Dwight Yoakam Dwight Sings Buck (New West)
At first blush, the notion of Dwight Yoakam devoting an entire disc to the work of Buck Owens seems much too obvious. After all, he’s a well-established Owens acolyte and booster who often drops cover tunes into his live sets, and he famously paired with the man himself on a version of the iconic “Streets of Bakersfield.” Nonetheless, Dwight Sings Buck turns out to be more than a by-the-numbers tribute to the ol’ Buckaroo, who died in 2006. It’s also a thoroughly beguiling listening experience during which both artists receive their due. Yoakam is a veteran performer whose style and sound recall the approach made famous by Owens, Merle Haggard and other precursors but remains very much his own. For that reason, he’s able to simply play these selections in a straight-forward manner rather than worrying about how to distinguish himself from his figurative mentors. “My Heart Skips a Beat” features his trademark laid-back groove and a vocal that’s more cool than exuberant, “Down on the Corner” utilizes a martial intro and sweet harmonies, “Cryin’ Time” draws every last teardrop from the classic weeper, and “Close Up the Honky Tonks” stretches out to more than six minutes without wasting a single note. In the end, the performances are evocative because they say as much about Yoakam as the man who popularized the material in the first place. – Michael Roberts
Bob Marley & the Wailers Exodus: 30th Anniversary Limited Edition CD/DVD Set (Tuff Gong/Island)
It’s mighty hard to hear this music with fresh ears given how much airplay selections such as “Exodus,” “Jamming” and “One Love/People Get Ready” continue to receive. Hell, even “Three Little Birds” is ubiquitous these days thanks to I Am Legend, which uses the tune as an ironic counterpoint to the increasing desperation of Will Smith’s solitary-scientist character. Fortunately, (slightly) lesser known tracks such as “So Much Things to Say” and “Turn Your Lights Down Low” cast spells of their own, and “The Heathen,” with its foreboding guitar buzz and minor-key melody, demonstrates that Marley worked as effectively in shadow as in light. Moreover, Live at the Rainbow, a companion DVD culled from a June 1977 concert, contains a few minor surprises, too. Although the video’s camera angles are limited by today’s standards, uni-monikered director Keef and his crew succeed at capturing Marley and the Wailers at their ecstatic peak, tearing through a set that supplements Exodus staples with a handful of tunes that haven’t been beaten to death by radio programmers – namely “Them Belly Full (But We Hungry),” “Crazy Baldhead” and “War/No More Trouble.” Nothing qualifies as especially obscure, but when it comes to Marley, little is, with the exception of his early (and consistently wonderful) ska-era recordings. Hence, the new package is best viewed as an opportunity to re-experience, not rediscover. – Roberts
Tunng Good Arrows (Thrill Jockey) Tunng Comments of the Inner Chorus (Full Time Hobby)
Rather than treating the juxtaposition of traditional folk-music instruments and electronic doodads as a novelty, the young Brits in Tunng behave as if the devices have always been used in tandem – an approach that causes Good Arrows, their latest CD, to feel organic instead of gimmicky. As on Comments of the Inner Chorus, a more schematic variation on the formula that’s just been issued Stateside, multi-instrumentalist Mike Lindsay serves as the focal point, crooning gently melodic airs such as “Take” in a soft voice that’s often complemented by beguiling fellow singers Becky Jacobs and Ashley Bates. Lindsay’s acoustic guitar generally underpins the compositions, with synths and assorted noisemakers handled by him or Phil Winters augmenting the strumming without drowning it out or straining for attention. At times, the players are a bit too laconic, preventing the likes of “Secrets” from making much of a mark. But “Bullets” hits the target thanks to a subtly sterling arrangement that deploys a music-hall melody and impossible-to-resist na-na-na-nas on the way to a denouement as lovely as it is charming. -- Roberts
The Drivin’ Dynamics The Drivin’ Dynamics: Featuring Early Randy Meisner of The Eagles (Sonic Past Music) The Poor Help the Poor: The Complete Recordings of The Poor featuring Randy Meisner (Sonic Past Music)
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Even as major labels gasp for life and pundits declare the CD all but dead, tiny, independent imprints continue to issue weird and/or long-forgotten recordings. Take Sonic Past Music, which recently reissued five discs associated with Randy Meisner, a Scotts Bluff, Nebraska native who was a member of Poco and the Eagles prior to launching a solo career that spawned a couple of minor hits before petering out. Why? Hard to say, particularly after spinning the self-titled effort by the Drivin’ Dynamics, an early combo that spent at least part of its existence in Colorado. Most of the nineteen songs on the platter are badly recorded covers of bar-band favorites from the early ‘60s: “Johnny B. Goode,” “Kansas City, “Tequila” and so on. Worse, the playing and singing ranges in quality from stereotypical to uninteresting. Just because a future sort-of rock star contributed to it doesn’t make it good.
In contrast, Help the Poor ain’t bad. The group, populated by more players with Colorado connections but based in Southern California, earned enough notoriety on the local scene to earn record deals with Loma and Decca – an achievement that gave the members access to professional studios and recording methods. The material is better, too. “Can’t Stand to Be in Love With You” sports a catchy melody and the sort of fuzzy guitars that dominate Nuggets compilations, while “How Many Tears” is effectively Byrdsian. While the tracks are extremely scattershot, with the players groping for a unique identity they clearly never established, even the most generic among them evoke a time when rock was young and record companies were thriving. Seems like a long time ago. -- Roberts
Nirvana MTV Unplugged in New York (DGC)
Although Nirvana’s November 1993 unplugged date aired repeatedly the following year, during the weeks and months after Kurt Cobain opened up a hole in his head, MTV Unplugged in New York represents the first time the entire performance, as opposed to an edited version, has been made commercially available – and the additional footage makes a difference. The biggest bonuses here are extra songs such as “Oh, Me” and “Something in the Way,” not to mention a snippet of “Sweet Home Alabama” played as a joke while assorted Meat Puppets set up their equipment. But the inclusion of the dead spaces between numbers, as well as the casual rehearsal footage, allows the viewer to put the session into a perspective that it’s long been lacking. Cobain is serious throughout (and nervous, too), but he doesn’t seem to consider the recording to be any kind of grand statement or final valedictory, as it was subsequently branded. Instead, he comes across as a gifted musician trying to find a quiet place in the midst of a personal and professional whirlwind, and against all odds, he managed to do so even as cameras videotaped his every inhalation. The results have only grown more revelatory with the passage of time. -- Roberts