Summer Picks, 2004
Southern Rock Opera, by Drive-By Truckers
The initial descriptions of this double cd from a few years back must have scared some listeners off, as an old fashioned (read: 70s) rock album was hardly a recipe for chart success in an era of rap, rap metal, Britney, Radiohead-style noodling, and boy bands. But to pigeonhole this as a simple tribute to the American Stones (that’s Lynyrd Skynyrd, folks, not Aerosmith) is to miss out on the hidden riches to be found here. Yeah, DBT sound like the guys who cut “Simple Man,” and they chronicle the rise and fall of a similarly fated band. But this is only retro if you think modern rock is not on a continuum, which it most certainly is. The three guitar attack and power chords could recall any number of bands (Thin Lizzy, AC/DC, Crazy Horse, Rock and Roll Animal-era Lou, etc.), but what stands out most about this “opera” are the lyrics, which are insightful and political, despite the fact that the Truckers are trying extra hard to come off like plugged-in primitives. Which is to say that their takes on the Neil Young/Skynyrd feud, George Wallace, and “the southern thing” are thought-provoking when you want them to be, but can be mindless fun when you don’t. Those who think this is too old-school should check out “Women Without Whiskey” which sounds like Farrar/Tweedy if they really came from the places they were signing about, and beats the entire alt-country crowd at their own game. Some have complained that a few of these songs have a sameness to them, but the ones that stand out do so in a big way. “Zip City” in particular is some kind of readymade classic, the kind of anthem that will remind you why you fell in love with rock and roll to begin with. Suitable for the car or that late night air guitar session in the living room. Plus, my college roommate, Frank Anastasi, who grew up in Alabama, gives this the hippie/redneck seal of approval. Piss off the neighbors and turn it up.
Yours, Mine, and Ours, by The Pernice Brothers
A gorgeous, hook-filled pop collection, and a perfect summer record. Rock writers have talked about the Beach Boys influence on this one (I guess it’s the harmonies), but I hear Morrissey and The Cure more than I do Brian Wilson. In any case, this is another winner from Joe Pernice.
Sweet Soul Music: Voices from the Shadows
Named for the indispensable book by Peter Gurlanick (and co-produced by Guralnick), this is a first rate collection of songs and artists, rarely represented on other collections, from the 60’s and 70s. Kicks off with the underrated Percy Sledge doing “True Love Travels on a Gravel Road,” with contributions from O.V. Wright (the immortal “Nickel and a Nail”), Arthur Alexander (“Rainbow Road”), Eddie Giles (“Losing Boy”), The Enchanters, Solomon Burke, Don Covay, Judy Clay, and many others. This one is worth owning for “Separation Line,” by Laura Lee, alone. If you like this sampler, move on to full-length players by Otis Redding, James Carr, Wright, Wilson Pickett, Johnnie Taylor, and all the other shining stars of the deep soul canon. (Note: the limited release “soundtrack” to Hard Revolution is in the works. Details to come on this site.)
Pinkerton, by Weezer
Readers of this website know I’m into Weezer, but it took me awhile to get around to their “lost” second record, which some had unfairly described as a disappointment. I don’t know what those people were listening to, as this is lyrically complex, with challenging structures, time changes, and melodies that emerge like small miracles after repeated plays. I’m still surprised by something every time I put his on. And, yep, these boys can lay it down. Standout tracks: “Pink Triangle” (“Everyone’s a little queer/Why can’t she be a little straight?”) and the transcendent “Across the Sea.” If you’re only judging these guys by “Buddy Holly,” you are missing out on a good thing.