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 thatwild, guitar-slinging Eddy Shaver passed on, he recorded some screamingelectric solos and some fine acoustic work for Shaver's new album. Thisinfectious assortment of Billie Joe originals includes somesurprisingly 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 “WabashCannonball.” However, there's also naked feeling in plain songslike “Star of My Heart” and the title track, which BillieJoe wrote for his wife, who also passed away in 1999. And there'snothing sadder than a lonely waltz like “Heart's aBustin'.” The Shavers and their band are enhanced by somefirst-rate guest musicians: E-Street Band bassist Gary Tallent, and KenCoomer (drums) and Jay Bennett (B-3) of Wilco. With his tube mics andanalog machines, Ray Kennedy has captured the essence, and maybe thelast, of Shaver.
Producer/engineer: Ray Kennedy. Studio: Room & Board(Nashville). Mastering: Hank Williams/Mastermix (Nashville).
— Barbara Schultz
Gwenmars: Driving a Million
It would be really easy to take one look at The Gwenmars and dismissthem as yet another SoCal, pop/punk, Blink 182 derivative. However,this isn't the case. On the band's third release, Driving aMillion, The Gwenmars in no way allude to their L.A. origins anddeliver track after track of glammy, hook-laden pop songs that don'tfeel at all forced or loyal to any specific genre. It seems that thesekids listen to everything from Suede and Blur to Minor Threat and SonicYouth. A couple of the stand-out tracks include “Venus” and“Electro.” “Venus” opens with a particularlycool, processed guitar line, and the song, like the others on thealbum, is over and done long before the hook even begins to wear thin.Vocalist/guitarist Michael Thrasher, the primary songwriter, could haveeasily opted to go the Top 40 route and carried this album pretty muchon his own. But, luckily, this feels like a band effort, and their timespent on the club circuit seems well-spent and shines throughbrilliantly; 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
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 tostart. The Melbourne trio originally had heavy rockabilly leanings,but, more recently, have transformed into a hard-rocking unit thatplays with an impressive ferocity and focus. They have the politicalconsciousness of The Clash and Green Day and the sharp vocal blend ofthose groups and a hundred other punk predecessors. Guitarist ChrisCheney plays both lead and crunching rhythm very effectively, andbassist Scott Owen and drummer Travis Demsey are appropriatelyrelentless in their attack. You might think you don't care about theconcerns of Australia's working class, but like all great bands, theLiving End makes their message universal, and besides, there's morehere than just anthems for the oppressed; Cheney is a goodwriter. Already one of the most popular groups “DownUnder,” these guys could break big in America if they landed onthe 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
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 shouldre-establish his credentials in that world. The lush suite fororchestra and jazz band is an evocative series of pieces that wereinspired by the real-life murder of an aspiring actress named ElizabethShort in Hollywood in the late '40s — the famous (andnever-solved) Black Dahlia Murder. Belden says in the liner notes thathe was influenced by Jerry Goldsmith's evocative score for RomanPolanski's Chinatown — still one of the greatestdepictions of the seamy underbelly of L.A. in the '40s — and itis clear that he has also absorbed the musical vocabulary (including afew of the clichés) of the original noir composers.Belden uses an orchestra and a number of fine jazz soloists (includingtrumpeter Tim Hagan and sax players Joe Lovano and Lawrence Feldman) topaint pictures of the glamorous world of Old Hollywood, of the darkside 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-'50sMiles Davis — another fine jumping-off point. This is really thescore for a movie that doesn't exist. It's a fascinating and engagingwork.
Producers: Bob Belden and Eli Wolf. Engineer: Richard King. Studio:Sony Music Studios (New York City). Mastering: Mark Wilder and SethFoster/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 ofrockabilly alive with recent releases such as Blastered, adelightful tribute to Phil and Dave Alvin's band The Blasters. And RunWild 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 anexceptional songwriter with a special feel for the real deal. CruelRed has plenty of dangerous Burnette Brothers-style guitar work,as well as some more blues and swing-tinged arrangements; it's atimeless 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/ViscountRecords.
— Barbara Schultz