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JUNE 28, 1999: 

ROBERT LOCKWOOD JR. The Complete Trix Recordings (32 Blues)

ROBERT LOCKWOOD JR. shook hands with the devil when he was a teenager in Helena, Arkansas, and survived to tell about it. The 84-year-old guitarist/vocalist learned to play the blues taught directly by one of Lucifer's unwitting (maybe not) disciples: the immortal Robert Johnson. Lockwood is perhaps the only living link to the much-ballyhooed Johnson legacy. Johnson taught the self-professed stepson his masterful hair-raising guitar technique, and Lockwood has assimilated these lessons to perfection over seven decades. This commendable 2-CD set repackages both of Lockwood's hard-to-find Trix albums: Contrasts, recorded in 1973; and its 1975 companion ...Does 12.

Contrasts illustrates Lockwood's range of talents and influences from his jazzy Louis Jordan-style jump blues licks (with stalwart honking sax by longtime accompanist Maurice Reedus) on the bedazzling instrumental "Annie's Boogie" to the plaintive Delta-muddy acoustic finger picking of "Driving Wheel," written by pianist Roosevelt Sykes.

Lockwood covers the obligatory Johnson slide-favorite "Dust My Broom" and even tackles the classically styled "Majors, Minors and Ninths," where the influence of Charlie Christian clearly reverberates. On ...Does 12, the emphasis shifts directly to Lockwood's impressive 12-string electric guitar, where he steps out from behind the shadow of his legendary stepfather despite covering three of his best-loved songs (including a marvelous rendition of "Terraplane Blues"). On the Lockwood-penned originals "This Is the Blues" and "Down Home Cooking," his dazzling fretwork both amazes and delights. Johnson still remains a mysterious, much revered American blues icon, but Lockwood deserves just as much respect and admiration--you'll agree after listening to this compelling collection.

--Ron Bally

JAWBOX My Scrapbook of Fatal Accidents (Desoto Records)

THIS IS THE epitaph to one of the most underappreciated bands of the decade. Started in 1988 in Washington D.C., Jawbox quickly became a local favorite, which led to a record deal with the venerable Dischord Records. Their national and international popularity grew quickly by word of mouth, and after two records on Dischord, the band signed to Atlantic in the alternative-band major-label signing frenzy of the early '90s. Their brilliant first Atlantic release consisted of beautifully-crafted rock and roll songs, but unfortunately did not turn out to be commercially successful. Sales were strong enough to merit a second album; however, as the street date of the record (their best yet) approached, Atlantic, facing rough financial times, squelched promotion and marketing budgets. Very few copies made it to stores. The experience was wrenching enough for the band to call it quits.

They have now self-released a collection of alternate takes, singles, live material, compilation tracks and never-before-heard songs. The CD, more of a document of the last days of the band, is a means of saving their material for posterity. As such, it lacks the coherent flow of their former albums, but still the band's greatness shines through. The drum beats are tricky and driving, the two guitars weave together and play off of each other seamlessly, and Jay Robbins' lyrics are smart and poetic--a true mix of art and math.

Jawbox's lack of commercial success was understandable. They didn't dress up in space suits. They didn't light their equipment on fire. They didn't use samples. But they were a stripped-down quartet that played intelligent, rocking post-punk that meant something. My Scrapbook is a testament to that fact.

--Jack Vaughn

VARIOUS ARTISTS The Postpunk Chronicles Vols. 1 - 3 (Rhino)

WHERE WERE YOU in '79? I know where I was: living in a trailer in the woods near Chapel Hill, NC, ears glued to the radio listening to a UNC student radio new wave/punk show called Anarchy In The P.M.

Hearing all these vintage singles, many of them import-only at the time, is like flipping through a sonic yearbook. Rhino, in its eternal wisdom, has compiled 48 tracks and spread them over three separately available discs (Scared To Dance, Left Of The Dial, Going Underground), proving at least to these ears that a lot of the synth-drenched electropop that would come later (and now comprising those ubiquitous '80s compilations) was really just cheesy faux disco repackaged by artfag Brits and sold back to us. "Do It Clean" by Velvets/Doors worshipers Echo & The Bunnymen; "To Hell With Poverty" by Marxist funkateers Gang Of Four; "I Wanna Destroy You" by psychedelic loons The Soft Boys; "Final Solution" by apocalyptic avant-punks Pere Ubu; "I'm In Love With A German Film Star" by wispy etherealists The Passions; "Transmission" by dark angst angels Joy Division; "Radio Free Europe" by eventual superstars R.E.M.; "Gravity Talks" by roots-psych cowboys Green On Red--it's all here, the soundtrack to a class reunion where only the cool folks you hung out with are invited.

And even if these comps are not totally Velveeta-free--Heaven 17's "Fascist Groove Thing" and Simple Minds' "Life In A Day" will surely cure you of any synth fetish you may latently harbor--there's a refreshing innocence and sense of freedom afoot that suggests the anti-classic rock efforts of punk weren't in vain. This is the sound of pop reinventing itself.

--Fred Mills

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