Rose, Tragic Magic (Atlantic 1997) - After a three-year layoff,
Madder Rose returns with the followup to 1994's Panic On.
Featuring vocals by Mary Lorson, Tragic Magic
finds the band expanding its college rock sound.
As the foursome admits, Madder Rose's early albums were studio affairs
that were difficult to duplicate on stage. But after long months of
touring in support of such acts as Juliana Hatfield, Bob Mould,
and Belly, the group developed a strong stage
Tragic Magic sports two great singles - "(She's a)
Satellite" and "Peter and Victor." The latter song borrows from Bob
Geldof's spoken word vocal technique on Happy Club
(1992), while "(She's a) Satellite" has an uptempo alternative sound.
With production assistance from Bearsville veteran John Holbrook
(known for engineering Natalie Merchant's Tigerlily),
Tragic Magic finds the band exploring deeper themes
amid pop sweetness.
And that tension - the ability to mesh heavy topics and pop sensibilities
- is a great skill, perhaps first mastered by the Doors.
I'm not saying that Tragic Magic is the equivalent
of L.A. Woman. But the album's undertows will make
you put in some extra effort.
Prine, Live On Tour (Oh Boy Records 1997) - To celebrate his
25 years as a touring musician, John Prine has released Live
On Tour. And good as the new album is, it doesn't capture the
joy and brilliance of his concert this spring in Hanford.
Prine's story - from Vietnam veteran to Chicago letter carrier to
overnight sensation to cult favorite -- is a story of lucky breaks.
And perhaps his biggest break came in the early 80's when he decided
to found his own label, Oh Boy Records.
With his 1991 release, The Missing Years, produced
by Howie Epstein of the Heartbreakers,
Prine made a leap forward, as his new fatherhood helped temper his earlier
cynicism. Followed up by 1995's Lost Dogs & Mixed Blessings
(which included the VH1 hit, "Ain't Hurtin' Nobody"), Prine found a
Live on Tour features Prine on vocals and guitars,
Jason Wilbur on electric guitar, Dave Jacques
on electric and upright bass, and Phil Parlapiano on
squeeze box, mandolin, and piano. The album was recorded at various
venues, including the Rymann Auditorium in Nashville
and the Navy Pier Skyline Stage in Chicago.
Live On Tour contains solid recordings of such gems
as "You Got Gold," "Quit Hollerin' At Me," and "Angel from Montgomery."
Also included are two new tracks, the best of which is "You Mean So
Much to Me," a touching duet with Benmont Tench on
The Hanford set was one of the outstanding shows in recent memory.
Maybe there was just magic in the air at Hanford. In any event, John
Prine remains one of the most fundamentally decent persons in the music
business, and deserves every bit of his hard-won success.
Hoffman, Megiddo (Virgin Records 1997) - A resident of the
"swinging" town of Charlottesville, Virginia (home of the University
of Virginia and Monticello), 19-year-old Laureen Hoffman has a whole
lot of explaining to do.
Better to let Laureen say it herself. "If you wish to know more of
my young life - bad acid trips, selfish lovers, slick A&R men, one-night
stands, lascivious swamis, existential angst, and neurotic introspection
-- please listen to my music."
What a bunch of teenage bullshit. Makes me glad I'm not 19 anymore.
But I like her music. With production work by David Lowery
of Cracker (and here's the pop-oriented album that
New York grinders Cracker can't swing), Megiddo
is a boldly-textured audio tapestry.
With a heady mix of alternative, pop, and folk, Hoffman displays some
of Liz Phair's soul-bearing openness, while mixing
in elements of Kate Bush and some of Lisa Germano's
Thus, songs like "Persephone" and "Fall Away" display Hoffman's teenage
uncertainty, with a minimalist rock vibe that is part spooky and part
British alternative. Not to be outdone, "Alive" is a powerful rocker,
with plenty of feedback, and Hoffman's boldly confrontational introduction,
"I came in bloody and screaming...I'm not alone."
Not quite in the same league as Jill Sobule's excellent
Happy Town, Megiddo has enough twists
and turns to bring you back again and again.
My main knock on the album is the "art direction/design" by Falvia
Cureteu. The lyrics are double justified (both left and right),
producing a text that is illegible, while the inner sleeve photos are
a series of smeary, overdeveloped, yellow prints of Hoffman that can
barely be deciphered.
But, as the saying goes, don't judge an album by its cover. Laureen
Hoffman has a boat load of loose cannons rolling around, and Megiddo
stands on its own merits.
-- Randy Krbechek