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Clean Sweep

Blasé Debris
Bury the Hatchet (Stupid Cupid)

Anyone who knows Duane Beer will tell you that he’s one of the few people around who eschews gossip and backbiting, never bad-mouthing anyone. He seems to take an Allen Ginsberg approach to his brethren, accepting each one’s quirks and foibles as their own claim to divinity. This would explain his affinity for alcoholics, junkies and psychopaths, while he isn’t any of these things. But this has, in addition to his beloved TV, also strengthened his taste for the unusual and his right, to the bewilderment of some, to abandon his Nogoodnix Irish inflection recently for the impoverished slur of an 19th-century chimney sweeper. Yes, chimney sweeper. I have yet to discuss this with him in person, but this does seem, weirdo-twisty-alter-ego-failure-to take-meds aside, like quite a paradigm shift from anything he’s ever done. Clad in William Blake’s clothes of death and taught to sing the notes of woe, Blasé Debris, with Bury the Hatchet, have signaled the death knell for Beer’s television education and pub-brawl premeditations in exchange for an indulgence in a twisted bit of European history.

With that, this strange child-labor advocacy is meted out in force during CD opener “Bunkbed Rebellion.” A dark, peculiar blast, the 3/4 double-bass stomper soon jolts into a familiar punk refrain at such a cadence that some may fear for the life of Beer’s scruffy Pinebox character, who fluctuates between a crumpled coolness and the rants of a drunken lunatic. Each track carries its own bag of glue, and for the most part the writing soon snaps back into more familiar punk progressions with killers like “Grace Coal,” only with thoughts of Oliver and David Copperfield instead of Walk Among Us or Rocket to Russia. It’s a very strange juxtaposition indeed, alarmingly surreal, but somehow they pull it off. Former Erotics madman Tony Sewers brings his outrageous attitude to the slaughter, as do other veterans from the local underworld. The limited edition of this collection, renamed Batten the Hatches, includes a signed, fingerprinted (as if these guys weren’t already in the national crime database) alternate cover and offers three bonus tracks, including a rousing version of the Misfits’ “American Psycho.” Too bad “Here Come the Poor” was omitted from the standard pressing, because it seems to gel better with the CD’s checkered thematic guile than the solemn “Nothing Lasts Forever.” Just a thought.

If anyone remembers Beer’s days heading up area punkers Plaid or Trauma School Dropouts, they know he’s got one hell of an ear and a dastardly set of lungs, but over the course of the last five or six he seems more interested in using his voice in character rather than as the wolf that huffed and puffed and blew the siding off the little pig’s prefab. An oft-debated topic among locals who know the history is whether the merits of these tonal experiments best his natural voice, which has a preordered rage and almost superhuman heft to it, but one that Beer has pooh-poohed in the past as mainstream and boring. You be the judge. This is heavy, weird shit and is certainly worth snapping up at the $5 price point. Probably not for the milquetoast punk urbanite, but I’m pretty sure Blasé Debris realizes this fact and couldn’t care less.

—Bill Ketzer

Ani DiFranco
Educated Guess (Righteous Babe)

Right up front, I’ll admit I’ve always been on the proverbial fence about Ani DiFranco. The one-two punch of Not a Pretty Girl and Dilate notwithstanding, her track record has been spotty and her albums have frequently been uneven in quality. She’s prone to bogging down her releases with bogus attempts at new genres and hamhanded, unsubtle songwriting. It seems the power of having her own label allows her to release whatever she wants whenever she wants, and this has led her to do just that. If she were to step back from her work a little and put out one album every, say, two years or so, rather than flood the market with new product once or twice a year, her track record could be impeccable. Granted, Ani’s die-hard fans are numerous to say the least, and they’ll eat up anything she puts out there, but a little self-editing once in a while wouldn’t hurt.

By my estimation, Educated Guess is DiFranco’s four-millionth album, but it’s the first she recorded entirely solo. Not only did she play and sing every last note, but she operated the 8-track tape machine and mixed the record as well. Hell, she even did most of the photography and artwork herself—apropos, as Guess is a very, very personal affair, with the pain of separation hanging heavy in its air (she lost her band following last year’s Evolve and broke up with her husband around the same time). These 14 tales of woe and recovery are surrounded by spare, detuned acoustic guitars, jazzy parallel-9th vocal harmonies, and environmental anomalies like the sounds of passing trains and distant footsteps; all of which serve to re-create the coffeehouse-like intimacy of her earliest work.

There’s a distinct rift between defiance and lament here, and she leapfrogs the chasm from song to song. She opens “Swim” by saying, “You keep telling me I’m beautiful, but I feel a little less so each time.” Later, on “Origami,” she gives her ex a bit of a kiss-off by telling him that she is “tired of being your savior and . . . tired of telling you why.” However, when she cries, “I hated to pop the bubble of me and you, but it only had enough oxygen for a trip or two to the moon and back again” on “Bubble,” you can feel the ache in her every word.

The unfortunate part about Guess is DiFranco’s insistence to wear too many hats. Musician and vocalist, fine, but this whole beat-poet thing is starting to get pretty old. She’s included a spoken-word piece or two on each of her records, but there are four of them here. “Grand Canyon” ambles on for the better part of four minutes, practically challenging the listener to not hit the “skip” button. It’s not necessarily a bad piece, per se, but it’s a shame that it was included here, because it breaks up the momentum of what otherwise might have been DiFranco’s most consistent LP in quite some time.

—John Brodeur

Buck Owens and His Buckaroos
Dust On Mother’s Bible (Sundazed)

While most of Buck Owens’ catalog has been reissued over the past decade, Dust On Mother’s Bible has remained out of print. One of an astounding four albums he released in 1966, it was a labor of love. The title track was written in memory of his mother, a supportive woman who didn’t live to see her son’s career take flight. As much as honky tonk and western swing influenced Owens’ musical character, it is subtly but constantly paralleled by the influences resulting from an upbringing in the church and its attendant gospel music.

The set’s dozen songs address the sacred, but do so with a gusto and freedom that’s alluring on its own musical terms. “Bring it to Jesus” on paper reads like a fundamentalist boilerplate, but the sheer energy and verve of the Buckaroos delivers a punch that can nondenominationally turn the head of any well-adjusted atheist. Likewise, the unblinking passion in the backup vocals on “Jesus Saved Me” connects because of its combination of audacious chops and utter commitment. From the sly humor of “Satan’s Gotta Get Along Without Me” to the reverence of the title track, there’s a common humanity that simply connects, with a belief in God not necessary to attend the party.

—David Greenberger

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