Sound Checks

Wanda JacksonMonday, June 28; Side DoorThe term wasn't yet common currency, but Wanda Jackson was the first dominatrix of American music. With numbers like "Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad" and "Fujiyama Mama" — which begins, "I been to Nagasaki, Hiroshima too/The things I did to them, baby, I can do to you!" — Jackson was hot, bothered and bitchy. She gave no quarter to her male audience, frequently set them straight, and made damn sure they loved it and asked for more. Her '50s recordings for Capitol are part of the chaotic flood of sexual and cultural assertion — if not outright aggression — that made that hybrid of country and blues known as rockabilly so thrilling. (Her original albums are long gone, but given that her classic performances were singles-based, you'll find the major 45s on Capitol's Vintage Collection, a wild, giddy, brilliant compilation.) Even on the honky-tonk weepers — Capitol wooed country fans and rockabillies by offering something for both with the use of double-A-side singles — Jackson's banshee spirit cuts through. "If it's wrong to really love you," she sings on "This Should Go On Forever," "I'll forever live in sin."Jackson has an intensely physical way with phrasing, of taking a line in her mouth and bending it so that no matter what she's singing, it sounds like a tease and a temptation. She would grrrr, moan, yelp, stomp and curlicue her way around lines like "I never kissed a bear, I never kissed a goon/But I can shake a chicken in the middle of the room" and make you forget that Elvis sang them first. But as rockabilly waned in the '60s, so did Jackson's chart success, and she turned to straight country before finding Jesus in '71. With the renewed interest in rockabilly during the mid-'80s and '90s, Jackson has returned to performing and recording country and rock & roll, recently touring with Rosie Flores and even dueting with her on Flores' fine retro album Rockabilly Filly. Jackson is called Queen of the Rockabillies, and rightly so — the joyful mania of her great '50s singles is still worth worshiping. (RK)

Ani DiFranco with Maceo Parker Wednesday, June 30; Fox Theatre At some point, you'd think, being the music industry's self-appointed righteous babe — as Ani DiFranco has tagged herself by way of the name of her groundbreaking indie record company — would be a wearying proposition. The "babe" half is self-evident and requires no further comment (at least not without opening the discussion with my wife, and I just don't want to go there). But DiFranco's righteousness has been raging for years now, as she thumbs her pierced nose at the major labels — which once ignored her and now would pay heftily to co-opt her cred — and rails against societal ills, sexual mores and the pitfalls of rock stardom. DiFranco's latest effort is Fellow Workers (Righteous Babe), her second collaborative album with folksinger/raconteur Utah Phillips, and if nothing else, it proves that DiFranco is as willing as ever to walk it like she talks it. Few causes are as unpopular these days as the labor movement, yet DiFranco and Phillips fill the album with stories of activist heroes such as Mother Jones and the Wobblies, and loose, experimental versions of the labor-movement classics "Joe Hill," "Bread and Roses" and "The Internationale."There's more to DiFranco's artistry than ideology. Her latest solo album, Up Up Up Up Up Up, reflects her increasing confidence for having added an expanded instrumental attack (courtesy of her touring group, the Mensabilly Band) to her once-sparse sound. The album struggles with issues such as poverty and the bogus "war on crime" ("'Tis of Thee," "Trickle Down"), but there's still room for songs of a more personal nature ("Everest," "Come Away from It"), and even an extended funk workout ("Hat Shaped Hat"). Credit DiFranco also with selecting an ultrahip opening act for her show at the Fox, the godfather of soul, jazz and funk saxophone, Maceo Parker. Go figure: The ex-James Brown sideman is a hit these days with, of all things, the jam-band crowd. On second thought, just go. (DD)

Contributors: Daniel Durchholz, Roy Kasten

Ani DiFranco

 
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