By Reed Fischer
By Anna Gulbrandsen
By Jeff Gage
By Stacy Schwartz
By Natalie Gallagher
By Erik Thompson
By Jeff Gage
By Loren Green
It's just about impossible not to like an album that starts off, "Hi neighbors, this is our new album...," especially when it's followed by songs as friendly as those on San Antonio Rose, Ray Price's recently reissued "Tribute to the Great Bob Wills." Wills is worthy of the tribute: A Texas fiddler of the '30s and '40s, he earned his place in American music history when he and his Texas Playboys virtually invented Western swing, the southwestern big-band country sound that combines elements of jazz and blues into the hillbilly mix (and anticipates early rock & roll). And Price is just the man to do the honoring: A fellow Texan who began his country career in the early '50s as a Hank Williams disciple and imitator (he even fronted the Drifting Cowboys after Hank's 1953 death), Price came into his own in the mid-'50s after embracing Wills's Western swing sound and peppering it with more contemporary honky tonk stylings. By September 25, 1961, when Price and band (which featured a young Willie Nelson on bass) cut the record in two four-hour sessions, Wills's influence on the singer was well-established, and had proved highly successful.
Unlike Merle Haggard's 1970 Wills tribute, Price's homage didn't spur a Western swing revival. But with a classic country sound--twangy steel guitar, mournful fiddle, blue yodels--songs like the title track, "A Maiden's Prayer," along with a handful of Fred Rose tunes originally done by Wills, put today's Nashville product to shame. Though Price went on to make schlocky easy listening pop, San Antonio Rose remains the testament of a great singer to a even greater stylist. When Price ends saying, "...I want to thank you for being so kind to listen," he should know the pleasure is all ours. (Roni Sarig)
Raise The Pressure
DANCE MUSIC TRENDS spoil faster than skim milk. So why does the late '80s time capsule of Raise The Pressure, Electronic's second release, fare on the better side of average? Chalk it up to perfect craftmanship.
Formed five years ago by New Order frontman Bernard Sumner and ex-Smiths guitar virtuoso Johnny Marr, Electronic (and its eponymous '91 debut) captured the zeitgeist of the rave explosion with its merge of guitar riffing over loads of sequencers and drum machines. But contrary to many airheaded peace-and-love anthems of that era, heavy on beats and bereft of melody, Electronic made pop song structure priority number one.
Raise The Pressure follows that assembly-line blueprint for electro-pop. But with a load of real drums and Marr's careful, tight guitar work, it's surprisingly light on the pre-programming, quite the switch from the groove-heavy electronics of Electronic. Distorted robot vocals open up "If You've Got Love"--a voice which may well belong to Electronic's new guest star Karl Bartos, one of the man-machines of the '70s German synth pioneers Kraftwerk, who co-wrote half the songs with Sumner and Marr and contributes stark, sparkling keyboards. (Incidentally, a comeback release from Kraftwerk is due any day now.) Sumner's numb but endearing vocals and simpleton lyrics have been both his glory and his weakness. Does deadpan emoting translate to lack of interest on the dance floor? With the mainstream success of New Order and Electronic, it appears not.
Trailblazing was never the mantra of Electronic. Visit dance music's realm in another five years: Sumner and Marr will still be making their distinct brand of cheesy, shimmering ditties in a cozy, anachronistic bubble, smiling and oblivious to DJs around the globe spinning something daring and fresh. (Matt Keppel)
WITH THE LONG history of fraternal feuding in rock--from the Everly Brothers to the Kinks' Davies duo to the Gallagher boys of Oasis--it's nice to see a pair of musical siblings who can't seem to get enough of each other. Ever since 1977, when Tim Finn invited his little brother Neil to join his modestly successful new wave outfit, New Zealand's Split Enz, the two have set separate courses in pop music that keep bumping into one another: Tim went solo in '84 and Neil took over Split Enz; two years later Neil broke up the band and formed Crowded House; Tim joined Neil's band in '91. This year, with interest in Crowded House long since waned, their self-titled debut release finds the Finns "going duo."
Finn Brothers is a modest, understated album that successfully combines the conventional beauty we've come to expect from Neil's melodic work with Crowded House and the eccentric charm typical of Tim's edgy post-art rock Split Enz. So where the warbly synth of"Eyes of the World" is all new wave Tim, "Where Is My Soul"'s piano balladry reeks of popster Neil. "Only Talking Sense," meanwhile, does pretty well at combining Tim's angular minimalism with Neil's plaintive croon. But just when we begin to think we've heard it all before, the Finn brothers give us the bossa nova bounce of "Mood Swinging Man" and the tango sway of "Paradise"--evidence, perhaps, that the lounge revival has reached down under.
Ultimately, though, it's Neil--the better singer and songwriter of the family--who makes the album memorable. Maybe that's why, more than any past rock sibling, the Finn brothers remind me of the unrelated Simon and Garfunkel. Which, come to think of it, explains a lot about Tim's less-than-inspiring solo career. (Roni Sarig)