You Better Keep Still
OPENING WITH THE skeletal arrangement of the haunting "If I Had Wings (Part 1)," 77-year-old country blues terror T-Model Ford croaks cryptic devil-be-damned words that convulse directly into the demented guitar throttling of "To The Left To The Right." Solidified by the rock hard, rudimentary skin slapping of drummer Spam (at times banging out a repetitive beat on simple wood box percussion), the militaristic cadence and marching band minimalism accents Ford's droning guitar/vocal interplay. It's a rigid promenade that would make octogenarian fife player Othar Turner join the ranks and shake his tired ass.
Ford's northern Mississippi blues are distorted, messy and bubbling forth with as much jubilation and anger as a gin-soaked Junior Kimbrough playing live. "These Eyes" recoils in a muddy Delta-guitar exorcism with hilarious female vocal impersonation, a twisted six-string groove, sparse drumming and a heap of nonsensical banter between Ford and the squealing, fictional hussy. Ford's tortured songs are as raw and ugly as expired butcher-shop liver--old, bloody and nasty--definitely an acquired taste if you can stomach it at all. Tucson's own über-producer/mixing genius Jim Waters re-mixed "Pop Pop Pop" into a wicked hip-hop declamatory. A dizzying array of spacey tape loops, bombastic Bootsy-derived funk riffs and heavy drumbeats culminate in a kind of Saturday night juke-joint celebration between homeboys and blues purists, one that would fit nicely on the latest Jon Spencer Blues Explosion record.
Deep Down In The Vaults
THE EASY CRITICISM of Springsteen's Tracks boxed set was, "Gee, but he left off (insert song title here)." But such complaints often come at the expense of really assessing what the four discs' hand-picked set list represented to the artist himself.
So okay, fanboys, it's your turn. This unauthorized, collectors' market 3-CD collection operates on two levels: to address what the compilers thought Springsteen should have included, and to serve as a companion piece to Tracks. It generally succeeds on both counts, sporting terrific sound and charting a chronological path. It begins with a '66 studio acetate of the Boss' garage band The Castiles (significantly, the melody from "That's What You Get" would resurface many years later in "Better Days"), and an 18-minute 1970 hard-rock jam, "The Wind and the Rain," by Steel Mill. From there it winds its way to '96 with a pair of acoustic numbers, "The Ghost Of Tom Joad" and "Adam Raised A Cain," from Springsteen's European solo tour. Along the way you're treated to assorted lost classics, like the much-requested "The Fever" from '73, which Bruce now claims to dislike; a transcendent live '78 version of "Prove It All Night," originally slated for a promo single but withdrawn; and an alternate mix of the haunting gem "Missing" that was used in the film The Crossing Guard but only turned up on a '96 European single. One legitimate complaint should be noted: the '82-'91 period is completely overlooked, suggesting that perhaps this was originally intended to be a 4-CD anthology like Tracks.
At any rate, on presentation terms alone, Vaults pulls all stops, offering a professional 12-page booklet that's crammed with photos of Bruce and assorted memorabilia (such as a Castiles business card) plus track notes that detail each song's recording origins and contextual/historical anecdotes. For the die-hard Springsteen fan, this 39-song collection is guaranteed to give you "the fever" all over again.
Devil in a Woodpile
DEVIL IN A Woodpile is an old-timey, swinging country-blues band that echoes a younger Leon Redbone had he just discovered Sonny Boy Williamson, Ray Charles, Big Bill Broonzy and Spade Cooley, then listened for hours to cartoonist Robert Crumb's collection of 78-rpm blues acetates, assembled a bunch of crackerjack musicians and decided to recreate the birth of American roots music.
What makes the young folks of Devil in a Woodpile so fresh and adventurous-sounding is their peerless acoustic blending of blues, country, ragtime and hillbilly idioms. The result transcends time and musical pigeonholing. Imagine this band recording a soundtrack to an Al Jolson movie set in a Roaring '20s speakeasy (check out the Dixieland-style cover of Sleepy John Estes' "Some Day Baby"). It's a unique amalgamation of rural string-band instrumentation, brisk dance club melodies and tuba-anchored song structure.
Devil in a Woodpile is the brainchild of Redbone stand-in Rick "Cookin" Sherry (vocals, harmonica, washboard, jug, kick drum), Paul K. (National steel and arch top guitars), Tom V. Ray (stand-up bass, ukulele) and Gary Scheper (tuba). The cover of Charles' toe-tappin' "I Got A Woman" chugs along with Sherry's smooth-as-Kentucky-bourbon vocal phrasing, and intoxicating juke-joint rhythms reminiscent of Delta bluesman Robert Johnson jamming with Cab Calloway. The Leon McAuliffe-penned "Steel Guitar Rag" swings with a swift and furious instrumental flurry that resurrects the ghost of his noted '50s hillbilly pedal steel guitar.
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