Music Reviews

TIN CUP

(Warner Bros.)

With a back-to-back Lone Star sucker-punch of the Texas Tornados' "A Little Bit is Better than Nada" and Jimmie Vaughan's "Cool Lookin' Woman" followed immediately by Keb Mo's "Crapped Out Again," the soundtrack to Kevin Costner's new trifle, er, film Tin Cup opens powerfully enough. Get ready then, for lame zydeco riffing from Bruce Hornsby on "Big Stick" and ho-hum pop on "Nobody There But Me," and you'll get the picture typical of compilation soundtracks: uneven offerings from name acts, some good cuts, lotsa drivel. Thumbs up to Joe Ely, George Jones, Patty Loveless, Chris Isaak, and Shawn Colvin. Hold your nose for Amanda Marshall, James House, Mickey Jones, and Mary Chapin Carpenter. Sigh. This could have been a decent collection -- blues-heavy, solid, and soulful. Instead, it's a hellish rollercoaster ride that makes you scream at the wrong times. What Tin Cup really does is beg the question of where all these great Vaughan tunes are coming from on soundtracks such as this one and From Dusk Till Dawn, and why can't we get them on a new record?
HH -- Margaret Moser


TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS

Songs and Music from the Motion Picture She's the One (Warner Bros.)

A small insight into Rock Journalism 101 and the phrase "gets better with every listen." This means the album in question got one, two, perhaps even three spins, and by the third, some of it started to sink in. Three stars and outta there. Trust me, then, when I say She's the One gets worse with every spin. It'll take a few listens to figure this out, but after 15, 20 go-rounds, it becomes abundantly clear that like the film it promotes, She's the One is little more than studio rehash. "Walls (Circus)," the only song here to get much play in the actual movie (ad nauseam), is a cheap re-write of "Free Falling," which was already re-written an entire album over on Into the Great Wide Open. Beck's "Asshole" is a fun little cover, but a B-side nonetheless, and Petty's take on Lucinda Williams' "Change the Locks" is notable only because it's Lucinda. In fact, She's the One comes off much like the 6-CD Petty retrospective from last year, Playback: A gem or two, lots of B-sides, and even more throwaways, none of which threatens to eclipse anything from, say, Petty's last real studio album, Wildflowers.
HH -- Raoul Hernandez


JOHN FOGERTY: WROTE A SONG FOR EVERYONE

(Pravda)

John Fogerty was mistaken when he wrote "Someday Never Comes." Fifteen artists, from as far away as Finland and Australia, prove it on John Forgerty: Wrote a Song for Everyone. Fogerty's vision has touched them all, no matter if it's Finland's Jolly Jumpers recasting "Fly Away" as a spooky, vibrophone-laden ethereal hymn with existential guitar fills squawking out of nowhere in the chorus, or the down `n' dirty takes of Peter Zaremba and Paul Johnson's "Cross-Tie Walker" and Steve Wynn's "Graveyard Train," both highlighting how much Fogerty loved to draw from the deep well of blues. On the stunning "Run Through the Jungle," Steve Hooker becomes a clear-headed Keith Richards wielding a linoleum knife over a buoyant Zooropa rhythm, and Finland's Going Public get as gone as Carl Perkins on the hiccuping "Don't Look Now." Other paths, as in Uncle Joe's Big Ol' Driver's rip-roaring "Hey Tonight" and Girl Trouble's straight-up rendition of "Commotion" show how close Creedence was to punk. Not every song works as well as those, but let's not spit in the ocean. It took a small Chicago label, 15 unknown to semi-unknown bands, and almost 25 years since Creedence broke up, but this tribute is Fogerty's someday.
HHH -- Christopher Gray


MUSIC FROM THE MOTION PICTURE TRAINSPOTTING

(Capitol)

If Trainspotting is not so much a drug movie as it is a hyperactive paean to youth, class, and culture in Nineties Britain (not that the Scots like to be reminded that they're part of Britain), then the music from the movie is even more so. Gathering together a glambient collective of influential elders (Iggy Pop, Eno, New Order, Lou Reed), Britpop all-stars (Pulp, Blur, Elastica), and dark-club habitués (Leftfield, Underworld), Trainspotting's soundtrack is a pitch-perfect slice of a U.K. music scene that's young, not-so-dumb, and full of comeuppance. The clear highlight is Primal Scream's title piece, a ten-and-a-half minute nectar of groovy, gently insistent narcolepsy that points rather hopefully towards the band's next album (and completely erases the memory of Rocks). Elsewhere, the record tends to replay the film in your head, from "Lust for Life"'s opening salvo and "Perfect Day"'s OD comedown to the glorious beats and dramatic keyboard strokes of Underworld's "Born Slippy," the song that cracks the movie open and spills it out all over London. Bit of trivia: New Order's "Temptation" does not actually appear in the movie (it's sung, twice, by the Diane character) while Heaven 17's "Temptation," which is not on this record, does.
HHHH -- Jason Cohen


WHORE: VARIOUS ARTISTS PLAY WIRE

(WMO)

Art school students and complete outsiders to London's original punk rock inner circle, Wire nevertheless popped up in the thick of the 100 days the Roxy club was alive with songs that were not only shorter and faster than any of their contemporaries', but smarter, odder and uglier. Once documented on the stunning debut Pink Flag, they moved on to other directions, proving themselves possibly the most truly innovative modern "rock" artists not named Brian Eno. Of course, the obvious joke concerning any Wire tribute would be, "Where's Elastica?" The obvious answer? "They recorded their Wire tribute last year!" Still, there's plenty of modern rock luminaries paying their respects here, including Lush with a near-identical "Mannequin," and Mike Watt, who learned lessons Wire taught about brevity and avoidance of obviousness while a Minuteman. And since the latter is one of Wire's most important qualities, it's the artists who play fast and loose with this material that most accurately achieve true Wireness. Band of Susans, for one, check in with a version of "Ahead" which more resembles its live form than Wire's studio reading. And virtual Invisible Records "supergroup" Spasm so completely remake/remodel Wire's most famous track, "12XU," that it's impossible to identify it without a reference to the track listing. Interesting, to say the least, and completely loyal to Wire's teachings.
HHH -- Tim Stegall


GERMS (TRIBUTE): A SMALL CIRCLE OF FRIENDS

(Gasatanka/Grass)

What an unusual subject for a tribute record: The Germs, the L.A. punk pioneers who were born to destroy themselves and everything about them, setting up a wrecking machine assault as a backdrop for lead spectacle Darby Crash's writhing disintegration. That assault wasn't without artistic merit, however, as Crash's nihilistic lyrics displayed an untutored poetic depth, and the music itself held a thrilling charge that later got vulgarized and distorted into what became hardcore. Like any good tribute record, A Small Circle of Friends works best when the bands either accurately recreate the Germs' hell-bent, suicidal spirit (as on D Generation's rip through "No God," which is utterly faithful save for the absence of the original's hilarious guitar quote from "Roundabout") or else completely destroy it. Perfect evidence of the latter route? The Posies' "Richie Dagger's Crime," in which the original's mix of hardboiled crime fiction and chainsaw R&B somehow gets mutated into the brother of "And Your Bird Can Sing," complete with cameo appearances by a George Harrison melody or two. Other notable acts appearing include NOFX, The Melvins, Hole (credited as the Holez, and augmented by actual Germ Pat Smear), Flea, Matthew Sweet, Meat Puppets, and Monkeywrench (including local guy Tim Kerr). The verdict? Good, though missing the presence of the Motards, who just might unintentionally possess the best understanding of what the Germs were all about as any group currently working.
HHH -- Tim Stegall


THE CROW: CITY OF ANGELS

(Miramax/Hollywood)


ESCAPE FROM L.A.

(Lava/Atlantic)

As riotous and anachronistic as Los Angeles itself, the soundtracks from two sequels, The Crow and Escape From L.A., transcend their traditionally stultifying molds with songs that have a life of their own. Reveling in its own delirious pathos, Hole bursts forth with a vengeance on The Crow with Fleetwood Mac's "Gold Dust Woman," Courtney Love biting off each word as if they were bats and she were Ozzy. Not to be outdone, Filter, P.J. Harvey, Tricky vs. the Gravediggaz, Linda Perry and Grace Slick(!), the Toadies, NY Loose, Korn, and Above the Law all toss off killer cuts with the electrically charged "I'm Your Boogieman" from White Zombie and Iggy Pop's loping, live "I Wanna Be Your Dog" standing out like throbbing veins on an East L.A. junkie's arm. Likewise, Escape from L.A. pummels the listener into submission with blistering cuts such as Stabbing Westward's "Dawn," Tool's "Sweat," White Zombie's "The One," the Butthole Surfers' "Pottery," Sugar Ray's "10 Seconds Down," and Gravity Kills' blistering "Blame" -- all within the first seven songs. Caveat emptor, though, this CD is tagged as being "Music From and Inspired by John Carpenter's Escape From L.A." -- only half of the 14 cuts are actually heard in the movie. Still, the music "inspired by" Escape is just as lethal, with rounds fired off by Orange 9mm, Clutch, Sexpod, and the Toadies (who must be collecting a small fortune in soundtrack royalties by now), plus a bonus dirge from Ministry. So, whaddya want from a soundtrack? Take The Crow as it flies straight and true to form, or choose the Escape route, circuitous but one hell of a ride.
(Both) HHH 1/2 -- Margaret Moser


SWEET RELIEF II: THE GRAVITY OF THE SITUATION

(Sony)

Much has been made of how Vic Chesnutt's genius is the spooky lyric and how it takes repeat listens to get even the faintest hint of Chesnutt's gist. True enough, so it shouldn't be surprising that the appreciation factor for Sweet Relief II comes down to the soul vs. hooks paradox; where you can either take the word of an all-star cast that Chesnutt's songs are worth a second chance or simply wonder what's so vital here when the majority of these folks can't manage a lead, riff, or flow worth examining twice. And even with the genuine respect emitted by folks like The Smashing Pumpkins, Cracker, and the Indigo Girls on otherwise lackluster outings, it's easier to adopt the second theory and ask why so much of Sweet Relief II is musically flat and yet instrumentally bloated -- save perhaps the nice opening punch of Garbage's "Kick My Ass" and R.E.M.'s "Sponge." So while the original Sweet Relief worked so well because Victoria Williams' songwriting matched the musical adventurousness of acts like Pearl Jam and Soul Asylum, The Gravity of Boredom's notable only for being the first place a MTV-Unplugged throwaway from Live and the pairings of Nanci Griffith/Hootie and Joe Henry/Madonna could mark the high points of anything -- let alone something so erroneously billed as a tribute.
HH -- Andy Langer


BASQUIAT

(Island)

Once upon a time, films were scored by composers such as Max Steiner, Elmer Bernstein, and John Williams. Overtures and theme songs emerged from those films as distinctive entities; think of "Tara's Theme" from Gone with the Wind, the macho punch of "Theme from the Magnificent Seven," or the cutesy pop offerings from Star Wars. The days of lush overtures and transcendent themes seem almost passé today in the face of compilation-as-soundtrack collections, so it's a pleasure to see the music from Basquiat emerge as a thoughtful effort that's at once reminiscent and original. Forget the Rolling Stones, Iggy Pop, and Keith Richards tunes bolstering this film about Haitian artist and Andy Warhol protege Jean-Michel Basquiat -- they're not here. Instead, feast on Dylan's delicious "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," as done by Them with Van Morrison; the Toadies' rendering of Talking Heads' "I'm Not In Love;" and Tom Waits' utterly inimitable "Tom Traubert's Blues." Close your eyes and let Joy Division take you back to "These Days" as P.J. Harvey ponders Peggy Lee's "Is That All There Is?" And finally, let Basquiat himself rest in peace after his heroin overdose, as John Cale's exquisite arrangement of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" floats eerily at the close of the album like a disembodied ghost, its haunting tenderness remaining long after its gentle strains have died out. This film is probably already dead at the box office; how appropriate that its soundtrack is alive with such grace and beauty.
HHHH -- Margaret Moser


FIVE RING CIRCUS

(Flip)

Living in the Capital City, most of us know an Austinphile or two; those folks who phone periodically to grill us on Ely, Hancock, and the Buttholes. We tell 'em about Walser, Hancock (Wayne), and 16D, promising to send 'em commercially available samplers from Trance Syndicate, Watermelon, and Dejadisc. Question is, does anyone else care? According to sales figures, not really. So, it's gonna be directly proportional to your interest in the Athens scene whether this 2-CD, 27-artist collection is worth seeking out. Names like R.E.M., Syd Straw, Jack Logan, Magnapop, and Man or Astro Man? will entice some, but with the exception of R.E.M.'s live contribution ("South Central Rain"), the other tracks are available elsewhere. Second-tier Georgians like Alex Marquez, Five-Eight, and Kevin Kinney contribute tracks, but nothing worth scrambling for, while unknowns like The Martians, Asa Nisi Masa, and Prozac are likely to stay that way. There are discoveries to be made here, namely the Woggles, Hazel Virtue, Kathleen Parrish -- and a good Vic Chesnutt/Widespread Panic collaboration -- but, again, what's your level of interest in Athens? Mine's marginal.
HH 1/2 -- Raoul Hernandez


LIVE FROM MOUNTAIN STAGE

The Women/Rock (Blue Plate)

The main question I have for both of these compilations is "Why?" Why do they exist, since the tracks herein (recorded on the venerable radio show) don't radically differ from the album cuts by each artist in question. Oh sure, there's some instrumentation changes for the more acoustic-oriented nature of the show, but not much; electric instruments still abound. If, say, Austin City Limits were to release a similar compilation, one would expect there would be fine examples of musicians stretching themselves and seeking to capture the live moment, rather than simply acting as a jukebox. If you can suspend that expectation, however, and simply view these two discs as mere song compilations, there is some good music here. On the Rock volume, names like Southern Culture on the Skids, John Prine, and Wilco speak for themselves, and the Bottle Rockets' "Welfare Music" is a masterful left-populist anthem to do Woody Guthrie proud, taking hard jabs at "the fat man on the radio" and his ilk. Similarly, k.d. lang, Shelby Lynne, the Indigo Girls, and Emmylou Harris shine on Women. The discs certainly have clunkers, too, albeit a minority: Blessid Union of Souls, Bonepony, and Jackopierce can be charitably described as utter crap. If these were the highlights of their respective shows, I'd hate to hear the lows. And Women has a little too much of what a (female) friend of mine used to contemptuously call "whiny women with guitars." Plus, I can't, for the life of me, figure out what earns Ani Difranco her accolades, nor can I fathom what merits Ann & Nancy Wilson a place here. Overall, however, both volumes are listenable, if unspectacular.
(Both) HH 1/2 -- Lee Nichols


RADIO ODDYSSEY

(Ichiban)

Forget MTV, low-budget noncommercial radio is where the "Unplugged" thing rings truest -- with acoustic string squeak, corrugated cardboard drums, and effect-free vocals. Couple that naked honesty with college radio's knack for paying attention to underrated artists, and the format's live in-studio experiments will often have you running for a blank tape mid-song or just thanking the Georgia State University students at WRAS-Atlanta for releasing this 1994-1995 batch of their rarities. And even for all the artistic sense that format staples like Vic Chesnutt, Freedy Johnston, Throwing Muses, and Lisa Germano make on this Radio ODDyssey compilation, the obvious hunger of the hadn't-hit-yet likes of the Toadies, Soul Coughing, Morphine, G. Love, and Spearhead manage to say even more -- in both the spare, mid-interview acoustic settings and the equally impressive amped-up jams called in from a makeshift movie theatre-gone-studio. Add in revealing early outings from the Wedding Present, Mary Karlzen, Chrome Cranks, Miranda Sex Garden, Weapon Of Choice, and Low Pop Suicide, and the tidy buzz of this virtually flawless collector's dream may even last into 1997.
HHHH -- Andy Langer

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