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Public Cowboy No. 1: The Music Of Gene Autry
Rounder Records

THE RIDERS CALL this album "Gene therapy," and it's easy to see why. These tunes remind us of the best of the West--the loveliness of the landscape (especially appropriate at this glorious time of year) and the untamable but honorable spirit of the singing cowboy. Sigh. Never mind this West existed mostly in the minds of screenwriters, songwriters and spellbound boys and girls--the ideal is as much alive today as when these songs first tickled the public's ears in the '30s, '40s and '50s. (Don't believe it? Check out Old Tucson.) This tribute to Autry, arguably the preeminent "singing cowboy" via dozens of movies and masses of television serials, pulls together a dozen or so of his best--and least--known renditions, most done in arrangements faithful to the originals. With Riders in the Sky in the saddle, you can depend on superb musicianship and sublime vocals. There's lots to love here: Ranger Doug's glottal gymnastics on "Back in the Saddle Again," Woody Paul's sassy fiddle break on "You Are My Sunshine," the gorgeous vocal harmonies on "Mexicali Rose," the bluesy "Can't Shake the Sands of Texas from My Shoes." The muted trumpet, strings, accordion and pedal steel supplementing Riders' guitar-fiddle-bass lineup plug right into the jazz inflected sound of the era. Public Cowboy No. 1 shows Riders in the Sky's roots as well as anything they've done over the past 20 years. It's a delight.

--Pam Parrish


Atlantic Records

EVERY NOW AND then along comes a voice that stops you dead in your tracks. Such is the case with 22-year-old Madeleine Peyroux, the Georgia-born, Brooklyn-raised porcelain white chanteuse who sounds so much like Billie Holiday, at first listen you'll think it's a novelty record. Peyroux's voice drips the blood of a broken heart, brilliantly evoking hints of everyone from Edith Piaf to Bessie Smith. The only thing that keeps Dreamland from being an instant classic is her somewhat odd choice of material, including one song in French and a dead-on cover of Patsy Cline (who was so perfect she should never be covered). Nonetheless, it's a staggering mix of blues, folk and jazz styles. One listen to "Reckless Blues" and you, too, will have a passion for Peyroux.

--Tom Danehy


Missile Me

IN A PERFECT world, devoid of lame "modern rock" bands and moronic labels like "alternative," Japanese scuzz-guitarist Guitar Wolf would rule the airwaves. Imagine an arthritic-stricken Link Wray struggling to control Leatherface's runaway gristle 'n' bone-encrusted chainsaw while plugged into a cheap Sears amp. That's the sound of the Wolf. It ain't a pretty picture: wall-of-destruction guitar chaos injected with bargain basement grime 'n' guts fidelity. Wolf owes much to influences ranging from '50s hellion Eddie Cochran to dead-and-buried punk corpses like Johnny Thunders, Teen Generate and the Mummies. Do not purchase Missile Me on CD. Seek out the vinyl to enjoy all the gritty imperfections inherent in the crud-encrusted grooves.

--Ron Bally

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