Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Illinois Entertainer Reviews 2013: G-H

Rhythm & Blues

Give Buddy Guy this much: At 77, he co-writes, covers, sings, and plays with a lot more fire and heart than Eric Clapton.  Then, when you’re done giving him that, give him this: He obviously either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that some, maybe even many, blues purists consider him more a lucky Last Man Standing--what with every other vintage bluesman having long checked out and all--than the Real Deal.  He has no qualms, for instance, about playing the demographic-marketing duets game.  From Kid Rock (“Messin’ with the Kid”) and Keith Urban (“One Day Away”) to Beth Hart (“What You Gonna Do About Me”) and Aerosmith (“Evil Twin”), he proves secure and savvy enough to suggest he knows the difference between selling out and buying in. 

Brothers of the 4x4
A Fiendish Threat (Hank 3)

Until one of Ziggy Marley’s or Jakob Dylan’s kids starts recording, Hank Williams III will have to do as the face of third-generation musical superstardom.  Or is that “superstardumb”?  In more innocent times, his well-chronicled appetite for personal and professional self-destruction might have made him an icon of rebellion, but nowadays it amounts to little more than what celebrity gossip columnists report during a slow Lindsay Lohan week.  
Speaking of destructive appetites, the nearly simultaneous release of his latest two albums might’ve seemed gutsy had Guns N’ Roses not released Use Your Illusion I and II at the same time in 1991.  But they did.  And Bruce Springsteen repeated the gimmick one year later, by which time it already felt old.  Anyway, nothing on either the double-disc Brothers of the 4x4 (sloppy-drunk rebel pride) or the single-disc A Fiendish Threat (country punk heavy on distortion) will have anyone mentioning Williams in the same breath as GNR or the Boss anytime soon--that is, unless flinging twenty-nine songs at the wall to see what sticks is the new legendary.  
For one thing, Williams’ vocals never transcend generic redneck.  For another, his words don’t either.  Willie Nelson might locate something in “Hurtin for Certin,” but Rick Rubin would’ve never suggested it to Johnny Cash.  And, frankly, even the twenty-plus-year-old deep album cuts of Jason & the Scorchers cut deeper.  “I think I see the sun a-slowly dyin’,” Williams sings on “Loners 4 Life.”  Alas, the grandsun doesn’t seem to be faring any better.

This Yesterday Will Never End
(Big Round)

If you could isolate this Brooklyn band’s instrumental tracks from Elijah Miller’s vocals and words, you’d hear something--from John Kleber’s experimentally loud and-or reflective Lou Reed-like guitar to Stephanie Sanders’ and Joan Chew’s John Cale-impersonating violins--that is not unworthy of the Velvet Underground.  It’s too bad Miller ruins this achievement by over-singing as badly as he overwrites.  When he isn’t doing either, as in “Things We Lost So Far,” for instance, he’s mildly charming.  At his worst, however, he demonstrates the perils of reading just enough poetry or listening to just enough Jim Morrison to think one could actually get away with writing a song called “How She Became A Tree.”  As a singer, he’ll have Velvet Underground diehards reminiscing fondly about Doug Yule.

City Heart +
(Rock Ridge)

Be careful when looking this singer-songwriter up at allmusic.com--that usually reliable website has confused him with a British comedian of the same name.  Not that anyone hearing this guitar-strumming North Carolinian would ever mistake him for British.  His sunny tenor singing recalls no one so much as Christopher Cross (a Texan!).  And although he shares a surname with the Three Stooges, Howard’s folksy meditations on romance (“You, Me And Someday”), rootlessness (“Home Sweet Home”), and more romance (“Safe To Say”) are about as funny as a Band-Aid.  All in all, he comes across like an ideal opening act for Jack Johnson.  And caveat emptor when buying this album: It’s just his six-track *City Heart* EP from February fattened with acoustic renditions and two bonus cuts.

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