Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

By Stephen Grimstead

DECEMBER 28, 1998: 

311, Live (Capricorn)

Hmmm…a new live CD from five of my favorite, far-out, funkin’, hammer-headed rock-and-roll urchins.

Rock’s massive catalog of recorded music features a plethora of live albums, and though a small portion are outstanding, most of those I’ve encountered sound more like contractual fulfillment than audio documentation of unforgettable concert performances. 311’s latest product rises above the ignominy of mere contractual fulfillment, but probably won’t go down in rock-and-roll history as anything special, although I’m sure Live will serve nicely as a stopgap for those legions of youthful stoners who need something to carry them up to the release date of the band’s next studio album. (Of course, most of 311’s faithful are, by nature, adept at implementing certain stopgap measures – many a honkin’ joint has been cobbled together from stray roaches cleverly secreted within a car’s ashtray.)

Live’s production quality scores several degrees above the norm, and 311’s trademark metallic funk crunches loud and muscular. (One gripe: The manner by which the annoyingly uniform “ahhhhh!” crowd noise is faded in and out of the music mix comes off as more than a bit canned.) Combine their immense sonic assault with the band’s somewhat naive, hemp-inspired commentary on everything from social issues to cosmic phenomena, and it’s no wonder that 311 enjoy hero status among so many young whites.

If you’re already a 311 devotee, you’ll surely love Live – seeds, stems, and all. But for newcomers in search of dumb fun, I fervently recommend Transistor, one of 1997’s most thumping releases.

– Stephen Grimstead

Jim Carroll, Pools Of Mercury (Mercury)

Listening to Jim Carroll’s music is a lot like reading his poetry – it’s usually a harrowing journey, but one worth all the ensuing trauma. Pungent, street-smart urban poet Carroll returns to the rock arena after a 14-year absence with Pools Of Mercury (strange-ly enough, on Mercury Records), a 15-song/story collection that defies easy categorization.

“Nobody is going to ruin me. If I have to, I will ruin myself,” Carroll asserts in “My Ruins.” No one seems more surprised that he’s still alive than Mr. Carroll himself, and his somber meditations on survival ultimately prove inspirational instead of desperational (particularly on “Message Left On A Phone Machine” and “8 Fragments For Kurt Cobain”). Don’t expect another righteously angry anthem like “People Who Died,” as Pools Of Mercury is more story than song.

Two-thirds of the album is derived from selections out of Carroll’s last two poetry collections – Fear Of Dreaming (1993) and Void Of Course (1998). Carroll’s never been one to shy away from the gory details, so expect a slap or two across the face as these twisted little tales unfold. As would be expected, death imagery abounds when you live in the junkie’s shadow. “I am not the corpse buried beneath snow, waiting for spring to be found,” Carroll calmly intones on “I Am Not Kurt Schwitters,” as if it were a matter-of-fact victory over terminal adversity.

While these 10 poems are pretty tough meat (and benefit greatly from the stark, swirling soundscapes of producer Anton Sanko), it’s the brand-new songs (“Falling Down Laughing,” the queasy “Desert Town,” “Hairshirt Fracture,” “The Beast Within,” and the feedback-drenched title cut, “Pools Of Mercury”) that make the deepest impression. The overall package exudes literary confidence without a trace of pretension, displaying Jim Carroll as a true artist unfettered by fashion.

With Pools Of Mercury, Jim Carroll has delivered another shadowy stunner, a sensory and sensuous tableau of wordplay contrasted against starkly atmospheric instrumental backgrounds. Not exactly the “feel-good” record of the season, but an important release, just the same.

– David D. Duncan

Kate & Anna McGarrigle, The McGarrigle Hour (Hannibal)

Imagine, if you will, a pleasant evening in Kate and Anna’s parlor, where the extended family and friends delve into a varied and delightful series of songs. Consider the family: In addition to the remarkable singer/songwriter siblings Kate & Anna, there’s Kate’s ex-husband Loudon Wainwright and their kids Rufus and Martha, notable performers in their own right. Add some friends like longtime associate Chaim Tannenbaum, as well as Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris, and you’ve got enough talent to burst out the parlor doors.

The songs are wonderful, opening with Loudon’s “Schooldays,” and including Kate’s “NaCL” and Anna’s “Cool River,” as well as traditional fare and songs by Stephen Foster, Jesse Winchester, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and others. The tone’s relaxed and the performances are exceptionally warm and inviting.

McGarrigle records are rare and important musical events, and this new one is a unique gem in their already exceptional catalog. – Gene Hyde

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