CELEBRATE GUITAR effects! Delay, distortion, reverb, wah-wah and innumerable other studio toys can make an uneven pop record like this a carnival of interesting guitar noises. Luna has released a couple of decent records sounding somewhat akin to a clean-living Velvet Underground influenced by the alarming resurgence of lounge music, though like most alterna-pop dudes Luna would undoubtedly disclaim the VU influence. At least Luna doesn't sound too much like vocalist/guitarist Dean Wareham's former band, the criminally overrated Galaxie 500, who for some reason are now getting the boxed-set treatment. There are some really catchy tunes here. "Tracy I Love You" has a simple driving beat, jangly rhythm guitar, and a cool atmospheric guitar solo. "Beautiful View" sounds like non annoying merry-go-round music overlaid with wicked wah-wah guitar and other melodic guitars chiming in. The lyrics are disingenuous enough that I spent some time trying to figure out what the line, "I spend too much time in airplanes, eating pitas, and getting high" meant. What airline serves pitas, and what the hell kind of hippie vegetarian traveler is this guy? Turns out he's eating "peanuts." Oops.
FEW BANDS IN the Americana genre have held the promise of Whiskeytown. And few, in all honesty, can deliver the instant grace, without musical sappiness, that this Raleigh, N.C., quintet consistently offers. The wizened, lyrical literary pursuits of youthful frontman Ryan Adams make him seem sent by the sages to deliver his whiskey-soaked unsentimental ballads of love and loss. At the tender age of 22, Adams writes like Keith and Mick in their prime, yet boasts a reputation for smashing guitars that the Glitter Twins never dared. Whiskeytown's third record, a follow-up to the rough and inspired Faithless Street, is the first for Geffen and musically signals a measurable change. What was once too-rough-to-manage nuance is now graced by decent enough production to float new levels of ethereal misery on even more translucent waves. The result is stunning. On instantly memorable gems "Turn Around" and "Everything I Do (Miss You)," Phil Wandscher does his tasteful Keith Richards guitar routine, while violinist Caitlyn Cary fills the musical gap with her soft voice and spare playing; and Adams sings from the bottom of his soul, or the bottle, or both. In a crop of unmemorable records, one listen will have you humming and remembering something off of Strangers Almanac. This is one of the best releases so far this year, and perhaps the best of this genre's efforts at mining the "why don't you love me" of country and "why do you hate me" of punk.
DUKE ROBILLARD BAND
MR. ROBILLARD'S BEEN kickin' around the blues club circuit for nearly three decades, but he's never attained the recognition and success he so richly deserves. He was the founder/leader of Roomful Of Blues, which he started in 1967, before embarking on a solo career in 1980. Sure, he's managed to carve out a niche of hardcore followers of his laid-back, swing-cum-cocktail blues; but hopefully, Dangerous Place will finally allow him to climb out from beneath the roadhouse support grind and catapult him into a more profitable headlining spotlight. Robillard isn't a flashy guitar picker like Stevie Ray Vaughn or Buddy Guy. His sophisticated technique is more attuned to the stylish, simple stroking of B.B. and Albert King. Dangerous Place brings to mind the roots-rock-meets-blues mixture of the Blasters' phenomenal breakthrough album, American Music, had it been hijacked en route to a jump-blues convention headlined by the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. Just dig those sultry saxes and Robillard's smooth scotch-and-soda vocals. Perfect accompaniment to a vivid, Technicolor '50s movie like The Seven Year Itch, staring ultimate highball companion and sex kitten, Marilyn Monroe. Meow.
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