Weekly Wire
Tucson Weekly Rhythm and Views

MAY 10, 1999: 

December Wind, Sacred Voices (Canyon Records)

RED ROAD TRAVELERS whose musical philosophy is deeply steeped in their Akwesasne Mohawk heritage (one member of the quintet is a non-Native), December Wind's stylistic bent is nevertheless, and unapologeticroup's debut, handily bridges any perceived cultural gaps in the same way that Bill Miller, John Trudell, Burning Sky and Keith Secola all make the leap: speaking from the heart by invoking common imagery alongside iconic metaphor, and fusing elements of folk, blues, pop and traditional music into one seamless musical whole.

For example, the lengthy "Where Are My People," sung in both English and a Native language presumed to be Mowhawk, has an unhurried first movement comprising acoustic guitars and rattles; it gives way to a gentle folk-rock section which in turn leads to a churning finish replete with a chiming, neopsychedelic electric solo. (The tune wouldn't be out of place on a Tom Petty record.) Other highlights include the funky, skanking "Fisherman"; a roots-rocker appropriately titled "Sacred Drum" that features a compelling Bo Diddleyesque beat; and a jangly, anthemic powerpop love song, "Share My Blanket," which for all intents and purposes resurrects the classic Arizona "desert rock" sound that ruled the region in the late '80s and early '90s. Simply put, this is an unexpected pleasure that will appeal to a broad base of listeners.

--Fred Mills

Boogaloo Joe Jones, Legends of Acid Jazz Vol. 2 (Prestige)

UNHERALDED GUITARIST Boogaloo Joe Jones was a master technician of the late '60s/early '70s soul-jazz idiom, as exemplified by his deft touch, nimble fingerboard expertise and extraordinary, untapped talent. On these monumental 1970-'71 recordings (predecessors to the acid-jazz phenomenon), Jones' homegrown funk evokes memories of the great rhythm guitarists who roused James Brown. Vol. 2 encompasses the Prestige album's "No Way!" and "What It Is," showcasing Jones' impressive six-string dexterity, a funky Hammond B-3 organ and the tight, fatback drumming of Bernard Purdie.

On the leadoff track "No Way," Purdie provides a driving beat that alternates with Jones' focused groove, mixing repeated riffing with slicing, tenacious aggression. Though critically ignored, the contagious dance rhythms and enormous popularity of this percussive-heavy jazz expression ultimately disintegrated (resulting in the robotic disco vibes of Van McCoy, the flashy R&B/funk of Herbie Hancock and the smooth jazz of saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr.). Ironically, Washington turns up here on the marvelous cover of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine," blowing soulful, understated sax accompaniment to Jones' furious albeit soft instrumental strokes. Jones also unearths several self-penned funk-jazz instrumentals, like "Fadin' " and "Inside Job," the latter of which owes more to the shuffle-blues style of John Lee Hooker than the lyrical finesse of Charlie Christian (Jones' other major influence besides Tal Farlow and Wes Montgomery). These 12 phat tracks, reissued specifically for today's voracious and adoring acid-jazz crowd, rightfully place Jones as the funkiest bad-ass guitar slinger of his time.

--Ron Bally

Sunny Day Real Estate, How It Feels To Be Something On (Sub Pop)

IN 1994, SUNNY Day Real Estate released its debut album Diary. Widely heralded as the savior of the rapidly declining Sub Pop Records empire, SDRE began a new wave of emo-rock that was at once more accessible and more compelling than any of its predecessors. Unfortunately, due to the religious leanings of the band's singer/guitarist Jeremy Enigk, the band split in 1995 with the rhythm section going on to form the Foo Fighters and Enigk pursuing a solo career.

Flash to today. The band has worked out its differences and is back as a cohesive unit releasing the much-anticipated How It Feels To Be Something On. By far their best work to date, the album finds the band again embracing the wild contradictions between introspection and emotional release while fluidly fusing the two. This time the band has taken a turn away from the noisy and focused on the quieter, more ethereal elements of their sound, much to the benefit of the overall feeling of the record. Even with the lower volume, the album is still infused with SDRE's characteristic urgency and melancholy and is even enhanced by the quiet. To complete the feel of the package, they've again enlisted the services of the exceedingly talented Chris Thompson to create the artwork. Thompson's work is just as contradictory and thought-provoking as the band's music, and together they've created a CD that will be the emo touchstone for years to come.

--Jack Vaughn

Necessary Evils, The Sicko Inside Me (In The Red)

THE NECESSARY EVILS sound is like alien punk music. Imagine: the kind of creepy, blood-curdling and totally abrasive science fiction pulsation that would appeal to space creatures as they tore the limbs from the bodies of poor Sigourney Weaver's crew of Marines. Not a pretty sight, is it? Well, neither are the Necessary Evils.

Take a listen to the squalling, intergalactic garage skronk emitted from this otherworldly psycho-delic trash outfit and you'll understand what the hell this alien phenomenon is all about. Ex-Fireworks guitar demon James Arthur unleashes sinister leads from his six-string ray gun; vocalist Steve Pallow elicits the brutish screams of the Dirtbombs' Mick Collins (with inspiration from '50s low-budget sci-fi movies and '60s garage punk rather than '70s funk/R&B and blaxploitation flicks.) Check out Pallow's spine-tingling shrieks on "Brainwasher." Gory, horrific and excruciatingly painful--these are the trademarks of the Necessary Evils. If the Mono Men met the early Butthole Surfers on this dark lunar surface, they'd supernova into the Necessary Evils.

The fantastical cover of the Seeds' "The Gypsy Plays His Drums" startles as well as intoxicates with hypnotic fuzz-driven guitars conjuring a fiendish lab experiment of piercing leads and nasty bogeymen drum beats that offend as well as devastate, climaxing in an audio shower of doomsday proportions.

--Ron Bally

Junko Onishi, Fragile (Blue Note)

ONISHI IS ONE of far too few jazzers willing to update what '70s fusion gave jazz in terms of new standards and instrumental textures. The pianist/vocalist, who has played with Joe Henderson, Jackie McLean, Joe Lovano and Gary Thomas, here splits her delicate acoustic touch and '70s fusion-era electric piano tone between her own compositions and unlikely pop fare. "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" plays off a funky bass figure for over 11 minutes, while "Hey Joe" (nearly as long and Hendrix-heavy) catapults jazz-plays-blues far beyond predictability. "Sunshine Of Your Love" is the nastiest offering, with Onishi's vulgar organ work spitting in the face of every jazzbo who's grown too comfortable with Gershwin covers.

--Dave McElfresh

The Matrix, Music From The Motion Picture (Maverick)

TSK, TSK. WHAT'S one to do when the movie really knocked your socks off, music included, but the accompanying soundtrack, like, blows? Funny: in the movie the sonics and visuals meshed, the strategically chosen product-placement tunes (quick! how many bands on the CD also have contracts with Maverick or Warner's affiliates?) not relegated to the usual being-played-over-the-radio-while-the-lunatic-guts-the-chick scenario. Separated from the screen, however, this is the kind of demographic-conscious collection that infects soundtrack bins like so much musical genital herpes. Watch out kids, that skin test at the infirmary's gonna hurt.

Feel their pain: Marilyn "Mr. Columbine High" Manson's pitiful attempt to remain relevant, "Rock Is Dead" (even though The Doors beat him by almost 30 years with a song of the same title); cartoon nihilists Ministry's take on cyber-gearhead rawk ("Bad Blood"); the '90s versions of KC & The Sunshine Band and Grand Funk Railroad (respectively, The Prodigy's shapeless technofunkin' "Mindfields" and the Deftones' one-note riffology lesson "My Own Summer"); and the formerly respected Rage Against The Machine, who took a wrong turn en route to another stupid benefit for Philly cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal and wound up on the set of a Led Zep video (the "Kashmir" ripoff "Wake Up"). Only Meat Beat Manifesto's sleek, dubby techno ("Prime Audio Soup") and Monster Magnet's grand psychedelic backflip ("Look To Your Orb For The Warning") save this sorry collection from instant used-store flotsam. Come to think of it, those two groups should hook up and collaborate on the score to the inevitable The Matrix II.

--Fred Mills

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