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Nancy Wilson
Live at McCabes Guitar Shop
(Epic)

Which one was the dog and which one was the butterfly? And how come there wasn't a pony?

Nancy Wilson (dog, I'm guessing) flies solo on this go-round, a live, unplugged, "nakedly human" collection of Seventies classics, four (and twenty blackbird) cover songs and a few sacrificial virgins. But it's not her first time. In her debut solo performance (as unobtainable as fresh caviar), she made a teenaged Judge Reinhold chuck his fast-food pirate hat out the car window in that funny Fast Times at Ridgemont High cameo. Them were the days! Back then, both Nancy and sister Ann (butterfly?) gave me incredible Heart-ons (like Judge, I'm tilting my hand here) with that special hormonic, uh, harmonic union with which sibling-chanteuses are so often blessed. Absolve me, feminists: I was only thirteen.

Oh, those misty, forest-dwelling rocker-nymphs in their soft deerskin boots and fine velveteen frocks! It all harks back to simpler, darker ages. The tumblers. The jugglers. A thrush in bloom. The fat falconer with bubonic plague swilling yard after yard of mead at Ye Olde Grog House. The same fat falconer who in turn pummels yon wide-eyed harlequin's arse.

Fortunately (for them), neither sis is stuck on some godforsaken Renaissance circuit, hawking tunes for turkey legs. Far from it. Ann is busy quilting, I suppose, and Nancy's husband is a hotshot Hollywood mogul (Cameron Crowe, writer of--big fat surprise--Fast Times at Ridgemont High). Rakes it in--which makes me wonder why this trite recording, which dates back to the spring of '96 circa Ms. Nancy's Jerry Maguire soundtrack effort, is seeing the big, national light of day only now. If not part of the vast angel conspiracy, it must be fulfilling some contractual obligations for Epic. Nice work if you can get it--repackaging table scraps.

But no matter, old-timers. Gather near the campfire of nostalgia for something once again attempting the raw: no gadgets, no Marshall stacks, no big deal. Just a crisp-sounding guitar (and occasional mandolin for all you twangling Jacks) from McCabes, an almost-coffeehouse-like L.A. setting. There's also Nancy's warm, familiar set of pipes--which, I gotta admit, still sound pretty warm and familiar--plus romantic laments about indecisive muses, stars that won't keep still, rain, more rain, desires to die where oceans meet fires, etc. (Nature just refuses to cooperate.) At least Joni Mitchell's immortally soused line "I could drink a case of you and still be on my feet" gets a tottering nod. But so what? We've all been drunk.

My real, king-sized beef with Her Ladyship, though, is that there's no "Barracuda." Where's my damn, unplugged, "nakedly human" version of "Barracuda"?! And how 'bout my breakfast in "beh-hee-ehh-ed," while you're at it? Even it up, hardcore Heart fans: Nancy's still around, and she's gettin' medieval on your arse, too.

--John La Briola

The Bottle Rockets
Leftovers
(Doolittle)

The Bottle Rockets, who hail from Festus, Missouri, are practitioners of a decidedly oddball style of alt-country, and they proudly wear their goofiness on their sleeves throughout Leftovers, an unusually slight (31 minutes) collection of eight tunes that didn't make the cut for the 1996 CD 24 Hours a Day. But the results are so mixed that I'm hoping the tunes are shades of the past, not harbingers of things to come. The band's country-bumpkin routine is best suited to material like the tongue-in-cheek two-step "Coffee Monkey (On My Back)," and while the approach doesn't hinder the disc's best tune, "Get Down River" (a ditty familiar from the Smithsonian Folkways album River of Song), it ultimately grows tiresome. The results can be equated to a bratty kid who knows he's annoying you but keeps it up anyway. This stuff was left over for a reason.

--Joshua Green

Ben Folds Five
The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner
(550 Music)

If Paul McCartney boffed Elton John, what would the spawn of this union sound like? Ben Folds Five, of course. The in-vogue kings of saccharine piano pop are back, and their latest offering makes one thing abundantly clear: Jurassic Park fanatics interested in creating a theme park populated solely by Seventies-style musical dinosaurs should obtain samples of Folds's DNA immediately. But Unauthorized is of scientific interest for another reason as well. Not only does the recording come nowhere close to capturing the vitality of a live performance, but it actually manages to suck the energy out of anyone who listens to it.

An ode to "Narcolepsy" opens the disc on an indifferent note that sets the stage for a straight-line journey into mediocrity. Lyrically, the record smacks of Southern-fried oddness, especially on "Army," a saloon honky-tonker, and the occasionally diverting "Your Redneck Past." Elsewhere, though, too many moments are simply tedious--especially "Regrets," a song that would do Gong Show host Chuck Barris proud. Some people may enjoy cataloguing the CD's musical references, which would require most of this newspaper to list in their entirety, but most will probably be filled with a yearning to hear the real thing rather than Folds's impressions. I suggest spinning "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting"; that way, you can fantasize about Folds getting his pretentious ass kicked.

--Sean McDonald

 
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