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November 2, 1994

Cohen's Finest Hour

SilosThe Silos, Cuba (Watermelon 1994) -- The Silos are a band from Austin, Texas that is built around singer, songwriter, producer and guitarist Walter Salas-Humara; they have also been called (for good reason) one of the best bands in America. Cuba, the band's second album, was originally pressed (independently) in 1987. With the release this year of the Silos' new disc (Susan Across the Ocean), Watermelon Records has reissued this classic album. With 15 strong, uncompromising cuts (including some not on the original pressing), Cuba is a must-own.

SettersSalas-Humara (who also contributed to the terrific Watermelon release earlier this year from The Setters) is the son of Cuban immigrants. After growing up in South Florida, he moved to New York City to start work as a painter. However, Salas-Humara soon found that a career as an artist wasn't immediate enough. "I wanted it to happen all too fast; I didn't realize I had to wait years and decades. Anyway, in New York I got back into music because you could reach people easier. You could make records and people could buy them for $7.00 and you could reach thousands of people."

Eventually, Salas-Humara relocated to L.A., where he recorded Cuba with Mary Rowel (the concert-master at Radio City Music Hall) on violin, Daren Hess on drums, Scott Garber on bass, and Manuel Verzosa on guitars and vocals. In discussing the Silos' career, Salas-Humara says, "The one drawback is the name got associated with country music at first. I didn't think of our music as country at all, even if it had some country influences in it. I saw it as an art band...Because of my background in playing drums and percussion, I look at music, our music, from more of a rhythm perspective than melody. Salsa and meringue has lots of percussion and repetition."

SilosAfter several years, it's clear that the heart of Cuba is the Silos' pure rock 'n roll style and the unaffected songs of Salas-Humara. His lyrics may be simple, but they always cut to the quick. For example, the entrancing refrain on "Going Round" highlights the song's sentiment -- "You think he loves you/Least he says he does/Could it be that simple/In a world like ours?"

"For Always" is also a deceptively honest song; Salas-Humara admits that his wife's "words cut through every defense/I ask her advice/And when she speaks/It's from the heart." Another tremendous track is "Memories," in which Salas-Humara wraps an all-too-familiar sentiment ("Have you ever loved a woman/So hard you thought you'd die?/Held her for so long/Still she walked away?") around a perfect rock 'n roll number.

Though Cuba is great, Susan Across the Water doesn't quite measure up to this high standard. With the Silos' loose, rock 'n roll feel, Cuba captures everything Eagles used to be. Maybe Hell Freezes Over (the soon-to-be-released disc from the Eagles) will be this good -- but I doubt it. Don't miss Cuba.

KillersVarious Artists, Soundtrack to "Natural Born Killers" (Interscope 1994) -- The 75-minute soundtrack to Oliver Stone's new film, Natural Born Killers, is an audio collage that echoes the violence and release in the film. With contributions from a wide range of artists (from L7 to Bob Dylan to Leonard Cohen), producer Trent Reznor's work makes this one of the finest soundtracks in years.

Reznor, who also heads up Nine Inch Nails, became involved with the film after seeing an early screening of it. For the soundtrack, Reznor took some of the best music from the film and then layered and textured the sound by cutting and splicing various soundbytes and dialogue from the film. Adds Reznor, "I took a finished movie and tried to make something that would be a cool souvenir from it, versus a compilation album." In speaking of Reznor, director Stone says, "Trent reminds me of Hendrix or Jim Morrison, with a heavier overlay of romanticism. The moment I heard Nine Inch Nails, I knew we had to get as much as possible of it in this."

The movie, starring Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey, Jr., Tommy Lee Jones, and Juliette Louis, is a brilliant piece of filmmaking that explores the role of violence in American society. Based on a script by Quentin Tarantino (whose new film, Pulp Fiction, is the must-see of the season), Natural Born Killers is the tale of a pair of serial killers from the midwest who become media darlings. The first half of the film captures their cross-country crime spree and rise to media fame; the second half follows their prison breakout.

Though some claim Stone has too heavy a hand as a director, in Natural Born Killers, that tendency works precisely to his favor: his goal is to take the theme (America's glorification of violence) and take it to its natural extreme. By doing so, he shows that cinematic violence is (i) not related to real life, and (ii) nothing more than another form of pornography. The people who don't like Stone's films are ones who don't get the message; when you understand what he's trying to do, his movies are a relentless roller coaster of emotions and turbulence.

On the soundtrack, Reznor evokes the same feeling (at times); on the bulk of the album, however, the thrust is simply good music. Thus, the Cowboy Junkies join in with their great version of "Sweet Jane" (the old Lou Reed song), Duane Eddy gives his rebel-rousing performance of "The Trembler," and Bob Dylan contributes a new song ("You Belong to Me"), though His Bobness doesn't have much vocal range left.

Leonard CohenThe highlight of the disc is Leonard Cohen's gravelly-voiced version of "The Future." Taken from Cohen's overlooked 1992 album of the same name, Reznor has tightened the song and turned it into one of the most compelling pieces on American culture in the last several years. Canadian Cohen has distinct views on American society ("The future is murder"), and "The Future" serves as a perfect coda for the film.

On the strength of "The Future" alone, buy Natural Born Killers. My one gripe about this album is its packaging; for unknown reasons, the album cover doesn't list the songs featured on the disc. Thus, the listener is buying a pig in a poke; until you open the disc, you won't know what's on this album. Buy it on faith. If you liked the movie, you'll love the soundtrack.

Soho Revisited -- I recently visited Soho (the Tower District's new nightclub) on a crowded Saturday night with my lovely wife, Gail. The service was fine, the music selection great, and the sound system out-of-this-world. All in all, Soho has all the trappings for success. If you haven't been there yet, what are you waiting for?

-- Randy Krbechek

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