Thursday, November 11, 2004
At first, listening to The Gourds’ Blood of the Ram is a little like panning for gold in a swamp. Though this twisted Austin, Texas-based roots music group hit paydirt with their 2002 release Cow Fish Fowl Or Pig—an album filled with sharp songwriting and memorable songs—it takes a while longer for the tunes to emerge from the murkier production on this CD. Despite a nice southern rock sound, tunes like “Wired Ole Gal” and “Spanky” never fully emerge from the muck.
But, after repeated listenings, a handful of real nuggets begin to surface. “Escalade” is great white trash country soul, while “Cracklins” is a southern magic realism tale about fried pork skins over banjo and accordion. Despite its crappy subject matter, the chorus of “Turd” sounds like something Jagger and Richards might have done in the ‘70s. Best of all is the title track: a surreal song about a sheep where singer Kev Russell seems to be impersonating country legend Waylon Jennings. (ST)
The New Danger | Geffen Records
Rumor has it that Mos Def’s sophmore release is actually the debut album for Mos’ rap-rock band, Black Jack Johnson. And dirtier rumors say that the original Johnson project was actually canned by its label, forcing Mos to scrape together the remains under his own name. True or not, there’s no denying the presence of the band in this release. Seven tracks in, there’s not a trace of hip-hop, but you’ll get a lot of punk-ish, distorted, guitar-driven tracks, a straight blues cover, and some elements of a funk jam.
If you’re looking for a Mos Def hip-hop album, this isn’t it. While the rock aspects may seem unpolished, there’s no denying the boldness of his experimentation. His singing and punk-rock utterances may also draw some fire, but when he gets down to it, Mos still has the tight flow, and most importantly, the right message. As with his debut, Mos opens Danger with a quick, muttered line of Arabic. Later in the album, he extends that prayer to all his listeners in the closer “Champion Requiem,” in the same humble, conversational style. And in this fearful western world we live in today, Mos Def may be the most accessible, intelligent, and on-point ambassador we have. (BS)
Enjoy Every Sandwich: Songs of Warren Zevon | Artemis Records
Warren Zevon was not only one of the great American songwriters, but also one of the most loved and now the most missed. The diversity of those who appear on the tribute, Enjoy Every Sandwich‚ speaks to how far his influence reached beyond his limited genre of Fleetwood Mac-style late ‘70s radio rock. It makes sense that his contemporaries Bruce Springsteen, Ry Cooder, and Bob Dylan would make their offerings, but there are some genuine surprises as well. Like Adam Sandler who sings “Werewolves of London” without for one moment sounding like a smart ass.
The compilation tribute format has two consistent major flaws, though. The first is that there is no sense of natural continuity between songs. To soften this effect many of the original backup musicians were re-commissioned to work on Enjoy Every Sandwich‚ and Jorge Calderon—Zevon’s long time band-mate and producer—did most of the production. The second is that none of the featured artists are ever as good at doing what the memorialized did originally, and listening to these versions just sadly refers back to moments that are gone—which, ultimately, is the point of a tribute. (MB)