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Music Reviews

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June 8, 1994

Primal Scream

Primal ScreamPrimal Scream, Give Out, But Don't Give Up (Sire 1994) -- Here's a band with a real identity crisis. Primal Scream has a home base in Glasgow, Scotland, a punk rock name, and a picture of the Stars and Bars on the cover of their new release, Give Out, But Don't Give Up. However, the many members of this group owe their strongest debts to the Rolling Stones circa It's Only Rock 'n Roll. The 12 cuts on this disc don't reinvent the genre, but show that the earthy delights of Memphis soul, Delta blues, and good old rock 'n roll have never gone away.

The story of Primal Scream begins in 1984, when singer and core member Bobby Gillespie took time off from another seminal Scottish band, The Jesus and Mary Chain, to form Primal Scream with guitarists Andrew Innes and Robert Young. After building a steady following in the UK, the band charted its first stateside success with 1990's Screamadelica.

Singer Gillespie has a righteous attitude toward his art. In discussing the album, he says "By the way, it's rock n' roll, not rock. There's a big difference -- rock don't swing...The healing power of music is vastly underestimated...It's a form of liberation and where there's freedom, there is hope. Our hope is to make strange and beautiful records and take the process one step further. Listen to the lyrics on the album -- they'll tell you everything you want to know about the band."

The new disc was recorded during an 18 month period in locations ranging from Chalk Farm, England, to Memphis, to Los Angeles, with able assistance from producer Tom Dowd (who has also worked with Aretha Franklin and other soul stars), and features guest appearances from a host of musicians, including the Muscle Shoals rhythm section, the Memphis Horns, and George Clinton (who produced and remixed one song).

With songs like "Rocks," "Struttin'," and "Sad and Blue," the band's bar blooz influences are never far away. Though Primal Scream may lack the distinctive guitarwork of Keith Richards or the attitude-first lyrics of the classic Stones, Give Out But Don't Give Up is still a treat. Especially look for "Call on Me," an instrumental that could easily have been taken from the outakes of Their Satanic Majesty's Request.

Don't be put off by the initial image Primal Scream projects -- the band members are rock 'n' rollers at heart and fine musicians all. Look for Give Out But Don't Give Up -- you won't be sure whether it's 1974 or 1994, but you'll like it.

Hot Titles -- Several albums have recently been receiving considerable critical attention: here's my two-cents worth.

Johnny CashJohnny Cash's new acoustic album, American Recordings (American Records) is as spare and uncompromising as anything that the Man in Black has ever recorded. Featuring songs written by Nick Lowe, Kris Kristofferson, Glenn Danzig, and Leonard Cohen, as well as several originals by Cash, the album is reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska, another series of harrowing portraits of America.

Produced by Rick Rubin (who is famed for his work with rap bands), this dark and often moody release is built around Cash's rich voice, backed by an acoustic guitar. Cash is certainly a gifted singer (his show at this year's South by Southwest music festival in Austin was the talk of the event), but this stuff is too dry for repeated listenings. If Rick Rubin really wants a hit, he should put Cash in front of a band with the same strong material; the results could be awesome.

Beck was the target of one of the most intense recruiting wars in recent history, before finally signing with Geffen Records in December, 1993. His debut major label release, Mellow Gold, is a funky, sometimes goofy, pastiche that defies easy comparison. After opening with the Gen X single "Loser" (and its refrain "I'm a loser baby/So why don't you kill me" may come back to haunt him), the album shifts into a raw and occasionally spooky mix of alternative, hip hop, and punk-rock styles. Though difficult to get a handle on, Mellow Gold (which was recorded at Beck's home studio) is certainly different.

ChantThe Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos (whose home is a Spanish monetary) have charted a most unusual international best seller in Chant (Angel). The album, which is actually a compilation of prior releases by the monks, consists of Gregorian chants recorded during services at the monetary. The album has sold a huge number of copies overseas, and is moving briskly in the States.

The monks are reported upset by the notoriety Chant has caused, and have refused to give interviews or other publicity for the disc. As they told one reporter, "You have to understand, we are monks, not rock stars."

This album is exactly as it is billed; it's monophonic musical prayers, sung in Latin, with no instrumental accompaniment. Some people really like this stuff; some don't. However, you can't get much more retro than Chant; it's peaceful and relaxing (or, depending on your opinion, dull).

PavementPavement, a band with ties to Stockton, call their new album Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (Matador). While some critics have been falling all over themselves in praise for this punk/grunge fest (including Britain's Melody Maker magazine, which has already tagged Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain as album of the year), I can't get into it. The songs are too ragged and rough, and the vocals of Steven Malkmus are too thin and whiny. On the other hand, this stuff is a strong blast of guitars and angst. If you feel the need for punk headbanging, find Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain.

-- Randy Krbechek

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