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Rockage

Slobberbone
Slippage • (New West)

On this, their fourth disc, Texans Slobberbone have shaken off any remaining traces of the twang that had folks lumping them into the alt-country or cowpunk spheres. The result is the group’s best outing—a big, joyful, shaggy album full of straight-ahead rock and thick, clotted guitars that sounds like it could have been forged in the college-rock expanses of late-’80s Minneapolis. This is the kind of pugilistic, no-frills rock that would have done a pre-sobriety Paul Westerberg proud.

The opener, “Springfield, IL,” is a fierce declaration of intent, announcing itself with one roughed-up guitar chord that is allowed to sear across several seconds before Brent Best’s fierce, mangy voice leaps out and the thunderous bottom of Brian Lane’s bass begins to barrel along. But guitarist Jess Barr eventually steals the show, first noodling away at the corners of the song with some Byrdsy arpeggios and then tossing off a couple of barbed solos. “Butcher” is all claptrap rumble and taut squalor, while the morality tale “Find the Out” reeks of anthem and features some fine lyrical snap (“A pothole’s teeth makes tires slide/Two shoulders too thin to abide/A sleeping driver, wayward truck, now he’s stuck . . .”).

The only missteps here are the tepid rawk balladry on the sole cover, the early Bee Gees’ hit “To Love Somebody,” and the lighter-raising, Southern-friedisms of “Sister Beams,” which seems better suited for the misty, redneck balladeer side of Kid Rock than Slobberbone. Nevertheless, by the time the listener reaches the acoustic, dobro-smattered closer “Back,” any minor trespasses are forgiven. On Slippage, Slobberbone come off like the affable fuck-ups who done good. Their earnest attitude, fat-ass rock, and utter lack of self-importance are hard to resist.

—Erik Hage

The Beach Boys
Classics Selected by Brian Wilson • (Capitol)

This 20-track compilation is the Beach Boys according to Brian Wilson. Say what you will about his emotional and psychological state over the 15-odd years the Beach Boys were a creative force; this CD makes the case that Wilson never lost it in the sense in which he is usually accused—the neurotic, drug-addled fuck-up who wrecked his band with self-indulgence.

The period in which the band sang about sun, surf, hot rods and chicks is represented by exactly six songs, and there isn’t a dud in the bunch (e.g., “Don’t Worry Baby,” “I Get Around”). There are two tracks from Pet Sounds; not incidentally, they’re two of Wilson’s best songs, “God Only Knows” and “Caroline, No.” The rest are hits that never happened. From the tour de force “Heroes and Villains” to the gorgeous “Surf’s Up” and “Time to Get Alone,” this is very fine pop music that was ignored by radio and the public.

More than any other ’60s band, the Beach Boys were prisoners of their success. When they stopped singing about having fun fun fun, their commercial prospects dimmed. This CD makes the case that the Beach Boys made it through to the early ’70s with vision intact.

Though he ignores some key songs, Brian Wilson’s compiling instincts are sound. He may not be completely satisfied with “Sail On, Sailor,” but it’s on the disc. Why? Because, as he admits in the liner notes, “I love how this song rocks.” Yes it does.

—Shawn Stone

Gordon Haskell
Harry’s Bar • (Compass)

Now 58 years old, Gordon Haskell is a veteran of the English music scene. Over nearly 40 years, he has been a member of King Crimson, has played with Cliff Richard and Tim Hardin, and was Jimi Hendrix’s roommate for a while. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In recent years he was stoically cranking out tunes to drunks in bars. Then something magical happened, the sort of thing that brings on unforeseeable good fortune while being completely unexpected. Spurred on by a dare, Haskell mustered together 300 bucks and recorded a song live in the studio called “How Wonderful You Are.” It’s a jazzy ballad that manages to remain cliché-free while being built of widely recognizable components. The BBC aired the song last September, and it became its most requested song ever (surpassing previous record holders “Hey Jude” and “My Way”). It’s an uplifting song that engages a wide range of listeners with ease. It also repels others because of its inherent mellowness, though those same people often hum along in spite of themselves. There’s an easy familiarity to Haskell’s songs and singing. He’s not reinventing the wheel, and that in and of itself is a comfort.

—David Greenberger

50 Man Machine
50 Man Machine • (The Mindleach Recording Company)

The eponymous debut disc from 50 Man Machine offers one of the most diverse, if not perverse, instrumental attacks ever captured in a recording studio, as steel pans, turntables, bagpipes, double bass, experimental sound collages, mandolin, clarinets and even an udu or two slug it out for sonic space. In less able hands, such an eclectic mixture of textures could lead to an auditory train wreck—but under 50 Man mastermind L. Collier Hyams’ able direction, the results are strikingly effective, never smacking of instrumental gimmickry or musical oddness for musical oddness’ sake. Hyams’ songs are, for the most part, strong and straightforward, and his guitar and vocal work underpin the whole project with a twang-flavored Americana feel, one that provides ample room for the army of other instruments and players to find, explore and exploit their own acoustic niches.

Tracks featuring Scott Smallwood’s steel pans and Neil Anderson’s pipes generally evoke the Caribbean or Celtic flavors or those instruments’ homelands (although this is as much a function of preconditioned listening reflex as it is a function of the songs themselves), while the remainder of 50 Man Machine taps an indescribable vein of musical internationalism without the lowest-common-denominator reductiveness that renders so many so-called “world music” discs so completely disposable. All told, this is a challenging and rewarding record from artists who seem willing not only to color outside the lines, but to toss the whole damn coloring book out the window, drawing instead in burnt umbers and siennas and taupes and heliotropes and fuchsias on the walls of places normally decorated in simple primaries and pastels. Worth a peek, for sure.

—J. Eric Smith


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