Thursday, September 2, 2004
In 2001, Lars Frederiksen, guitarist from the popular Bay Area punk group, Rancid, released a side project with another punk group, the Bastards. Their self-titled debut was a collection of songs about the guitarist’s childhood that peaked with a great version of Billy Bragg’s “To Have and Have Not.”
On Frederiksen’s second release with the Bastards, he expands his focus and sound with mixed results. Songs like “Switchblade” and “Fight” with lyrics like “all I wanna do is fight” sound like Rancid stripped of their Clash-like forays into reggae and politics—which is what has made the band more interesting than other punk groups.
The most interesting songs on the release are numbers like “My Life to Live,” where Rancid bandmate Tim Armstrong duets with Frederiksen over an Irish-sounding ditty, and “The Viking,” a song where the guitarist talks about his life like a punk rock lounge singer over a violin, strings and piano. Moments like these prove that Frederiksen is not totally wasting his time when he is vacationing from Rancid.
Throughout his career, “Kool Keith” Thornton’s absurd sense of humor has allowed him to address, with deadpan composure, subject matter that other rappers would be way too self-conscious to touch. His latest record is inspired by the lifestyle of long-haul truckers, which Thornton glorifies as if it were somehow comparable to being a pimp or basketball star.
Thankfully, he doesn’t confine himself to one theme, but lets himself digress to spend a verse or two trashing his peers in the music industry or to take off on a metaphysical flight as he does on “Kenworths With Wings.”
Diesel Truckers features the standard vulgarity, free-meter delivery, and laughably bad, minimalist choruses but, as always, there is nothing standard or predictable about its lyrical threads. The thrilling part of listening is following the erratic trail of associations which results in a critical mass of miscellaneous details and images ordered and presented in such a way that can only be compared to the dreaming mind.
The CD is enhanced, containing an mpeg video file that shows Keith working on Diesel Truckers in the studio—an eight-minute vignette proving his brilliance is not as accidental as it may seem.
Lightning in a Bottle
Marry perfect material (in the form of blues standards) to great artists (in different genres) and you’d have to think it was a winner all the way. Well, you’d be mostly right, and this collection of covers by a lot of unlikely interpreters partially proves the point.
While John Fogerty and BB King assay songs already associated with them, the rest of the batch is full of likely pairings (Solomon Burke doing Bobby “Blue” Bland) and very unlikely ones (Chuck D doing John Lee Hooker). The best tracks come from the ageless wonder Buddy Guy, the close-to-ageless wonder, Gregg Allman, and the vocal chameleon himself, David Johansen. The latter is paired with Howlin’ Wolf guitarist Hubert Sumlin on Wolf’s “Killing Floor” and is as remarkably close to Wolf’s vocal bellow as Sumlin’s picking is to Johansen’s own late guitar partner, the equally minimalistic Johnny Thunders.
Some fails (Aerosmith’s two frontmen crapping out on Slim Harpo), some succeeds beyond a shadow of a doubt (India Aire doing Billie Holiday), and all of it is cleanly recorded and bright—a dream mix tape with only a few rough patches and, as such, a terrific Fall purchase.