DECLAN NERNEY 9/11, ABBEY PUB I suppose it's only fitting that while Americans are stuffing the coffers of Michael Flatley and weeping like premenstrual maidens over bagpipes on movie soundtracks, at least one son of Erin is digging Del Shannon and Dolly Parton. On Declan Nerney's Let's Dance (Hooley/Universal), the Dublin native might have explored the hybridizations that link traditional Irish music to American country to early rock 'n' roll--but he didn't, instead applying layers of schmaltzy pedal steel and vaguely Cajun accordion to the Shannon title track, Parton's "I Love You Still," Bob Wills's "Don't Be Ashamed of Your Age," and even originals like "The Kingdom of Kerry." I guess good-time music is good-time music in any accent, but be warned that when Nerney calls out "let's dance," he probably means in a line.
YOU AM I 9/11, DOUBLE DOOR Australia's You Am I seem an unlikely pop sensation by any current American yardstick, but in their native country their latest, #4 Record (Warner Brothers), became their third in a row to debut at number one on the charts. I have to admit this was all news to me: the last I'd heard by them was their 1994 debut, Sound as Ever, some fine apocryphal scripture from the church of feedback worship, produced by Lee Ranaldo. But #4 Record is far-traveling, road-eating stuff, classic rock in the true sense that just in the first three songs you can hear Johnny Thunders, the Small Faces, T. Rex, and XTC, as well as a few current modern-rock generics. Keyboardist Benmont Tench of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers guests--tastefully--as do Memphis Horns Andrew Love and Wayne Jackson.
MACEO PARKER 9/12, HOUSE OF BLUES Saxophonist Maceo Parker's name--at least his first name--is almost as familiar to longtime funk lovers as his sound. Many's the time James Brown yelled it out, exhorting Parker to do his tightly disciplined thing, during the almost 30 years he spent off and on as a Brown sideman. And throughout the 70s and 80s he moonlighted steadily with George Clinton, Parliament-Funkadelic, and Bootsy's Rubber Band. In the 90s he's stepped up as a bandleader in his own right; his forthcoming seventh album, Funkoverload (on the Boulder indie What Are Records?), adds a few standards to what's pretty much the mix of old-school R&B balladry and intense wah-wah warp you'd expect. But though he's not a visionary of Brown's or Clinton's magnitude, he avoids some of their worst excesses, and he's obviously picked up a trick or two from his old bosses about pleasing a crowd: reports from the road indicate that three hours of sweat--cold and hot--are standard.
NILS LOFGREN 9/16, SCHUBAS Next to the entry for "almost" in my personal rock 'n' roll dictionary, there would have to be a picture of Nils Lofgren. The Chicago native has maintained a steady solo career alongside his adventures backing big shots like Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr, Rod Stewart, Lou Reed, and, God help us, Foreigner veteran Lou Gramm. But though his solo records usually stand up respectably to the mid-range output of those icons--a good Nils Lofgren album is better than a bad Lou Reed album--he never gets the notice that they continue to attract well past their prime. His 13th and latest, Acoustic Live (The Right Stuff), is more exciting than its title would imply: Lofgren can play intricate and delicate, but he's not afraid to bang the box as if it were a real rock 'n' roll instrument. And I'll always love his cult hit "Keith Don't Go," a poignant piece of guitar-hero tribute from his 1975 debut. Lofgren knows he's a moth, but he has solid taste in flames.
TRANSGLOBAL UNDERGROUND 9/17, DOUBLE DOOR This big collective of British electronica veterans gives one-world techno a good name, thanks in large part to vocalist Natacha Atlas, a traditional Middle Eastern singer who got her start with Jah Wobble's Invaders of the Heart. Atlas lends the band's Arabic-inflected swoop and groove a natural elegance and lack of affectation--though tunes like "Delta Disco" and "Rude Buddah," from TGU's new Rejoice, Rejoice (MCA), still indicate a healthy irreverent reverence for the universal mind.
VARNALINE 9/17, Riviera This New York trio's third album, Sweet Life (Zero Hour), sands down the splintery edges of leader Anders Parker's frenetic Neil Young devotion, and arrangements sometimes involving strings and horns add some sweet to the bitter. Yet the two strains remain as distinct as oil and water, or for that matter Varnaline and Space Needle, the droney trio Parker and Jud Ehrbar also play in. Sometimes the record soars and sometimes it plods, but overall it's distinctive--something you can't say for most bands playing in Young's shadow these days.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): You Am I photo.