Record Roundup

The West Coast Shakes was crafted locally with producer Ed Ackerson at the helm--proof that a world-class recording can be made in our backyard by modest means. Through the scorching "I Read It All" and "Plaque Slayer," the dual guitars of Olson and Mike Hill bob and weave with Scott Tretter's bass, while drummer Erik Mathison's adroit bombast compels me to pull out In Utero for technical comparison. Above this, in his unmistakable gravelly whisper, Olson spins a web of contradiction and half-truths, his determined singing pulling images from his subconscious. "I don't know anything/I lie/I'll try," he claims in the album's first verse. In "Russell," he imagines escaping an unidentified foe (or himself?), only to conclude, "Thank God/Thank God for camouflage." The eerie "I Ratted on You" could be about a breakup or an act of terrorism. Yet on the acoustic closer, "Blame," Olson seems to lift his veil of obscurity for the first time: "Tender emotional/Standard confessional/I am hard to rile... You can blame me for this."

West Coast works in part thanks to its huge sound and immaculate quirks--the strange samples in "Salty Language," the 007-esque hook in "Plaque Slayer," jive titles like "Tipsy Russell" and "Springtime in HoChi Minh City"--but this is mind-expanding music of the non-narcotic flavor. Confession time: Last night I even had a dream about Balloon Guy. Olson had left the band, so they replaced him with a woefully inappropriate R&B singer in time for the record-release party. (Yes, this came in the midst of other nightmares.) The West Coast Shakes has infiltrated at least one subconscious mind, in aptly bizarre Balloon Guy fashion. I'm sure mine won't be the last. (Simon Peter Groebner)

Balloon Guy performs Friday with Polara and Mountain Singers at First Avenue in Minneapolis.

Strawdogs

John Perkins John Perkins

SMA

WHAT A LEFT-FIELD delight this turned out to be. An outlandish homage to the musical spirit of New Orleans courtesy of an inspired batch of Minnesota boys and girls in the form of a septet with four guest stars, John Perkins is just the sort of smoldering snake oil to thaw frigid bones and unclog inhibitions. Begin with J.E. Thiede, who sings with a throaty gusto that recalls David Johanson's alter-ego Buster Poindexter and writes tall musical tales (like "Loupgarou") that sound as if they rolled out of a Bourbon Street speakeasy. In true Crescent City style, the horns strut and preen with a velvety blare while the rhythm section slings syncopated beats like so many bucketfuls of marbles.

Is there a downside to this crawfish shindig? Maybe when someone other than Thiede handles the singing. Female thrush Dana Thompson lacks the requisite bravado for a tune like "Four Fat Fingers," especially with Andy Sullivan pumping out the banjo licks, and the other male vocalists likewise don't cut their ham with saltpeter the way Thiede can. But Thompson redeems herself on the down & out "Tchoupitoulas Waltz" and, even without Thiede on the mike, the music always compensates. Check out the glorious intro to Louis Armstrong's "Old Man Mose" (the only nonoriginal on the disc), or the '50s-prom feel of "Don't Get Too Close" (is Bobby Rydell in the house?). The finale, "Creepy Creepy," starts out like an even cheesier "In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida," adds a dollop of "Secret Agent Man," and stumbles down a flight of nasty saxophone squawks. In the race to embrace Strawdogs, I'd bet on Dr. John and Pulp Fiction's Quentin Tarantino. (Britt Robson)

Ride Ruby Ride

Brothers

LRM

COVER ART FEATURING a crown of thorns mended from guitar strings is just one clue that brothers Tim and Paul Frantzich (formerly known as Ruby) aren't afraid to test the limits of expressive overindulgence. They've certainly spared nothing in sound quality; former Fine Line sound mixer Alex Oana blends cellos, mandolins, pianos and vocal harmonies over warm basic tracks to create a digital bliss that truly breathes, and the brothers themselves reach Brian Wilsonian heights on modest pop numbers such as the opening "Divine Effect" and the romantic "Wine."

But on other numbers, this musical beauty fails to compensate for incredibly preposterous lyrics and vocal overdramatics. "Turn You On" and "Motorhome of Love" make clammy stabs at sensual deliverance, and moments of phony funk clash with the disc's overall serenity and stretch already dubious lyrics way past the breaking point. "Wings on a Broken Angel" is about how God's locket contains Kurt Cobain, "because it's so huge" (honest). "Ballroom (In Your Mind)" wastes a sweet title image on a dead-end Biblical allusion that spools into seven minutes of metaphorical tangles. Similarly, Paul takes six-and-a-half long minutes to gently say, "It'll All Work Out."Admirably ambitious, Brothers is a magnificent mess in which the creators try to impress, but rarely make a deep impression. (Jim Meyer)

Ride Ruby Ride perform at a CD release party Saturday at the Fine Line Music Cafe.

The King's Machine

...A State of Mind

Nightmare

THESE METAL SURVIVALISTS feature vocalist Lance King of late '80s local giants Gemini, and guitarist Dave Barilla, veteran of Touched and Barilla. Not surprisingly, you can't teach old hot dogs too many new tricks.
At times, Barilla himself demonstrates the crucial Jimmy Page/Eddie Van Halen-style spring in his string work, and mild-mannered King is still an operatic rock screamer, railing into the wind about societal ills and world problems. But the world won't listen, probably, since the underlying grooves can't amplify the lyrical emotion, though tunes such as "Crave the Dirt" manage a serviceable impression of Alice in Chains. (Meyer)

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