Terry Allen
Human Remains
Sugar Hill

For Human Remains, Terry Allen is joined by his wife Jo Harvey Allen, a herd of Maines (Lloyd included), a couple of Sextons and Lucinda Williams (without whose distinctive wail no recent release would be complete), and still this CD is pure Allen. In contrast to fellow Flatlanders such as Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock, and unlike artsy nuevo country acts such as Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett, Allen is a serious man. Bordering on stodgy, in fact. Even on several songs with light conceits, such as "Peggy Legg" -- a weird tribute to "Peggy Sue" that starts out with a one-legged woman on the dance floor -- Allen fails to frolic too openly.

Allen's songs glorify endurance and the type of awareness we humans come across only on occasion. "That Kind of Girl," a teasing lecture to the sort of lost, "sensitive" chicks who work at Whole Foods, comes, like so many of Allen's lyrics, in the voice not of a lover or a peer but of a wise old man: "I think you have a death wish, even though you do not want to die / You just want to fall in love, be blessed by the Lord above and get married to a real nice guy." Throughout Human Remains, Allen pounds out his stark, poignant version of country, and his rugged approach provides the perfect icing for his very serious, very loving and ultimately charming musical vision. And if you think Human Remains is none of that ... well, as Allen sings in "Gone to Texas," "You must be a Yankee, or you just kind of slow?" (****)

-- Edith Sorenson

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The Raincoats
Looking in the Shadows

Looking in the Shadows is the first release in more than a decade from the Raincoats, a four-woman British band with a checkered past and more talent than any ten of its indie acolytes. It's that rare great release I'd rather not review because I'm having too much fun with it -- the way it gallops along to its own weird drummer, suggesting a million different things without sounding quite like any of them. There's some Patti Smith in the vocals to "You Ask Why," some Squeeze-ish wit in the plot of "Babydog," some Johnny Rotten snarls in the itchy "Pretty." The guitars fall somewhere between Talking Heads, the Jesus and Mary Chain and the Beach Boys. The singing is all over the map. I don't know if it's pop or rock, and I don't care.

Lots of crappy musicians have cool music collections, but precious few synthesize those influences with the fully developed identity and plain old snap of the Raincoats' Ana da Silva, Gina Birch, Anne Wood and Heather Dunn. The British quartet recorded its seminal releases in the early '80s, but broke up in 1988. Apparently, Kurt Cobain was a staunch Raincoats advocate, which lends support to the truism that the man had better sense in music than in preventative medicine. Cobain helped convince DGC to bring the band back to life with this new effort, which sounds way too fresh to qualify as a comeback. And now that I've reviewed it, the fun's over and it's on to another CD, which is too bad. I was hoping to spend more time pondering the way the Raincoats drill a sweet-and-sour phrase into your head -- like, for instance, "Light the candle, suck the candy" from "So Damn Early." I wanted to bob a bit more with the birdcall harmonies of "Love a Loser," and learn to follow the way fiddles and surf guitars pop up in the strangest places. Maybe I'll slap it onto a cassette with ELO as theB-side -- just because it has that shimmer to it. (**** 1/2)

-- Brad Tyer

Finest Hour

If bands were supermodels, Jackopierce would be Fabio -- 95 percent appearance and five percent substance. The Dallas band, which revolves around the singer/songwriter duo of Jack O'Neill and Cary Pierce, stick to an attractive enough acoustic-based pop rock formula. But once past that charming exterior, you begin to question the validity and the sincerity of what's left.

Maybe Jackopierce's well-chiseled airs would be a hair more tolerable if the new Finest Hour wasn't such as straight-faced bore. As it is, though, O'Neill and Cary choose to wax way too serious, coming off overwrought and self-involved, as in this painful lyrical interlude from "Vineyard": "But there's a girl over there, she's got mahogany hair / And her eyes of sweet amethyst / I bow as she curtsies / It doesn't look like she's going to hurt me / So I decide to add her to my list."

Forget the amethyst eyes and the bow and curtsy; it's the "add her to my list" part that's the real embarrassment here. What list would that be, and who's on it? You'd hope that it includes all the swooning college coeds who've single-handedly supported Jackopierce over the years. In fact, if it weren't for the women who swallow this drippy, faux-feeling garbage as if it were the ultimate aphrodisiac, there's a good chance the group wouldn't have been in the position to work with Cracker producer Don Smith -- or, for that matter, with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers drummer Stan Lynch, who also lends his production skills to Finest Hour. But alas, even their considerable skills and experience couldn't rescue this wince-inducing stuff.

In any event, the females should love it. If all goes well, they'll be snatching up this CD with the same vigor that sent sales of Jackopierce's last A&M release past the 100,000 mark. Most should be at the group's shows, cheering the guys on in their Jackopierce T-shirts and baseball caps, flicking their Jackopierce lighters (all available for purchase from the special merchandise insert included with Finest Hour).

Then again, all of this ranting is coming from a guy who never got the girl in college. (* 1/2)

-- Hobart Rowland

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