July 5, 1995
John Prine, Lost Dogs & Mixed Blessings (Oh Boy Records 1995) - Legendary folkie John Prine releases the follow-up to 1991's Grammy-award winning album, The Missing Years, in Lost Dogs & Mixed Blessings. With Howie Epstein (from the Heartbreakers) again at the production helm, the album's 14 new songs sparkle with the insight and wit that have long distinguished Prine as the songwriter's songwriter. Don't walk, run to your record store and get this disc.
Now age 48, Prine began making music while working as a letter carrier in Chicago in 1964. Prine springs from the Woody Guthrie folk school (though his acoustic influences are left behind on the new disc), and builds his songs around tales of people, society, and relationships.
Following a tour of duty with the Army, Prine cut his first album in 1971. Though his 70s output for Atlantic Records and Asylum Records received acclaim (try Bruised Orange for starters), John found himself without a record label in 1980.
Accordingly, he formed his own label with long-time friend, Steve Goodman. Speaking of Goodman (who passed away in 1984), Prine says, "Now, I've been listening to the radio since I was three years old. I figured by now I could see the songs better than most people listen to them. The first time I heard Steve Goodman on the radio, I knew I was listening to a tall skinny cat with a little beard singing the best damn train song I ever heard -- 'The City of New Orleans'.
Prine continues. "Two months later, in the back room at the Earl of Old Towne, I met a short stout fellow with no beard who wrote and sang the best train song I ever heard. The Lord works in mysterious ways."
Not that Prine is a particularly religious fellow. Now a resident of Nashville (though his Chicago roots are indelible), Prine retains the folksiness and insight into human nature that has long marked his work. Lost Dogs & Mixed Blessings features a fuller, more polished rock sound (which Prine refers to as "bright and shiny"), and cover-art by world-renowned cartoonist John Callahan.
Prine became a father for the first time last year (at age 47), and it's rumored that his wife is pregnant with another baby. Though John acknowledges that he has penned his fair share of "she done me wrong" tales of woe, his new family has revived his outlook on life.
Producer Epstein, who is used to making perfect records with Tom Petty, takes his studio work seriously, and Lost Dogs & Mixed Blessings features plenty of attention to detail. From songs like "New Train" (about starting a new relationship) to "Quit Hollerin' at Me" (you know what this is about) to "Lake Marie" (a song about relationships that were built and then lost), Prine's love of life and his fellow man comes through clearly on Lost Dogs & Mixed Blessings.
My favorite track is "Ain't Hurtin' Nobody," a cut with semi-autobiographical influences ("I used to live in Chicago/Where the cold wind blow/I delivered more junk mail/Than the junkyard would hold") that summarizes John's view on life - "I ain't hurtin' nobody/I ain't hurting no one."
John may be poised for a big breakthrough into the adult contemporary scene, ala Bonnie Raitt a few years back. We wish him all the luck, and always look forward to hearing from him (with, hopefully, a stop in Fresno).
Los Straitjackets, The Utterly Fantastic & Totally Unbelievable Sound of...(Upstart Records 1995) - Hell, I'm just a sucker for instrumental-surf rock, and that's what Los Straitjackets is all about. With 40 minutes of charging surf rock, Los Straitjackets will remind you of the wet and ferocious guitar vigor of Dick Dale and Link Wray. Get your longboard. Surf's up.
Based in Nashville (of all places), Los Straitjackets consists of Danny Aims on guitar, Eddie Angel on guitar, Scott Esback on bass, and L. J. Lester on drums. Formed only one year ago, Los Straitjackets quickly began tearing up the clubs. Just to be different, Los Straitjackets wears colorful wrestling masks on stage (which must give a weird vibe at times).
Weird vibes or not, this Nashville quartet sizzles throughout The Utterly Fantastic & Totally Unbelievable Sound. From cuts like "Carhop" to "Tailspin" to "Fury," Los Straitjackets consistently peddles a classic surf rock sound (complete with drenching guitar reverb). The press kit says that the band also recycles rockabilly in its live gigs; none of this material appears on the album.
If you've got a hankering for fresh surf rock, get your beach gear and sample Los Straitjackets.
92 Degrees, 92 Degrees (Black Vinyl Records 1995) - Chicago-based Black Vinyl Records has released the debut album from 92 Degrees. Produced by Jeff Murphy of the acclaimed Shoes (Black Vinyl is, in fact, owned by Shoes), the 11 tracks have the signature Chicago pop sound - bright, jangly guitars, accessible melodies, and multi-part harmony vocals.
The band consists of Mike Galassini on vocals and bass, Steve Steffens on lead vocals and guitar, and Dane Svoboda on drums. The initial tracks were recorded live, with occasional overdubbing from a piano or cello added later. From songs like "Sharon Won't" to "When I'm Gone," 92 Degrees has a brisk energy to it.
The most famous purveyors of Chicago pop are Cheap Trick. 92 Degrees has their earnestness, if not the polish. Enjoy this 41-minute pop fest.
-- Randy Krbechek
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