By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Call me lazy, shiftless, whatever you want. You're right. For once, God almighty, you're right. These records should have been reviewed before now, before the bands that made them moved onto something else. So, save your letters. You don't agree with my feelings about these eight records, write about that. Just not my punctuality. It'd be a disservice to the people who made them.
The Crooner Rides Again
As good as last year's Good Night, Little Girl of My Dreams was, The Crooner Rides Again sounds even better, with an emphasis on sounds. John Congleton and Gary Long use microphones like megaphones and turn the studio into a tent revival, recording Budapest One in a style that comes as close as possible to capturing singer-guitarist Keith Killoren's onstage theatrics and manic street preaching. And the inclusion of Carter Albrecht on keys and Jason Garner on drums--joining bassist William Pollard, here at least--puts some meat on the music's bones, finding the middle ground between the Crickets and the Attractions while Killoren pounds the pulpit, singing about love and marriage and all the good and bad things that can happen when you get hitched. The melodies have always been there, even on the self-titled cassette that preceded Good Night, but now Killoren's got hired muscle to make them work. And they do, fleshing out the sketches of Killoren's vision until you can make out the entire thing without squinting.
While Good Night, Little Girl of My Dreams careened from self-immolating lamplighters to yodeling mutes to bastard princes to mail-order brides to Rudy Vallee, The Crooner Rides Againsticks to the story of "Peaches"--"everybody's catch," or so the song says--and her doomed (?) marriage. It's not so much a concept album as it is one long story, following her from first date ("The Wolves are Well Fed") through the "days of temptation" ("In a Little Gypsy Tea Room") when "up came my other lovely lover/A woman I was kissing yesterday," and later, as a stop at the "Longhorn Motel" "leads a married man to sin." But, the back cover of the disc promises, "There's always a happy ending," and the bittersweet "It's Not Dancing" seems to be offering a way out, Killoren singing, explaining, apologizing, "It's not dancing if you both lead the way." Meaning: If you're both ready to move on, then you don't have to keep walking around in circles. For Killoren and company, that hasn't been a problem.
I Hope You Win!
Hot Link Records
It didn't take Jon "Corn Mo" Cunningham long to record I Hope You Win!, his first full-length. Say, 45 minutes or so, which is roughly how long it takes to listen to the album. The reason: Corn Mo sings and plays accordion and does scenes from Welcome Back, Kotter all in one long take--at least for the first 11 of the 13 songs on the disc. Between the songs, Corn Mo usually asks producer Matt Pence if that was alright, then prepares for the next tune--and it's all on tape. Not only that, but near as I can tell, the last song on the album, "Puttin' Up (Cowboy Song for Eeyore)"--featuring an assist from former partner Mauve Oed's guitar--was recorded with Sam McCall in New York, and Pence recorded Corn Mo playing a tape of it. If it sounds strange, well, it is, though not much more than Corn Mo's song stories about titty twisters ("Junior High") and "Hershey's Minatures" and his Epilady (um, "My Epilady") and Kevin Von Erich (the familiar favorite "Shine On, Golden Warrior"). He is the Dungeon Master, living in a world where eighth grade only recently gave way to adulthood and there is no such thing as irony.
To Corn Mo, it's all worth a shot at least once, whether it's power ballads played on an accordion, or magic tricks that only slightly work, or jokes without punchlines. He is at once the worst entertainer in the world and the best because of it. Of course, while it's all very whimsical, it's not played for laughs--there are no wink-winks or conspiratorial tones. Sure, the looks-like-Tommy-Shaw, sounds-like-Dennis-DeYoung bit might Styx in your throat (not mine), but it ain't no joke. Fact is, Corn Mo has a great voice, and he's not afraid to use it, even though his style of singing largely went out around the time of Betamax. Plus, he's so earnest about it all; the booklet that comes with the disc reads, "Let me play shows to you. Even if it is over the phone." And you know he means it. The boy's some sort of genius, Triumph's Rik Emmett with bits of Doug Henning and Myron Floren thrown in for good measure. I hope he wins.
High-Five Your Sex Drive
If it's possible to do Big Dumb Rock smartly, that's what Crash Vinyl does. Or did, anyway, on last year's Precious Platinum, where the riffs were piled high and wide. On High-Five Your Sex Drive--Is that a mastubation reference? No way!--there's a little bit of everything, from the ice-cream-truck keyboards that chase "Tippt Toe" around the block, to the Rock is Dead synths on "Return of Killah Thug...." The band--singer Kevin Ingle, drummer John Jay, bassist Dave Jessup, and guitarists Rip Van Bastard and Stain Hanksky--lives up to its name, sounding like a collision of old records, a big wreck in the racks. Ingle sings like he's scratching an itch, and the guitars sound like old Devo records--awkward and raw and louder than bombs--while the lurching rhtyhm section of Jessup and Jay pounds out a collective thud behind them. It all comes together on "Why Are You Here," which brings melody and malady in equal measure.