The Charity Of Night
A DECADE OR so back, Cockburn was scheduled to record a jazz album for the German ECM label. It never panned out, but here he employs previous ECM vibist Gary Burton and sometimes-jazzer bassist Rob Wasserman. Still, it's no bebop disc, that's for sure, remaining rife with the usual Cockburnisms: international folk music rhythms, worldly wise travel memories ("I woke up thinking about Turkish drummers," he sings at the start of "Get Up Jonah"), lengthy political diatribes and jaw-dropping electric-guitar solos. But the instrumental "Mistress Of Storms" offers some idea of how hot the jazz disc could have been. Damn him, the guy can do almost too much. Cockburn's career may suffer from his being too humanitarian--a marketing disaster akin to a woman rejecting a guy for being too nice. If anyone could make even Jackson Browne look like a selfish prick, it'd be St. Bruce. In fact, he's pretty much created a genre for himself that could be defined as pious-but-accessible guerrilla-folk music; to date the best extension of what the rabid but romantic folkster Phil Ochs laid out in the '60s before he killed himself. Maybe wrestling with the love/hate, personal/political dichotomy is why he killed himself. If so, let's collectively keep Cockburn away from sharp objects.
The Long Way Around
TOM RUSSELL IS well known in folk and progressive-country quarters for intelligent and lyrical tunes that, for no good reason, have never broken the charts. Joined here by the likes of Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Iris DeMent, Nanci Griffith, Katy Moffatt and Dave Alvin, all of whom have covered his songs at one time or another, Russell offers a retrospective of border ballads like "Gallo del Cielo" and "Mineral Wells," political commentaries like "The Eyes of Roberto Duran" and "Manzanar," and gently mournful love songs like "Outbound Plane" and "Spanish Burgundy." If you're not familiar with his work, this disc is as good a place as any to start. It contains an unexpected bonus to boot: a liner-notes photograph from the early '80s of Russell standing alongside Andy Warhol and George Jones, a weird pop culture triad indeed.
TEXTURIZING COOL AND cooler riffs inside three-minute pop gems, Sterling UK manage to shine through the tarnish of their own decaying two-guitar attack. Falling somewhere between the calculated cool of Swervedriver and the dirty glam-gone-wrong of Plexi, this quartet's debut stays punchy and effective with shorter tracks, avoiding the worst pitfall of half of their American contemporaries. As Blur recently shed their pale-skinned and foppish hull to show a hardcore punk blossom, so Sterling UK swirl a freshly English pop sensibility through grungy, Ron Asheton-influenced guitar sounds. "Three Hand Man," vaguely Stones-y is a devilish seduction set to a dirty, Manchester beat. "Crawl Mary" slithers on a drooping bassline and lightly strewn but greasy guitars--all falling apart until somehow they manage to unite for a thrilling chorus. Sleazing admirably at mid-tempo sludgery, Roger Packham sings like Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs many, many cartons of smokes ago. Like most bands worth their weight in plastic, the Sterling lads obviously spend a great deal of time on the sound of the guitars without losing sight of valuable hooks. Sterling UK, like a number of interesting English sprouts recently, have pushed their budding heads up through the composted remains of American grunge. This is its metallic blossom.
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