CHRIS ARDOIN AND DOUBLE CLUTCHIN'
Gon' Be Jus' Fine (Rounder)
If Chris Ardoin were a race horse, he'd be one of Secretariat's descendants. The story of recorded Creole/zydeco music begins with the Ardoin family -- with Améde Ardoin's 1929 recordings, made in a New Orleans hotel room. The tree then branches to Améde's cousin Bois Sec, passing down each generation until the family's musical genius is eventually bestowed upon 17-year-old, red-hot accordionist, Chris. Of course, it's probably not just genetics; the argument can be made for environment, too. Unlike blues, which is dead among black youth, young Creoles still pack the zydeco dance halls in Louisiana, giving the young Ardoin great motivation to keep family tradition alive. Regardless of cause, the result is indisputable: Chris Ardoin is the future of zydeco. Recording since age 10, Ardoin plays full-throttle zydeco, the bulldozer type crafted by Boozoo Chavis and Beau Jocque, leveling anything in its path with five-minute jams that leave dancers gasping for breath. And yes, he does show his age with a dance remix of "We Are the Boys," but fear not, traditionalists, you'll enjoy that just as much as the straight stuff.
3.5 stars -- Lee Nichols
The Art of War (Ruthless)
It's The Art of War and that's right, it's on. This month's featured bout is Cleveland's Bone Thugs-N-Harmony versus the elusive, yet pervasive, species of rap animal known as the "playa hata." The Cleveland "thugstas" aren't exactly clear who these "hatas" are -- except cops -- but the explicit detail of "Body Rott" and "Hatin' Nation" suggests there may be a lot less of such folk in the future. The Bone thugs pray, then they spray, spelling out long chains of Ajax-harsh lyrics over supple, lush
R & B and gospel foundations; imagine four auctioneers spewing gangsta/spiritual code fast as a computer with Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes as backing band. It's a jarring juxtaposition, but it's worked to the tune of millions on 1995's E. 1999 Eternal and its stratospheric single, "Tha Crossroads." Now, on the 2-CD The Art of War, tha Thugs rework the classic coke jingle, "If I Could Teach the World to Sing," as well as Whodini's classic "Friends" jam, and hail Tupac on "Thug Luv," a gunshot-punctuated rave-up that scared the bejesus out of my next door neighbor one Sunday morning. Bone Thugs are like that. Mixed in with all the weed, gunshots, and Mo Thug (their extended rap family) checks are these fascinating harmonies and breathtaking arrangements, especially "Handle the Vibe," "Look Into My Eyes," and "Clog Up Yo Mind." If you're not a playa hata, enjoy. If you are, better scope out some tombstones -- just in case.
3.5 Stars -- Christopher Gray
THE VALENTINE SIX
The King Valentine Octet dispersed and disappeared from the local swing/lounge scene about two years ago, just as the cheese showed the first signs of mold. Now, Parker Valentine and Lily Wolf have resurfaced in New York heading up the Valentine Six, a combo as far removed from the schlock as two years and two thousand miles can put them. The new stuff on their self-titled PCP debut still swings, only to the frantic and trilling rhythms of the greatest of second-rate spy flicks. You can imagine the beefed-up low-end rhythms, the way-left piano and pounding toms -- along with the occasionally blasting guitar and perpetually screeching sax -- accompanying some really cool and smartly shot (though often pointless) action sequences and car chases. The songs are dark and mysterious and full of interesting twists and turns -- this is a B-movie after all; close inspection will lead to the nose-wrinkling realization that you've just been slipped the rail gin. Lyrics like "Stars Inn sign lights twirl on a flaming red day-glo Valentine's day motel girl" create fleeting and flashing images that dissolve as the saxophone fades -- like a smoke-engulfed fedora receding into the night's black cloak.
3 Stars -- Christopher Hess
Curtains is the Tindersticks' third studio album, a fact obscuring this London sextet's prolific history. Since November 1992, the band has released 11 singles, two live albums (one with a 24-piece orchestra), and the soundtrack for the film Nénette Et Boni. Their latest release covers familiar terrain, careening from dense ballads to dark burlesque -- innocent and malevolent at half turns -- and sounds tighter and cleaner than 1995's Tindersticks. Having proven their abilities with rich, full sounds, here, they reveal their capacity for control, delicately deploying strings and brass, holding back where they might have cut loose. Oddly enough, the net effect is a loosening of the reigns, a heightened sense of playfulness. The depths are still as dark, perhaps even darker against the buoyancy of
"Buried Bones," an almost campy duet with Ann Magnuson, or "Ballad of the Tindersticks," a hilariously frank meditation on the experiences of a touring band. Singer Stuart Staples' register is reminiscent of Nick Cave, who shares his affection for outcasts and carnivalesque overtones, while Staples' delivery is more evocative of Leonard Cohen in its restraint, wringing emotional depth from a whisper. Where Cave and Cohen tend to myth and metaphor, the Tindersticks wallow in the ordinary as they sashay in and out of the gutter, shedding light on the exploits of obsessed lovers and downtrodden fringe dwellers.
3.5 Stars -- Brian Barry
STEVE EARLE & THE SUPERSUCKERS
Hardcore punks from Jello Biafra to Al Jourgenson understand that real country music bleeds the same color as punk. Not that this is all it takes. The Supersuckers' latest release, I Must've Been High, for instance, is an embarrassing foray into the land of all-night Merle Haggard not helped one iota by the fact that Seattle's princes of punk discovered Don Walser and Willie Nelson here in the Lone Star State. Not that they're giving up. No, not when someone had the good sense to team the plum loco punkers with a true Texas country music icon, Steve Earle, who helps Eddie Spagetti & the boys achieve similar results to Sub Pop's fancy pairing of Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Mudhoney. Earle does most of the work, transforming one of his dopey proteges' best songs, "Creepy Jackalope Eye," into an inspired acoustic meditation on, uh, reality, while the Supersuckers fire somewhat blindly through his tune, "Angel Is the Devil." The two parties then take a whack at Keith Richards' outlaw classic "Before They Make Me Run," which works given it's familiar territory for both acts. In fact, with all the No Depression-type bands coming out about their punk pasts, this 13-minute treat (including original versions of "Jackalope" and "Angel") makes perfect sense, because after being compelled to hit the repeat button on your CD player a few times, Steve Earle & the Supersuckers becomes a true "alt-country" full-length.
3 Stars -- Raoul Hernandez
THE BOTTLE ROCKETS
24 Hours A Day (Atlantic)
Major-label folk spend a lot of time worrying about sequencing, but occasionally, a song jumps out of the pack and demands to be the starting point. On 24 Hours A Day, the Bottle Rockets' third and most cohesive album, "Smokin' 100's Alone" is that song: "Then she looks at the dirty laundry down the hall/ where's he at?/ why hasn't he called?... she's sittin' by the phone/ smokin' 100's alone." Lead rocket Brain Henneman bemoans her fate, twisting the roots of a simple tear-in-my-beer ballad into a complicated asexual slice of love lost. And, like the rest of this album, the song's real power comes from how simply that complex concept is arranged and presented, with Henneman causally milking the word "at" for all its Southern twang just as he uses a convincing Skynyrd rhythm to fuel a road song like "Indianapolis." Indeed, for all its hooks, that song too is proof of Henneman's new-found comfort as lyricist, as he sings "Can't go West/ can't go East/ stuck in Indianapolis/ with a fuel pump that's deceased" so casually that it sounds more like a journal entry than a chorus. There are a couple missteps -- cloning ZZ Top on the title track and the Kentucky Headhunters on "Slo Toms" -- but the album's triumph is how close Henneman's wry lyrics generally come to matching the spirit of the band's alternative and country mindframes. Forget sequencing. Pick a song with a title that sounds good, and chances are it'll be simple, straightforward, and fully compelling. (The Bottle Rockets open for John Fogerty at the Austin Music Hall, Wednesday, September 3.)
3 Stars -- Andy Langer
"I Want My Money Back" b/w "Undone" (Soundproof/Monolyth)
This new "secret" project from Paul Westerberg (like he thought that was gonna last) finds him rocking with aplomb back into Replacements territory. The A-side of the single pulls off the "throwaway rocker" schtick almost too well with its repetitive lyrics and off-the-cuff sound, but if you'd told me it was an outtake from Hootenanny, I'd have fallen for it instantly. "Undone," the flip side, fares better, a strong number with more satisfactory music and lyrics than Mr. W has pulled off in years. The five tunes on the EP don't fare quite as well, suffering from that same sort of sterility that often mars the albums of his ex-drummer Chris Mars. Still, there are frequent glimpses of the old Westerberg that could make a song worth listening to just by the inclusion of one great phrase, as with "I've got an earring that I dangle from" ("Hot Un"). Come to think of it, damn near all of his good lines have had something to do with exhaustion. Maybe that's why it's such a relief to hear him playing songs that don't sound like he's sleepwalking on the job. (Soundproof/ Monolyth: PO Box 990980, Boston, MA 02199-0980)
(EP) 2.5 Stars
(Single) 3.5 Stars -- Ken Lieck
The opening track on Michael Penn's second effort, Resigned, is called "Try," as in the song's refrain: "I don't wanna try you anymore." However, it could well be "Try," as in: "I'm going to try to make a Beatles album." Apparently, now that brother Sean thinks he's John Cassavetes, Michael thinks he's John, Paul, George and Ringo. He's not. And producer Brendan O'Brien isn't George Martin either. That hasn't stopped the pair from going the derivative route and lifting tricks -- strings sections, certain guitar tones, chord voicings, harmonies -- that start about Revolver ("Me Around" opens identically to "Good Day Sunshine") and go through to Abbey Road. At least Penn has the good sense to steal from the best, and that helps carry the first two-thirds of the album. Some nifty pop tunes (especially "Try" and the happily angst-ridden "All That That Implies") are kept buoyant with the aid of the Fab production. There are two big problems, though. First, Penn just doesn't have the melodies, and second, the weaker material on Resigned is lumped together at album's end. As a result, the last four or five songs bleed uneventfully into one another. If you were a fan of Penn's debut, March, then Resigned probably won't let you down, but there are still a few holes that need fixing. (Michael Penn opens for Sheryl Crow at the Backyard, Sunday, September 14.)
2.5 Stars -- Michael Bertin
Be Here Now (Epic)
Be Here Now is a critic-proof album. No asshole with an opinion and a word processor is going to change whether or not you love or hate Oasis. In fact, Oasis isn't even out to challenge their own critical standing, because if they were, they surely wouldn't release the same set of songs for the third time. Right down to the cover art, Be Here Now is really Been There Before, and while the Beatles may serve as Oasis' textbook, the course is pure economics: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Sure, AC/DC may have illustrated that point more times, more effectively, but that a band this popular has yet to renounce their fame and sort out their "real" fans with a record of Swahili standards is in itself somewhat commendable. So too is the fact that there's not a bad song or weak chorus on the album, from the beautifully bloated opening single, "D'You Know What I Mean," to the remarkably catchy mid-section of "Stand By Me," "I Hope I Think, I Know," and "The Girl in the Dirty Shirt." Challenging? No. Memorable? Probably. Satisfying? Yeah. Bottom line? Oasis hasn't changed a bit and neither will your opinion.
3.5 Stars -- Andy Langer
Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space (Arista Dedicated)
Pharmaceuticals never get scratched off of Jason Spaceman's grocery list, but now he thinks his band is FDA-approved. Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space serves up "Packaged Pills for Pensive Poppers" featuring: uppers ("Come Together," "Electricity"), downers ("Broken Heart," "Stay With Me"), and euphorics ("All of My Thoughts," "Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space"). Everybody's favorite ex-Spacemen 3 chemist unrelentingly circulates the familiar vein of dreamy rock sentimentality, but unlike previous prescriptions this new and fantastic elixir explodes the canon which includes Led Zeppelin's "In the Light" and adds sunshine to an otherwise dreary summer season for shoegazers. Side effects include the delirious inability to form complete sentences in explaining why Spiritualized is king among loud-minded "space rock" bands, but throngs of weak-minded wannabes have actually made it easier to recognize and appreciate the real deal when it waltzes up and pistol whips you with its phaser.
4 Stars -- Taylor Holland
THE DANDY WARHOLS
...The Dandy Warhols Come Down (Capitol)
...Too late. It's the next day and all you can do is ask questions and shake your head in disbelief. Can't believe you did that, can you? Well, that's what you get for having too good a time. Oh, you had fun, alright, but now there's a big mess to clean; someone vomited VU all over your precious collection of classic psychedelic pop records; beer and food are mashed into the shag of your British Bohemia go-go rug; they broke the Lava Lamp and took the strobe light; and they smoked all your pot and ate the whole blotter of acid. On your computer's save screen someone wrote "Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth," which is that song that goes "...heroin is so passe." That's all they wrote. Well, that and someone arranged the magnet letters on the refrigerator to read "Cool As Kim Deal," and "Hard on for Jesus." I think that's what it says, it's hard to tell -- the mess in the kitchen is worse. Hello? Are you awake? Read my lips. The place is trashed. Can't you hear your Stone Roses CD? It's been skipping like that for hours? Christ. What's that? Yeah, alright. It was fun...
2 Stars -- Raoul Hernandez