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Music Reviews

Randy's Buttons

July 24, 1996

High, Wide and Lonesome

Fleetwood MacPeter Green's Fleetwood Mac, Live at the BBC (Castle 1996) - Live at the BBC showcases 36 songs recorded during 1969-70 by the then-hottest band in Europe. Featuring three blazing guitarists, Peter Green, Danny Kirwan and Jeremy Spencer, the original incarnation of Fleetwood Mac was one of rock's great bands. And a page in history is captured on this set.

Rounded out by drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie, the original Fleetwood Mac was of three minds. Peter Green's band featured fluid, moving blues songs, while Jeremy Spencer was a rock chameleon who studied the early masters - Elvis, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, and Little Richard. Finally, there as the rambling Fleetwood Mac of Peter Green and Danny Kirwan, whose twin sensibilities inspired extended improvisational jams.

The broadcasts captured on Live at the BBC represent all three styles, and include such classics as "Rattlesnake Shake," "Oh Well," "World Keeps Turning," and "Albatross." While these live recordings don't always match the original studio versions, they highlight one of rock's best bands.

Peter GreenNot long after the last BBC broadcast, all three guitarists left the band. The remaining members ultimately moved to California and regrouped in 1975 with Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham as one of the biggest acts in history. But that's another story.

Fans of blues rock should flock to Live at the BBC. I found the recording quality on this double-disc set disappointing; keep your expectations reasonable, and you'll be pleased.

David OlneyDavid Olney, High, Wide and Lonesome (Philo/Rounder 1995) - Now 20 years into his recording career, former New Englander David Olney is rooted in a Nashville country-and-folk sound. Add Olney's extensive songwriting talents to the mix, and you've got an original talent.

On High, Wide and Lonesome, Olney shows why many other performers hold him in high esteem. With his ability to tell a compelling tale in three minutes, and a strong, unflinching voice, Olney deserves a wider audience.

Olney's standing among his peers is reflected by the distinguished guests who appear on this album, including Rodney Crowell (who joins for a duet on "Vincent's Blues"), Rick Danko and Garth Hudson of The Band, renowned Tulsa harmonica player Jimmy Markham, and former Lone Justice percussionist Don Heffington.

Many songs also feature Nashville's best blues band, The Bluebloods (guitarist Mike Henderson, bassist Glenn Worf, and drummer John Gardner).

The opening cut, "Walk Downtown," sets the tone for the album, as Olney sings "If I had me a dollar/Maybe three or four/I might take me a walk downtown/See what they built it for," before launching into a lighthearted tale about his downtown adventures.

David OlneyOlney shifts to a more humble tone on "Brays," a song about the donkey that Jesus rode into Jerusalem, and "Caterpillar," a touching tune about creatures great and small.

Olney then changes to singer/songwriter mode on "My Family Owns This Town" and "Another Place, Another Time," two songs about men who kill their wives (though justifiably so, in the storyteller's eyes), before letting loose on the rocking, "Raw Bone."

High, Wide and Lonesome makes a convincing argument that Olney is a great live performer. However, it's hard to capture this intensity on disc. While his rhymes sometimes get a bit simplistic, Olney is always earnest. It's hard to find any flaws with High, Wide and Lonesome.

MermenThe Mermen, Songs of the Cows (Mesa 1996) - The Mermen, a critically-acclaimed rock trio from San Francisco, have released a six-song EP that takes surf instrumentals to new places. Light years from the Ventures, The Mermen forge into the future, cultivating an edgier sound ala Sonic Youth that cuts across many tastes.

Featuring Jim Thomas on guitar, Alan Whitman on bass, and Martyn Jones on drums, The Mermen have been together since 1989. Their first studio CD, A Glorious Lethal Euphoria, became one of 1994's top-selling discs in the Bay Area, and led to a Bammie nomination for Best Artist.

Guitarist Thomas, who reportedly is the proud owner of hundreds of surf albums, says that the group started out as a garage band, playing their own versions of little-known songs by obscure surf bands. "Eventually, we just outgrew that retrosound in a substantial way and moved ahead to something we could put our own initials on," he explains.

Songs of the Cows opens with the rolling drums and reverb of "Curve" and powers forward to the searing psychodelia of "Varykino Snow" before reaching the lush, multi-mood finale of the four-part suite, "Brainwash."

The Mermen are pushing guitar-driven surf instrumentals into places that even the legendary Dick Dale didn't reach. For a challenging, muscular, and sometimes spacey ride, get Songs of the Cows.

-- Randy Krbechek

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