By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
Super Roots 7 (Warner-Japan)
Super Roots 8 (Warner-Japan)
Just when you think "7(')," the opus at the center of their recent Super Roots 7 EP, is ready to die, around the 13-minute mark, the Boredoms quickly pull out the defibrillator and zap the bejesus out of the thing, pumping a bolt into the music's heart that propels the song for another eight minutes. It's a marvel and a landmark, that 20-minute vision, one that stands alongside a few other lengthy excursions -- the Velvet Underground's "Sister Ray" and Kraftwerk's "Autobahn" -- in its scope: Centered around a sample of the Mekons' triumphant punk classic "Where Were You," a three-chord romp of a sample, actually, the Boredoms pick at the thing, play with it, toss it around, wrap it in electronic swaths of noise, transform it into Stereolabesque guitar mantra, an electro-pumpin' party and an all-out punk scream, all while maintaining its integrity and illuminating its simplicity. It ends the same way it starts: with crickets shrieking.
The Boredoms are from Japan, and they have been sneaking their way into heads for a decade now with a wide array of impulses: a series of noisy 7-inches, a jerky LP that predated John Zorn's Naked City project (it's the Boredoms' Yamataka Eye -- he changes the spelling of his name about once a month -- who screams for Naked City) and three releases for major label Reprise that'll flummox even the Einsteins among us. These efforts have been interspersed with a series of releases called Super Roots that seem to be related to one another in name only. Super Roots 7 is a three-song theme-and-variation EP, each of which has as its center said Mekons sample.
Super Roots 8 is a whole 'nother beast, a drum & bass theme-and-variation three-song EP that uses as its theme a melody snatched from a Japanimation feature (apparently the one that was the inspiration for The Lion King, for what it's worth). Track 1 is called "Jungle Taitei." It's a celebration, an epiphany, a scream of earthly delights that has no lyrics, just a melodic voice belting out that melody (which sounds like a Morricone spaghetti-Western tune) while a tribal pound fills every available beat space -- so much that attempting to dissect the foundation of the rhythm is impossible. You can find the root beat on the second and third examinations; the second is queer and relatively minimal, the third gurgles below as the melody floats above -- along with a tiny one-note guitar "solo"; comparatively, the third version pokes along introspectively. Taken as a whole, though, 8 is a profound musical vision, one that ranks as the most revelatory musical experience I've had in ages.
I honestly can't get over these two releases. I'm only starting to wrap my head around them. They're so amazing, in fact, that although the price-to-length ratio is way high (brace yourselves) -- about $20 for each EP -- they're well worth the money. Run to your fave import store, or grab 'em on the Internet.
CHUCK E. WEISS
Extremely Cool (Rykodisc)
Two decades ago, Chuck E. Weiss was famous, but for all the wrong reasons. The central character of Rickie Lee Jones' ultracool hit "Chuck E.'s in Love," Weiss was a proto-boho on the LA scene and, some say, the inspiration for the latter-day beat character fashioned by Tom Waits, a longtime Weiss associate. The song was a tuneful slice of life, and -- who knows? -- maybe even true, but if Weiss had a lot of stories to tell, he'd probably rather have told them himself. He got half a chance on 1981's The Other Side of Town (long since deleted), a debut album that was really just a batch of demos released against his wishes. Now, with Extremely Cool, Weiss at last gets the opportunity to welcome us to his twisted nighttime world himself, and, considering the goings-on here, we've been missing out on some primo stuff these 20 years.
Amid a soundscape littered with junkyard blues, noir-ish jazz, New Orleans R&B and pumping rock & roll, Weiss brays, moans and looses both a scarifying falsetto and a comic hipster's jive. He casts a voodoo spell on the caustic "Devil with the Blue Suede Shoes"; "Deeply Sorry" tells the disturbing tale of a boy who finds his girlfriend in bed with his mother. Elsewhere the mood is lighter, as on "Jimmy Would," a tribute to Imperial Crowns leader Jimmy Wood, and "Do You Know What I Idi Amin" a tongue-twisting spoken-word piece. Waits, who produced the disc, co-wrote "Idi Amin," as well as the barroom croak-along "It Rains on Me." Waits' production is not unlike that on one of his own albums -- not retro, exactly, but decidedly real, with honking saxophones, clattering drums and pianos that tinkle like ice cubes in a dirty glass. Social mores dictate that Weiss' advertisement of himself as "extremely cool" is evidence to the contrary, but really he's just telling it like it is.
EMMYLOU HARRIS, LINDA RONSTADT, DOLLY PARTON
Trio II (Asylum)
I just don't get the music industry. The first Trio album, a collaboration by Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton, came out in 1987 (nearly a decade after it was recorded), went platinum and won a Grammy. You'd think Asylum would be in a big greedy hurry to release the follow-up, but for mysterious reasons this CD, which was recorded almost four years ago, just recently appeared in record stores. Stranger still, the label's marketing masterminds aren't even sending the first single, "High Sierra," to country radio stations. The honchos have decreed that its true niche is adult contemporary -- also known as "soft rock," "easy listening" and "that crap they pipe through the walls of bank lobbies." Never mind that Parton and Harris are two of country music's greatest living vocalists and that Ronstadt is, um, an extremely popular crossover artist. Never mind that most of the songs on Trio II meet the generic requirements for country music: lots of great fiddle, steel guitar and mandolin combined with pretty singing. Sadly, such music bears little resemblance to the tripe that dominates country radio these days. Shania Twain may sport a cowboy hat and the faintest vestige of a twang now and again, but her songs don't sound much more country than those of her fellow Canadian Celine Dion. I suspect that Harris, Ronstadt and Parton -- all over 50 -- just don't suit the fickle masses, who like their telegenic songbirds nubile, skinny and scantily clad.
Too bad, because this CD, flawed though it is, sounds a lot better than most of what passes for country these days. The opening track, the Carter Family classic "Lover's Return," showcases the beautiful vocal interplay of Ronstadt's silken alto and Parton's amazing, shiver-inducing soprano. Another highlight is "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind," written by Parton in 1973, with lead vocals by the consistently wonderful Harris. "I Feel the Blues Movin' In," penned by Del McCoury, features the stellar fiddle playing of Alison Krauss. For me, though, the standout is Parton's rendition of Neil Young's trippy sci-fi fantasy "After the Gold Rush," which is so strange and beautiful that I get goosebumps whenever I hear it. I do wish the line "I felt like getting high" hadn't been changed to "I felt like I could cry," but you can't have everything, I guess. Oh, yeah: Three of the album's 10 songs are real yawners, and Ronstadt sings lead on all of them. They sound like adult contemporary and, given the sorry state of the market, will probably be the album's only singles.
-- René Spencer Saller