Cool Spins

Jun 1, 2001 12:00 PM, BY BLAIR JACKSON

Polls


Mix Regional

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The Mix Staff Members Pick Their Current Favorites

Shaver: The Earth Rolls On
(New West Records)

Last New Year's Eve, Billie Joe Shaver lost his son. But before that wild, guitar-slinging Eddy Shaver passed on, he recorded some screaming electric solos and some fine acoustic work for Shaver's new album. This infectious assortment of Billie Joe originals includes some surprisingly upbeat songs, such as the shimmering grunge/country “Love Is So Sweet” and “New York City Girl,” which borrows its bounce from Roy Acuff's “Wabash Cannonball.” However, there's also naked feeling in plain songs like “Star of My Heart” and the title track, which Billie Joe wrote for his wife, who also passed away in 1999. And there's nothing sadder than a lonely waltz like “Heart's a Bustin'.” The Shavers and their band are enhanced by some first-rate guest musicians: E-Street Band bassist Gary Tallent, and Ken Coomer (drums) and Jay Bennett (B-3) of Wilco. With his tube mics and analog machines, Ray Kennedy has captured the essence, and maybe the last, of Shaver.

Producer/engineer: Ray Kennedy. Studio: Room & Board (Nashville). Mastering: Hank Williams/Mastermix (Nashville).
Barbara Schultz

Gwenmars: Driving a Million
(SeeThru Broadcasting)

It would be really easy to take one look at The Gwenmars and dismiss them as yet another SoCal, pop/punk, Blink 182 derivative. However, this isn't the case. On the band's third release, Driving a Million, The Gwenmars in no way allude to their L.A. origins and deliver track after track of glammy, hook-laden pop songs that don't feel at all forced or loyal to any specific genre. It seems that these kids listen to everything from Suede and Blur to Minor Threat and Sonic Youth. A couple of the stand-out tracks include “Venus” and “Electro.” “Venus” opens with a particularly cool, processed guitar line, and the song, like the others on the album, is over and done long before the hook even begins to wear thin. Vocalist/guitarist Michael Thrasher, the primary songwriter, could have easily opted to go the Top 40 route and carried this album pretty much on his own. But, luckily, this feels like a band effort, and their time spent on the club circuit seems well-spent and shines through brilliantly; these guys can actually play.

Producer/engineer/mixer: John Fryer. Producer: Richard Podolor. Engineer/mixer: Bill Cooper. Mastering: Stephen Marcussen.
Robert Hanson

The Living End: Roll On
(Reprise)

Now that Green Day have gone all soft and sensitive on us (okay, that's exaggerating a bit), where's a guy to go for that aggressive, Clash-oid adrenaline hit? Australia's the Living End is a good place to start. The Melbourne trio originally had heavy rockabilly leanings, but, more recently, have transformed into a hard-rocking unit that plays with an impressive ferocity and focus. They have the political consciousness of The Clash and Green Day and the sharp vocal blend of those groups and a hundred other punk predecessors. Guitarist Chris Cheney plays both lead and crunching rhythm very effectively, and bassist Scott Owen and drummer Travis Demsey are appropriately relentless in their attack. You might think you don't care about the concerns of Australia's working class, but like all great bands, the Living End makes their message universal, and besides, there's more here than just anthems for the oppressed; Cheney is a good writer. Already one of the most popular groups “Down Under,” these guys could break big in America if they landed on the right tour. They've definitely got the goods.

Producer and recording engineer: Nick Launay. Mixer: Andy Wallace. Studios: Sing Sing (Melbourne; tracking), Soundtracks (New York City; mixing). Mastering: Tom Baker/Precision Mastering (Hollywood).
Blair Jackson

Bob Belden: Black Dahlia
(Blue Note)

Bob Belden has become best known as a jazz producer in recent years, but he is a composer and a musician, as well, and this CD should re-establish his credentials in that world. The lush suite for orchestra and jazz band is an evocative series of pieces that were inspired by the real-life murder of an aspiring actress named Elizabeth Short in Hollywood in the late '40s — the famous (and never-solved) Black Dahlia Murder. Belden says in the liner notes that he was influenced by Jerry Goldsmith's evocative score for Roman Polanski's Chinatown — still one of the greatest depictions of the seamy underbelly of L.A. in the '40s — and it is clear that he has also absorbed the musical vocabulary (including a few of the clichés) of the original noir composers. Belden uses an orchestra and a number of fine jazz soloists (including trumpeter Tim Hagan and sax players Joe Lovano and Lawrence Feldman) to paint pictures of the glamorous world of Old Hollywood, of the dark side of the city, and to convey the hopes and fears of our heroine. Some of the jazzier pieces are reminiscent of late-'40s and early-'50s Miles Davis — another fine jumping-off point. This is really the score for a movie that doesn't exist. It's a fascinating and engaging work.

Producers: Bob Belden and Eli Wolf. Engineer: Richard King. Studio: Sony Music Studios (New York City). Mastering: Mark Wilder and Seth Foster/Sony (New York City).
Blair Jackson

Jack Smith and the Rockabilly Planet: Cruel Red
(Run Wild Records)

Run Wild Records does a great job of keeping the spirit of rockabilly alive with recent releases such as Blastered, a delightful tribute to Phil and Dave Alvin's band The Blasters. And Run Wild artist Jack Smith has been keeping the flame burning, himself, since he first got fired up by rock 'n' roll in the '50s. Smith is an exceptional songwriter with a special feel for the real deal. Cruel Red has plenty of dangerous Burnette Brothers-style guitar work, as well as some more blues and swing-tinged arrangements; it's a timeless pleasure and a real treat for fans of the genre.

Producer/arranger: Rory MacLeod. Engineer: Russ Martin. Studio: Viscount Records (Cranston, R.I.). Mastering: Russ Martin/Viscount Records.
Barbara Schultz






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