THE CROWN ROYALS
All Night Burner
THE CROWN ROYALS are an instrumental rhythm-and-blues/soul outfit that cooks up a mighty tasty musical Memphis stew. This Windy City quartet's direct influences are proudly and wholeheartedly worn on their sharkskin sleeves: Booker T, Junior Walker, the Meters and the Godfather of Soul himself, Mr. James Brown. All these funky and flavorful spices are sprinkled generously throughout the band's 10-cut debut. The Crown Royals' mid-60s, Stax-meets-Motown sound is driven by Ken Vandermark's meaty sax riffs and the Ike Turner-meets-Jimmy Nolen-inspired guitar strokes of Pete Nathan. Jeff BBQ's snappy drum patterns, and the greasy, finger-lickin' bass massaging of Mark Blade baste this ribs and ripple cook-out with mouthwatering enthusiasm--and a drunken, groove-like vibe to match. Admittedly, the real funky chickens are the rock-and-roll Hall of Fame inductees who inspired these guys, but the Crown Royals aren't just casual imitators or rip-off artists. They clearly adore the multi-layered foundations of instrumental funk, and profoundly project this soulful hipster-cool attitude on All Night Burner. For proof, check out "Six Pack," a lip smacking piece that would have the J.B.'s pleading for a second helping. Blow that funky music, white boy.
WHAT DOES IT take to make it as a country artist these days? Given the monochromatic melodrama of modern country music, versatility may not be the correct answer. If it were, Robbie Fulks would find himself a major contender, right alongside the faux country brilliance of Ween. His brilliant new release South Mouth demonstrates he can not only play country any way it comes, but is talented enough to do so stylishly and with the appearance of ease. Thanks in large part to the menagerie of talented musicians who contributed to South Mouth, Fulks' vocals and guitar work are perfectly contextualized within each song. This is a record sans filler--country played with a dynamic elocution normally associated with jazz, and all the spunk of an Appalachian hoedown. Each song and the genre to which it belongs gets the signature Fulks treatment: old-time candor, often light-hearted and lyrically sarcastic, played with the utmost respect for the music and its tradition. The bright, crisp nature of the recording further emphasizes the vintage feel of the disc, and the recording style itself may very well be yet another of the record's many artfully cheeky digs at Music City and the country music institution. All inside jokes aside, South Mouth is first-rate entertainment from start to finish.
THE MOLLUSK IS Ween's "wet" album, in much the same way last year's 12 Golden Country Greats was its Nashville album. Songs like "The Golden Eel" and "Ocean Man" mine the water motif quite literally, while the hilarious title track and "Polka Dot Tail" take it one step further: the first by aping the dopey Brit-folk mysticism of Donovan's "Atlantis," and the second by lumbering whimsically like "Yellow Submarine." Other tracks, such as the opening ditty "I'm Dancing in the Show Tonight," are more impressionistically soaked: The piano notes sprinkle lightly, the tuba plods like a foot through mud, and the vocals warp as if they were accidentally thrown into the washing machine. The Mollusk continues Ween's career drift toward something consistently listenable--something still sonically eccentric, but also more playfully pop-centric than ever. Though they're good enough songwriters to play it straight and almost get away with it ("It's Gonna Be" sounds like it was pulled from the Peter Cetera songbook), the Ween boys are at their best foraging through the grotesque, the surreal, and the outright nasty in songs like "Mutilated Lips." They're still guys who get off on weird sounds (such as the vacuum cleaner melody and dog-bark percussion on "Pink Eye") and wiener jokes ("Waving My Dick in the Wind"). What's most fun for us is hearing how much fun it still seems to be for them.
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