A musician's death, it's sad to note, often sparks considerable interest in his music. You want evidence? Just look at how Townes Van Zandt's CDs have suddenly moved from the back of the bin to the front.
Similarly, it's easy to view the reissue of Walter Hyatt's King Tears, a 1990 recording that's been unavailable since 1992, as callous cashing in on Hyatt's death last May in the crash of ValuJet Flight 592. The fact is, the acknowledgment of Hyatt as a timeless American classic should have come sooner. Still, the recognition is better late than never.
King Tears, produced by Lyle Lovett, is the only vocal work in the MCA Master Series, which focuses on influential behind-the-scenes players and sidemen, and it's a well-made exception. Hyatt's voice was a classic instrument, one perfectly suited to his intelligent, immaculate lyrics. Considerably more serious than Hyatt's earlier work with Uncle Walt's Band, King Tears focuses on the downside of romance. The title track is as gloomy as any lyric ever crafted by Leonard Cohen, but it's delivered in a voice with the clarity of a Stradivarius. Hyatt's love of swing music is highlighted by his rendition of Charles Trenet's World War II-era "Que Reste-T-Il De Nos Amors," "Tell Me Baby," "Blind Love Blues" and, especially, "In November." All are tributes to the male of the species's unfathomable capacity for heartache and hope.
Musically, Matt Rollings weaves a piano backdrop behind Hyatt's voice that adds a texture never explored by Uncle Walt's Band. Champ Hood plays acoustic guitar throughout, and he and David Ball join their longtime friend and bandleader on the final "Aloha," dispelling the gloom with a thousand-watt dose of Uncle Walt's Band harmonies.
It's likely that when future musicologists rediscover and analyze the genius of Hyatt, they'll find this CD to be of particular interest. Here is a picture of the self-doubting, introspective side of the man who founded and led the thinking man's party band. It's a portrait made all the more poignant by the overshadowing tragedy of Hyatt's untimely demise. (****)
-- Jim Sherman
Snoop Doggy Dogg
Despite all the charges, implications and hysteria surrounding Marion "Suge" Knight and his quickly unraveling Death Row empire, the label is doing its best to give the appearance that everything is normal. And at first, it looked as if Snoop Doggy Dogg's Tha Doggfather would help the damage control. But alas, it was not to be. Tha Doggfather debuted strongly, but it has since lost its footing. So much for maintaining impressions.
What, exactly, went wrong with Snoop's sophomore release? Let's see if we can dissect the most popular opinions:
1) The CD is simply weak. True and false. Tha Doggfather has the same cheeky funk stylings and easy So-Cal grooves Snoop exploited to excellent effect on his Doggystyle debut. But that's part of the problem: It's just more of the same, and Snoop's devil-may-care attitude toward the music-making process ("I don't give a fuck about no beats," he snips on "Up Jump Tha Boogie") helps eradicate a large hunk of the disc's soul.
2) Suge Knight messed with the chemistry too much. False. Although Knight is billed as executive producer, he had a hand in hardly any of the songs. There are too many wet-behind-the-ears producers and self-absorbed guest stars with their fingers in the biscuit jar here for Knight to snatch anything but a crumb. Teena Marie, Tha Dogg Pound, an uncredited K-Ci from Jodeci -- Too Short even drops by to put in his two cents worth. Tha Doggfather is like a crowded elevator going nowhere.
3) Snoop isn't much without Dr. Dre. True. But it works both ways. One can't help thinking what Dre would have done with Tha Doggfather. Insiders say this estrangement of mentor and student -- made official when Dre left Death Row under stormy circumstances -- is what makes this disc such a heartless effort. The same may also apply to Dre's latest, the dreary Dr. Dre Presents the Aftermath.
Here's hoping gangsta rap's Master and Grasshopper reconsider their breakup. But not before Snoop runs for cover lest the destructive forces of Knight and Death Row crush him like a flea. (** 1/2)
-- Craig D. Lindsey
Cuddle core? That's like, so 1994, isn't it? Apparently not in Silver Lake, the Los Angeles neighborhood that spawned the six-piece coed band Sissy Bar. The group is, in fact, about as cuddly as a $7,000 Tickle Me Elmo doll. And unless you've already had your fill of plastic flower barrette hairstyles and Judy Blume flashbacks, chances are you'll find something warm and endearing about their debut CD, Statutory Grape.
Just about everything having to do with Sissy Bar is so damn cute you can't decide whether to hug them or slap them. The voices are girly and angelic, the lyrics childlike. Synths blip and bleep like toys, while the banjo adds a playful down-home touch. Mix all this together with some clangy pop/punk-style bass, guitar and drums, and you've got a group that combines the most precious elements of Beat Happening, Jonathan Richman, the B-52's and L.A.'s that dog.
The songs on Statutory Grape mostly run the gamut of grade-school experience. "Magic Bunny" investigates the mystical powers of stuffed animals. "Sad II Say" revisits the tragic story of how unicorns disappeared from the earth. "Why? (The Bowling Ball Song)" confronts the problem of people who borrow things and don't give them back. The faux earnestness works best when it's most overstated ("The Bellman"'s bizarre humor), but fails when the subjects are least believable (the Jackie Collins tribute). At their most over-the-top, Sissy Bar succeed in turning Snoop Doggy Dogg's "Gin and Juice" into irresistible indie-pop. You haven't experienced gangsta rap until you've heard the voice of lead singer Joy sweetly cooing, "I've got bitches in the living room getting it on." Kids these days, I tell ya. (***)
-- Roni Sarig
Cheer Up is one of those rare CDs where the cover tells the whole story. The glossy cardboard foldout sleeve features three photographs of three guys -- presumably band members Michael Angelos, Norm Block and Michael Barragan -- and in each, the made-up and tattooed subject is seen considering his own visage in a large bathroom mirror. They're posing, the way just about all of us have done at one time or another, usually around age 17. They seem absolutely entranced with themselves and their rock star postures.
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That cover would make a great jumping-off point for a discussion of style versus substance, only there's no substance in this equation. Sub Pop would have it that these guys blend "glam, Goth, punk, metal and psychedelic influences," but the disc sounds more like one of those "Alternative Samplers" Taco Bell used to slap together to draw the kiddie crowd into its evil Pepsico empire. Not to say that Plexi can't handle the diversity -- anyone with a gift for mimicry can do that, and Plexi gets some tough sounds out of its power-trio lineup. You may even find yourself pounding or humming along to some of the better executed of these second-generation audio Xeroxes. But you'll search in vain, as the boys on the cover seem to be doing, for any sign of a distinct personality, or any particular point of view other than, "Look! We can do this too!"
Wait. I'm being too harsh. There is one memorable moment, wherein Plexi builds their musings around the line, "And I wonder what it's like to die." Hey, can someone help these guys out? (**)
-- Brad Tyer
CDs are rated on a one to five star scale.