Laika & the Cosmonauts
The Tornados were the first British pop band to have a #1 hit in the U.S.—1962’s “Telstar,” written by the legendary Joe Meek in tribute to the first global communications satellite. Five years earlier, the Soviets launched Laika the dog (a.k.a. “Muttnik”) into orbit. What’s the connection? Finnish retro-surf-space-rockers Laika &the Cosmonauts sound one hell of a lot like the Tornados and Joe Meek—with generous helpings of Hank Marvin and the Shadows, the Ventures, Dick Dale, and even a spattering of early B-52s and Pink Floyd tossed in for good measure.
Despite the overt references, however, Laika & the Cosmonauts manage to take the whole cheesy organ/twang-o-tremolo guitar instrumental shtick far beyond mere nostalgia. There’s lots of masterful surfedelic and fuzz-drenched guitar playing, the arrangements are surprisingly sophisticated, and the Meekish production is out of this world—with plenty of pumping compression, spring reverb washes, and other early ‘60s touches. Yep Rock.
Chrome, Smoke &BBQ
Although it’s not their first try at the “big career assessment,” Chrome Smoke &BBQ is the first Z.Z. Top retrospective that actually gets it right. The last attempt the little ol’ band from Texas made was with 1987’s Six Pack—a piece of revisionist history if there ever was one—that “enhanced” their first six albums with grody gated reverbs and all sorts of tasteless digital buggery. Well, the long wait just made the arrival of Chrome, Smoke &BBQ that much sweeter. Culled from original master tapes—and untouched, as well (save for the excellent remastering)—this four-CD set offers an excellent sampling of Z.Z.’s early records and continues up to 1990’s Recycler. Rarities include a live take of “Cheap Sunglasses,” a Spanish version of “Francine,” and some pre-Z.Z. tracks of Billy Gibbons’ previous outfit, the Moving Sidewalks.
But what Chrome, Smoke &BBQ really adds up to is a glorious testament as to the badness of Billy Gibbons—a one-of-a-kind stylist who deserves to be mentioned in the company of Clapton, Beck, and Hendrix. From the Moving Sidewalks’ “Joe Blues” up through to Eliminator’s “T.V. Dinners,” Gibbons proves that it’s all about tone, taste, and finding that one big note. Warner Bros.
A String Quartet Tribute to Korn
The Hurt Inside
Lately, we’ve been receiving these bizarre “string quartet” tributes to bands such as Metallica, Disturbed, AC/DC, Rush, and Weezer. I finally opened the Korn tribute because I was having a crappy day and I wanted to viciously make fun of something idiotic. Imagine my surprise when I discovered it was me who was the stupid one. This is a marvelous album that makes Korn’s music sound as if it were written by a slightly mad avant-classical composer. The arrangements run the gamut from scary to plaintive to humorous to bombastic to sweet, and the performances are excellent. Vitamin.
Southern Culture on the Skids
When you get past their white trash shtick, you soon realize that Southern Culture on the Skids may just be the best rock and roll redneck surf band you’ve ever heard. And not only does guitarist/ringleader Rick Miller summon the renegade spirits of Dick Dale and Link Wray with nearly everything he plays, Mojo Box contains his best-ever recorded tones. Yep Roc.
Mississippi to Mali
For this celebration of earthy acoustic music, scholar and bluesman extraordinaire Corey Harris trekked to Mississippi and Mali, West Africa, to make a series of modern field recordings. Stateside, Harris cut resonator slide tracks with fife-and-drum musicians, and, in Mali, his bandmates included the great Ali Farka Toure on guitar. The resulting performances—a mix of traditional blues and African melodies, songs by Skip James and Blind Willie Johnson, and originals by Harris and Toure—are as spontaneous and relaxed as a back porch pickin’ session. Through his music, Harris reminds us of the rhythmic, melodic, and spiritual connection between traditional African sounds and early American blues. If you’re bummed by the slick production values of contemporary blues guitar albums, the dry, present tones and relentless funk of these tracks will set you right. Rounder.
Keep It Simple
There’s nothing shocking or new about this CD—which marks the debut of Mo’ as artist and producer—but it sounds so relaxed and, well, right, that you can’t help but be captivated. Mo’ started and honed the project in his home studio, and the final mixes are a blend of his tracks and those recorded in commercial facilities in Los Angeles and Nashville. As a result, you can definitely feed off the vibe of an artist who is safe and comfortable and totally in control of what he wants to say. Cynics might tag the album’s silkiness as more James Taylor than Robert Johnson—and they’d have a point—but there’s certainly nothing wrong with letting a man’s music carress and warm you like broken-in flannel. Epic.