by Tom Hallett
Hey, hey, ‘Dial-heads! Welcome to the New Year!! Hope ya’ll are well on yer ways over ya hangovers an’ ready, ready, ready to get back into the rock and/or roll ... here at the ‘Dial, we’ve got one just more week’s worth of New West Records reviews to cruise thru, then it’s back to more great, fresh local and national CD and DVD releases, plus your favorite rants, raves, an’ rock n’ roll hootchie-coo!! Bang on, then ...
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Originally ... I was going to raise chickens.
But then something unexpected happened. I heard Elvis Presley for the first
time.” — Neil Young
SONG OF THE WEEK: “Shelter from the Storm” —Bob
Blame The Vain
Yeah, he wears a hat, but you’d be a fool to lump country-rock singer/songwriter/guitarist
Dwight Yoakam into
the same category as Garth, Clint Black or that wanker who sings “Honky-Tonk
Badonk-A-Donk.” Yoakam may take his cues from California pickers like
Buck Owens and story-tellers like Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard, but he’s
rock and roll enough that he spent years playing the same L.A. club circuit
as X, Dave Alvin and Los Lobos.
And though he’s had an admirable number of hits on country radio over
the years (particularly with his re-issued Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc. Etc.
and his duet with Mr. Owens, “Streets Of Bakersfield”) his music
is edgy and contemporary enough to sit comfortably next to his current label-mates
Chuck Prophet and Vic Chesnutt. (Yoakam and Chesnutt have crossed paths before,
as actors in the Billy Bob Thornton epic “Slingblade”)
The Vain, his first for New West, is hands-down his strongest effort since
2000’s Tomorrow’s Sounds Today, as evidenced by the title
track. The song fairly oozes out on an electronic whine reminiscent of The Electric
Prunes’ “Too Much To Dream,” then slams into the heart-breaking,
low-slung Telecaster growl (courtesy of hot-shit axe-man Keith Gattis) that’s
become Yoakam’s trademark sound. An insta-classic, and one that, in a
just world, would be topping country music charts across the country.
Sadly, Nashville continues plodding its way through the stinking mire that is
over-wrought stage pomp and over-produced studio circumstance—depriving
the public of this brand of true-blue, from-the-gut, rocked-up country. Yoakam
may not be a fresh voice on the scene, but he’s making fresh music and
growing in leaps and bounds artistically—and thanks to New West, we’ll
be able to follow along.
Awake Is The New Sleep
Former indie/pop teen star Ben Lee comes
into his own in a big way with AITNS, his fifth full-length release.
Though there are definite traces here of the snappy pop ‘tude Lee first
found fame with—he was a founding member of Noise Addict and broke into
the U.S. alternative scene in the early ‘90s with flighty singles like
“Pop Queen” and “Away With The Pixies”—this album
finds him digging deeper into shades of country, jazz, folk and outright rock
‘n’ roll than ever before.
Kicking off with the uplifting ballad “Whatever It Is,” Lee immediately
sets an adventurous mood: “Just do it, whatever it is, go do it ...”
he croons over cautious acoustic licks and gorgeous, shimmering keyboards, urging
his listener as much as he is himself, “Awake is the new sleep ... so
wake up ...” The record features Lee on vocals, guitar, bass and percussion,
Lara Meyerratken on keys, vocals and drums, McGowan Southworth on guitar, vocals
and keys, producer Brad Wood on drums, bass and sax, able rhythm assistance
from Jason Schwartzman, Eric Gardner, Robb Hann and Chuck Wolverton, as well
as special guest vocalists including the Twin Cities’ own ubiquitous rock
star, Har Mar Superstar.
no surprise that so many talented artists were clamoring to record with the
Oz-born singer/songwriter, when you consider he counts among his many admirers
Thurston Moore, The Beastie Boys and Evan Dando, just to name a few. AITNS,
besides being inspired by Lee’s Taoist beliefs and practices, also showcases
a young artist who’s definitely lived with his share of pain and heartbreak
since his giddy days in the indie spotlight—tracks like “Gamble
Everything For Love,” “Ache For You” and “No Right Angles”
delve into the dark side of romance as well as the universal search for truth
But just when you think Lee’s gone all Badfinger, he does a flip and tosses
out an exuberant, confident pop masterpiece like “Catch My Disease,”
name-dropping his faves (“... they play Good Charlotte on the radio/ An’
that’s the way I like it/ They play Sleepy Jackson on the radio ... I
hear Beyonce’ on the radio .... an’ they play me on the radio/ An’
that’s the way I like it/ So please, baby, please/ Open your heart/ An’
catch my disease ...” Highly infectious, deadly only to hard-hearted,
stone-cold non-romantics, and one bug you won’t want to get rid of—if
Awake Is The New Sleep, put on a fresh pot of coffee, ‘cause this
one’s too good to miss.
Master Of Disaster
Talk about a songwriter! This guy’s been covered by so many disparate
artists—Iggy Pop, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Ronnie Milsap—that Rhino
Records saw fit to release a whole album’s worth of his tunes as interpreted
by others in 1993. He’s burned his way through Nashville, New Wave and
major label hell, suffered some heavy personal losses along the way, and still
continues to release albums chock full of some of the best songwriting to come
down the popular music pike since Jimmy Webb’s heyday.
Master Of Disaster, John
Hiatt’s second album for New West (along with 2003’s Beneath
This Gruff Exterior), is another fine cornucopia of witty, self-deprecating
lyrics, rootsy, all-American guitars and laid-back, midwestern grooves. The
title track finds Hiatt’s ever-present, guitar-slingin’, road-weary
hero still travelin’ the back roads and playin’ the dives of a rapidly
disappearing Old America: “An’ the master of disaster/ gets tangled
in his Telecaster/ He can’t play it any faster/ When he plays the blues/
Now he’s just a mean old bastard ...”
Aided and abetted here by a truly awe-inspiring backing band (North Mississippi
All-Stars founders—and sons of famed producer Jim—Luther and Cody
Dickinson on guitar and drums, East Memphis Slim on keys, Muscle Shoals bassist/session
man extraordinaire—and father of Drive-By Truckers frontman Patterson—David
Hood, a horn section and a violinist), Hiatt’s quite possibly made the
album here that he’s been trying to nail since ‘88s phenomenal Slow
Turning. “Thunderbird” could be an answer to “Drive South,”
Hiatt now content to cruise the county roads of home, cooing to his darling,
“... Put your head on my shoulder/ Don’t say a word/ We’ll
cut across town in my Thunderbird ...”
Blues” is an upbeat romp, replete with barrel-house keys and Hiatt half-howling,
“Come on baby/ I got a song for you/ A lil’ somethin’ I call
the wintertime blues ...” “Cold River” is a riveting tale
of outlaw love and fleeting redemption; “Old School” entertains
the notions of the eternal codger—and sounds like a Merle Haggard outtake
from the early ‘70s—and album closer “Back On The Corner”
is a bittersweet, beautifully picked ode to lost youth and more innocent times.
Hiatt may have never gotten the due he deserves from the record buying public,
but as long as he continues to write, sing and play honest, down-to-earth, genuinely
original music like this, he’ll remain on the short list of great American
That’s all the room we’ve got this time ‘round, buoys an’
grrls—check in again next week for more merriment, madness and musical
mayhem—‘til we meet again—make yer own damn news.
If you have local music news/gigs/events/CDs you’d like mentioned in
this space, or you’d just like to complain that your yuppie neighbor still
has his 10,000-watt Xmas lights blazing the nights away, send replies to: Tmygunn777@peoplepc.com.