Down and Alt

Pick Hits

All Relationships Are Doomed to Fail (Bloodshot)
One secret of their bluegrass stylings is that they're not virtuosos. Another is that they cover not only Ronee Blakley and Nick Lowe but Abba and Ratt and that their own songs measure up. Frontwoman Jo Walston sounds fragile, dissolute, determined, and mean in unpredictable combinations. She's never more winning than when warning a "little sister" who may or may not be her kin against guys who leave bruises on your arm, and come to think of it men in general are piss-poor, and didn't you like it better living with me anyway? A MINUS

Paradoxaholic (Diesel Only)
Anybody who believes Will's ex Amy ran out of concepts after transforming their union into a solo debut should try her 18 Again best-of, which leads strong from her divorced period. But anybody who wonders why she married the guy should check out the folk-rock fruitcake he debuts with six years later. The onetime dB drummer also plays keybs as he sings over his guitar buddies in a quavery drawl that knows the difference between funny-eccentric and eccentric-affected; his changeable band clangs and twangs, more Big Pink than dB's or Amy. He also knows the difference between a solid tune and a generic one. And he writes lyrics too. Sometimes they're as simply nutty as " . . . Wheelchair, Drunk," but usually they're also pointed—at Dylan worship, the eschatology of Ricky Skaggs, "The Jerks at Work." Many others bemoan his romantic ineptitude—often humorously, anything but on the come-back-darling "The Sweeter Thing to Do." I doubt it's about Amy. But I haven't researched the question and would just as soon not. Too painful. A MINUS

Dud of the Month

C'Mon, C'Mon (A&M)
No dolt, she figures it's in her best interest to sound like one—as well as an insider outsider like Gush and Bore, whose horrible lessons in playing it safe she takes to heart. "We got rockstars in the Whitehouse/All our popstars look like porn," she whines on the first track, which the "hit" tops by claiming, "I don't have diddly squat," while dissing her "friend the communist" (who I bet isn't, and I also bet doesn't deserve the putdown). And those are the good songs. Soon here come Don Henley, Stevie Nicks, turns of phrase like "Lay it like it plays [a little dumb, but OK]/Play it like it lays [wha?]" and "With broken wings we'll learn to fly" and (am I missing some irony here?) "Life is what happens when you're making plans." Over this I'd take not the White House (where she'd go in a second if invited politely) but certainly porn (which I note without prejudice she is). C PLUS

Additional Consumer News

HONORABLE MENTION: Los de Abajo, Cybertropic Chilango Power (Luaka Bop): rock en español con son y clave—und oompah (also politics) ("El Loco," "Sr. Judas"); Miles Davis, Live at the Fillmore East (March 7, 1970) (Columbia/Legacy): in the predawn of Bitches Brew, Wayne Shorter plays jazz, Chick Corea plays fusion, and Miles Davis plays trumpet ("Miles Runs the Voodoo Down," "It's About That Time/The Theme"); Death Cab for Cutie, The Photo Album (Barsuk): signs of postundergraduate life ("Steadier Footing," "Coney Island"); Big Lazy (Tasankee): Henry Mancini as guitar-bass-drums, which undercuts the showbiz and programmatic in his noir ("Just Plain Scared," "Crooked"); Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, Bob Dinners and Larry Noodles Present Tubby Turdner's Celebrity Avalanche (Communion): not that the words mean anything, but they create the illusion that the ricocheting guitars do ("Another Clip," "El Cerrito"); Bratmobile, Girls Get Busy (Lookout!): "We'll be playing every night/And I'll be punk for the rest of my life" ("I'm in the Band," "What's Wrong With You?"); the Flatlanders, Now Again (New West): living in the moment gets old ("Going Away," "Now It's Now Again"); Gary Lucas, The Edge of Heaven (Indigo import): "mid-century Chinese pop" that sounds like John Fahey—when nobody's singing ("Please Allow Me to Look at You Again" [track 2], "Please Allow Me to Look at You Again" [track 13]); Van Morrison, Down the Road (Universal): "The Beauty of the Days Gone By" ("Georgia on My Mind," "Man Has to Struggle"); Don Lennon, Downtown (Secretly Canadian): in-joke after glorious rock-bohemia in-joke ("Mekons Come to Town," "Jean-Michel"); Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Nonesuch): purty music, but I yawn like a lawn when I hear him recite ("Jesus, Etc.," "I Am the Man Who Loves You"); Angie Stone, Mahogany Soul (J): longer on groove than song, longer on song than the brothas ("Brotha," "Bottles and Cans"); the Wild Seeds, I'm Sorry, I Can't Rock You All Night Long (Aznut): scattered classics like the title tune, outtakes worth hearing ("I Wanna Watch You Age," "I'm Gonna Get Drunk With a Good Friend of Mine"); Michael Hall and the Woodpeckers, Lucky Too (Blue Rose): prisoner of the perfect song he never quite gets down ("Sometimes I Wish I'd Never Heard the Rolling Stones," "Autopsy Blues"); Sage Francis, Personal Journals (Anticon): as with all well-turned confessional poetry, how interesting you find the poet is up to you ("Inherited Scars," "Crack Pipes").

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