The Matrix Reloaded, Terminator 3, Dumb and Dumberer, and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts' The Executioner's Last Songs Vol. 2 and 3 (Bloodshot); it's summertime, and even in music the sequel is king. Fortunately this set, which has a higher hit-to-miss ratio than its 2002 predecessor, violates the law of diminishing returns that usually applies. Welsh-born workaholic Jon Langford (Mekons, Waco Brothers, Skull Orchard, Three Johns, and does anybody remember the Jelly Bishops?) formed the Cosmonauts to record Misery Loves Company (Scout, 1995), an album of Johnny Cash covers, but the project's MO really took shape a few years later on The Pine Valley Cosmonauts Salute the Majesty of Bob Wills (Bloodshot). Langford assumed Wills's role as master of ceremonies; a string of guest vocalists including Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Edith Frost, and various Mekons re-created the Texas Playboys' revue format; and the core band supplied consistently sprightly, swinging accompaniment. Rather than pay tribute to one performer, the first volume of The Executioner's Last Songs hewed to a theme--murder and retribution. Profits from the record were donated to the Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty. It's pretty uneven; you have to wade through duds like Diane Izzo's excruciatingly hammy take on "Oh Death" to get to the good stuff, like Rosie Flores's swell honky-tonk version of Hank Williams's "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive." Two years and one mass commutation of death sentences later, the two-disc sequel is both more consistent and more eclectic. While my favorite tracks--Dave Alvin's epic "Green Green Grass of Home" and Tim Rutili's desperate "Gallows Pole"--have more than a touch of twang, Skid Marks and Sally Timms sing bouncy pop punk on 999's "Homicide," Otis Clay waxes soulful on "Banks of the Ohio," and Charlotte Greig contributes an ethereal Celtic rendering of "Willie O'Winsbury." At press time, the performers confirmed to appear at this record release show include Langford, Timms, Rutili, Tom Ray, Kelly Hogan, and Jon Rauhouse. Note the early start time; if you want to stick around, Schubas is offering discounted tickets that will also get you into the 10:30 PM concert with Kelly Hogan, Jon Rauhouse's Steel Guitar Air Show, and Carolyn Mark. Friday, July 18, 7:30 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Frank Swider.