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April 2, 1997
Vic Chesnutt Lets It All Hang Out
 
joe cocker Joe Cocker, Organic (550 Music 1996) - Though 32 years into his recording career, Joe Cocker still has the spark in him. For Organic, he recruited Don Was (the producer who revived the careers of Willie Nelson and Bonnie Raitt) for a look into the past and the present. The resulting project will reward fans and newcomers.

Organic was recorded just like Joe used to make them - in five days, start to finish. "The beauty of this record," says Joe, "is that I really had some breathing room. It's great to have brass and big bands with you, but sometimes you can get lost among all that. On these sessions, I really felt very relaxed."

The 14 songs on Organic feature charmingly understated productions, much like producer Don Was elicited on last year's album with Brian Wilson entitled I Just Wasn't Made For These Times. (And like the Brian Wilson project, Organic was also filmed for a proposed TV documentary.)

Mixing old and new, Organic includes new versions of such gems from the Cocker canon as "You Are So Beautiful," "Darling Be Home Soon," and "Many Rivers to Cross," as well as classic songs never before recorded by the artist, including "Into the Mystic" (Van Morrison), "Dignity" (Bob Dylan), and "You and I" (Stevie Wonder).

Joe is backed by an all-supporting cast, including drummers Jim Keltner and Kenny Aronoff, bass players Darryl Jones and James "Hutch" Hutchinson, and long-time keyboardist Chris Stainton. Furthermore, Randy Newman plays piano on "Sail Away" (which was penned by Newman).

Also featured is a gentle version of Steve Winwood's "Can't Find My Way Home," as well as a cover of the Kinks' "Don't Let Me Be Understood."

Both familiar and new at the same time, Organic is a pleasing serving from the old mad dog. Listeners with roots in the 70's will particularly enjoy this collection.

Vic Chestnutt-About to Choke (gif) Vic Chesnutt, About to Choke (Capitol 1996) - About to Choke is the major-label debut from Vic Chesnutt, who has been recording for a decade in and around his hometown of Athens, Georgia. With his mix of profoundly introspective reveries, beggarweed anthems, goofball rave-ups, and confessional fantasies, About to Choke is an ernest/edgy slice of country-folk.

Never able to escape his physical condition (Chesnutt has been confined to a wheelchair since a nearly fatal automobile accident when he was 18), Chesnutt displays a kind of raw emotional energy found on such albums as Alejandro Escovedo's, Thirteen Years.

Which is not to say that About to Choke is strictly slash-your-wrists rock. Instead, the album reflects Chesnutt's crazyquilt consciousness, stitching together previously recorded favorites from a songbook with new tunes composed on the spot; spare, poignant solo performances and collaborations with former members of the noisy New York outfit Agitpop; rueful reminiscences and boisterous, full-bodied belters.

Like Lowell George before him, Vic Chesnutt lets it all hang out. The honesty of About to Choke is reminiscent of the classic Thanks, I'll Eat It Here (1979) in its exploration of adult themes and emotions.

The album's most bouncy number, "Little Vacation," featuring mouth-trombone and Leon Redbone-influenced vocals. As Chesnutt sings about "a flattering sin whispered in your ear" or a "long awaited chemical buzz," his drawl leads to one conclusion -- a "Little Vacation" sounds like a lot of fun.

About the album title, Chesnutt says, "I kept thinking I was going to choke. And then I pulled it out. You know, like baseball choke, not like hanging choke." Adds Chesnutt, "Some of this album may be a bit obsessed with the premise that through death, life is nourished."

From such tracks as "Degenerate" to "See You Around" to "New Town," Chesnutt bares his most intimate feelings. When he sings about being "tied to a table" or "waking up from a coma," there's nothing fake about Chesnutt.

Dense and challenging, About to Choke holds up, as each new listening reveals new meanings. For a journey to the other side, try Vic Chesnutt.
 
Tim Booth and Angel Badalementi Tim Booth and Angelo Badalementi, Booth and the Bad Angel (Mercury 1996) - Booth and the Bad Angel is a unique collaboration between Tim Booth (the lead singer for James) and Angelo Badalementi, the 50-something producer who scored the soundtrack for David Lynch's "Twin Peaks," "Blue Velvet" and "Wild at Heart." (Badalementi is also a contributor to the new soundtrack to Lost Highway, produced by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails.)

The collaboration is a fitting one: Booth provides the vocals and lyrics (which tend toward ballads), and Badalementi contributes the mood and keyboards. The main tracks were recorded during a six-day improvisational period, with American session men playing bass and drums. Booth later returned to England with the tapes, looking for that something "extra."

He found it in guitar player Bernard Butler, who had recently left Suede. Butler's guitar work adds to the spooky mood and tensions on Booth and the Bad Angel. The new album boasts a sound like Edwyn Collins or Jeff Buckley; Brian Eno is also present, lending a techno-sense to the album (though not as profound as on Bowie's late 70's pieces).

With cuts like "Fall in Love with Me" and "Dance with the Bad Angels," Booth and the Bad Angel mines an unusual field that is a mix of gothic, techno-pop, and dance. Individualistic and idiosyncratic, Booth and the Bad Angel with appeal to a special audience.

-- Randy Krbechek
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