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. Waylons 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 TVs 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, Im 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 didnt write much; when he did, the impact was critical. His Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way? didnt merely call for change it made one. Like the Philistines temple toppling to Samsons shove, Nashvilles decadent formulas collapsed as Waylons 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, yknow, 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. Hives 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 dont match up with the main rhythm track (which happens now and then), he completely doesnt 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., theyve 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 Radioheads 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 Streetera 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 thats 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 Stewarts 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.
While America has a seemingly insatiable appetite for Britpop and its derivatives, more traditional-sounding U.K. bands (Reef, Moke) have struggled here. Perhaps there are already more than enough homegrown acts covering these bases to render pasty imports superfluous, yet Stereophonics endearingly optimistic soul-searching may still be worth a second glance. (Paul Rogers)
EVAN PARKER Lines Burnt in Light (Psi)
British saxophone virtuoso Evan Parker entered musical history as one of the most important and gifted of the first generation (late 60s, early 70s) of British free improvisers. As a member of several early improvising groups, and especially in duo with electronic percussionist Paul Lytton, Parker did the seemingly impossible and created a new sound for both the tenor and soprano saxophones: not only the growling, sinewy lines one would expect from a man originally inspired by American free jazz, but a long, slow, breathy duck-honk that splits the note in two, often just before exploding into bursts of sound fragments played at incredible speed. And in duo with Lytton, he took improvised music into almost scary, unmoored regions of harshness, painting sonic pictures of unrelentingly bleak, dramatic and compelling scraped-metal landscapes. (Were they reading Burroughs then?) The 1976 Parker-Lytton record RA 1 & 2 climaxed with an early example of Parkers awesome, tranceworthy circular-breathing patterns on soprano saxophone a kind of continuous, honking bagpipes-in-metal sound sustained by piercing high squeals that seem to juggle and propel the kaleidoscope of endlessly changing midrange notes. In your minds eye, its like watching molecules dance. (And cranked loud enough, these strange patterns play waffles in your ears.)
Since 1975, Parker has documented this technique on a series of solo albums, and Lines represents the current, highly complex state of the art a fully integrated, virtuosic horizontal line of intricate complexity on which fluttering motifs emerge, repeat at times and submerge back into the flux, recombining endlessly. (The superhuman speed is still there, but it sounds softer.) Parker likes to quote Paul Klees remark about taking a line for a walk to describe this, but these tightly packed DNA coils of twittering duck calls and bird chirps rather remind one of Heraclitus famous river, the one you cant step into twice. (Tony Mostrom)
CONVERGE Jane Doe (Equal Vision)
One of metalcores top dogs, the Boston quintet Converge are a reliable source of migraine-inducing decibels, baroque precision and trainloads of tensile strength. You might despise their chops-intensive racket plenty of aggro kids do but after several spins of Jane Doe, you will come away respecting the band.
Despite the reputation Converge earned with 1998s When Forever Comes Crashing and being fought over by underground labels like Relapse and Hydra Head, Jane Doe is proof they have no interest in being math-metal poster boys. Dig the meaty riffs on Homewrecker, The Broken Vow and Bitter and Then Some barre-chordy goodness fulla midrange bite. The band have dialed down their technical tendencies, but the itchy fingers of guitarists Aaron Dalbec (since departed) and Kurt Ballou; the whomping, void-filling bass of Nate Newton; the in-and-outta-pocket hammering of Ben Koller; and Jacob Bannons filtered harpy shriek ensure that, even while playing conservatively, Converge let loose with the righteous power of an orchestra.
In contrast to Scandinavian black-metalers, who need corpse paint and chain mail to frighten, Converge will raise the hair on the back of your neck with sound alone: Fault and Fracture, Distance and Meaning, and especially the exquisite spookiness of the title track, an 11-minute finale of grainy squall, theremin airiness and castrati-from-hell vocals that would be perfect for any Dario Argento flick. Bruised eardrums dont blind the minds eye. (Andrew Lentz)
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CHEMICAL BROTHERS Come With Us (Astralwerks)
For all of the radio-friendly, star-fronted and maturity- ridden songiness of the Chemical Brothers last album, Surrender, the best track still turned out to be a throwback burst of techno psychedelics, with the chimes-maddened buildup of The Sunshine Underground eventually popping open as if it were a secret bloom of nirvana. Its still my favorite C.B. track ever. Perhaps building on the popular opinion that the best reaction from fans is still a chemical, neurological one, the name and cover art of the duos new Come With Us promise the epic exercise of a mind on a journey, not unlike the promises found on a mid-90s desert-rave flier. Of course, since the albums chemically enhanced, somewhat retro concept has been masterminded by sophisticated entrepreneurial veterans (still the most recognizable promoters of electro), theres none of that overzealous and often icky newbiness of Missy Elliots drug-pushin So Addictive (her sick beats notwithstanding).
But Come With Us is too much of a mixed bag to induce a full-length journey; its best experienced in short walkabouts. It doesnt have the revolutionary startle of Dig Your Own Hole or the consistent, well-rounded satisfaction of Surrender. What the new album does have is the second greatest track the Brothers have ever produced, Star Guitar after a slinky whir of Balearia and processed guitars, whispered atmospherics take you by the ears: You should feel what Im feeling/You should take what Im taking. Forever, man. The tracks bookended by two other phenom moments: the acid-wobbled block-rock funk of Galaxy Bounce and the folk-breakbeat amalgamation of Hoops.
The only two high-profile collaborations are with Beth Orton (The State Were In) and Richard Ashcroft (The Test). The Orton cut is as plain as chill-out fillers get, and Ashcrofts incessant, attention-hogging whining Did I pass the acid test? on his song is so annoying that you begin to remember why you stopped going on collective journeys in the first place. Theres always someone in the party who cant handle his shit and wont shut up. (Tommy Nguyen)