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Tucson Weekly Rhythm & Views

APRIL 20, 1998: 

Elmo Williams & Hezekiah Early

Takes One To Know One
Fat Possum/Epitaph

ELMO WILLIAMS STARES out from the cover of his debut CD looking like one mean mutha. He seemingly dares you to challenge him and the ear-piercing music that follows. His over-amplified slop-bucket blues is just as tough and nasty sounding as his demeanor. Be warned: Neither is anything to mess with. This grizzly looking Delta blues growler/guitar basher from Natchez, Mississippi, brutalizes his cheap Yamaha axe with malicious and reckless intent on these 10 tracks, aided by a full Fender Band Master stack. There isn't any front-porch acoustic guitar picking within a country mile: Williams plays his demented brand of electrified rural blues at full volume. Space cadet drummer/harpist Hezekiah Early slams his spare kit like Olatunji juiced to the gills on moonshine and a handful of Vicodin. Takes One To Know One sizzles with succulent and tempting morsels like the haunting spookiness of "Mother's Dead" and "Hootin' and Hollerin," a demented jump-blues jaunt lifted directly from some roadside juke joint for the criminally depraved. "Insane Instrumental" is just that--an exorcism in spiritual purification. It swells with addictive guitar and drum repetition, and hooks you as swiftly as one of Lucifer's horns. Where the hell does Fat Possum unearth these psychotic, backwoods blues geniuses?

--Ron Bally


The Mavericks

Trampoline
MCA Nashville

TRAMPOLINE'S OPENING TRACK "Dance the Night Away" greets you with the perspicacity of a polka, and as the album progresses the songs toss you up and then down again, bouncing through musical genres with panache and ease. The balance of Trampoline's 13 tracks are rich in mariachi, gospel, ragtime, and country and western flourishes, including a nostalgic whiff of the barber shop; and the rock-and-roll songs blush with all of the musical innocence of Elvis in Acapulco. The orchestration is uniformly incredible, ranging from arrangements that include a full horn section with the Nashville String Machine to simple acoustic guitar, with vocals and a little whistling. The album's diversity is multi-faceted: I conjured mid-'80s Joan Armatrading ("I Should Know"), felt Roy Orbison in attendance ("I've Got This Feeling"), savored the pure pop power of Matthew Sweet ("I Don't Even Know Your Name") and crossed the west Texas scrub with the Raunch Hands ("Dream River"). It's a great disc, especially for someone listening with a musician's ear. Admittedly, the casual observer might wish The Mavericks would manifest their namesake in a less slick and more obvious manner. Though artfully constructed, admirably performed and infinitely listenable, Trampoline plays by the rules--the Mavericks don't take wild freestyle chances. But the music they produce is so beautiful, so huge, that you forget to notice. I could "Melbourne Mambo" all afternoon.

--Lisa Weeks


The Giraffes

13 Other Dimensions
My Own Planet Recordings

THE CYNICISM OF the music industry has hit a new low in its promotion of pre-manufactured image over real talent. The Giraffes, a Seattle band with roots in Kentucky (you know, Seattle bands never really come from Seattle), are made up of six stuffed animals, no doubt chosen for their photogenic cuteness; their "street cred" in dealing with the album's many animal-themed and nursery-rhymed songs; and of course, their willingness to be manipulated by others. This, to say nothing of the fact that at least three of the Giraffes are not even stuffed animals--technically they're hand puppets. 13 Other Dimensions' real dirty secret (leaked from very reliable sources) is this: Not one of the Giraffes actually plays a single note on the record. The mastermind behind the Giraffes is a shadowy musical prodigy named Chris Ballew, previously singer and main songwriter in some now-defunct band called the Presidents of the United States of America. Ballew wrote and played all the instruments on these songs, recorded over the past decade in his home studio. Only later did he recruit the phony Giraffes, apparently his childhood friends. It's a shame such deceit mars the record, because it's otherwise a delight: chock-full of effortless tunes, cozy arrangements, and colorful verses worthy of Dr. Seuss. If he wasn't stuck behind the scenes, perhaps more people would recognize Ballew's place among the most gifted pop composers of the day. When, oh when, will the record business finally offer us product that focuses on the music; where the media-tailored personality of its makers is merely an afterthought, or entirely irrelevant?

--Roni Sarig


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