Bob Dylan: Love and Theft (Columbia)
Dylan has been on a roll for a number of years now, touring endlessly with a crack band and apparently rediscovering his musical roots in the process. This latest effort is a real musical smorgasbord, with generous portions of blues, rockabilly and even Tin Pan Alley-style pop, all of it pretty heavily retro, but performed with great gusto by Dylan and his five-piece band. After the moody and somewhat low-key Time Out of Mind, it's nice to hear Dylan having so much fun on a record. The album really amounts to 12 little character studies — most of them first-person stories and vignettes where Dylan assumes the lead role, and we learn bits and pieces about that person's life and/or loves. While the style of the writing occasionally recalls the Dylan mid-period masterwork Blood on the Tracks (and I don't make that comparison idly; it's my favorite Dylan record), there's less of a sense on this album of the stories being a veiled autobiography in some form — these characters really do feel like outside creations, not shadowy manifestations from his subconscious. (Dylan says the album is completely autobiographical, but I don't believe him.) There are some neat turns of phrases, as you'd expect, a cynical edge to much of it (also expected), but also a surprising amount of humor. Much of the music is pretty loose, but it doesn't have that tossed-off quality of so much of his later work. But neither is it particularly original; Dylan is genre-hopping this time 'round. Dylan's vocals have always been an acquired taste and recent Dylan takes much more patience than his early work. He's still a master at phrasing, but at this point his voice is just about shot. On most songs, his croak serves his material well, but a few tracks, such as the otherwise lovely “Mississippi,” are excruciating to listen to. Favorites: “Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum” and “Floater.”
Producer: Bob Dylan. Engineer: Chris Shaw. Studios Not Listed. Mastering: George Marino.
— Blair Jackson
Groovenics: Groovenics (Spitfire)
It seems that over the years, many incarnations of your basic metal/hard rock record have died away almost as quickly as they've come up. Metal bands no longer pay more attention to their supply of AquaNet and spandex than their music, and the thrash and head-banging musical styles of the late '70s and early '80s have evidently caused too many neck injuries to be a viable “way of life.” Likewise, many critics thought that the new wave of punk metal (the likes of Limp Bizkit and Korn) would also be just another fad in this ever-changing genre. And yet, there are still new bands who blow past the competition and make their own niche. Meet Groovenics. Hailing from south Florida, this six-piece band has opened for the likes of Mötley Crüe, Everclear and Orgy in the past year, all off the strength of their self-released debut album, Wedgie Fever. Their first major-label release, Groovenics showcases a diverse blend of hard rock, punk, pop, hip hop and electronica, deftly fusing the hard-core guitar anthems of Black Sabbath and Metallica with the punk edginess of the Beastie Boys and Less Than Jake. The release flows into different styles and textures with great ease; from the metalloid “Teach Me” to the more melodic “Spooky” and the electronic machine gun fire of “Just Right,” Groovenics really show their ability to fuse many genres and come away with a clean, rockin' CD. Standout tracks include the fun “She's a Freak” and their Korn-like cover of Def Leppard's “Pour Some Sugar on Me” — it doesn't get any better than that!
Produced, recorded and mixed by Michael Wagener. Studio: Wireworld Studios (Nashville). Mastering: Eric Conn at Independent Mastering.
— Sarah Benzuly
The Derailers: Here Come the Derailers (Luckydog/Sony); BR549: This Is BR549 (Luckydog/Sony)
Sony has signed two of the best neo-traditional country bands to its Luckydog label and is presenting them as if they are new artists. For BR549, this seems to mean merely that they've signed a new dotted line; their sound is as quirky and as country as ever. They've got a great lead-bass pop sound on this record that owes a bit to Nick Lowe. And, in fact, there's a country cover of the awesome Rockpile track “Play That Fast Thing One More Time.” The Derailers are best known as an Austin group with a rockabilly-mixed, Buck Owens-influenced sound. Here Come the Derailers is their first album to be recorded in Nashville and their first with producer Kyle Lehning (Randy Travis, Waylon Jennings). Lehning has added some Nashville strings and polish to this unpretentious band, but don't be put off; this release shines with old-fashioned country humor (“I'm Taking a ‘Bar Exam’…) and it still rocks (“There Goes the Bride”).
The Derailers producer: Kyle Lehning. Engineer: Jason Lehning. Additional engineering (overdubs): Jason Lehning, Kyle Lehning, Sandy Williams. Recording studio: Masterlink (Nashville). Overdub studios: The Compound and J's Broke Ass Studio (both in Nashville). Mastering: Doug Sax/The Mastering Lab (Hollywood).
BR549 Producers: Mike Poole, Paul Worley. Engineers: Mike Poole, Erik Hellerman. Studios: The Money Pit, Clean-x Boxhead (both in Nashville). Mastering: Denny Purcell/Georgetown Masters (Nashville).
— Barbara Schultz
Harry Manx: Dog My Cat (Northern Blues Music)
What a deal: Canadian guitarist Harry Manx's new CD is like getting three albums in one 13-song set. On one, he sounds like the self-assured descendant of the Chicago Blues greats, ripping great lap steel solos on tunes by Muddy Waters and Jimmy Reed. Another side of Manx is his own material, which is a confessional folk-blues style, sung nicely and accompanied again by his guitar and, on occasion, overdubbed harmonica. The third, and to my taste the most interesting songs, are his Indian pieces, played on the mohan veena, which has some similarities to a lap guitar. The globe-trotting Manx studied extensively with the renowned master of that instrument, V.M. Bhatt, best known in this country for the excellent Meeting By the River CD with Ry Cooder in 1993. Solo acoustic pioneer Robbie Basho dove into Indian music many years ago, but Manx's work in the style is more authentic and exciting. I'd love to hear a whole CD of just his Indian musings, though his blues covers and original songs are strong, too. He'd be great to see in a club, and indeed this CD has the feeling of a fine solo performance (with a couple of overdubs).
Producer: Jordy Sharp. Engineer: Andy Bowner. Studio: The Barn (Salt Spring Island, B.C.).
— Blair Jackson