Shack and Shambles (06/25/99)
Crash Test Dummies, Give Yourself a Hand (Arista 1999) - The Canadian quintet known as Crash Test Dummies enjoyed huge success with their 1993 recording, God Shuffled His Feet, which included the hit single, "Mmm Mmm Mmm."
The group's fourth album finds the band in a funky mood, part alternative, part experimental, part rock. Leading all is the deep baritone of singer Brad Roberts, who now makes his home in Harlem (quite a culture change for the native of Winnipeg, Canada).
Give Yourself a Hand was recorded last fall in Los Angeles by producer Greg Wells. The band also includes Ellen Reid, Benjamin Darvill, Dan Roberts and Mitch Dorge.
For inexplicable reasons, the album artwork is cheesy and cheap; there are no pictures of the band, and no meaningful recording information. This looks like a debut album from an independent label, rather than the product of band that has sold millions of records.
Yet the songs are solid. "I Want to Par-Tay!" finds Brad Roberts working in his funky, late-night rap, while "Just Chillin'" and "Get You in the Morning" feature the lovely voice of singer Ellen Reid, the first in a smooth late-night, finger-snapping groove, the second in an uptempo ballad style.
Explains Brad Roberts, "When I hear people walking down the street rhyming and rapping in a completely free-style way, it rubs off. The rhyming I do on the new record definitely came from that. When you start rhyming, the songs come together much more quickly. So in a way, this new style of working just kind of fell in my lap, like a big present."
These are not your father's Crash Test Dummies, which is to say, don't come looking for the alternative-oriented sound captured by Jerry Harrison on God Shuffled His Feet. This is a different Crash Test Dummies, accessible and eclectic, funky and friendly. Look for Give Yourself a Hand.
Cesar Rosas, Soul Disguise (Ryko 1999) - Cesar Rosas, the guitarist and singer-songwriter for stalwarts Los Lobos, has released the first solo effort from the Wolfpack. Staying true to Rosas' signature sound of rock and blues, with elements of norteno and barrio blues, Soul Disguise is a solid serving.
Formed in 1974, Los Lobos have achieved renown with such albums as Kiko and How Will the Wolf Survive? Cesar also plays in Los Super Seven, a Tex-mex combo featuring Freddie Fender and Joe Ely, and produced two albums for Chicano rockers the Blazers.
Cesar's steady hand is reflected on songs like "Shack and Shambles," "Adios Mi Vida," and "Little Heaven." And that's one of the beauties of Rosas' musical efforts: He blends old and new in a seamless style.
Musicians on Soul Disguise include Flaco Jimenez on squeezebox, Victor Bisetti and Aaron Ballesteros on drums, Jimmy Roberts and Jack Freeman on sax, Lynwood Slim on harmonica, Larry Taylor on bass, and Rudy Rosas and Eddie Baytos on Hammond B-3 and piano.
Explains Cesar, "I've always wanted to make a solo record . . . I am a big blues and roots music fan, and I've always wanted to make a record consisting of those styles." Give Soul Disguise a try.
Latin Playboys, Dose (Atlantic 1999) - Heading further into the realm of experimental are the Latin Playboys, comprised of David Hidalgo, Louie Perez (both from Los Lobos), and musicians and producers, Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake.
A giant experimental jump from the days of Kiko (recorded in 1993), Dose (the second release from Latin Playboys) takes a Latin trip through exotic and challenging territories.
Says, "We finished 'Kiko' and that was such a great experience, I guess it kind of bled over into what became Latin Playboys. We realized we could do whatever we felt like, just anything goes. It felt liberating."
Adds Froom, "There is a lot of raw beauty to it. It's also funny, in a very free-spirited way. I was trying to figure out how to articulate it, and it's kind of like the 60's, where the idea was to make music that gives you the idea that anything is possible."
And Dose is certainly a free-wheeling collection. Clocking in at 35 minutes, the 13-song collection includes such tracks as "Nubian Priestess" and "Tormenta Blvd." Explains Froom, "It's raw, like folk art. People have described the first one as music that could have been unearthed on a tropical island. I think this is more urban, more in the American culture."
With guest appearances from Tracy Bonham (violin on "Fiesta Erotica"), Jerry Marotta (drums and percussion "Lemon 'n Ice"), and Wendy & Lisa (vocals on two tracks, including "Lemon Trip"), the new album slides all over the musical landscape, creating a fusion of rock and roll, jazz and R&B that can only be described as experimental. Though not accessible to the mainstream, Dose has its beauty.
Century of Country: The Country Music Encyclopedia on CD ROM (Dreamworks 1999) - Century of Country is an interactive CD ROM that contains the comprehensive collection of facts and information about the history, the artists, and the business of country music. Drawn from the best-selling reference book, "Definitive Country: The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Country Music" by Barry McCloud, the CD ROM is a polished effort that raises the bar.
Century of Country is co-branded with country.com, the website for CBS cable networks TNN and CMT. The heart of the CD ROM is an artist profile section with information about 1,300 country artists, including biographies, discographies and recommended albums, and 800 artists' photographs.
Also included are fan club listings for 333 artists, together with an industry address book with contact information for more than 1,300 record companies, fan clubs, artist managers, booking agents and radio stations. Not as strong are the audio interviews (45) and videos from the Country Music Association Awards shows (36), though the videos have some historical appeal.
I got flawless performance from Century of Country. Though it's a bit on the pricey side (the suggested retail price is $29.99), serious country fans and budding country musicians will find the quality in this production.
- Randy Krbechek © 1999
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