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No Tricks

Mary Prankster
Lemonade: Live (Palace Coup)

Lemonade: Live finds Mary Prankster offering her sardonic ditties about the pageantry of love—or, more precisely, the lack thereof—with an accomplished gang of musicians. It would be easy to say that she’s always being sarcastic, but there’s an underlying sincerity (for lack of a better word) to songs like “Mercyfuck.” Unlike, say, Liz Phair, Prankster’s potty mouth has nothing to do with flirting. And it’s not about being one of the boys.

Prankster is a potty-mouthed feminist.

The disc is mostly familiar tunes like “Arm’s Length,” “Irresponsible Woman,” “Rational Bohemian” and the aforementioned “Mercyfuck.” There are a couple of new tunes too, including the look-back-in-humor “New Tricks” and instant sing-along fave “Lemonade.”

Now, for the basic questions that come with any live album. First, has it been dubbed? Lemonade: Live has not undergone any aural surgery, allowing us to hear the unvarnished performances, off-key notes and all. Second, does the artist pretend that the 40-plus minutes of CD is continuous live fun? Again, Prankster refrains from going the cheeseball route: There are fade-outs in-between tunes, and between-song patter is strictly limited to useful information. (Mostly, Prankster introduces guests with names as punning as her own.) Finally, is there any reason on earth for the live album’s existence?

In this case, yes. This tour represented Prankster’s first go-round as a solo act, after an ever-so-slightly acrimonious breakup with her original bandmates. (On the way out the door they discovered, to their surprise and chagrin, that “Mary Prankster” was a person, not a band.) If this put extra pressure on Prankster, it doesn’t show: She’s as assured and in control with the hired guns as she was with the old group.

Independence declared, Prankster can now go back into the studio and whip up another winner like her last disc, Tell Your Friends. Not that there’s anything wrong with making a live album. Really.

—Shawn Stone

Sloan
Action Pact (Koch)

“One thing I know about the rest of my life,” sings Sloan’s Chris Murphy on the lead single from his band’s seventh studio album, “I know that I’ll be living it in Canada.” Sometimes it seems there is an invisible forcefield that filters out the music as it comes across the border from Canada. When a Canadian act does break big in the States, it’s usually a Barenaked Ladies or an Alanis Morrisette or a (gasp!) Bryan Adams. Meanwhile, worthy and wonderful acts like Hawksley Workman, Hayden, and of course, Sloan, toil in near-anonymity here while enjoying a great deal of success at home.

That said, with Action Pact, Sloan may have finally made up for Bryan Adams and, at the same time, afforded themselves a chance at stardom in the United States. Action Pact is a streamlined slab of big-hair-and-bigger- choruses riff-rock; it’s some of the band’s most focused work since they reached their zenith with Navy Blues. They aren’t trying on as many hats as they used to; instead, they’ve put to wax their most cohesive collection of songs, sound- and intent-wise, since their debut (1992’s Smeared), in large part thanks to the direction of ace producer Tom Rothrock (Elliott Smith, Beck). While the absence of any songwriting contributions from drummer Andrew Scott is a surprising first for a Sloan LP, Murphy, along with guitarists Jay Ferguson and Patrick Pentland, admirably rounds up the slack.

“Gimme That” is basically just a big-dumb-rock number, but its snide backhand at some of Sloan’s more vanilla countrymen (“Take your nickel back [get it?], I’m gunning for a dime”) is a welcome dose of lyrical bile, however subtle, from a band who so often have come off as lyrically vanilla. The Rickenbacker-fueled “False Alarm” is one of Ferguson’s best yet, while the band extend their Badfinger on “The Rest of My Life” and extol the virtues of staying young on “Who Loves Life More?” Pentland’s contributions are the real revelation here. His propulsive “Hollow Head,” with its Lennon-worthy refrain (“All that you know is love must grow or you will lose”) is one of the album’s surefire winners, while “Backstabbin’” is a gnarly little hip-shaker that would make Foreigner proud.

For the U.S. release of Action Pact—the album has been out in Canada for the better part of a year—two bonus tracks (“Step On It, Jean,” and “Will You Ever Love Me Again?”) have been added. They’re not in any way essential, but they offer further proof that the band are firing on all cylinders right now. With a strong new album and high-profile summer tour opening for Jet, Sloan might finally be within striking distance of U.S. gold, whether they’re looking for it or not.

—John Brodeur

Terry Reid
Silver White Light (Water)

Terry Reid is an example of the divide between art and commerce. Success in one doesn’t necessarily lead to success in the other. Hindsight can blur the fact that in the late ’60s, Reid appeared to be poised for big things. The young Englishman toured America with Cream and the Rolling Stones. In 1968 Jimmy Page invited him to become the singer in his new band, but with his career primed for taking off, Reid declined, recommending instead Robert Plant for what became Led Zeppelin. Reid’s debut album appeared when he was 19. His second release found him maturing as a writer and confidently mixing his powerful vocals with quieter musical settings. That approach found full flower on his third, River. Alas, his record company didn’t know what to do with him or his record.

The same label that thankfully brought forth River on CD last year has now released this heretofore unissued live set, recorded at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. Fronting a band with David Lindley, bassist Lee Miles and King Crimson’s Michael Giles as a last minute sub on the drums, it captures a moment, but underscores the bad deals and missed opportunities that dogged Reid’s every step. Not recorded at the time for a release, it suffers from an unfocused mix (the drums are severely sidelined) and a rough-and-tumble sort of interplay that doesn’t always capture the focused power of the corresponding studio versions. The band fares best on the few numbers that were to appear on River. A powerful singer, Reid is in fine form throughout, making it apparent why he seemed headed to big things by anyone who heard him. This disc makes for a fine chapter for those already familiar, but for those needing an introduction, start with River.

—David Greenberger


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