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 American Music Club
Love Songs For Patriots
Merge Records

American Music Club always had a marketing problem, namely their no-chinned, uni-browed, doubled-over front-man Mark Eitzel. Sure, the "genius" tag got tied to the guy's big toe practically from day one -- critics never held back on the Bob Dylan-Nick Drake-Hank the First comparisons. Problem is, ol' Bob was always an expert media manipulator; Drake died romantically while still relatively unknown; and Hank...well, Hank was Hank. By the same token, Eitzel is only Eitzel: unphotogenic, self-effacing, frantically passionate and steadfastly breathing. In a perfect world, that might be enough. But in a perfect world, there'd be no need for American Music Club.

In the ten years between their 1985 indie debut The Restless Stranger and the release of San Francisco under the Warner Brothers umbrella, the musicians in AMC perfected an exquisitely dynamic blend of multi-textured soundscape and skeletal folk-rock while Eitzel alternately crooned and howled into the abyss, trying to either coax or smoke out remnants of dignity and love in songs that were as harrowing as they were soothing, as furious as they were compassionate, and as meticulously constructed as they were squirmingly alive. Far from becoming a household name, the band hardly broke even before breaking up. Eitzel soldiered on for another decade as a solo artist, constantly pushing the artistic envelope while maintaining his traditional downwardly mobile market share. Then, last year, American Music Club unexpectedly reunited and knocked out Love Songs For Patriots, easily the best thing the band or its wayward leader has ever done.

I Have Always Been Here Before is best for 
those who never have heard Roky before.
I Have Always Been Here Before is best for those who never have heard Roky before.
Reckless Kelly steers a revved-up five-speed down 
the Wicked Twisted Road.
Reckless Kelly steers a revved-up five-speed down the Wicked Twisted Road.
Buck 65's This Right Here Is challenges and 
ultimately satisfies.
Buck 65's This Right Here Is challenges and ultimately satisfies.

On "Patriot's Heart," the band's menacing, blues-ish groove couches Eitzel's unlikely metaphor for Bush-junta jingoism in the form of a male stripper. Employed in a gay bar replete with "sweating mirrors and...mildewed ceiling," the stripper "sells his embraces like Mr. President or a falling star," knowing full well that the good times he provides for the "old men with sin in their eyes" who "fill his underwear with all their lonely dollars" will eventually kill him, but "the thought of getting old...does not thrill him." Amazingly, the song doesn't judge the stripper or the aging chickenhawks ("C'mon grandpa! Remind me what we're celebrating!"), but matter-of-factly concludes "we all want a patriot's heart." The song is so rich, so angry, so enigmatic and so darkly hilarious, it's hard not to just quote the whole thing.

Throughout the disc, the band's focus darts in and out of the personal and political as if there were no distinction. On the wry, delicate "Myopic Books," Eitzel shares memories of his late mother's penchant for drinking manhattans ("they taste like mouthwash"). On the rollicking, Basement Tapes-like rocker "The Horseshoe Wreath In Bloom," he lambastes the dominant cult of mindless escapist fantasy ("if you buy lottery tickets you'll win one day") but ends up delivering what could well be AMC's own epitaph: "you're a king, I know, I saw it written on your tomb." Twenty more years of utter public indifference, and we might get rid of these guys yet. -- Scott Faingold

Roky Erickson
I Have Always Been Here Before: The Roky Erickson Anthology
Shout! Factory

Austin maverick Roky Erickson is one of the great insane geniuses of rock and roll. Shortly after "You're Gonna Miss Me" became a huge hit for the 13th Floor Elevators, Erickson pleaded insanity to prevent doing hard time for a petty marijuana bust. After three years of shock therapy in a hospital for the criminally insane, Erickson emerged with a creative vision that made his early psychedelic musings seem tame. Erickson's nonlinear guitar clang, jarring use of language and encyclopedic knowledge of early R&B styles is evident throughout this two-disc set, which collects 44 career-spanning tracks. Included are "We Sell Soul," a raw early effort with his pre- Elevators band The Spades; 11 frenzied Elevator trips; "Red Temple Prayer (Two Headed Dog)," "Bloody Hammer" and a dozen more sci-fi-meets-demonic-metal excursions from his days with The Aliens; and most of the songs on All That May Do My Rhyme, Erickson's last recorded work (so far). -- j. poet

Reckles Kelly
Wicked Twisted Road
Sugar Hill

If Reckless Kelly were a transmission, it would be a five-speed. The Austin band's latest effort captures its music in all gears, from the quiet, low-gear country-folk of the title track to lilting second-gear love song ballads, from drunk-and-stumble alt-country Irish travelogues to off-the-speedometer Allman Brothers rumblers and nasty white-boy overdrive blues rockers. Taking the long view of the band's catalog, Wicked Twisted Road showcases the wide range of styles the band has embraced in both its recorded work and its live presentation; tracks like "Sixgun" and "Wretched Again" illustrate the increasingly loud and hard-rocking direction the band is taking in its live shows.

Songwriting has always been a Reckless forte, and front-man Willie Braun and his co-writing friends and relatives have again hit the lyrical bull's-eye. Standouts include the wistful title track ("My first love was a wicked twisted road / Hit the million mile mark at 17 years old"), the mystical "Seven Nights In Eire" and the slashing cops-and-robbers rocker "Sixgun." Bruised love songs are a Braun specialty and he continues his successful string with "These Tears" and the jangly "Broken Heart." The album also finds several openings for underrated guitarist David Abeyta to display his wicked chops.

While TwangTrust producer Ray Kennedy has controlled the volume knob on Wicked Twisted Road, he has still managed to infuse the album with a huge shot of rock energy while shrewdly tiptoeing across a checkerboard of genres to cast a wide marketing net that should appeal to flannel-clad hipsters, Arrow-dress-shirt frat scenesters and even a few of the edgier folkies. Call it alt-country if you want, but most of it is way too muscular and loud to fit neatly in that niche. -- William Michael Smith

Buck 65
This Right Here Is Buck 65
V2

If Outkast's Andre 3000 made it safe for hardened hip-hop heads to embrace their inner (and sexually ambiguous) Prince, will Canadian import Buck 65 open the floodgates for cowboy hats and Hank Williams cassettes? Hip-hop may run through his veins and into his rhythm section, but Buck's clanky acoustics and gruff, shit-kicker flow point toward dust-bowl balladry and white-boy talkin' blues. Fortunately, Buck's quirky yet richly detailed vignettes help This Right Here Is Buck 65 transcend the novelty of its social and sonic juxtapositions. Songs like "Wicked and Weird" and "Roses and Blue Jays" convey a deep and abiding ambivalence about life's trivialities, a been-there-done-that world-weariness that inevitably draws comparisons to Tom Waits. And while This Right Here only culls (and remixes) Buck's early indie material, it's a great introduction to one of the genre's most challenging and ultimately satisfying artists. -- Sam Chennault

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