Southern Culture on the Skids
Liquored Up and Lacquered Down
As an art form, rock music tends to be dissected, categorized and eventually rewrapped into a nice, neat package that the mainstream will eventually determine as good or bad - depending on what the MTV gods say.
Some bands successfully buck the system, and the new album from homegrown favorite Southern Culture on the Skids is no exception to this rule.
Liquored up and Lacquered Down, the band's seventh full-length album since 1983, cruises through the underbelly of Southern life, telling zany stories from the trailer park with hard-driving blues, old-fashioned Southern rock and an occasional country-western twang.
The seamless combination of styles on the album, paired with clever lyrics, provides insight into the live show that has garnered the band a faithful following that ranges from Phishheads to country-western enthusiasts.
Driving funk and rhythm lines expertly support each track, giving the album energy and continuity, even during the weepiest ballad.
The band, best known for its irreverent attitude, doesn't stray very far from its tongue-in-cheek reputation on this album.
"Corn Liquor," an ode to moonshine, bounces happily along with an exceptionally well-done and upbeat guitar line, even as the narrator's mother sits in prison, arrested after the sheriff busted her still.
"Cheap Motel" lyrically cements the album in the trashy reality of every small Southern town, a band trademark, as does "Haw River Stomp."
The rollicking title track, a tune about desperate women in their 40s dressing to go out looking like faded beauty queens, also brings to mind an unavoidable Southern stereotype.
While much of the album stays well within the parameters of the band's well-worn style, "Just How Lonely" strays from the irony of the usual lyrics.
The quick-paced, ballad-like tune utilizes '60s pop guitar lines and haunting vocals to create the album's best track.
Some might criticize the band for lack of political correctness, but Southern Culture on the Skids' newest album offers a wide range of well-played music that doesn't take itself too seriously.
The CD offers cult followers and newcomers to the band alike an enjoyable ride depicting the insane characters of the South as well as great, homespun Southern music.
By Karen Whichard
All That You Can't Leave Behind
3 1/2 stars
If you dislike U2's newest album, All That You Can't Leave Behind, you probably also dislike birthday parties, Christmas-time, and old people holding hands.
All That You Can't Leave Behind, like these things, is not for the hard-hearted. It is simple, straightforward and happy, and honestly, it's pretty good. But like a birthday party, you probably wouldn't want to experience it every single day.
At first listen, a U2 proselyte (like myself) will be so excited to hear Bono and the Edge again that you'll want to call the album brilliant. After a few listens, you realize it is a remarkably buoyant pop album, but not a masterpiece capable of withstanding the hard-wearing, repetitive play that an album like The Joshua Tree has.
From the heartbeat thumping in the opening of "Beautiful Day," it's clear that U2 has left the discotheque of Pop and even the metafictional musings of Achtung Baby. They have entered instead the terrain of solid pop melody and telling it like it is.
As Bono sings it, "I'm just trying to find a decent melody/ A song that I can sing in my own company." No doubt he succeeds at this - just listen to track six, "In a Little While," which is so good that it justifies any minor faults in the rest of the album. Here Bono yodels sweetly and comes up with a song that would bear a ghostly resemblance to Irish Motown, were such a thing to exist.
Since the group entered the musical scene in 1980 (a fine time to enter the world), U2's significance in popular culture has been undeniable. Bono and the boys have at the very least caused countless kids to join Amnesty International. And just the other month, Bono was discussing international concerns with our very own Jesse Helms.
So when you're as big as U2, it's impossible for people not to overanalyze everything you do. People talk of phases, and political messages, and inevitably begin to claim only to "like the old stuff" or to measure the degree of "sell-out-itude."
It is impossible to hear any new album without relating it to past albums. In a way, this is U2's rebuttal to that inevitability. U2 is here, they like to make music, and if they're happy, they're going to write happy pop songs - make what you will of it.
There will be inevitable complaints that the lyrics in All That You Can't Leave Behind are often not just simple, but simple-minded. This, I must admit, is true.
While the dumb parts ("A mole, living in a hole/ Digging up my soul") aren't painful, at the same time I don't foresee groups of devotees gathering over the liner notes for late-night discussions.
Overall, even though it will never be considered a masterpiece, All That You Can't Leave Behind is sunny and solid.
By Joanna Pearson
Little Louie Vega and Erick Morillo
House Nation of America
Little Louie Vega: 2 1/2 Stars
Erick Morillo: 3 1/2 Stars
The role of a house music club disc jockey seems simple enough: sustain the almighty beat, and let the crowd dance until the break of dawn and beyond. But in the house music meccas of New York and Chicago, ravers demand a bit more.
The mixes must be up-to-the-minute hot, the music obscure but immediate, and the segues from one track to the next must be effortless, far more inspired than the garden variety DMX-into-Baha Men segue you would expect to hear at Treehouse.
Fortunately, House Nation America promises to elevate even the most run-of-the-mill party host to the level of mixmaster extraordinaire. Simply insert the CDs into your stereo, press play and let renowned DJs Little Louie Vega and Erick Morillo handle the rest.
To jump-start your own private dance floor, begin with disc two, a nonstop, ebullient mix from Erick Morillo that grafts bumper-sticker 1960s idealism onto the most insistent club grooves of the 21st century.
Like most trendsetter house DJs, Morillo posits himself as an unrepentant slave to the rhythm, but just below the surface lurks an inner shaman, interested in the movement of souls, not just bodies.
Clearly, Morillo aims for the easiest brand of transcendence with his mix, the kind that comes from naive utopianism (a house music hallmark) rather than the far more human mess of sin and salvation that you get from Moby.
While his message may be a bit muddled, Morillo nonetheless knows damn well how to move a room. Rather than ride a single groove throughout his mix, Morillo will stop on a dime and shift tempos and moods in an instant to create a nonstop roller coaster ride that leaves listeners dizzy with exultation.
As a matter of fact, scratch my earlier advice to spin Morillo's mix before you put on Vega, and just leave Morillo on repeat throughout the night, because in light of Morillo's mixmaster acrobatics, Vega seems stale in comparison.
Unlike Morillo's mad grab-bag of styles, Vega mires himself in a few pedestrian grooves for much of his mix.
He leans heavily on Latin and African sounds and non-English vocals, gimmicks that serve him well at first but wear thin when the beat starts spinning its wheels and leaves a rut in the dance floor.
Dense, complex rock albums often earn the title "headphone music," multilayered sounds that demand such an intimate experience from the listener.
House music is perhaps the most dense and complex music on earth, but don't relegate it to your Discman. Put House Nation America (or maybe just Morillo's disc) on at your next party, and maybe those sunny, feel-good vibes will go down easy after all.
By Josh Love