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Music Reviews

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December 24, 1997

Redemption Road

Steve EarleSteve Earle, El Corazon (E Squared/ Warner 1997) - Since bottoming out due to his imprisonment for heroin possession, Steve Earle has transformed himself from country hell-raiser to a reflective and intensely honest songwriter. El Corazon is a strong album from front to finish, and is a worthy successor to the acclaimed, I Feel All Right (1996).

With his blend of folk, country, and rock, Earle isn't an easy target. To my taste, Earle reminds me of a plain-song John Prine. (Maybe that's an oxymoron. It's probably more accurate to say Earle resembles Prine in his candid observations of life, but without the whimsical side.) Earle also brings to mind a countrified Bob Dylan. But the songs are the real reward.

Thus, "NYC" (recorded in Seattle with the Supersuckers) is a feedback-drenched rocker which Earle calls "a mid-life crisis set to music. I've reached an age where there are some things that I know I am not going to do . . . The song is about trying to deal with that in a graceful manner."

Earle shifts effortlessly to the more reflective, "You Know the Rest," which was recorded in London. Earle explains, "London was a place where I'd misbehaved pretty badly in the old days . . . The food sucks in England and I don't get high any more, so there wasn't anything else for me to do."

El Corazon also includes "Poison Lovers," a smashing broken-heart duet recorded with Siobhon Kennedy, and the more upbeat, "Telephone Road," recorded with theFairfield Four on backing vocals.

The highlight of the album is "Ft. Worth Blues," a lilting lament to the road penned in memory of the late Townes Van Zandt. "Ft. Worth Blues" has the kind of searching honesty that characterizes Van Morrison's best work, and will bring you back again and again.

Great albums sometimes come from the most unlikely places. Sobriety agrees with Steve Earle, who is on the verge of becoming one of America's best singer/songwriters.

Eliza GilkysonEliza Gilkyson, Redemption Road (Silver Wave Records 1997) - Redemption Road is the fourth release from Austin, Texas-based singer/songwriter Eliza Gilkyson. With her sweet and gentle style, Redemption Road is an earthy and warm companion.

Eliza was raised in the spiritual environs of Santa Fe, New Mexico; those influences show on Redemption Road. Says Eliza, "I was working with the concept of redemption on this recording, not in the religious sense, but more on the personal level. I am fascinated with the on-going process of losing and finding one's self and one's faith. The cyclical nature of the 'fall and redemption' of the spirit of each human being. For better or worse, it seems to be the way we move along our individual paths."

That's a pretty heady topic. Happily, the 12 cuts on the album don't bog down: Rather, Redemption Road has a soothing feeling, like having your mother sing to you.

In addition to Eliza's talents on guitar and vocals, the new release features assistance from Van Dyke Parks, brother Tony Gilkyson (the guitarist for the seminal alternative band, X), and significant other Mark Andes (who has played bass with such bands as Spirit and Firefall).

Which brings up this humorous sideline. I saw Eliza perform a live acoustic show last year in Dallas. Based on the composition of the audience, I would have sworn she appealed to a lesbian crowd. (Not that there is anything wrong with that.) But I have spoken with people who know Eliza personally, who say that Eliza is not targeting a gay audience.

Not that it really matters. Eliza is an engaging performer with a wealth of songs that reflect her passion for life and storytelling. Enjoy the gentle Redemption Road.

Agnes GoochAgnes Gooch, Blind (Revolution 1997) - The foursome known as Agnes Gooch, (the name comes from a supporting character in the Broadway musical, "Auntie Mame") hope to revive the Hollywood rock scene. Though not trendsetters, Agnes Gooch has solid rock and grunge roots.

Some say Blind resembles the Pixies or a revved-up Cheap Trick. While I don't dispute those elements, I think the best description comes from singer and guitarist Mat Baker, a reformed high school metalhead, who simply says, "There's a metal detector on the record."

A product of our times, Blind has a polished sound (and here's a bit of trivia: the stepmother of drummer Scott Busakin is actress Joyce DeWitt from the sitcom "Three's Company"). Agnes Gooch is a release for rock fans who need a quick holiday fix.

-- Randy Krbechek

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