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JANUARY 26, 1998: 

**1/2 The Derailers



This Austin-based foursome come from the neo-trad retro school of honky-tonking that's been cutting against the slick grain of Nashville country for the past few years. Think BR5-49, or if you haven't heard their liquor- and love-song-fueled BR5-49 debut, think back to the Bakersfield barroom bluster of Buck Owens, who's probably the biggest Hee-Haw-ing influence on the Derailers. In other words, these guys are more likely to remind roots folks of LA's roots-and-rockabilly-slinging Blasters, whose Dave Alvin produced Reverb Deluxe, than the Eagles-derived Americana schmaltz of Garth, Clint, and Brooks & Dunn.

Which isn't a bad thing, especially when it means dusting off such forgotten gems as Harlan Howard's Texas-swing number "I Don't Believe I'll Fall in Love Today" and the Lefty Frizzell standard "No One To Talk to But the Blues." But the standard shuffle-and-twang formula the Derailers employ gets a little too unabashedly hoky and, well, formulaic by the end of Reverb Deluxe, which is why the hidden track, a countrified romp though Prince's "Raspberry Beret," ends up being the disc's most memorable tune.

-- Matt Ashare

*** Modest Mouse



Modest Mouse singer/guitarist Isaac Brock seems fascinated by the idea of travel. His songs' lyrics are full of highways and trains and buses and places, and they speed from one idea to another in a blur. His band know the best way to travel: to keep making the same motions over and over. They lock into edgy, hyper-rhythmic riffs that each instrument has to carry part of, cycling them with the smooth power and tiny variations of a combustion engine, for two minutes or 10 at a time. That could get old over The Lonesome Crowded West's 74 minutes, but Modest Mouse have a nice habit of breaking their own rules: one track incorporates scratching, another has acoustic guitars and fiddles. And though Brock's parched, double-tracked bark is an acquired taste, what leaps out is his startlingly cool sense of guitar tone.

-- Douglas Wolk

**** Les Paul



This illuminating double disc documents Les Paul's initial climb to fame, as well as some of the most versatile, melodic guitar playing ever recorded. On the half-dozen opening tracks backing blues singer Georgia White, Paul's in the right greasy groove. Then he hops over to country in his incarnation as Rhubarb Red before sitting in with Terry Shand's orchestra for the pseudo-Hawaiian "The Filipino Hombre." "Dream Dust" and "Blue Skies" are the most effervescent of his early trio recordings, combining speedy fretwork with melodies so cleanly enunciated each note's a chiseled delight.

Although there are seven tunes here where Paul backs up Bing Crosby, and a few with Dick Haymes, it's his work with singer Helen Forrest that seems to foreshadow his famous recordings with his wife Mary Ford. He wraps his guitar lines around her light vocalizing for a graceful union that milks all the emotion from "Spellbound" and "Everybody Knew But Me." Just a skip away from "Vaya con Dios." And the instrumentals all burn with the kind of virtuoso élan that's been buried under subsequent decades of guitar pyrotechnics. Cocktail cultists take note: all of this goes extremely well with martinis.

-- Ted Drozdowski




Presenting the entire Atlantic catalogue of pianist Tristano and his two most prominent students -- saxophonists Konitz and Marsh -- is an inspired idea. There's enough passionate, hard-driving music here to dispel the old notions that Tristano didn't swing and was too cerebral. And the charges that his concepts inhibited sidemen seem ridiculous given the depth and breadth of expression exhibited by Konitz and Marsh. As usual, Mosaic does an exhaustive job, unearthing previously unreleased tracks, and including thorough documentation in the accompanying booklet.

Several of the sessions in this six-CD set are genuine landmarks. The Tristano trio session on which the blind pianist multitracks himself includes the hypnotically surging "Line Up" and "Turkish Mambo." A Tristano solo date offers an intriguing look at his rich harmonic vocabulary, his subtle sense of time, and his flowing Baroque lines. And the 1955 Konitz/Marsh date is an absolute classic, with Konitz the relentless melodicist meshing perfectly with Marsh the harmonic architect. Filling two CDs alone, a live Tristano quartet date with Konitz makes for fascinating if somewhat uneven listening. Other sessions -- like a rare Konitz outing on tenor and a Warne Marsh date -- are welcome but no more than career sidelights. Write to Mosaic Records, 35 Melrose Place, Stamford, Connecticut 06902, or call (203) 327-7111.

-- Ed Hazell

**1/2 Holly Cole


(Metro Blue)

When Holly Cole debuted, in the early '90s, she was considered a jazz, or jazz-ish, singer, a smoky chanteuse with a slightly ironic interpretive style. But she's become progressively more pop with each release. And after having unwittingly demonstrated on her Tom Waits cover album, Temptation, that the greater part of Waits's brilliance lies in his delivery (and the lesser part in his lyrics), she has come to seem like yet another singer who can't quite recast borrowed material as her own.

Cole's current persona wavers between the kind of kittenish anomie favored by Gen X femme singers and the more nuanced ache of a jazz balladeer -- the two images best blended here on the cover of Lennon/McCartney's "I've Just Seen a Face," a sexy opener that makes the rest of the set decidedly post-climactic. There are times here when you might be willing to settle for her professionalism and attention to detail -- the occasional cushy guitar is well used -- but too often (and most egregiously on "I Told Him That My Dog Wouldn't Run") her inner Melissa Manchester emerges and she becomes just another pretty voice.

-- Richard C. Walls

*** Bennie Green


(Blue Note)

From the first slow, hot, churchy chords, this session delivers and sustains a relaxed intensity. Green was a trombonist known for his bebopper's ear and swing attack. The tunes often have the simplicity and directness of funk riffs, with short Babs Gonzalez-style group vocal intros (we're talking '58 funk here). But Green knows how to work those riffs over without wearing them out, whether blasting away a staccato line with a single note or unfolding long melodies with Ellingtonian lyricism. Tenors Gene Ammons and Billy Root play in the big horn tradition, with the warmth, brawn, and facility of Young, Webster, and Hawkins. Unlike a lot of "blowing sessions," this one is marked by varied ensemble textures and tempos, and call-and-response passages that shout. Sonny Clark and Elvin Jones round out the rhythm section.

-- Jon Garelick

*** Al Copley & the Fabulous Thunderbirds


(Bullseye Blues)

It takes only the first two tunes to get a good understanding of Al Copley's mastery of blues piano. On the opening "Doin' It" he makes like Professor Longhair, swingin' and funkin' on a syncopated New Orleans groove as if it were kid stuff. Then he cools down to simmer on his original ballad "Sunshine Moonlight," spinning sensitive melodies under Kim Wilson's wanton vocals, just waiting for the breaks when he comes on like Otis Spann -- turning those melodies into intricate spiderwebs, knit in fast spiraling flourishes. He'll work two notes till they seep into the heart, till you want the singer to get the girl so bad you're upset over it. Then he'll move back into the tune with a rhythmic flourish that cues Duke Robillard's guitar to sing.

The CD's ensemble playing is as tight as the friendship of these players, which goes back to the early days of Copley's charter membership in Roomful of Blues. But of course Copley's best friend is his piano. Which is why he can shift from barrelhousing (Amos Milburn's "Bad Bad Whiskey) to blue soul (Buddy Guy's classic "A Man and His Blues") with a flick of his wrist over the black-and-whites -- and sound as if he were born to play it all.

--Ted Drozdowski

*** A3



England's A3 project Southern-storefront idioms onto a rippling canvas of acid-house rhythms, hip-hop grooves, and tent-show mayhem. Their debut, Exile, is a colorful party favor that makes lots of cool noises. Like G. Love & Special Sauce, A3 -- led by evangelical MC the Very Reverend Dr. D. Wayne Love -- mine a world of greasy guitars, bleeding harps, and woozy revelations. This is a concept album of sorts, with the good doctor and his sidekick Larry Love linking arms to explore temptation, freedom, and redemption. In short, the mythic themes on Exile should be familiar to anyone who's spent a Saturday night staggering, as Love puts it, "in the heat of the moonshine . . . searching for salvation." The Reverend and Larry soak A3's grooves and brain cells in sixpacks of O.P.T. (an acronym for the high-alcohol-content beer "Old Purple Tin," which gets its own song here). When they exhort their congregation to "go back to church," I get the feeling it's not a specific denominational edifice they're talking about but the spiritual space inside the music. Or, maybe they're just referring to the healing power of O.P.T.

-- Jonathan Perry

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