Thursday, July 20, 2006
THE BRONX | White Drugs | Island
The Deftones were and are a terrific live band of maximum excitement, but the idea that they’d ever be influential never crossed the public’s mind (or mine). The proof of our ignorance is delivered in this package of speedy metal scrapings, undercut with the kind of NOFX-ish humor that made the ‘Tones stand out from their similarly screaming and grunting peers.
With Michael Beinhorn at the board (Red Hot Chili Peppers) pushing all things into the red, this is an uncorked rave nonstop with the exception of the made for radio power ballad “Dirty Leaves.” They have tight little harmonies when not at full scream mode; they don’t go for the dank mysticism of Tool; they do try to stretch things out. Best of all, they don’t go in for tempo shifting as dramatic device, meaning they’re pop fans at heart.
It is “loud ‘n’ fast rules” for certain, and it does go into pitfalls most mere mortals may never encounter (sex with a transsexual), but it doesn’t make a show of its own importance, unlike their peers. As someone that assiduously avoids this kind of carnage for the most part, I’m impressed.—Johnny Angel
ELVIS COSTELLO AND ALLEN TOUSSAINT | The River in Reverse | Verve Forecast
On The River in Reverse, Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint make a protest record, but the prevailing tone is measured and wistful. Much like Bruce Springsteen’s We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, it’s a political declaration mostly sustained by past statements. In this case, it includes several outstanding songs from writer/pianist/producer Toussaint’s career: “Freedom for the Stallion,” covered by Three Dog Night and Lee Dorsey; and “Nearer to You,” a hit for Betty Harris in 1967, among five others. The new songs, though unseasoned by time, are just as barbed. On “Broken Promise Land,” Costello sings, “They only claim to be redeemed/They take that name and then blaspheme/It didn’t turn out the way we planned/Now we’re living in Broken Promise Land.”
Costello is often (and sometimes rightly) accused for approaching music with too much calculated reverence. But this outlay of blues, pop and jazz—performed by Costello and Toussaint alongside Costello’s esteemed backing band, the Imposters, and the Crescent City Horns—sounds right and rich, and bobs along with grace and purpose. —Mosi Reeves
JOHNNY DOWD | Cruel Words | Bongo Beat
The cracked and emotionally fragile music made by Johnny Dowd has made him a favorite among those who like their music raw and slightly unhinged. In a world where authenticity is supposedly prized, it’s interesting that a singer/songwriter like Dowd is not better known in his own country; as usual, American originals tend to find the best reception in Europe.
Cruel Words—his sixth, and perhaps finest, album—lays bare that paradox with a collection of some of the most honest music you’re likely to hear this year. Dowd’s grittily evocative lyrics, in an absolutely un-modulated singing voice, are the first thing to pop out of the disc. But the 14 songs also gain strength from his band: Mike Stark on keyboards and Brian Wilson on drums and bass pedals. (No, not that one...but he probably wouldn’t have felt out of place at these sessions.)
The taut minimalism the trio creates is haunting and serves to emphasize the highly individual and slightly weird way in which Dowd approaches his songs. Though a couple of Mekons show up to lend some help on “Drunk,” Dowd is a man who needs no assistance. He’s a singular artist in a world of genre conformists. —Jason Ferguson