Rants and Raves

January 1, 2005


North Mississippi Allstars

Hill Country Revue

Every great jam band needs a hallmark live album, and now the North Mississippi Allstars have theirs in the form of Hill Country Revue, which was recorded at last year’s Bonnaroo festival. However, there is much more going on here than the Allstars running through their typical set list. Sure, their cornerstone tunes are represented in fine fashion, including Fred McDowell’s “Shake ’Em on Down,” R.L. Burnside’s “Going Down South,” and Otha Turner’s “Shimmy She Wobble.” But head Allstar and toneful guitarist Luther Dickinson’s vision to bring generations together and provide recognition to the Hill Country blues’ forefathers is realized in the form of appearances by Turner’s grandchildren, R.L. Burnside himself, and the Dickinson brothers’ renowned father, Jim. The guitar playing is super solid throughout, although the key to Luther’s appeal is not dazzling chops, but rather his authentic feel and passion for the music of his homeland. In that light, Hill Country Review stands as his greatest accomplishment; he transforms Bonnaroo into an authentic evening with the extended family at Burnside’s Blues Café. ATO.

—Jimmy Leslie

Fripp & Eno

The Equatorial Stars

Robert Fripp and Brian Eno released their two previous collaborations, No Pussyfooting and Evening Star, in 1973 and 1975, respectively. The former began when Eno introduced Fripp to the tape-looping technique that he would later dub

“frippertronics,” and the latter built on that foundation, with greater participation by Eno. Both albums were seminal to “ambient” music—a term originally coined by Eno—and according to Fripp, No Pussyfooting represents some of his best work. Other than a compilation released in 1994 containing some unmemorable bonus tracks, that was the last we heard from Messieurs Fripp and Eno for the past 30 years.

Hearing The Equatorial Stars for the first time, I experienced the emotions one feels upon greeting old friends who have been away for a long time, and finding them well and in good spirits. Although the music on the album was created using modern computer editing techniques rather than analog tape manipulation, the essential vibe remains the same. Eno’s musical contributions are more reminiscent of his On Land period than either of the first two F&E albums, but Fripp’s adroit guitar work—this time using what sounds like a Fernandez Sustainer rather than a “frizzbox”—charms and seduces in the same melodic yet minimalist manner as before. This music does not break considerable new ground, but given its inherent timelessness, that’s more a comfort than a criticism. DGM. —Barry Cleveland

Dead Combo

Dead Combo

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: What do you get when you mix two weird Finnish dudes, a Moog synth, and a solidbody Mosrite? Answer: Dead Combo, of course! If you could imagine Ron Asheton hanging out with pioneering synth duo, Suicide, you’d be getting close to what the Dead Combo are all about. But the duo’s take on David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” lays bare their true mission, as it displays their eagerness to not only deconstruct pop tradition, but pompous pop stars as well. Dead Combo’s guitar tones go a long way toward defining their mission, as well, as they sound like a Boss Digital Metalizer plugged directly into the board. Yum, indeed. Needless to say, these guys aren’t for the faint of heart, but, then again, a lot of cool stuff never is. Output Recordings.

—Darrin Fox

Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder

Brand New Strings

Multi-instrumentalist Ricky Skaggs has always featured hot guitarists and monster mandolin, banjo, and fiddle players in his legendary roots-country and bluegrass ensembles. Skaggs’ current lineup features Cody Kilby, who won the 1998 National Flatpick Guitar championship at age 17. Wielding a Bourgeois flat-top, Kilby lays down clean, fast lines and outrageous solos that push the envelope of acoustic lead guitar. His clarity, power, and dexterity are matched by an ability to spin melodies that sound delightfully free, yet artfully composed. Bryan Sutton—Skaggs’ previous flat-top virtuoso—adds his magic touch on two songs, and Tele terror Johnny Hiland burns on the title track. Mandolinist Andy Leftwich deserves special mention for his rippling, warp-speed phrases. Even if you’re not drawn to bluegrass, this album’s state-of-the-art picking will mess you up. Skaggs Family Records.

—Andy Ellis

Webb Wilder and the Beatnecks

It Came from Nashville: The Deluxe Full-Grown Edition

This buffed-out version of the first It Came from Nashville, released some 18 years ago, contains a bevy of previously unreleased live tracks, making it an ideal way to get acquainted (if for some silly reason you haven’t yet) with this band’s unique roots-rock bag, which has been labeled at various times “swampadelic,” “hillbilly gothic,” “uneasy listening,” “modabilly,” etc.—you get the idea. Wilder is an electrifying vocalist and guitarist, and though his shtick is obviously guided by alien forces, there’s no denying his ability to make an audience remain as attentive as a group of intoxicated rednecks watching a pig on a motorized barbeque. The sizzling guitar work of Donny “The Twangler” Roberts acts like shot of nitrous oxide in a hot V8, and the result is one of the hippest party records you can have sittin’ next to that stack of B-52 CDs. Landslide. —Art Thompson

Junior Brown

Down Home Chrome

On his seventh solo album, Junior Brown augments his signature truck-driving, honky-tonk twang with cool lounge-lizard jazz guitar (“You Inspire Me”), soulful Albert King-style string bending (“Monkey Wrench Blues”), and even occasional horns. But the highlight is Brown’s Guit-Steel—a custom doubleneck hybrid of Tele and lap steel—which lets him jump mid-song between 6-string chicken pickin’ and whining 8-string tone-bar licks. His steel playing is remarkable: Whether comping Western swing chords, plucking cry-in-your-beer country fills, or whipping out stuttering double-stops, Brown nails his lines with righteous intonation and a fat, swooping tone. As always, he delivers his tongue-in-cheek lyrics in a resonant baritone, his Guit-Steel timbres are unfettered with digital processing, and his solos have a live, reckless edge. Telarc. —Andy Ellis

Fu Manchu

Start the Machine

It was clear that Fu Manchu were at a turning point with 2001’s California Crossing. Their corpulent, overtly fuzzy guitars were toned down in favor of a still heavy, but less raspy, radio-friendly timbre, and their songs were fleshed-out (or smoothed-out, depending on your tastes) with bigger choruses and guitar layering. As a longtime fan of the band’s legendary fuzz histrionics, as well as their more open-ended songwriting, I found the results mixed. But the Fu have been bustin’ their asses for 13 years now, so how could you blame them for not only trying to broaden their audience, but expanding their own musical horizons, as well? Thankfully, Start the Machine begins to find a happy medium between their new direction, and their recorded legacy, which peaked with 2000’s King of the Road. Guitarists Scott Hill and Bob Balch sport tones that have way more hair on them this time around, at times even sounding like their fuzz boxes are triumphantly Velcroed back on their pedalboards. Balch’s solos are leaner and meaner, making them a nice fit with the tighter song structures, but the general stoniness that permeated the group’s previous albums is out, and a new-found fondness for aggro is in (although this is somewhat offset by the hazy instrumental “Out to Sea”). That aside, Fu Manchu are still one of the finest purveyors of absolutely crushing riff rock. And in my book, that still goes a long way. DRT. —Darrin Fox

Sum 41


Chuck is a collection of the same energetic ranting that Sum 41 never fails to produce. The record’s overall sound is heavier than their previous albums, and the lyrics are darker, more intelligible (and audible), and rooted in experience. However, some of the tracks leave you with that distant feeling of “I think I’ve heard this somewhere before.” Many of Chuck’s riffs are lifted straight out of the ’80s metal playbook, particularly Metallica, Megadeth, and Guns N’ Roses (“The Bitter End” sports a solo that almost sounds like a Slash tribute). But guitarists Dave Brownsound and Biz arrange these riffs cleverly enough to grab you by the armpit hair and force you to pay attention. Make no mistake, Sum 41’s punk/pop pedigree is in full effect, and the hooks are on. The ballad “Slipping Away,” with its simplistic arpeggios and subtle, yet strong, harmonic accents proves how catchy and emotive Sum 41 can make a song when they’re not trying too hard. Island. —Pamela Porosky


Los Lobos

Live at the Fillmore

Released to celebrate Los Lobos’ 30th anniversary, Live at the Fillmore comprises a mini-documentary and nearly two hours of music recorded at the legendary Fillmore ballroom in San Francisco. The band’s captivating mix of rock, blues, swing, Memphis R&B, and traditional Mexican folk music fills the historic venue without overpowering the enthusiastic, standing-room-only crowd. Former drummer Louie Pérez has returned to the guitar—his original ax—so Los Lobos now boasts a front line of three pickers: Pérez, Cesar Rosas, and the incomparable David Hidalgo. Multiple cameras capture their spirited interplay and reveal the guitarists’ deep understanding of texture and dynamics. Wielding a Gibson Firebird or Les Paul, Hidalgo delivers hair-raising solos that conjure Eric Clapton with Cream or Peter Green with early Fleetwood Mac. The band’s two new drummers alternate between kit and Latin percussion, creating grooves that borrow equally from Santana and the Allman Brothers. Infused with big guitar tones, this is party music of the highest order. Hollywood Records. —Andy Ellis

Jefferson Airplane

Fly Jefferson Airplane

Fans of the San Francisco Sound will revel in this 111-minute-long documentary that not only covers the Airplane’s eight-year existence, but offers birds-eye glimpses into the whole ’60s psychedelic scene via period video and photographs. The usual interviews with band members and associated folk are here, and they are a cut above the usual banter—but it’s the concert footage that makes this a must-have for Airplane enthusiasts. You get 13 performances in their entirety, rather than the usual cut-away shots interspersed with dialogue, including the legendary Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour appearance when Grace Slick spontaneously covered her face in dark makeup just before going on. Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady’s often-

brilliant guitar and bass playing is showcased, with lots of close-up shots, and there is plenty of enlightening discussion of the musical dimension of the Airplane’s story, along with the historical, sociological, and political aspects. The lengthy footage of tripped-out hippies freeform dancing around Bay Area ballrooms alone is worth the cost of this outstanding disc. Eagle Vision. —Barry Cleveland


You Gotta Move

Twenty years ago, it seemed unlikely that the members of Aerosmith would even still be alive in 2004, much less recording, gigging, and kicking major ass. But here they are, bringing down the house on this DVD with two-plus hours of footage on stage, back stage, and in the studio. The first thing that old-school Aerosmith fans need to know is that the band doesn’t neglect the old catalog for their comeback-era radio hits. They open with “Toys in the Attic” and, before they’re done, they crank out “Back in the Saddle” (with Joe Perry killing on 6-string bass), “Last Child,” “Rats in the Cellar,” and “Sweet Emotion.” Both Perry and Brad Whitford get great guitar tones throughout, with enough separation in the mix that you can easily hear who’s doing what. The camera work is sometimes of the ADD school, flitting around too quickly to really steal licks or chord progressions, but there are a few great close-ups of Perry solos that show him shooting from the hip like the badass gunslinger he is. (There are also mouth-watering views of lots of amazing guitars and amps.) The extras that accompany this package include five DVD tracks that weren’t in the band’s A&E special, a short film on the making of their 25th album—the blues collection Honkin’ on Bobo—and an audio CD with seven live tracks. The audio CD features UMixit software that lets you create your own 8- or 16-track mix of the song “You Gotta Move.” (Unfortunately this cool program only works on PCs—no Maccessibility.) The best thing about watching these guys is how much of a band they are. They sound like they’ve been playing together for more than 30 years because they have been. What their 1976 album boldly proclaimed is even truer today: Aerosmith rocks. Columbia Music Video. —Matt Blackett


The Indie Bible, 6th Edition, The All-in-One Resource For Recording Artists

By David Wimble

There are numerous directories out there that present loads of information of value to artists seeking to establish themselves in the music industry, and each of them takes a different tack. The Indie Bible aims specifically to aid those who already have a CD and get it reviewed, played on the radio, and distributed on the Internet. To that end, the author has organized the directory into seven sections, each of which covers a particular aspect of the process, but most of which are cross-referenced in various ways. The first two sections cover print publications that review music, the third radio programs, the fourth marketing-oriented services, the fifth Web sites where you can upload music, and the sixth miscellaneous resources for musicians and songwriters. The seventh section contains over 50 articles on various aspects of the biz. The sections are conveniently sub-divided by genre, including those often overlooked in other publications, such as “experimental,” “progressive rock,” and “world music.” I actually used this book to promote my own CDs with great success, so I can confirm that the contact information is current, and the contacts responsive to enquiries. That adds up to 316 pages of pure gold. Big Meteor. —Barry Cleveland

Guitar Effects Pedals: The Practical Handbook

By Dave Hunter

The stompbox story is so huge, and this new book provides a wealth of information by exploring everything from how pedals were created to how they function to the classics from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. A chapter on contemporary brands also takes you into the world of today’s stompbox makers by detailing many of the offerings from the principle mad-scientists—which means nearly everyone from Analog Man to Z.Vex. You’ll also find interviews with a number of key figures in the pedal world, and thanks to the accompanying CD, you can hear examples of how a lot of these vintage and modern pedals sound—at various settings, no less. A chapter is also dedicated to demystifying things like how to arrange your pedals, parallel and stereo hookups, and why a little term like “true bypass” can get people so hot under the collar these days. Anyone who uses stompboxes and has an interest in what makes them tick will want to add this 224-page book to their collection. Backbeat Books. —Art Thompson


Essential Exercises for Fingerstyle Guitar

By Peter Huttlinger

Let’s face it—your favorite guitar virtuoso may utterly astound audiences every time he steps on stage, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he can explain how he does it. Stick him in front of a video camera, and you may be dismayed to find he freezes up and has less to say than a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming Peterbilt. In fact, in more tragic episodes in instructional video history, famous guitarists have shown up at their shoots looking sweaty, desperate, and—even worse—totally hung over. Confronted with the daunting task of pontificating on their playing approaches under the harsh, bright lights of a videography studio, they may squirm like ants beneath a magnifying glass, wearing a clammy facial expression that says, “Just shoot me now.”

The other extreme, though, is a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed host like steel-string extraordinaire Peter Huttlinger. Sure, as a performer, he slays audiences with his mind-blowing solo arrangements and devastating chops. But he’s also exactly the kind of guitar hero you want on your instructional shelf, because when it’s time talk technique, he downshifts into teacher mode with effortless aplomb. On Essential Exercises for Fingerstyle Guitar, Hutt generously and articulately shares his knowledge with all the patience, clarity, and encouragement you could ever hope for from a guitar sensei. No, this DVD won’t decode for you his wildly advanced two- and three-part guitar arranging approaches. It does, however, provide dozens of simple and effective calisthenics that are suitable for players of all skill levels. Practice a handful of them regularly for a measly 20 minutes a day, and you’re almost guaranteed to become a lethal and dynamic fingerpicker. The path to greatness starts here. Homespun. —Jude Goldg

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