TINSLEY ELLIS 5/22, FITZGERALD’S Just as between love and hate, there’s a fine line between blues and blues rock. Atlanta guitarist Tinsley Ellis walks it with a compelling, sometimes vertigo-inducing lurch, giving everything a slight Allman Brothers shading and inviting the occasional really frightening guest to play on his albums (R.E.M.’s Peter Buck was on 1992’s Trouble Time). On his latest, Fire It Up (Alligator), Ellis’s mastery of his instrument is clear. It’s issues of taste that provide the suspense: the solo on “Diggin’ My Own Grave” is wanky enough to get him arrested in Georgia, but his cover of Los Lobos’ “I Walk Alone” is indisputably classy.
HUM 5/22, VIC I’ll say this for Hum’s latest, Downward Is Heavenward (RCA)–it’s big. Recorded hot, with fat chords and atavistically simple melody lines reaching upward for, if not the sky, then at least the ceilings of ever-larger venues. Its naked grandiosity–which gives the quieter, “introspective” bits a weight they’d never have on their own–is almost appealing, in the same way that imprudent Nietzsche-quoting is almost cute coming from a 16-year-old. But even taking into account the tendency of a roomful of swaying bodies to absorb a lot of sound, it still seems like a futile exercise at this late juncture to keep pretending that size matters so much.
SOUTHERN CULTURE ON THE SKIDS 5/22, LOUNGE AX; 5/23, DOUBLE DOOR Like ZZ Top meets the B-52’s at the hairdresser–yep, it’s another Southern Culture on the Skids album. Like almost all their other records, the new Plastic Seat Sweat (Geffen) is a passel of country funk relying heavily on over-the-top double entendres and jokes about the more exotic aspects of southern cuisine–sometimes simultaneously. That’s no reason to condemn them, though. They’re consistent like the Ramones or the Cramps are consistent, and besides, who really wants to hear the Southern Culture on the Skids drum ‘n’ bass record?
WORLD GONE MAD 5/22, LUNAR CABARET Booking music for the Lunar Cabaret was a thankless job–even when he got thanked aplenty in words, Micky Greenberg always had to face the fact that the tiny, liquorless Lincoln Avenue space couldn’t compete with larger, better-known venues for the not so highly lucrative avant-garde-music market. On the fringes of the music scene as his mates in the Curious Theatre Branch are in the theater world, and sharing a similarly stylized Brechtian aesthetic, Greenberg quit while he was behind. All that frustration must be what’s fueling his abrasive new art-punk band World Gone Mad–the cuts on their four-song demo, like “Ugly World” and “No Friend,” sound like wonderfully twisted show tunes seeking a darkly satirical musical, with Greenberg Method-acting Jello Biafra in the lead.
THE FRANK & WALTERS 5/23, SCHUBAS Grand Parade (Setanta), the debut full-length from the Frank & Walters of County Cork, is overstuffed with the kind of pure-pop sparkle that makes the top of your head seem to be lifting off. There are no rallying cries of “English out of Irish pop music” here–these guys get giddy with sheer Britpop, rhyming “ocean” and “devotion” and piling on the string arrangements as if Yum-Yum never happened. (Oops, I forgot, it didn’t.) Look out, though, ’cause too much of this stuff will leave you feeling shaky, like living for a week on Peeps.
THE TARTS 5/26, METRO Former Naked Raygun guitarist Bill Stephens can play this sort of high-octane midwestern rock in his sleep, and lots of people would be guaranteed to sleepwalk out to see him do it. Of course his new band, with former members of such local never-quites as Jack the Lad and Avocado Jungle Fuzz, lacks the dangerous edge his old outfit once had, but that’s what happens when you make a good thing these days: you build your own market niche and it turns around to swallow you. This date marks the official release of the Tarts’ first single, “Good Times” b/w “Down and Out in Istanbul.”
Ray Condo & His Ricochets 5/28, Fitzgerald’s It’s kind of fun to speculate who’ll survive the current rockabilly trend–who’ll be around when CMJ has stopped writing about it and cigarette companies have stopped pouring money into it. Ray Condo & His Ricochets are a reasonable bet–devoted historians, they wisely didn’t bother with originals on their second album, Door to Door Maniac (Joaquin), and they understand that the essence of the music is rhythm. Everything here–the bass, the sax, the pedal steel, the mandolin, Stephen Nikleva’s searing guitar, Condo’s great-balls-of-fire yelps–functions at one point or another as a percussion instrument. The Ricochets’ reach exceeds their grasp on the slower numbers (including Billie Holiday’s “Tell Me More”), but it’s too soon to give up on them in that department–soul comes with time. One thing’s for sure: you’d never guess they’re Canadian.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): World Gone Mad photo by Tamara Staples.