American music
Country Fair 2000
Phil Alvin
Hightone Records

The first song is credited to "The Blasters," though without brother Dave it's hardly the real thing. But Phil's always gone for the closest approximation: Country Fair's trip through the American musical landscape--Next stop, N'awlins ragtime jazz! Comin' up on dem Mississippi blues--picks up just where the Blasters and Alvin's only other solo album left off, lifting from genres like a looter in the night and running off with an armful of songs that tell stories of lovin' good "against the wall," takin' apart a cheatin' man's Ford, and of a land "where there ain't no heaven and there ain't no hell."

Alvin's a brilliant anachronism-historian, scouring the catalogues of forgotten songwriters and arrangers (from Sammy Fain to Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon) to create a record that mixes old-time country with gospel-soul with swing-band jazz. His is a musical America where genres are freed from definition, one in which all sounds come together in a beautiful, exciting collage that doesn't fit onto one canvas. Whether he's fitting the countrybilly "County Fair" in with the snide blues of "Wreck Your V-8 Ford" or using the Dirty Dozen Brass Band to pay homage to Sun Ra and his Arkestra (whose "Ankh" Alvin covers, sandwiched by "Old Rugged Cross" and "Didn't He Ramble" in a mammoth three-part homage), Alvin knows that the quickest way to get from Point A to Point B is to not move an inch.

And you can be a grown-up, too
The Grown-Ups 10"
The Grown-Ups
Direct Hit Records

To dismiss the Grown-Ups, Denton's resident ska revivalists, as sheer novelty--as some locals are wont to do--would miss the point: this is ska redone for a new generation, one raised on Star Wars and comic books, not Margaret Thatcher and punk-rock race riots. When they chant, "I'm a grown-up, you can be a grown-up, too" on their anthem, they're not just Wang Chunging out self-reference but defining themselves as kids who want to be taken seriously (and invite you on the ride); if nothing else, they stomp and skank with the authority of predecessors like the Specials and Selector. And their version of the "Cantina" theme from Star Wars isn't ska, isn't novelty, but a sheer work of wonder.


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