Butthole Surfers

There are CDs in the Butthole Surfers' catalog that are overpowering in their individuality -- Locust Abortion Technician and pioughd are good examples. But when future fans set to assigning individual Butthole releases their places in the band's overall body of work, Electriclarryland will be remembered for one thing and one thing only: this is the long-awaited CD with which the Buttholes finally found their unawaited Top 40 hit, and found it with a song that sounds like they plagiarized Beck. It's called "Pepper," a terminally derivative single that you've probably heard on the radio, and a song that at least has the regionally satisfying virtue of referencing Texas, a place where "they were all in love with dying." Elsewhere on Electriclarryland, "TV Star" is a country-ish love ballad and a good listen, especially if you enjoy imagining trip-master Gibby Haynes' love object -- "Christina" -- as Married With Children's Christina Applegate.

But that's about it. You won't hear any sell-out commercializations, for whatever that's worth, and Haynes' drawl and guitarist Paul Leary's unmistakable solos remain distinct. But what you do hear is a group that sounds as if it's not really trying. Too many few-chord poundings that, frankly, could be coming from any band and too many lazy throwaway lyrics. Even at a near-cursory 52 minutes, Electriclarryland is just too much of not enough. (** 1/2)

-- Brad Tyer
The Butthole Surfers perform Thursday, July 4, at Westpark Entertainment Center.

Mark Knopfler
Golden Heart
Warner Bros.

The nervous perspiration over at Warner Bros. becomes pretty obvious when the label releases a new CD by Mark Knopfler -- a highly regarded songwriter, film-score composer and guitarist -- and feels compelled to slap a sticker on it reminding people that Knopfler is "the voice and guitar of Dire Straits." True, Knopfler hasn't had much mainstream exposure in the last few years, but is he really that much of a mystery to consumers? Besides, waving around his past work with Dire Straits isn't exactly fair advertising for Golden Heart, which is a solo effort through and through.

Clocking in at about 80 minutes -- a hefty commitment for any listener -- Golden Heart meanders pensively among various styles and traditions, utilizing an impressive herd of hired help, including slide guitar whiz Sonny Landreth, country star Vince Gill and members of the Chieftains, among others. Knopfler's understated vocal delivery hasn't changed much over the years, still working best as a muted counterpoint to up-tempo cuts such as the Cajun-C&W home-brew "Cannibals" and the neo-blues rocker "Imelda." As can be expected on an effort this lengthy, there are a few empty, self-indulgent cuts mixed in with the surplus of decent material. But the guitar work, as usual, is up to snuff, which ensures that even when he's struggling to fill the canvas, Knopfler always manages to paint in broad, cinematic strokes. (***)

-- Greg Barr

Palace Music
Arise Therefore
Drag City

Will Oldham, the man behind Palace Music and its various incarnations (Palace Brothers, Palace Songs and just plain Palace), isn't a rocker by any stretch of the imagination, nor even a particularly good musician. Despite -- or perhaps because of -- his limitations, he manages to make disarmingly unique and effective music. He and his ever-changing Palace cohorts have, over the course of four CDs, three EPs and a load of singles (all in the last three years), perfected the difficult art of capturing sustained instability. Palace Music -- whether buffeted by the slide guitar and banjo on the 1993 debut There Is No-One What Will Take Care of You or framed by the piano figures and low-tech Maya Tone drum machine of the latest Arise Therefore -- always sounds like it's teetering on the edge of oblivion: one whimper away from breaking down and one languid, creaky note from crumbling completely.

While Oldham's hiccupy blues tendencies have led critics to brand his music somehow Appalachian, truth is, the Louisville-based former actor probably doesn't know enough about song forms to imitate them effectively. Admittedly, though, his strained voice and lo-fi folk approach does create the illusion of a rustic mountain jug band. Still, Oldham's delicate poetry reveals lyrical sophistication, and once he yawns lines such as "I'll hold his arms, you fuck him / The fuck he deserves it" over plaintive guitar picking, you know there's something a little more postmodern going on here.

While Chicago industrial kingpin Steve Albini, who produced last year's atypically loud and aggressive Viva Last Blues, twists knobs again on Arise Therefore, the CD reverts to the lethargic dirges and field recordings of earlier efforts. But where the scarcity of liner notes on those releases created a mysterious sort of found-document quaintness, Arise Therefore provides a booklet full of lyrics and credits. The Palace, then, is no longer closed to the public. Thankfully, though, the music is no less regal and oblique. (***)

-- Roni Sarig

Various Artists
Heaven's Prisoners: A Blues Compilation
Code Blue/Atlantic

Both masterful men of letters, Walter Mosley and James Lee Burke spice their novels with frequent passages that show a detailed knowledge and deep love of blues music. As evidence that Hollywood can occasionally adapt a great novel to film without making a complete shambles of it, the soundtracks to recent movies based on books by these writers have turned out to be excellent blues anthologies. Following the stellar compilation that funked last year's movie version of Mosley's Devil in a Blue Dress is the soundtrack for Burke's Heaven's Prisoners, which features the likes of Kenny Neal, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker and Aretha Franklin.

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