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October 15, 1997

Coming Up for Air

SurfacingSarah McLachlan, Surfacing (Arista 1997) - 29-year-old Sarah McLachlan has been making emotionally and texturally challenging music since her debut with 1988's Touch. Surfacingholds true to the elements that made her last album, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy (1993) a classic of its genre - swirling melodies, mixed with brooding lyrics and densely-layered instrumentation. McLachlan deserves praise for sticking true to her artistic vision.

Surfacing was recorded with producer/engineer Pierre Marchand in Montreal. Sarah contributes vocals, piano, and principal guitar. Her band is rounded out by Marchand on keyboards and bass, Brian Minato on bass and guitar, and new husband Ashwin Sood on drums. Also appearing is Jim Creeggan (of Bare Naked Ladies fame) on bowed bass.

McLachlan is the headliner in this year's Lillith Tour, the all-woman venue that is the hottest tour of the summer. McLachlan has had difficulties with overly enthusiastic fans in the past (some have even stalked her), but now seems more at ease with her fame and herself. According to McLachlan, "I have learned to trust myself, to listen to truth, to not be afraid of it and to not try to hide it."

That emotional honesty carries through on Surfacing. Thus, tracks like "Sweet Surrender" (certain to be a radio hit) and "Witness" (with its memorable line, "Will we burn in Heaven/Like we do down here?") are as haunting and ethereal as anything previously recorded by McLachlan.

For my taste, McLachlan resembles Alanis Morissette. Not in style (the two artists could not be more opposed), but in consistency (or lack thereof). Both have recorded tracks of startling lucidity and emotional intensity; yet other songs are far less memorable.

So it is with Surfacing. Maybe half the album is brilliant (and I mean, I liked it from the word go); the other half is of lesser quality. But then, I had the same feelings about Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, which ranks as one of the decade's best discs. McLachlan has exceptional talent, and must be heard.

Minus 5The Minus 5, The Lonesome Death of Buck McCoy (Malt Records/Hollywood Records 1997) - The Minus 5 is a loose aggregation of musicians led by Scott McCaughey (pronounced "McCoy") and Peter Buck (of R.E.M.). The album's Jethro Tull-influenced "story" disguises the album's true sound - solid country-oriented rock, ala last year's one-off project from Golden Smog.

Lonesome Death includes guest appearances from such musicians as Jonathon Auer, Kenneth Stringfellow, and Mike McCready. According to the liner notes, the album is about "little Buck McCoy, [who] wakes up born in the middle of a wheat field. He decides to carry on alone despite his many acquaintances until dying years later."

Unfortunately, the album doesn't develop this story. While the musicians are talented, Lonesome Death never gels. Fans of the new country sound heralded by such bands as Wilco will enjoy this eulogy, which is a bit too smart for its own good.

Dick DaleDick Dale, Better Shred Than Dead, The Anthology (Rhino 1997) - Better Shred Than Deadis a 2-disc anthology spanning the 35-year recording career of the "King of the Surf Guitar." This 39-track set showcases Dick Dale's enormous influence, from the early years of surf rock (the Beach Boys used to attend Dick's shows at the Rendezvous and the Aragon Ballroom in Southern California) through film maker Quinton Tarantino, who featured Dale's "Misirlou" in Pulp Fiction (1994).

Now age 63, Dale began packing ballrooms in the late 50's with his phenomenal left-handed guitar style. (In an ironic note, a local session man once said, "Dick, if you would only change your strings around the right way, you would be the greatest guitarist that ever walked this earth." Dick's reply: "Why fix it if it ain't broke?")

While his very early recordings (such as "Ooh Wee Marie") show big band influences ala Gene Krupa (Dale also played trumpet on his recordings), he soon developed his classic surf sound on songs like "Let's Go Trippin'," "King of the Surf Guitar," and "Night Rider."

In discussing the roots of his sound, Dale says, "I first heard 'Misirlou' as a child when my uncle sang it in Arabic and played it on an oud. I still remember the first night we played it. I changed the tempo and just started cranking up that mother. And it was eerie - I knew I had tapped into some sort of power, and that power was labeled surf music."

Dale also helped create the technology that let to today's modern rock sound. As he notes, "they call me "The Father of Loud.' In Australia, they call me 'Louder than Motorhead.'" Dick started stacking amplifiers and speakers to create his huge sound, and also worked with Leo Fender, who designed the Show Man Amps and the Fender Stratocaster, which Dale play to this day.

Though he has only recorded ten studio albums (Dale did not release any vinyl between 1965 and 1983, when he released Tiger's Loose, then went another ten years before releasing 1993's Tribal Thunder), his influence is enormous. (Yes, his fans are proud to call themselves "Dick Heads"). One of rock's signature stylists, Dick Dale cannot be ignored. For a big blast from this huge talent, check out Better Shred Than Dead.

-- Randy Krbechek

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