Jones' stylistic intricacies, and are particularly heartfelt when they step out to delicately caress these familiar, soul-stirring melodies. This stunningly beautiful set of music is destined to appear on many 1995 Top Ten lists. I know it will be on mine.
5 stars - Jay Trachtenberg


JOHN PRINE
Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings (Oh Boy)
The inside cover photo of Prine, sardonically whistling in a graveyard, exemplifies the tone of his first full-length album since 1991's remarkable The Missing Years. Twisted humor, juxtaposed with heavy themes, sung by a man with enough experience to take it all in stride, make this Prine's most self-assured and greatest work to date. What more need be said about lines like "We found ourselves in Canada/Trying to save our marriage/And perhaps catch a few fish," from the talk-song "Lake Marie." "We Are the Lonely" is an upbeat ditty that pokes fun at personal ads, while still managing to relate to single people everywhere. Prine has a unique view of the world. Although his out-and-out love songs, "All the Way with You" and "This Love is Real," get their message across simply and sincerely, they do so without making you want to gag. They blend a childlike naivete with a been there/done that attitude. Charming.
4 stars - Al Kaufman


BELLY
King (Sire/Reprise)
It's easy to be seduced by Tanya Donnelly and Belly's ideas. It's just that when all the best components of the band meld, as they did so exquisitely with their first hit "Feed the Tree," it's hard not to expect that all the time. KIng may be a kind of sophomore slump in that respect, as Donnelly's inclination toward feyness can be suffocating, and tender becomes cloying on "The Bees" and "Red." Donnelly is clearly a songwriter searching for just the right combinations and stumbles often on KIng, but she casts a charming spell, and it's delightful to be hypnotized by her shape-shifting moodiness. Glyn Johns' production gives some of the more uneven material a sterling quality, a patina that Belly polishes to a luminous glow on "Seal My Fate" and the stellar "Untitled and Unsung." Still, I bet a lot of these songs work better live, where Belly's dreamy music really shines. (Belly play Liberty Lunch Thursday 4)
2 1/2 stars - Margaret Moser


WHITE ZOMBIE
Astro-Creep: 2000 Songs of Love, Destruction and Other Synthetic Delusions of the Electric Head (Geffen)
If the creature of metal that has evolved to survive into the Nineties and beyond were given a phylum title, it would be Astro-Creep. White Zombie has brought together only the most vicious characteristics of modern industrial, alternative (whatever that means), and rap; inbred them with noxiously toxic death metal; and sacrificed the fetus to the Roger Corman god. What we get is a slimy, wriggly, humongous, and grotesquely beautiful beast of relentlessly danceable hard music that everyone better love or they're a fucking wimp! At times, the album slithers and lurks through the darkest and most alien places imaginable and unfathomable. Then, at other times, it spurts through infinite time and space at ludicrous speed, narrowly averting supernova catastrophe. All with a lust and a beat, and a thrust that latches onto your face with sticky, prickly lobster legs.
4 stars - Tony Echeverria


RAILROAD JERK
One Track Mind (Matador)
That first listen to One Track Mind inevitably brings to mind that horrible, horrible phrase "lo-fi," and suddenly you're thinkin' back to its forefather Beck: that low-rent, bang the pots, everything but the kitchen sink, white-boy funk. Bluze. Wait, is that G. Love & Special Sauce? No, because underneath, these four New York boys want to rock! (though never really do), creating a subtle tension - the flipside of which landed Jon Spencer on some year-end blues "Best Of" lists. Songs like "Forty Minutes," "Some Girl Waved," and "Big White Lady" put bleuze in such a wonderfully interesting Nineties context that you can't help but like the expanding boundaries. Of course sometimes, as with regular blux, you just get riffs and not much else - like the endless needle and wheedle of "What Did You Expect?" or "You Better Go Now" - but those are in the minority, as is that brick in The Wall that hits you at the close of this groovy affair. (Railroad Jerk play Emo's, Wednesday 3)
3 stars - Raoul Hernandez


COWBOY MOUTH
It Means Escape (Monkey Hill/Ichiban)
Cowboy Mouth ... If they're not live, are they still worth a damn? Some would say no, because modern recording technology has heretofore been unable to capture the rafter-raising, full-tilt rock & roll of the New Orleans quartet's live shows. But there's more to it than just kicking out the jams. Cowboy Mouth boasts four top-notch songwriters able to jump from C&W ballads to alternative rock and everything in between with alarming ease. Anything goes on their recent It Means Escape, from Fred LeBlanc's frenetic, get-up-and-go "Why Ya Wanna Do Me?" and "Everyone is Waiting" to Sanchez and/or Griffith's melodic, folky "Hitchhiker," "Here I Sit in Prison (Yipee-I-Yay)," "Man on the Run," and "Irish Boy." Cowboy Mouth's axis shifts all over the rock & roll map as the four play with and off each other, but there's rarely a misstep. What Cowboy Mouth may lose in energy on It Means Escape, they more than make up for with thoughtful songwriting, fun stylistic variations and, yeah, even a balls-to-the-wall number or two. (Cowboy Mouth plays the Continental Club Thursday 4)
3 stars - Chris Gray


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