By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
|Listen to Unwritten Law:
In the two years since the release of Oz Factor, San Diego's Unwritten Law has taken a small step sideways, edging away from the manic, punk-tinged pop of that album and going full-throttle on its current batch of straight-up power pop. Such a distinction may sound like semantics, but it's just enough of a difference to broaden the audience and reach "mature" listeners. The band's deceptively simple formula also happens to be the basic foundation of rock & roll: a tireless (i.e., young) drummer; a bassist who's both melodic and driving; a pair of big, crunchy guitars (and very little wanking); good melodies and rich harmonies.
While comparisons to (vintage) Cheap Trick or early Jam are in order, Unwritten Law has infinitely more in common with little-known Staten Island power-popsters Dirty Looks. In addition to the similar lean, mean approach and respective suburban traumas (which surface in tunes like "Before I Go," "Genocide" and "Lonesome"), singer Scott Russo yells "Let's go!" at the end of the high-speed "Teenage Suicide." (One of the best tracks from Dirty Looks' excellent 1980 debut was titled "Let's Go.")
If there's a complaint, songs like "Coffin Text" and "Holiday" may run together, and through the dozen tunes, only "Cailin" and "Before I Go" offer a breather. The former is an understated midtempo rocker that puts Russo's easy-on-the-ears voice front-and-center. Good single material. (Michael Lipton)
L.A. County Line
This 20-song compilation of local country-rock bands has a few standout tracks, and a strong regional flavor overall. It also has more than its share of laughably inept performances that sound so stagy they're like a rough equivalent of blackface minstrels trying to sing an Afro-American spiritual. The good ones - by Rosie Flores, the Groovy Rednecks, the Losin' Brothers, Annie Harvey and Trailer Park Casanovas (whose "Drunk" sounds like a Grand Ole Opry version of the MC5) - all make intriguing use of the country tradition while clearly expressing themselves in the present tense.
It's the bad 'uns that, for the sheer scope of their respective blundering, positively fascinate: Deke Dickerson throws down "Love Is Like a Faucet" with his usual aplomb, but it's a bankrupt effort typical of this Los Angeles wannabe, technically flawless but emotionally disconnected. Russell Scott should just throw in the towel - formerly prized for his fluffy tenor, now he simply has no voice left. The bass drags, the drums rush, and Scott, hoarse and strained, sounds like a ghost recorded by paranormal investigators - how this downright agonizing performance made it onto the final disc is beyond comprehension.
The Lucky Stars, a fairly decent band of musicians, shoot themselves in the foot with a set of lyrics so overloaded that trying to fit them to the assigned meter makes for a nerve-racking earful; Jennifer Quinn's amateurish bleat also just barely keeps time, yet does manage to toss in plenty of cliched hillbilly phrasing; P.J. Pesce and 1000 Dollar Wedding take a whiny, modern-rock-ballad vocal approach, sounding more like Counting Crows than honky-tonk heroes; Neil Mooney and Dan Janisch both fall into the trying-too-damn-hard category, with performances so mannered and forced they sound like community-theater actors unhappily cast as country singers. Christopher Sprague and Chris Gaffney round out the set with equally underwhelming contributions.
Whether you call this Americana, New Depression or (gag) "alternative country" matters not; essentially, L.A. County Line is a handy item for clearing the room once a party has run too long. (Jonny Whiteside)
RALPH TOWNER-GARY PEACOCK
A Closer View (ECM)
Bassist Gary Peacock and guitarist Ralph Towner are two-of-a-kind musicians. Freethinkers with substantial technical abilities, they create songs that seem completely spontaneous but carry overt elements of composition. They've done the duo thing for ECM before, most recently on 1993's Oracle, but transcend even that excellent recording with this date.
The combination of Peacock's expansive support - also a mainstay of pianist Keith Jarrett's sound - and Towner's broad-minded improvisations is as natural as evergreen, conjuring images that frequently suggest shaded meadows, blooming wildflowers and tumbling streams. The two go beyond the usual soloist-accompanist relationship, using any number of strategies to point and counterpoint their sounds. Peacock is adept at playing alternative melodies against Towner's classical and traditional themes, sometimes casting a somber shadow over the guitarist's pastoral impressions, and frequents the lead with stout lyrical statements or delicately harmonized double stops. Often their roles will change midstream, as the bassist moves up front and the guitarist takes to bridge and echo work.
The dozen tunes, most no more than four or five minutes long, are detailed miniatures that slip in and out of recognizable forms and alternate between light and downhearted moods. The collaborative "Postcard to Salta" is among the most composed, with its minor-key dignity and assertive Peacock solo. Another collaborative effort, "From Branch to Branch," is propelled by the bassist's Eastern modalism played at a Western gallop. Towner adds a surreal 12-string effect to the bassist's "Moor," and shows a knack for self-accompaniment on his Spanish-flavored "Toledo." The combination of Towner and Peacock is like a Gore-Tex jacket: tightly woven, yet it breathes. (Bill Kohlhaase)