SoundStage! Music Online Editor's Pick Archives
May/June 1999

Tom Waits - Mule Variations
Epitaph 86547, 1999

SnapShot! Rating:
***

Tom Waits’ first collection in six years, Mule Variations channels some of the dense imagery of his finest album, Rain Dogs, but is ultimately more of an interesting listen than a well-rounded creative statement -- in any old or new direction. What’s most surprising is how banal a few of the songs are -- "House Where Nobody Lives" and "Cold Water" come quickly to mind. These clunkers are offset by the Springsteenesque "Hold On" and especially "Take It With Me" -- and other tunes populated with the assorted drinkers, malcontents and drifters whose hard existence is fodder for Waits’ muse. Mule Variations is for Waits fans and curious onlookers, but the better buy, if you don’t have it already, is Rain Dogs....Marc Mickelson


Big Sandy & his Fly-Rite Boys - Radio Favorites
HMG/HighTone HMG501, 1999

SnapShot! Rating:
***1/2

A six-song EP, Radio Favorites, by revivalists Big Sandy & his Fly-Rite Boys, shows the flexibility and musicianship of a band made up of Brits and Yanks who love the sounds of ‘50s rock and roll. It’s a temptation to say that these tunes would be at home on your local station during that era, but this would cheapen the high level of craftsmanship on display. The songs on Radio Favorites draw inspiration from the likes of Gene Vincent and Merle Travis, but there’s more lyrical cleverness and sheer jubilance here. All six songs are memorable, but the guitar-driven "I Can’t Believe I’m Saying This to You" takes the prize for toe-tapping. It’s hard to make music that sounds this authentic and new, bouncy and loose, but Big Sandy and the Boys do it. We can only hope that those in Nashville, which has lost all feeling in its roots, are listening -- and they’re open to learning something....Marc Mickelson


Bill Kirchen - Raise a Ruckus
HighTone HCD8100, 1999, HDCD

SnapShot! Rating:
***

Thirty years in the business and gigs with the likes of Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris and Commander Cody certainly don’t hurt Bill Kirchen’s reputation as an act, and Raise a Ruckus, Kirchen’s third solo effort, shows some distillation of styles from those with whom he has played. The songs are countrified and rife with rhythmic guitar playing and good humor -- if not terribly profound. "Big Hat/No Cattle" wins the award for best title, with "She’s A Yum Yum" a close second. Both are danceable -- for the big-hat crowd, that is. "Interstate" offers a fun juxtaposition, the guitars having a distinct surfer/beach twang. Kirchen’s axe work is tastefully restrained and even campy in spots. So many of the songs could be straight C&W, but Kirchen’s guitar grounds them in honky-tonk, Texas swing, and rockabilly instead, and Raise a Ruckus is all the better for it....Marc Mickelson


Clarence Brewer - King Clarentz
HMG/HighTone HMG 1007, 1999

SnapShot! Rating:
****

King Clarentz is the name bluesman and artist Clarence Brewer is known by in his home town of Springfield, Missouri. And this disc, his recording debut, proves why, as King Clarentz mixes blues, boogie and swamp twang into a an infectious gumbo. Highlights include the hopping "Bed Spring Boogie," which opens the collection, and "Halloween Blues" with its slow-grooving organ work by Joe Terry, keyboardist for the roots/rock band The Skeletons, who back Brewer on this disc. Brewer’s guitar work positively rings with life and inventiveness, and his singing is restrained. The sound is spacious and resolved, excellent overall. King Clarentz is a distinguished recording, the first of many to come...Marc Mickelson


Tony Bennett with Count Basie and his Orchestra - In Person!
Mobile Fidelity UDCD 743, 1999

SnapShot! Rating:
*

I know Tony Bennett has experienced an MTV-induced career renaissance, but I don’t know why MoFi would decide to remaster this album. I’m sure they are getting the most out of the master tapes, but there’s just not much there to begin with. Perhaps the gold treatment is due to the fact that Bennett fronts the Count Basie Orchestra, so there are two big names together, but the performances, which are a little over the top even by the standards of their own time, suffer from sound that makes it all seem impressionistic at best and a mile away at worst. And there’s too much crowd noise -- which also sounds distant and splashy...Marc Mickelson


Nancy Sinatra - How Does it Feel?
DCC DZS-171, 1999

SnapShot! Rating:
**1/2

The insert to this disc makes Nancy Sinatra out to be the godmother of Lilith Fair, a fact that escaped me and just about everyone else. Luckily this posturing doesn’t obscure some serviceable pop. Nothing here was a hit of the "Boots" magnitude, and shouldn’t have been, but it all has a detached, a go-go tinge that works on "Sweet Talkin’ Candy Man" more than "One Jump Ahead of the Storm." And I like the cover of "Like a Rolling Stone" for its horn-driven lightness that the song is no worse for having, at least this version. It’s not a great, faithful cover, but it’s not William Shatner’s "Mr. Tambourine Man" either...Marc Mickelson


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