JERRY JEFF WALKER 6/5, HOUSE OF BLUES My first thoughts of this veteran outlaw (that's Nashvillese for "liberal") troubadour are always of his biggest hit, "Mr. Bojangles," which greatly traumatized me in sixth-grade chorus. The other 70s wrist slitters we sang were fine--the cynicism of "Suicide Is Painless" rolled off my back, as did the mass murder in "One Tin Soldier"--but jeez, that lonely old man and his dead dog just killed me. Throughout his 30-some-year career Walker has walked the line between pathos and bathos, writing something very close to three-hanky cheese without ever quite falling into that sticky pit of radio fondue; in fact, his success as a touring artist has very little to do with radio. Based in Austin since 1971, he's been putting out his own records on his Tried & True label since 1986 and avoiding Nashville like it was a leper colony. The cover of his 28th and latest album, Cowboy Boots & Bathing Suits, recorded at his beach house on Ambergris Caye, brings on scary flashbacks to Walker's friend Jimmy Buffett, but once again he maneuvers the cliches with taste, grit, and smarts, mixing soulful originals with well-chosen covers and even taking a potshot at himself in "Gringo in Belize." Unfortunately, though, it's all still far too sunny to ever make my sadistic old chorus director's list. DIRTY 6/6, METRO Chicago's Dirty, veterans of more local bands than you can shake a headless bass at (Hot Heels, Eternalux, Sister Soleil), may use synthesizers, but their brand of techno-dance swerves far away from the high-art ambitions of the current European knob-twiddling crowd. Charming like Bananarama in Cocteau Twins goth drag, their 1997 debut CD is catchy, dizzyingly busy, and upbeat, with brief flashes of intensity and not a new idea in its pretty little head.RISING LION 6/6, WILD HARE It remains to be seen if New York City's Rising Lion is ever quite going to achieve "de Lion Man sound / Stormin' de land / Bustin' in de charts like the Wu-Tang Clan" it boasts of on its New Day (Ruff Stuff)--these days there's no obvious successor to Peter Tosh or Bob Marley to pull old-school roots reggae from its deeply dug niche. And while doubtless the Rasta movement does fine without a bunch of Scandifarians tagging along for the free reefer, it does seem a shame that the current hipster interest in reggae excludes the great spiritual and political music that's been there all along in favor of the headline-grabbing rudeness of dancehall and the trendiness of dub. Though Rising Lion's nominally a band, leader and songwriter Danny Dred is almost singlehandedly responsible for de Lion Man sound--a good-natured but tightly focused reggae groove with funk and hip-hop flourishes--playing several of the instruments himself in the studio, keeping the dub wizardry in service of the rhythm, and unblushingly citing Willie Nelson as an influence on his songwriting. TRONA 6/6, LOUNGE AX "I don't need yours / I've got my own nostalgia," Mary Ellen Leahy belts on "Time Life," and I know just what she means--records like this Boston band's Red River (Roadrunner), which hark back to the glory days of 80s indie rock, always bring a tear to these tired eyes. I'm not sure I'd take X's overproduced and underinspired later albums as my reference point, as Leahy seems to, but I suppose that's just a matter of which 80s you remember. UZEDA 6/6, EMPTY BOTTLE Not every album that takes two years to make comes out overcooked--in the case of Uzeda's third LP, Different Section Wires (Touch and Go), the lengthy process of blenderization resulted in a purposeful yet exhilarating set of lull-and-throb savagery. The Sicilian aggro-math quartet doesn't just keep up with its American counterparts; it transcends the expectations of fans of tour mates Shellac, Fugazi, and June of 44. And at moments ("Stomp," "Ten Stars") the album is one of the most intense things producer Steve Albini has put his name on since Big Black. JUNKIE XL 6/7, METRO The brainchild of Dutch remix artist Tom Holkenborg, who's worked with Nerve and Fear Factory, Junkie XL is largely a studio phenomenon, churning out industrial-strength oilcan beats on its debut, Saturday Teenage Kick (Roadrunner). If that title makes you think of Atari Teenage Riot, you're not too far off: with the help of ex-Urban Dance Squad rapper Rude Boy, Holkenborg generates techno for the stadium, not the dance floor. But unlike Atari Teenage Riot's live show, Junkie XL's relies on the appeal of real instruments, incorporating a drummer and a guitarist as well as a DJ. High point, relatively speaking: the nearly 20-minute-long "Future in Computer Hell," which never lets you forget Holkenborg was once a software salesman. N'DEA DAVENPORT 6/9, DOUBLE DOOR Scratch the surface of just about any beat-based pop music and you find R & B; she's a grand old lady who can model any year's fashions. Former Brand New Heavies front woman N'Dea Davenport has dressed up R & B many ways, but on her mostly self-produced solo debut she trots 'er out nearly naked, with a hot flourish of current technology here and there; like Neneh Cherry and Erykah Badu, Davenport knows that real instruments and real songs ultimately show off her voice the best. Recorded during a retreat from the music industry down in New Orleans, N'Dea Davenport (V2) is full of smoky and soulful tunes, from the torchy "When the Night Falls" to the uplifting "Oh Mother Earth (Embrace)" to the jumpin' and jivin' "Getaway" to an inspired cover of Neil Young's "Old Man." Her elastic tones stretch across the well-crafted grooves, calling out to God the lover and God the mother as if the mind/body/spirit split never existed--and in R & B
it doesn't, which is why the music has lasted.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Rising Lion uncredited photo.