Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

An eclectic survey of recent recordings

By Stephen Grimstead, Editor

SEPTEMBER 2, 1997: 

Sandy Carroll, Memphis Rain (Inside Memphis)

SANDY CARROLL, A NATIVE OF West Tennessee, has been a fixture of the local music scene for some time now, a veteran gigger whose history dates back to the dark ages of Beale Street, when a handful of tiny clubs were struggling to keep that sacred space for the blues alive and kicking. Carroll has written songs for (and collaborated with) just about every musician of note in the city, as well as such luminaries as Albert King and Luther Allison. (In a sad note, Allison, who co-wrote two cuts on this CD with Carroll, recently passed away very unexpectedly in the middle of a major tour. Their powerful tune, "Just As I Am," stands as a fine eulogy for this great bluesman.) On Memphis Rain (her first release for Inside Memphis, which has arranged for nationwide distribution), Carroll has delivered the quintessential Memphis CD, with a sampler of blues of every ilk, representing the fantastic moveable feast that is the River City's roots music.

On the opening cut, Carroll's raunchy alto and James Solberg's fiery guitar lock into a "Born Under A Bad Sign" groove. From there, the ragtime-flavored "Too Many Hats," a lament about over-extension, features a playful muted trumpet from the Memphis Horns' Wayne Jackson. Country blues fans will relish the title track, while gospel, funk, rock, and zydeco permeate the rest of the release.

This woman's voice is unforgettable, Southern to the hilt, with a roughness around the edges that convinces you that she knows what she's singing about. In true bluesmama tradition, Carroll mixes up metaphors about food, sex, and other domestic matters with wild abandon and a keen sense of humor. The slyly titled "While You're Up" is a prime example, as well as the Cajun-tinged "Honey Lovin' Gumbo" and "Good Line," which contains a sassy womanist dialogue in a biting send-off to a smooth-talking suitor.

In addition to her talents as a singer-songwriter, Carroll also tickles some mean ivory, as displayed on the live cut "Bad Dog Boogie" (originally commissioned as the theme song for the now-defunct Memphis Mad Dogs football team). Supported by some of the best players in our hometown, Sandy Carroll truly shines on Memphis Rain. She appears regularly at The Center For Southern Folklore and at other local clubs. Catch this woman live and treat yourself to yet another of Memphis' little-known musical treasures. -- Lisa Lumb

Madder Rose Tragic Magic (Atlantic)

MADDER ROSE, MAZZY STAR, AND Portishead are all rock bands that feature wispy, brooding female lead singers whose voices sound like a strong wind could blow them away. Emphasizing atmosphere above all else, these groups also share a predilection for dark lyrics and minor keys, with firm roots in a melancholia so intense that it makes Leonard Cohen sound downright chirpy.

Madder Rose, an NYC quartet, always seemed more substantial than the others, due mainly to an undercover funky-metal agenda that reared its interesting head on a regular basis. Tragic Magic, their third release, finds the band in search of, in their own words, "the perfect melodic groove." To that end, they've recruited guest producers on a number of tracks who have formerly collaborated with artists like Tricky, the Cure, and Public Enemy, to inject a little more texture and body into their sound. When it works, it works beautifully, as on the excellent opener, "My Star," with its delicious pop harmonies layered over a pseudo-reggae beat. But other cuts which feature this heavier production have Mary Lorson's vocals overwhelmed by the music, like the track "Delight's Pool," where her baby's-breath plaintiveness is swamped in a murky morass of guitar noise.

By mid-CD, a soporific torpor sets in, and every song begins to sound the same. The odd spoken piece set to music, "Peter and Victor," is a total throwaway, as is "Satellite," which sounds like some watered-down Go-Go's tune. The cuts are benign enough to listen to, but have no impact. In fact, listening to this release on a road trip, my eyes started to glaze over and I actually fell asleep. Tragic Magic strikes me as the perfect elevator music for Generation X-ers.

I would counsel Madder Rose to abandon their quest for that "perfect melodic groove," as the result makes them sound more like the Thompson Twins than the Velvet Underground (a band they've been compared to in the past.) At least a return to their former occasional raucousness would keep us awake. -- L.L.

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