Filler Quick Scans


Trouble At The Henhouse
Atlantic Records

THE TRAGICALLY HIP'S pith, elegance and irony resurface with warmth and sublety in the vocals and drum sounds infusing Trouble At The Henhouse with a moving quiescence. In a groundswell of droning guitars and pulsing bass, opposed tensions create an edgy undercurrent, where fever-bearing hornets sting dreamers, "rain falls in real time," and spectral sled dogs pause in wonder in existential wastes. "Flamenco" floats along dreamily before nailing lover and self with "maybe a prostitute could teach you how to take a compliment." With its casual delivery and lilting melody, "Let's Stay Engaged" jars when tenderness surfaces. Extremes and ironies come full circle in the closing dialectic of "Put It Off." Inventive and poignant, this effort marks a new high-water line in the Hip's artistry.

--Jessie Piper


Live! The Real Deal

THE SUB-BILLING reads "with G.E. Smith & the Saturday Night Live Band"; funny, I thought Smith had been booted. (Too many weird grimaces into the TV cameras, perhaps?) At any rate, after a couple of by-the-numbers opening salvos (a tepid shuffle through "I've Got My Eyes On You," a nominal reading of "Sweet Black Angel"), what could have been contractual obligation filler--the disc artwork is embarrassingly generic--turns into a sonic snakebite. Commencing with "Talk To Me Baby" the two guitarists play off one another with democratic grace and confidence, and that SNL horn section adds a lusty pimp's swagger to the arrangements. In fact, with the exception of closing raveup "Let Me Love You Baby," in which Guy unleashes an unbelievable flurry of fretboard volleys, this set is like a slow-acting, delicious potion. Guy's mournful vocal in "My Time After Awhile," the spooky organ motif that funds the 13-minute "I've Got News For You," the desperation duels between Guy and Smith in the middle of "Damn Right I've Got The Blues"--here are people playing together for the sheer taking-my-own-sweet-time pleasure of it.

--Fred Mills


Top Of The Hill Bluegrass: The Sugar Hill Collection
Sugar Hill

MODERN BLUEGRASS BORDERS on being an oxymoron, with the music style still being dominated by conservatives who want to keep everyone sounding as close to Bill Monroe as possible. Sugar Hill presents the exception to the rule, having long supported the music of newer faces like Dan Crary, Jerry Douglas and The Newgrass Revival. So attuned are they to the contemporary Bluegrass scene that someday they most likely will come to be inseparably associated with the music's undeniable developments, much like the Impulse label was with avant-garde jazz in the '60s. After all their years of showcasing hot bands like those included here, they remain without competitors. If you want an idea of what the newer banjo-and-fiddle crowd have been up to since the demise of the Earl Scruggs Revue, this overview is your best source of information.

--Dave McElfresh

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