Film Reviews

Critic's Choice

Blessed with R.E.M.'s mystical sense of Southernness and Uncle Tupelo's command of the loud-and-soft dynamic, and possessing Toad the Wet Sprocket's clouded sensitivity (the jury's still out on whether that one's a blessing or a curse), Jolene has an unshakable sense of its own identity. This North Carolina quintet is an example of that rare instance when all the references to other bands add up to a musical whole that's significantly greater than the sum of its influences.

Equally indebted to the Pretenders and George Jones, Jolene is a coalition of outcasts from assorted semi-successful Carolina acts. Names such as the Beatnics and Light in August likely mean nothing unless you've made it east of Tennessee in the last few years; the Veldt, Hardsoul Poets and Johnny Quest may bring about faint recollections, as their regional popularity resulted in touring outside the Southeast. For the most part, these were your standard full-volume college-campus rock bands.

But at its core, Jolene is a family operation. Band founders John Crooke and Dave Burris are cousins who used to have to tear themselves away from their Kiss and Jethro Tull records to join their family in the den for Hee Haw. Funny thing is, they kind of liked what they saw and heard, lining the insides of their little skulls with the melodies of Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton (the band's name comes from a Parton tune) and Buck Owens. And whether or not they admitted to enjoying the music, the backwoods comedy of Junior Samples always kept them glued to the set.

Crooke and Burris hung out together on and off through their teen years, turning each other on to a progression of artists along the way, moving through everyone from the Jam to Jimmie Dale Gilmore as their sensibilities grew more and more diverse. In 1994, that eclecticism brought Jolene together, and a year later the group had a contract with Ardent Records. The band's eponymous debut EP is a "let's get acquainted" disc designed both to create a little buzz and tide already existing fans over until January, when the full-length product, Hell's Half Acre, comes out. The seven-song Jolene (which includes the mandatory unlisted track at the end) is supposed to be a batch of outtakes, though with throwaways this substantial, it makes you wonder about the keepers.

Crooke sings like a Michael Stipe with a mild case of bronchitis, which is more endearing than it sounds, and the band is tighter than any year-old outfit has a right to be. This is rock with roots all right -- the kind of roots that tunnel through their rich Appalachian soil and tear up the well-cultivated surface above. -- Hobart Rowland

Jolene opens for Cowboy Mouth at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, December 9, at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Avenue. Tickets are $8. For more info, call 869-COOL.

Boss Hog -- Some acts break up because they have just too much talent to stay together for long. Some come to an end due to a surplus of nervous energy. And still others have such an overload of both talent and nervous energy that splintering is inevitable. Pussy Galore was an example of all the last: a Washington, D.C., art-noise aggregation that fell to pieces in 1989, Pussy Galore will surely go down in cult-band history for its mythic level of mayhem. But it's what the group's members have gone on to do that's made the real mark on modern rock. Former Pussy Neil Haggerty is now one of the frontmen for Royal Trux; Pussy founder Jon Spencer waded through stints with the Gibson Brothers, Live Skull and Born to Lose before moving on to acclaim as the man behind the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion; and Cristina Martinez, who joined Pussy Galore in its later years, went on to co-found Boss Hog. The busy Spencer, whom she later married, was the other founder.

After pumping out a sporadic catalog since 1989, Boss Hog (named after a biker magazine, not the character on The Dukes of Hazzard) is now on tour supporting its eponymous debut for Geffen. Spencer's overdriven neo-blooze guitar lends the disc some familiarity to fans of the Blues Explosion, but Boss Hog really has more to do with Martinez's disjointed, almost cinematic, approach to songwriting -- perhaps a result of her years spent studying non-narrative technique under the tutelage of filmmaker Stan Brakhage. Boss Hog, Martinez says, draws on a depressing time in her life, which lends the CD its schizo appeal. It's both nostalgic and modern, retro and avant-garde. Pussy Galore may have been a standout in its time, but Boss Hog makes you glad the band broke up. At the Abyss, 5913 Washington Avenue, Monday, December 11. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $7. 68 Comeback opens. 863-7173. (Brad Tyer)

Tower of Power -- You have to have more than a little reverence for a band with Tower of Power's staying power. After some 25 years, 15 plus releases and countless personnel changes, the band's imposing title still fits. Over the decades, this Oakland, California-based giant among horn sections has touched on rock, pop and jazz. But as any of this brass-plated institution's remaining founders will tell you, Tower of Power has a truly funky heart. The group's latest, Souled Out, is more of the familiar detailed grooves, explosive instrumental breakouts and crisp arrangements, along with a not-so-familiar new wailing lead voice in Brent Carter. The strength of the TOP horns is surprising considering the departure of longtime trumpet player/horn arranger Greg Adams. Not to worry, though: Tower of Power's rookie squad has an impressive history of its own, supporting major stars such as Elton John, Billy Joel, Tito Puente and Paul Simon. At the very least, expect to be entertained. The band's impeccable reputation as a potent, well-oiled live force began in the '60s and '70s with shows at Fillmore West and other legendary venues, and the reputation still sticks. At the Houston Arena Theatre, 7324 Southwest Freeway, at 8 p.m. Saturday, December 9. Tickets are $27 and $30. 988-1020. (

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