November 1, 2004

Blues Explosion


Although former GP cover boy Jon Spencer has dropped his name from the band's moniker, the Blues Explosion haven't changed a bit. And that can be both a good and a bad thing. Whereas their last release, Plastic Fang, showed signs the group's songs were beginning to live up to the trio's larger than life strut and swagger, Damage goes the route of Blues Explosion records like 1998's Acme-sonically a blast to listen to, but ultimately leaving you wanting more. Damage sports guitar tones that are savage, and, at times, frighteningly ugly. And Spencer and co-guitarist Judah Bauer are still doing their knuckle-dragging best to prove good guitar playing always comes from the gut. But, dammit, I'm still waiting for that one Blues Explosion record that really hits me in the gut. Sanctuary.

-Darrin Fox

Colonel Claypool's Bucket of Bernie Brains

The Big Eyeball in the Sky

In 2002, Primus bassist Les Claypool joined with several members of Praxis-Buckethead, drummer Brian "Brain" Mantia, and keyboardist Bernie Worrell-to jam at the Bonnaroo Festival in Manchester, Tennessee. The success of that impromptu performance (as well as several subsequent shows in the San Francisco Bay Area) inspired Claypool and crew to make this album, which was recorded in five days at Claypool's Northern California studio. The 11 songs spotlight Claypool's terrifying bass playing and wry, satirical lyrics-which Claypool says were penned at the onset of the Iraq war, and reflect the "frustration and confusion" he felt during that time. Claypool's sardonic rants (which tackle subjects ranging from politics to media consolidation to urban legend) are entertaining enough, but fueled by Brain's gonzo percussion assault, the fat keyboard work of Worrell (Funkadelic, George Clinton, Talking Heads), and Buckethead's dazzling guitar playing (which encompasses sly rhythmic figures, bizarre effects, and, of course, wicked solos that rip out at warp speed over the explosive grooves), The Big Eyeball in the Sky ranks as a pretty unforgettable listening experience. CCBBB antes up all the humor, demented harmony, and ace musicianship you could expect from such a storied cast of characters, and, man, does it rock! Prawn Song.

-Art Thompson

Keneally + Metropole Orkest

The Universe Will Provide

Zappa alumni Keneally explains this music as "a collaboration between me and my eight-year-old self." The result is a spectacular orchestral romp through musical landscapes inspired by everything from Looney Tunes to Var`se to Mahavishnu, and referencing themes as diverse as "My Favorite Things" and "Purple Haze." There has been a resurgence of rock musician/orchestra pairings in recent years, but, in most cases, they've simply involved orchestrating existing material, whereas the music on this CD was composed specifically for the Metropole Orkest by Keneally and arranged by he and collaborator Chris Opperman (with Jurjen Hempel conducting). While Keneally takes full advantage of the orchestra's capabilities-including sections featuring mostly percussion and winds-his extraordinarily nimble and inventive guitar work is typically front and center, providing a continual thread that ties everything together. Brilliant! Favored Nations.

-Barry Cleveland

Richard Bennett

Themes from a Rainy Decade

Session guitarist and producer Richard Bennett has worked with many greats, including Waylon Jennings, Emmylou Harris, the Everly Brothers, Ringo Starr, Steve Earle, Marty Stuart, Mark Knopfler, and Billy Joel. After years of playing a supportive role, Bennett has finally stepped into the spotlight with a solo album, and it's a moody masterpiece. Imagine the intersection point of Hank Marvin's keening Strat in the Shadows' "Apache," Vinnie Bell's throbbing baritone in Angelo Badalamenti's Twin Peaks Theme, and the lonesome, reverb-drenched electric in Ennio Morricone's theme to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Springing from this crossroad of cosmic twang, the 12 instrumental originals on Themes from a Rainy Decade sound like music from another era. Bennett's tones glint like molten silver, his attack is unerring, his vision is relentlessly melodic, and the band's accompaniment is appropriately retro. Many pickers visit the world of surf-meets-chaparral, but it's obviously Bennett's home. Moderne Shellac.

-Andy Ellis

The Nels Cline Singers

The Giant Pin

Once labeled "the world's most dangerous guitarist" for his explosive New Music explorations, Nels Cline has more recently been seen weilding a Jazzmaster alongside Jeff Tweedy as the newest member of Wilco. On this second release by the Nels Cline Singers-which, by the way, does not include any vocalists-Cline and company conjure up oddly compelling forms ranging from haunting and ethereal jazzistry to monstrously massive nuevo-metal noise sculptures. Joining Cline are veteran improvisors Devin Hoff (acoustic bass) and Scott Amendola (drummer/percussionist/electronics wizard), along with contributions from keyboardist Jon Brion and "vocalist" Greg Saunier-who each bring a fascinating array of harmonic conceptions and timbres to the party. Lots of effects are on display here as well-including killer Echoplex, feedback, and harmonizer sounds-but they are masterfully played like instruments and function as an integral part of the music. Highlights include the early-'70s King Crimson-like "He Still Carries a Torch for Her" and "Something About David H.," the wonderfully dissonant chordal bass work on "The Ballad of Devin Hoff," and the lovely lyricism of "Watch Over Us." Cryptogramophone.

-Barry Cleveland

Gov't Mule

Déj` Voodoo

After Gov't Mule's original bassist Allen Woody died in 2000, Warren Haynes and drummer Matt Abts took a surprising tack. Rather than seek an immediate replacement, they elected to record and perform with more than a dozen of the world's top bass players. The results were documented in a series of jam-based albums and Mike Gordon's provocative film, Rising Low. Now, Gov't Mule has regrouped with Andy Hess and Danny Louis on bass and keys, respectively, and emerged with their strongest album yet. The songs are gripping, the grooves tight, and Haynes' guitar screams, whistles, warbles, and grinds with stunning power. Haynes manages to channel Paul Kossoff, and tap the essence of early Leslie West, Jimmy Page, Billy Gibbons, and Eric Clapton without sounding derivative. The rhythm section's lean, swampy riffs bump against Haynes' brooding lines without obscuring a single pinch harmonic or flutey bend. ATO Records.

-Andy Ellis

Talking Heads

The Name of This Band is Talking Heads

After languishing in purgatory for 22 years, this classic double-live record is finally available on CD. And, at nearly twice the length of the original, it's safe to say it was worth the wait! Disc one covers 1977-79, as the original quartet tears through tunes off of their first two records with their trademark stark twin-guitar interplay and self-conscious art-funk grooves. Disc two covers the period of 1980-81, when the Heads brought in some funky ringers-most notably keyboardist Bernie Worrell and bassist Busta Jones-as well as the Twang Bar King himself, Strat molester Adrian Belew. It's clear that David Byrne and company gave Belew a blank check to freely embellish the band's churning, static grooves. And, man, does he take advantage! The various howls, ray gun sounds, and general cacophony he conjures from a Strat, a few stompboxes, and a Roland JC-120 must have mystified the crowd. Hell, I'm still dumbfounded as to how he did it. Whoever is responsible for this album finally seeing the light of day, I say thank you! Sire.

-Darrin Fox


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