Morrissey is murder
South Paw Grammar
Reprise Records

In Morrissey's music, true believers see the light in the dark universe; in his tortured words, truth is revealed and sins are absolved and pain is healed and faith is restored. The acolytes must believe this because otherwise there's little to be gained by his posed revelations and a brand of music that, when it is not absorbed by its own moping and boredom, rocks with generic proficiency. Morrissey's lyrics don't reveal anything because they seem to exist for the singer alone--poetry read aloud at an audience, not for or even to that audience: "You may be feeling let down by the words of defense," Morrissey reveals on one track here ("Reader Meets Author"). "He says no one ever sees me when I cry/You don't know a thing about their lives."

Don't be deceived by South Paw Grammar's new-found sting: Though Morrissey has evolved into a bona fide pop-rock artist, opening up to allow a little breathing room inside the usual self-absorbed closed quarters, Morrissey still sounds like a man enamored of his own words--the guy laughing till he weeps at his own jokes.

Last Wills and testament
A Tribute to the World's Best Damn Fiddle Player (or My Salute to Bob Wills)
Merle Haggard
Koch International

When Merle Haggard made this record--25 long years ago, though in country-music terms it might as well have been another century--he was struggling to reconcile his jingo-baiting-hippie-hating persona with his Dust Bowl-Woody Guthrie-leftist leanings; he was the first real Outlaw of the 1970s, an Okie from Muskogee who waved a flag in one hand and his parole notice in the other. But straight down the middle, Haggard was a man for whom history was something of the present; he was an anachronism himself, so when Haggard rounded up a heap of the Texas Playboys to cut a tribute to Bob Wills, it was less an exercise in nostalgia (Wills was still alive at that point) than it was an affectionate inevitability.

Available for the first time on CD, Tribute is an amazing, reverent combination of Haggard and Wills: The band sounds much as it did throughout the 1930s and '40s, swingin' its way through "San Antonio Rose" and "Stay a Little Longer," but in front of them is a singer with a softer touch and a gentle voice. Haggard captures what was essential about Wills' music--a big-band sound that could fill a honky-tonk, polish and shine revealed underneath sawdust and horseshit--and without changing it a bit, he makes it his own.

--Robert Wilonsky

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky