Car Button Cloth

No matter how hard he tries to convince us otherwise, head Lemonhead Evan Dando rarely sounds as if he's lifting a finger. Through two phases of development (from yesterday's sloppy junk-punk to today's sloppy junk-pop) as distinct as they are alike, Dando has blazed a trail littered with partially realized potential. Forget lo-fi jack-offs Sebadoh and Pavement; the Lemonheads are the true embodiment of slackerdom.

A few of us were foolish enough to think Dando's half-assed antics had come to an end with 1992's It's a Shame About Ray, a richly textured, relentlessly catchy release that remains the Lemonheads' best and most consistent work. Then a year later he blurted out a defiant "fuck that" in the form of Come on Feel the Lemonheads, another part good, part lousy affair that contained both Dando's most effortless pop masterpiece ("The Great Big NO") and his most embarrassing misfire (the ludicrous two-part noisefest "Style"/"Rick James Style").

Car Button Cloth continues Dando's obsession with indolence. In his infamous hung-over delivery, the reluctant alt-rock sex symbol mumbles about being a drug-taking screwup ("It's All True," "If I Could Talk I'd Tell You"), confesses to being a homebody ("The Outdoor Type"), cheerily documents a mysterious epidemic ("Hospital") and rambles for two and half minutes about a disturbing scene from the morbid psycho-thriller Seven ("6ix"). "Purple Parallelogram," Dando's much-talked-about collaboration with Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher, is missing, the victim of a last-minute excision after Gallagher decided the tune wasn't finished. As for the rest of the CD's 13 tracks, they're essentially table scraps -- at times interesting, at times inane. Cloth dips to its lowest points on two shrill, overextended "conceptual" pieces ("Losing Your Mind" and "Secular Rockulidge") in which the principal concept seems to revolve around filling space.

And therein, oddly, lies Dando's charm: he's at his most interesting simply killing time. His mind isn't programmed to break a sweat. Take him or leave him, Evan is Evan, the bane of many a "serious" music critic, and for more than a few of us, an engaging guilty pleasure. (***)

-- Hobart Rowland

Cowboy Mouth
Are You with Me?

A few years back, Cowboy Mouth made a pact with another then-fledgling band, agreeing that if either group ever made it big, they would try to take their tourmates along with them. Too many nights playing to packed fraternity haunts is enough to lead anyone to make such a deal -- but when you consider the fact that the other band was Hootie and the Blowfish, that deal takes on a new significance.

Now, thanks in part to exposure received from gigs opening for old friends Hootie, Cowboy Mouth has its crack at the brass ring with its major-label debut, Are You with Me? All of the tracks stick to the ears, and all of them are impossibly dorky, with the overall effect approximating that of Mojo Nixon crooning "My Love" by Paul McCartney and Wings. The group plays with a macho "we're gonna rock you" swagger and yet emotes with an overtly sensitive, swooning sentimentality that, at its most corny, makes the Pet Shop Boys sound tough. Are You with Me? makes the case that the group should dump the bravado altogether and shoot straight for schmaltz. And when Cowboy Mouth figures that out, there's a good chance they won't need their pals to carry them anymore. (**)

-- Gerard Choucroun
Cowboy Mouth performs Wednesday, October 23, at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge.

Susanna Hoffs
Susanna Hoffs

In her early days with the Bangles, Susanna Hoffs crafted many of the Beatlesque gems that brought the girl group to the front of the paisley underground pack. Then came the band's cash cow era, and the immense popularity of sex-pot mush such as "Eternal Flame," which made getting off the Top 40 gravy train a pricey withdrawal. This second solo stab may well reclaim Hoffs' career, but she's still wavering too much between rock and lip-gloss pop to demonstrate an honest sound of her own.

Part of the problem lies with Hoffs' reliance on others -- people such as David Baerwald, late of David and David and Sheryl Crow's Tuesday Night Music Club, who has writing credits on six of the 13 tracks. His contributions overshadow a terrific lineup of alterna-guests who could have helped Hoffs take the CD in a more interesting direction. Roger Manning (former Jellyfish, now Imperial Drag), Charlotte Caffey (Go-Go's), Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse), David Lowery and Davey Faragher (Cracker), Linda Perry (former 4 Non Blondes) and Matthew Sweet are among the many talents who pitch ideas into Susanna Hoffs.

Take Baerwald out of the picture, and we see a different release emerge. Hoffs' collaboration with Linkous yields the crumpled guitar figures and transcendent appeal of "Enormous Wings," and when they're joined by Lowery and Faragher we get another great surprise, the drowsy goodnight kiss "Darling One." But the best of the bunch is "Falling," a Hoffs/Manning/Caffey composition that hums like a GTO chugging up a sandy beach, with creamy harmonies and good vibrations to burn. These tracks -- plus the two unlisted covers at the end, Lulu's '60s smash "To Sir with Love" and Stealers Wheel's "Stuck in the Middle with You" -- make a strong case for what could have been. But instead, like the4 a.m.-smudged-eye-shadow glamour that Hoffs adopts for the CD's artwork, much of Susanna Hoffs leaves us with little more than a teasing image. (** 1/2)

-- Robin Myrick

Floyd Dixon
Wake Up and Live!

Boogie-woogie piano legend Floyd Dixon's return from obscurity marks a welcome addition to the ranks of artiss who shaped post-World War II American music and who, decades later, are finally receiving the recognition they deserve. There's not a rock fan alive who can't, purely on reflex, shout the chorus to "Hey, Bartender," and who has more right to the song than the guy who wrote the thing in the first place? For that matter, Dixon still does the tune better than anyone else.

Wake Up and Live! -- happily recorded using vintage tube pre-amps, since jump blues don't need no transistors -- has nary a wrong note on it. If there's a glitch to this CD, it's that the sequencing is unsettling. Dixon, like his contemporaries Charles Brown and Amos Milburn, is a master of both slow blues and jump blues. Unfortunately, Wake Up exhibits this by jerkily rotating from jump to slow to jump for 15 of the CD's 16 tracks, until finally settling down for the jazzy instrumental "Gettin' Ready," which features as pretty an upright bass line as you'll ever hear. Given that there's not a clue that Dixon and baritone sax behemoth Charlie Owens, who adds his sound to half the tracks, were in any danger of running out of magic, Alligator should have cut enough tracks for a two-CD set -- one for jitterbugging and one for blues therapy. After all, who needs a slow, viscous, whiskey-drunk "Mean and Jealous Man" right next to a good-timing "450 Pound Woman?" (****)

-- Jim Sherman
Floyd Dixon performs Thursday, October 17, at Billy Blues Bar & Grill.

CDs are rated on a one to five star scale.

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Gerard Choucroun
Robin Myrick
Hobart Rowland
Jim Sherman