Kroonenberg, Natural Causes (Munich
Records 1997) - Munich Records, a Continental-based roots label,
has recently reached an agreement to provide for state-side distribution
of its albums, beginning with Natural Causes by Dutch
musician Philip Kroonenberg.
Munich Records was founded in 1946, and is Holland's oldest independent
label, with a catalog of more than 7,600 roots and blues titles.
Europe is a hotbed for American roots performers. For example, Willie
DeVille recorded the wonderful Back Streets of Desire
(1992) for the French label, FNAC, and the underrated
Setters (featuring Alejandro Escovedo)
recorded their 1994 self-titled album in Germany (with distribution
handled by Watermelon Records of Austin, Texas).
In fact, Austin, Texas, is where you would expect to hear Kroonenberg
play. Backed by a band that includes Louis Deby on
drums, Jan Hendriks on bass, and Reus U.D.
Zalm on guitars and fiddles, Kroonenberg sports a sound not
unlike J.J. Cale.
With such songs as "Two Wounded Souls" and "Rocket," Natural
Causes is a testament to faith. Faith, that is, in rock and
roll. Look for Natural Causes.
Short note - Also released on Munich Records is Dem's
Good Beeble by Austin's The Gourds. The
Gourds are a four-piece band built around the singing and song writing
of Kevin Russell and Jimmy Smith.
Other critics have found parallels between Dem's Good Beeble
("Them's Good People") and The Band.
But for my taste, the Gourds sound like a hillbilly roots band. While
some will enjoy the "Piss & Moan Blues" and "When Wine was Cheap,"
I'll take my roots with a little less yodel, please.
Dear Janes, No Skin (Geffen
1997) - The British duo of Ginny Clee and Barbara
Marsh comprise The
Dear Janes, who go for the jugular with their out-of-left-field
harmonies and affecting songs. No Skin, their second
album, finds the duo interjecting deadpan wit and subtle irony into
songs that address weighty themes. And that's their edge.
The Dear Janes have been together for five years, charming fans in the
U.K. with their acoustic performances. For No Skin,
The Dear Janes decided to record with a full band, including John
Giblien on bass, Speedwell on keyboards, Pablo
Cook on percussion, and Richard Evans on dobro
and mandolin. As usual, Ginny and Barbara share duties on vocals and
The album was produced by Richard Evans, who has worked
with Peter Gabriel and Diamanda Galas.
Aside from a few instrumental overdubs, the album was recorded live
during a two-week span. Says Barbara, "We wanted to capture the spark
that's created when we're gigging. That's how the guitars and vocals
work best together; somehow we end up breathing and pushing and pulling
at the same time." Adds Ginny, "Besides, we're no good at singing if
we're not holding our guitars."
The duo's offbeat sense of humor is reflected throughout No
Skin. The Janes' sound is hard to pin down; at times, it bears
a resemblance to the Continental Drifters. In addition,
"Sour Thumb" resembles the acoustic Bangles.
With their diversity of themes, ranging from "Get Off the Cross" (no
introduction needed) to "Dead Woman's Jewels" to "Ten Milligram Girl"
(about mood swings and treatment for depression), the Janes cover ground
that is beyond the norm. Not for everyone, No Skin
covers new territory.
One Cord to Another (The Enclave 1997) - The quartet of Sloan
have enjoyed a most unlikely career. Plucked from their native Halifax,
Nova Scotia, the band shot to critical acclaim with their debut release,
Smeared (Geffen 1992). Yet one album later, the band
found itself without a label.
With One Cord to Another, Sloan stands ready to reclaim
its place in pop music. With a Revolver/Sgt. Pepper's
feeling, the new album mixes pop, psychodelia, and harmony-driven choruses
in 12 well-crafted songs.
The band includes Jay Ferguson on guitars and vocals,
Patrick Pentland on guitars and vocals, bass player
Chris Murphy, and Andrew Scott on
drums and vocals. From slower cuts like "Junior Panthers" to more upbeat
numbers like the horn-driven "Everything You've Done Wrong," Sloan knows
how to craft a valid pop album. My favorite cut is "400 Metres," a feedback-driven
number reminiscent of Matthew Sweet's best work.
In the end, One Cord to Another will be an album that
builds slowly, as friends share it with one another. Heavy hype won't
help Sloan: but you can expect it to build a head of steam in college
Head Todd & The Monsters, Beautiful World (Revolution
1997) - Big Head Todd suffer from the same enviable curse as the Grateful
Dead -- devoted fans for their live shows, but difficulty in
translating their material to disc. On their fifth release (including
two indie projects), the Colorado-based trio returns to its roots.
Big Head Todd consists of Todd Park Mohr on guitar and vocals, Rob Squires on bass
and vocals, and Brian Nevin on drums and vocals. With more than 1,500 live dates behind them
(including performances with the H.O.R.D.E. tour), the threesome has no difficulty starting an
extended rock jam. Contributing to Beautiful World is producer Jerry Harrison (ex-Talking
Heads), who helped the Crash Test Dummies find big success with God Shuffled His Feet
Beautiful World flashes back to the glory of Sister Sweetly (1993) on "Please Don't Tell
Her," while shifting into a ZZ Top-based southern boogie on John Lee Hooker's, "Boom
Boom." Beautiful World is to return to form, and will reward Big Head Todd fans.
-- Randy Krbechek