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You Can’t Do That — It’ll Make the Record Skip! 

Waylon Jennings, 1937–2002

Wednesday, Feb 20 2002
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Waylon Jennings? One of the most famous country-music performers ever. You already know his story, from Littlefield, Texas, birth to diabetes-hastened end, but the extraordinary scale of his artistry has yet to be measured. Waylon’s achievements, obscured perhaps by the cult of his boundlessly charming personality, the notoriety of being the first major country star busted for cocaine, or his association with TV’s The Dukes of Hazzard, were colossal. He expanded the glorious Texas foundation of Wills, Tubb, Frizzell, Jones — previously unrivaled giants — with a deliberate independence no one else dreamed possible.

Passionate, unorthodox, uncompromising, Waylon was a liberator. From his rock & roll start with Buddy Holly, to his shimmering Southwestern pop-tinged A&M releases, to his inevitable development of the thumping, gregarious Outlaw style, his exultant, hard-won creative freedom resulted in music as entertaining and accessible as it was groundbreaking and significant. In a mid-’70s series of stunning releases — Honky Tonk Heroes, I’m a Ramblin’ Man, Waylon Live and the 1975 masterpiece Dreaming My Dreams (a purely expressive breakout on par with the career-redefining likes of In the Wee Small Hours and Pet Sounds) — Waylon established dazzling new standards. Each album was a tradition-based evolutionary step beyond, mixing complex, analytical messages with soulful personal statements and, most important, throwing down blunt artistic challenges to his peers and himself.

Waylon didn’t write much; when he did, the impact was critical. His “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?” didn’t merely call for change — it made one. Like the Philistines’ temple toppling to Samson’s shove, Nashville’s decadent formulas collapsed as Waylon’s gruff bark and earthshaking two-step brought millions into a new fold. Considering his remarkable output, even that feat matters little. Whether Waylon basked in a celestial light or explored the blackest depths, his gift for celebrating truth was always beautiful. Having to accept him as only a memory is ugly.

HIVE Bedlam (Rockwell)

Eat no X ‘round DJ Hive; hugging prohibited. These slaughtering rhythms, rattling the 180-plus-bpm range, are for times you get a yen to shoot sea gulls, or shoot meth and run around looking for land mines. Bedlam, y’know, is a notorious madhouse. You gotta be nuts to go in here.

But why not? Pulling snips and loops from Tech Itch, Dylan (not Bob or Jakob) and numerous other electrochoppers, Hive sure as hell makes you feel alive. The teeth-chattering beats of this mix CD will stick in your nervous system for days, and the overall sound, riding belches of butt-ugly bass, has a clean, cruel depth to it. Hive’s as artful as anybody when it comes to booms, whooshes, evil whines and babbling vocal loops. And his narratives can be a laugh, as when he imitates a car about to break down, or launches a cannibal percussion climax suitable for captive disembowelment, or turns an Ike & Tina sweat fest into a robot army. But the most exciting thing about Hive is the way he uses his synthesizer. Though he adopts a crude tone and pretty much sticks with it, his manipulations of the instrument — for mastiff barks, slobbering raspberries, tortured infernal writhings and whatever — are darkly inspired. And when the synth stabs he throws into a beat-synchronized loop don’t match up with the main rhythm track (which happens now and then), he completely doesn’t care! Hive realizes, as few do, that these off-beats add elasticity to the flow, keeping the dance from calcifying.

Having copped an underground rep, and then raked mass exposure on the double-plat Matrix soundtrack, this L.A. DJ seems ready . . . for what? A multitude craving Hivish blood frenzy is a forbidding thought. But a real possibility. (Greg Burk)

 

STEREOPHONICS Just Enough Education To Perform (V2)

Though the Welsh three-piece Stereophonics are arena-filling chart fixtures in their native U.K., they’ve yet — though this is their third album — to emulate the recent U.S. acceptance of compatriots Coldplay and Travis. In contrast to these moody acts, who arrived in Radiohead’s wake, Stereophonics take a much longer look over their shoulders, offering a rootsy aftertaste of Brit-rock pioneers like the Faces and Exile on Main Street–era Stones. Yep, the clean-cut Stereophonics are the Black Crowes you could take home to your mom, only with stronger songs and without the high school histrionics. (Indeed, Chris Robinson & Co. opened for them on a recent U.K. tour.)

The opener of Just Enough Education To Perform, “Vegas Two Times” — littered with lyric references appropriate to Stereophonics’ stateside assault — sees the band lace its R&B raunch with a dash of Oasis’ songwriting swagger beneath deliciously dated double-tracked vocal psychedelia, the kind of slanted look at a trusted formula that’s typical of this album. Main man Kelly Jones is much more than an angelic face; he penned all the tunes, and his pipes sound pretty enough for the gals, yet sufficiently graveled for the guys, at times bordering on prime-time Rod Stewart’s pack-a-day glory. Producers Bird and Bush allow a bravely breezy simplicity, clearing a direct channel to the listener that enchantingly enhances the overwhelming aura of sincerity surrounding Stereophonics. Period touches — harmonica, Wurlitzer, “ba be dah” backing vocals — haunt this disc, yet the songwriting stands sufficiently on its own to render these incidental and avert a bad retro trip.

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