Many lesser-known performers also shine. Soloist Tony McPhee (Groundhogs) handles his acoustic guitar with hard confidence, singing like his life depended on it on Sleepy John Estes's "Drop Down Mama." Vocalist Maggie Bell (Stone the Crows) and guitarist Big Jim Sullivan play the evergreen "Blind Man" as if they had written it. The tireless Pretty Things, featuring vocalist Phil May and guitarist Dick Taylor, pound out "Judgment Day" like feverish kids on the scrappy London R&B/blues circuit circa 1964. Ex-Stones guitarist Mick Taylor hooks up with keyboardist Max Middleton (Jeff Beck Group) for "You Shook Me," the Willie Dixon tune that, once upon a time, was swiped by the Led Zep gang. Singer/guitarist Miller Anderson (Keef Hartley Band) refurbishes "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" with believable drama, while Georgie Fame, the '60s hit maker found these days in Van Morrison's entourage, checks in with his Mose Allison impersonation on "If You Live."

Among others present on the disc -- and in good form -- are jazz-blues horn player Dick Heckstall-Smith (Graham Bond Organization, Colosseum), Welsh keyboardist Phil Ryan (Man), singer Paul Jones (remember Manfred Mann's "Doo Wah Diddy Diddy"?) and ace modern-blues guitarist Otis Grand. All in all, Knights of the Blues Table does more than its part to dispel the archaic notion that white guys and gals are incapable of personalizing black blues. (***)

-- Frank-John Hadley

Guitar Wolf
Planet of the Wolves
Matador

Guitar Wolf are a surly garage-rock threesome from Japan who worship at the overamped altar of Link Wray and the Stooges. They're the sort of unruly, greaser boyfriends the parents of the cutesy Japanese grrls in Shonen Knife must have nightmares about. But make no mistake, Guitar Wolf's is an authentic melding of contemporary punk angst and traditional rock and roll values. And it's not to be confused with anything else to emerge from Japan's cliche-ridden pop-culture meat grinder.

Most of Planet of the Wolves, Guitar Wolf's second full-length release for New York's independent Matador label, sounds like it was recorded live by a fan with a microcassette recorder in the back of a half-empty nightclub. It's a brutal, unforgiving beast of a listen, and it puts most of today's hard-core clatter to shame, spitting sheets of white-hot distortion like dragon's breath and emitting high-endurance screams that could make Iggy Pop's blood curdle. (Well, maybe not Iggy's.) Even better, Guitar Wolf has the unfettered reverence -- not to mention the sheer balls -- to top it all off with a CD-closing rendition of Link Wray's "Rumble," giving the incendiary guitar instrumental a thorough ransacking worthy of both its title and its originator. Mudhoney fans take note: This is the way grunge is supposed to sound. (***)

-- Hobart Rowland

Two Dollar Pistols
On Down the Track
Scrimshaw

Whether their preferred tag is No Depression, alt-country or neo-Nashville, there's certainly no shortage of young roots-minded acts tipping their recently purchased cowboy hats toward the altar of George Jones and Merle Haggard.

Fresh out of the holster from North Carolina, Two Dollar Pistols do an earnest honky-tonk turn on their debut, but the results are serviceable at best. Possessing neither the fire of the Hollisters nor the musical dexterity of the Derailers, Two Dollar Pistols mostly shoot blanks on On Down the Track. The most obvious weakness is singer John Howie Jr., whose deep, robotic vocals sound the same whether he's singing a rave-up or a teary lament. Even the best of the rave-ups never quite catch fire, and as for the laments, they couldn't dampen the eyes of Jimmy Swaggart.

And the bland instrumental backing doesn't help. Sure, all the right chords are there, buffeted by ample displays of technique. But nothing in the way of feeling or personality shows up to steer them toward the heart. Given Track's faceless twang, you may want to think twice before grabbing hold of these Pistols. (**)

-- Bob Ruggiero

CDs rated on a one to five star scale.

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