60 Ft Dolls
The Big 3
Any power trio worth its muscle knows how to burn energy efficiently. When only three are doing the work normally assigned to four or more, efficiency isn't a choice, it's a necessity, and the friction generated from a band transcending its numerical shortcomings is often the most cathartic in rock. Less waste often means, well, more power.
Such displays of force dominate a pair of compelling new releases from the United Kingdom. London's Scarfo and Welsh natives 60 Ft Dolls have tapped the fury of the power trio format and worked it to their advantage -- so much so, in fact, that it pains me to think of the meltdown that might occur if these groups were to taint their three-way chemistry with the introduction of another member.
On their self-titled debut, retro-punks Scarfo plant three pairs of steel-toed boots firmly in British Invasion territory, with pinched vocals eerily reminiscent of the Jam's Paul Weller and agitated guitar that shamelessly resurrects vintage Buzzcocks riffs. If any group were likely to inspire a mod-rock revival in what's left of this decade, I'd wager my mint-condition English issue of My Generation on Scarfo.
Saving the group from its more derivative vices is a hard-core temperament -- anger through which Scarfo succeeds in recasting the hand-me-down foundations of riveting cuts such as "Coin Op," "Skinny" and "Throw It All" in a more current, post-punk context. Scarfo is enough to make any self-respecting Jam fan lament the day Weller abandoned his power trio to launch a misbegotten career as a white-soul hack. For Weller, it's too late to go home again, especially now that this band is running things. (PPP 1/2)
In an effort, perhaps, to find a home among their trendier Brit-pop counterparts, 60 Ft Dolls have found it necessary to toss around the "O" word. But if anything, the Dolls are more like the anti-Oasis, their barrage of late-'70s punk and glam-rock influences supplying a tougher alternative to the Gallagher brothers' long-winded, paisley-pop confections.
The Dolls's American debut, The Big 3, oozes the working-class ferocity indigenous to the band's industrialized homeland. Less arrogant than desperate, the Dolls tear into their surly, garage-band hooks with tightly clenched, alcohol-impaired purpose. And while the CD's back end rambles, it fails to stifle the buzz from the stunning first half. When singer/ guitarist Richard Parfitt yammers "The working class can kiss my ass" in his uncanny Ian Hunteresque brogue on the leadoff "Happy Shopper," the lousy attitude is not really his. Rather, he's giving his mocking imitation of the spendthrifts who thumb their entitled noses at his miserable, penniless state.
Spilling over with blazing intros, wham-bam choruses and abrupt conclusions, The Big 3's best moments may not be particularly fashionable, but 60 Ft Dolls's woozy adrena-line rush is undoubtedly forreal. (****)
-- Hobart Rowland
Tricky's main flaw on Pre-Millennium Tension is the very thing that DJ Shadow successfully steers away from on his phenomenal debut, Endtroducing.... Tricky didn't realize that if you don't have anything coherent to say, you should let the music speak for itself. But in Shadow's case, the beat's the thing.
Unlike Tension, Endtroducing... subjects the listener to pleasant jolts instead of cheap scares. Shadow's mix-master wizardry is just the kind of experimental sample-patching you'd find on a Beastie Boys release (in fact, he toured with the Beasties in the mid-'90s), but his remarkable cut-and-paste abilities and his passionate embrace of all things beat-driven are distinctly his own.
Endtroducing... is a club DJ's godsend, a compilation of samples, scratches and interpolations that never once veers from its kinetic axis. Shadow also hits a conceptual bull's-eye, laying out a diverse hip-hop itinerary as he scrounges around like a crazed bloodhound for obscure vinyl to guide his travels. The result is a surprisingly effective introduction to dance music's new millennium, where inventiveness reigns, egos are quashed and unassuming gents such as Shadow lead listeners into a reality that sparkles with in-genuity. (****)
-- Craig D. Lindsey
The Birth of a Star
Razor and Tie
The most important element of Patsy Cline's rapid explosion into stardom was the admiration and support of 1950s television superstar Arthur Godfrey, the host of CBS's Talent Scouts. Exposure provided by Godfrey made "Walking After Midnight" a hit even before it was released, and propelled Cline from small nightclubs in northern Virginia to the Grand Ole Opry in a matter of weeks. Between her first appearance 1956 and Godfrey's retirement in 1958, Cline was a regular on Talent Scouts; it had been long assumed that the master tapes of those performances were lost forever -- and then they turned up, in surprisingly good shape, more than 30 years after Cline's death.
Available for the first time on The Birth of a Star, these recordings are a fascinating look at a woman making the transition from country girl to Queen of Country Music, not to mention an affecting tribute to the admiration of an incredibly influential man who was one of Cline's biggest fans. Versions of most of these songs -- with the notable exception of a swinging pop-bop secular rework of "Down by the Riverside" -- are available on a plethora of Cline CDs. But those discs lack the refreshingly unrehearsed patter between Cline and Godfrey.
There is also the argument, for history's sake, that these are the original versions of Cline's earliest hits, since appearances with Godfrey's horn-based house band often served as Cline's final rehearsal before going into the studio to cut songs such as "Two Cigarettes in an Ashtray" and "Try Again." The Birth of a Star is a decidedly different take on the woman who rewrote the rules for female country singers. (***)
-- Jim Sherman
CDs are rated on a one to five star scale.