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Jewboyz II Men

Pearls in the Snow: The Songs of Kinky Friedman
Various artists
Kinkajou Records

Some day, Kinky Friedman will get his due. Kinky will see to that, appearing as he does on his own tribute record--the man's nothing but chutzpah, bless him. Maybe history hasn't done too well by Richard Friedman because it never knew what to make of him: the author of novelty tunes; "the Frank Zappa of country," as one Yankee moron called him; or just a top-notch songwriter hiding his sensitive side behind that ever-present cigar. Of course, he's all three and then some.

This collection of Kinky covers--featuring the A-list all-stars and guests, including born-again talents Delbert McClinton and Lee Roy Parnell--doesn't redeem him from history; his own albums do that, because they're as good now as he thought they were back then. What it does do is get him the hell out of the way so you might better appreciate the message without the messenger's laugh-track standing in the way. Suddenly, with Willie Nelson singing it, "Ride 'Em Jewboy" doesn't seem so funny; indeed, it's rather sad, almost disturbing, especially when he gets around to the line, "Do not let the mornin' blind you / When on your sleeve you wore the yellow star." Never before did the Holocaust reference sting so sharply till Nelson wrapped his warm, nasal twang around the lyrics. Same goes for "Sold American": Where once it played like a has-been's remember-when (and it was the title of Friedman's first record, no less), the way Lyle Lovett performs the song, it becomes a working-man's lament. The line about letting "heaven's golden Greyhound roll your soul away" resounds with sadness and failure; if it was ever funny, it ain't now.

This is a record full of highlights: Dwight Yoakam swings his way through "Rapid City, South Dakota" until the former folk ballad song sounds like something off country radio in the 1950s; Guy Clark imbues the sad little tale of that "Wild Man From Borneo" with rare tenderness; and Marty Stuart breaks his heart a thousand times over waiting for "Lady Yesterday." Every song on this collection is better than the last, which is perhaps why the greatest one of them all ends the whole affair, when Tom Waits pulls into the "Highway Cafe" with nothing but a banjo and a throat full of gravel and tears. Singing about that waitress who's "heartbroken 24 hours a day," Waits makes you forget all about him, Kinky, everything in the world. Anyone who doubts Friedman's worth starts here and stays here.

--Robert Wilonsky

Pearls in the Snow is available only through www.kinkyfriedman.com or by calling 1-877-999-9975.

 
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