No Need to Argue
So this is what it's come to. You want a hit record, which right off the bat means that you've got no qualms about manipulating people's emotions to further your own ends. Problem is, the twentysomething global village information highway traveling folks who make up your intended audience are way savvy to your tricks, and they respond to cheap emotion by pointing their irreverent little fingers and saying, "Bah, cheap emotion." So to get attention you beg. If you're Beck, your first words to the world are "I'm a loser," and how can anyone fail to find satisfaction in such diminished expectation? If you're Green Day, you call yourself a "melodramatic fool, neurotic to the bone," ask if your audience has the time to listen to you whine, and then without waiting for an answer, indulge away. Some band so fluke-ish I can't even remember its name a mere six months later scored a hit about what a creep the singer was. And the Cranberries start this 50-minute hit factory with "Ode to My Family," which repeats and repeats and repeats the line "Do you see me, does anyone care?" Umm, no thank you please.
The tune goes on to declare that "happiness was when we were young and didn't give a damn," setting a theme for the disc that's about as intriguing as, oh, let's say the last Pink Floyd album, which swept a similarly penetrating dust broom across the same strip mine.
Yeah, Tyer, go tell it to the 84 billion people who saw the band's reportedly mesmerizing performance at Woodstock 2, or had the duck call of a vocal hook on "Zombie" pounded out of the dashboard and into their skulls. Yeah, you're right. Dolores O'Riordan has a pretty voice and a heck of a name, and the music mixes several commercially appealing trends with above average competence. But when a songwriter at this stage of indulgence starts writing notes identifying when and where the song was written, it looks more and more like a diary project to me. And does anyone really want to hear another diary album written by a person who opens her communication with "Do you see me, does anyone care?" O'Riordan may long for the day when "we were young and didn't give a damn," but I bet all she did with her salad days was sit in her room moping and scribbling self-pitying grievances in her diary, listening to too much music that sounded like this.
-- Brad Tyer
The Cranberries play at the AstroArena, Friday, December 9. Call 629-3700 for info.
Saffire -- the Uppity Blues Women
Old, New, Borrowed & Blue
Man-bashing is what girl groups do. (Editor's note: address letters to Jim Sherman.) What sets the Uppity Blues Women apart is their ability to bash a man and make him like it. Really. You'll be ragtiming your lazy freeloading butt right out the door to the tune of "How Can I Say I Miss You" with a smile on your face, and the threats -- make that promises -- in "Bitch with a Bad Attitude" are delivered so delightfully that even the most orthodox barefoot-and-pregnant advocate will grin. Right up to the line: "Lorena will look like an angel by the time I'm finally through."
It's a band unlike any other in blues: all female, all acoustic and determined to have a damn good time proving that the blues is definitely a '90s sort of thing.
Ma Rainey, Sippie Wallace, Billie Holiday and Big Mama Thornton are commemorated with standards that manage to be both off-the-griddle fresh and defiantly traditional. But as moving as the tributes are, it's the songs written by members of the band and friends that charge the album. Ann Rabson's piano, stellar vocals from everyone concerned and Gaye Adegbalola's lyrics are the album's hooks; once they're set, little things like Adegbalola's guitar and Andra McIntosh's innovative blues picking on mandolin dig deeper and deeper until the listener is on the dock and headed for the skillet.
-- Jim Sherman
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A currently popular buzz phrase in certain circles is "the Antone's band." What's meant is that the little nightclub-turned-record label has sense enough to realize what a resource the Austin community of bar band and session veterans is. Releases on Antone's feature some of the tightest, most proficient studio lineups around, with some of the best horn section work to come out of the Occupied Republic since Joe Scott joined God's Own Big Band. Why, there're so many good musicians hanging around Austin, and this record, that it requires some attention to notice that the headline performer on this CD is... not nearly as good as the band.
Vigorous assistance from the four-piece Almighty Horns, Kim Wilson, various members of the Paladins -- including Kane's husband, Tom Yearsly -- and apparently every musician in Austin almost, but not quite, hides the lamentable fact that Kane's voice is far from being as memorable as the cleavage displayed rather prominently on the jewelbox cover.
The main problem is that Kane attempts to emulate every female vocalist from Etta James to Patsy Cline and winds up severely in the middle of the road, where, as Jim Hightower once remarked, there's nothing but yellow stripes and dead armadillos. Serious Andrews Sisters fans will find a few palatable boogie-woogie tunes, and "Dance Hall Girls" -- ably supported by Tim Cook on pedal steel -- has commercial country airplay potential. But it's the band that carries the album, not the singer. A complete set of the Antone's CDs would be a worthwhile investment, not to mention a very Texas Proud thing to do, but start with Lavelle White or Kim Wilson.
-- Jim Sherman