Boston Phoenix CD Reviews
OCTOBER 26, 1998:
(Mercury)When Meredith Brooks proclaimed the right kind of guitar sound could get her down on all fours, she was talking about the sting of Muddy Waters slide circa 1956. Evinrudes guitarist Brian Reed has an approach a million miles away from that -- some have deemed it a power buzz -- but it prompts his longtime partner Sherry Cothran to sing as if she were already involved in carnal capers. The Nashville indie band's major-label debut is based on Cothran's licentious rasp and the group's earnest punch. In tandem they help make a minor album a bit more memorable.
Cothran's audio eros is a mix of Brooks and Shirley Manson, which might help the Evinrudes fit into a modern-rock play list somewhere. If it does, listeners will get a dose of some rather novel lyrics penned by songwriter Reed. On "Have Some Rain," Cothran offers a first-person tale of a woman fresh out of a Florida funny farm. Her eating disorder has "got a strange name, something 'nervosa'/I think I look like Hoss on Ponderosa." That's a couplet worthy of the Beasties. There's humor, or at least wit, in the air around The Evinrudes, suggesting Brooks and Cothran -- a Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox for the jangle crowd -- believe angst isn't without its absurd side. That's a plus no matter what genre you're working.
-- Jim Macnie
***1/2 Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star
(Rawkus)After heading up Native Tongues, a loose affiliation of consciousness-raising hip-hop artists, for almost a decade, A Tribe Called Quest have announced their intention to call it quits. But the spirit of Quest lives on in one of hip-hop's most impressive debuts of the year, Black Star. Impressive solo MCs in their own right, Mos Def and Talib Kweli have been dropping cameos and singles for more than a year now. As a team they merge heart, humor, and intellect with poetic wordplay that questions the values and standards of mainstream hip-hop in America. Using the ideas of Marcus Garvey as their guiding principal, the duo flow over deep grooves remarkably free of recognizable samples. The result is heavy enough to move serious hip-hop heads and funky enough to fuel a house party, even as Def and Kweli get bookish and paraphrase Toni Morrison on the status of black people: "Not strong, only aggressive/Not free, we only licensed/Not compassionate, only polite/Not good, but well behaved/Chasin' after death so we could call ourselves brave/Still livin' like mental slaves."
-- Michael Endelman
(Antra/A&M)There was little reason to think this workaday rapper would ever survive the diaspora that followed the downfall of Death Row Records, the West Coast gangsta rap label that gave Kurupt and his former partner Daz their brief moment of glory as the Dogg Pound. But not only has this Philadelphia native emerged with his very own vanity label at A&M, he has pieced together a double CD that seeks to prove his bi-coastal roots by touching upon practically every West and East Coast style out there. The casual mastery of this sweeping, unrelenting tour not only renders questions of imagination and originality moot, it ends up sounding like the best gangsta rap move of the year. As has been the case since the earliest days of heavy metal, those who care about content as well as form might look elsewhere -- for starters, Kurupt's crass vituperations make Snoop Dogg sound as genteel as David Niven. Still, if our prejudices ever disintegrate the way our moral standards have, there may come a day when all pop fans will consider this genre exercise as "classic'' as Led Zeppelin II.
-- Franklin Soults
***1/2 Eddie Cusic
I WANT TO BOOGIE
(HMG)If Eddie Cusic wants to boogie, who the Hell's gonna stop him? At 72 -- a ripe age for a man making his recording debut -- he's pretty much set in his ways. That's good, because this resident of Leland, Mississippi, plays acoustic guitar like a chugging piledriver. In fact, these 15 songs come off as an encyclopedia of basic blues rhythms, delivered with an authority established in more than 50 years of performing around his home town. Unlike his ex-bandmate Little Milton, Cusic never left Leland to find a career in the North. Instead, he farmed while he raised a family and played weekend parties where he developed a powerful way of thumping his instrument to cut through the festive din. Caught here solo, as he usually plays, Cusic hits tunes by Muddy, Jimmy Reed, himself, and others in his typically straightforward style. His finger picking simmers best when he's working a polyrhythmic groove (as in "Worry You Off My Mind"). And his sad-edged voice is a match for his no-nonsense guitar. It's baked hard as Delta mud through years of house-party moaning.
-- Ted Drozdowski
***1/2 Diamanda Galás
MALEDICTION AND PRAYER
(Asphodel)As sung in church, the gospel standard "Live the Life" is a rousing, sermon-ending send-off, the congregation's promise to remember the lessons of the pulpit after they leave the pews. At the song's heart, though, is a rejection of hypocrisy in general. So that when Memphis garage-punks the Oblivians covered it last year -- this from the band who wrote "I'm Not a Sicko, There's a Plate in My Head" -- the refrain became something like a threat.
But neither of these interpretations fits avant-diva Diamanda Galás when she sings "Live the Life" toward the end of the program on her live album Malediction and Prayer. Returning to the terrain of 1992's The Singer -- applying her blood-curdling, multi-register gothic shriek and moan to spirituals, bucket-of-blood blues, and R&B standards -- she turns "The Thrill Is Gone," Son House's soul-chilling "Death Letter," and Johnny Cash's "25 Minutes To Go," into a funereal cabaret of the damned, her impossible trills and basso rumblings mounting a litany of anguish, determination, and loss. By the time she sings the words "I'm gonna live the life I sing about in my songs," the refrain sounds not like a promise, or a threat, but like the most unbearable of curses, the words of one who is doomed to darkness, almost like a warning to the rest of us who would follow her, even though she would not relieve herself of the spell if she could.
-- Carly Carioli
*** Dash Rip Rock
(PC Music)If Jason & the Scorchers cross Hank Williams with the Ramones, Dash Rip Rock are a looser, friendlier cross of Marty Robbins and the Titanics -- both of whom get covered on their eighth and best album. The New Orleans trio's hard-working/hard-drinking ethos makes them consistently fun on stage, but it hasn't always translated to disc. Their pseudo-hit so far was "Let's Go Smoke Some Pot," a joky throwaway from a couple years back.
Paydirt marks their first serious bid for airplay, with help from former Dash drummer Fred LeBlanc, who's now making waves with Cowboy Mouth. He tones down the band's novelty side, bringing out a more streamlined mix of pop/country and '60s garage. They even do a couple of love songs they likely would have thrown out in the past. The disc's most obvious single, "She's Got a Lot Of," is produced to sound like one. With a mournful lyric and Cajun fiddle, "Markers Down" is as far from the usual Dash as it gets. But the proudly stoopid guitar/girlfriend metaphor of "String You Up" proves they haven't grown all the way up.
-- Brett Milano
(Virgin)One might suspect that Cracker are entering a period of the doldrums if it weren't that a certain languid nonchalance has always been at the heart of their sound -- certainly at the heart of lead singer David Lowery's distinct and shaggy drawl. Still, the goings-on here tend to be so straightforward, you know a rocker's lament like "The Good Life" is meant to be ironic only because it's being done by Cracker. There are still antic touches, but they're fewer and farther between, with the exception of "Lullabye," a toss-off crammed with whimsical free-associative lyrics. For the most part Lowery and lead guitarist Johnny Hickman are content to write pleasant exercises in various favored genres -- '70s rock ("Waiting for You Girl"), country blues by way of the Stones ("Trials and Tribulations," "Wedding Day"), and a kind of laid-back, loping roots rock which is their signature sound. But if the songs don't seem as sharp as they used to be, there are still plenty of fine moments -- like the bit about the dog on "Hold of Myself" -- that don't seem to mean anything but are just simply, plain cool.
-- Richard C. Walls
***1/2 Celine Dion
S'IL SUFFISAIT D'AIMER
(Sony)Dion's second CD produced in France (by Jean-Jacques Goldman, who also commanded D'eux, her first) displays more facets of her artistry than the US CDs. The focus is different from the love-forever steadfastness ballads of her English-language work. In France, Dion offers orchestrated blues, operatic intimacy, and righteous soul music, idioms on which the major French variété stars of the last three decades -- France Gall, Jane Birkin, and Myléne Farmer -- founded their mega-careers. She makes these genres her own. The delicate forcefulness she imparts to "Zora sourit" and "Je chanterai," for example, soars more brightly than the sublimely dusky soprano of France Gall. Her vulnerability in "Je crois toi," her power in "L'abandon," and the comforting sureness of the CD's title song have an earthy realism unlike Farmer's cool and horny dreaminess. Jane Birkin's sad-song oeuvre has nothing as gritty as "Terre" and "Tous les blues sont écrits pour toi," power blues in which Dion rides high and joyously.
Goldman's arrangements never slip into cliché or settle for a quick hook; every measure of his music cuts against expectations, isolating Dion's singing to bring a melody to life. True, she never reaches, in this ladylike session, the youthful stridency and blissful rhythm that distinguish 1991's Dion chante Plamondon, her rockingest CD. But Goldman's polish becomes her. For a true Dion fan, this is, like Plamondon, a must-own CD.
-- Michael Freedberg
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