April 20, 1994
Ted Hawkins, The Next Hundred Years (Geffen 1994) -- Hats off again to Geffen for taking a chance on an artist who truly cares about his music. Ted Hawkins is a powerful and compelling blues singer; if his life story is true, it's amazing that he survived long enough to cut this disc.
Now age 58, Hawkins was born in Lakeshore, Mississippi, which he describes as "a place where the trains don't even stop." Hawkins never knew his father, and his mother was an alcoholic and a prostitute. He dropped out of school at age 12, and managed to land in the state penitentiary by age 15. Upon his release, he learned that his mother had died of cirrhosis of the liver. Hawkins hit the road, and eventually landed in Geneva, New York. He met a woman at a church and got married; two months later, she died of cancer.
With this sad background, Hawkins decided in 1966 to find a place where it was warmer, and moved to L.A. Since then, Hawkins (who is now married, with one son) has made a living as a street musician, most recently along Venice Beach (where he was heard and signed by Geffen A&R executive Tony Berg).
Which is not to say that Hawkins' life has been all hard knocks. The Next Hundred Years is actually his sixth release: from 1986 to 1990, he lived in England and was well received on the Continent. However, he has no stateside following, and still works as a street musician.
Hawkins' beauty is his clarity of delivery and emotional conviction. He has links to soul great Sam Cooke, but his songs are fundamentally pure, inspired blues. With able assistance from a thoroughly professional, laid-back combo that includes Jim Keltner on drums, Greg Leisz on lap steel and pedal steel guitars, and Patrick Warren on keyboards, Hawkins achieves an intimate, unadorned sound that is timeless.
Thus, on songs like "Their Stands the Glass," about a drunkard's first drink of the day, and "The Good and the Bad," in which Hawkins sings, "Talking is bad/If you've got no one to talk to/Dying is good/When the one you love grows tired of you," Hawkins sings the blues in their most elemental sense -- he's lived them, and he's earned the right to tell of them.
Yet, Hawkins is not on a downer on The Next Hundred Years. With songs like "Groovy Little Things," in which Hawkins tells the wonders of his woman and all of her "groovy little things that make me feel all right," and the folk-blues "Ladder of Success," in which Hawkins offers his words of wisdom regarding the struggle for success, it's clear that Hawkins remains a man of empathy and hope.
The saga of Ted Hawkins is a story of true grit and amazing grace. The Next Hundred Years, gently embellished by strings, keyboard, and guitars, is a nearly perfect slice of American folk-blues, and a disc that needs to be savored.
Latin Playboys (Slash/Warner Bros. 1994) -- The Latin Playboys, a one-off foursome consisting of David Hidalgo, Louie Perez, Mitchell Froom, and Tchad Blake, recorded 14 tracks in 14 days for their self-titled album, Latin Playboys. With their impeccable pedigrees (Hidalgo and Perez are from America's best band, Los Lobos, and Froom produced the recent albums from Elvis Costello, Suzanne Vega, and Richard Thompson), I hoped for more. Unfortunately, the resulting product has bright moments but lacks coherency.
As the band admits, Latin Playboys is an offshoot from Kiko (Los Lobos' highly acclaimed 1992 studio album), and was born in leftover ideas and demos from those sessions. In many ways, Latin Playboys is an experimental work; the band went into the studio without prepared cuts, and searched for new and unusual sounds from their instruments and voices.
Thus, the quartet deliberately blurs a large variety of musical styles on Latin Playboys. For example, "Rudy's Party" has an Appalachian feel to it, while "Ten Believers" opens with Oriental-sounding drums before shifting into more of a 50s Tex/rock sound. The standout cut on the disc is "New Zandu," a true-blue rocker propelled by the distinctive guitar lead of Hidalgo and a rocking back beat from Perez.
From a group with less impeccable credentials, the result would be quickly relegated to the cut-out bin. However, with this foursome, it's not safe to simply ignore the album. I think there's a real groove in this disc, and I'll keep looking for it.
Pay $50/Do Not Pass Go -- When convicted rapist Eddie Robertson, Jr. was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole and also assessed an automatic $50 penalty (for the victims' compensation fund) under Alabama law, he replied "$50 for what? I got life without parole and I got to pay $50?"
-- Randy Krbechek
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