Dwight Yoakam

Sharps and Flats is a daily music review.

Published June 10, 1998 7:00PM (EDT)

Dwight Yoakam's silvery, just-this-side-of-nasal voice is the best in Top 40 country music. His fidelity to tradition, moreover, makes him (to these ears at least, nurtured on the true grit of Merle, Waylon and Willie) the class of the genre. What strikes me as more and more of a problem with Yoakam is songs. He insists on writing most of 'em, and while he's got three or four classics in his sheaf, I can't help but detect a gradually ebbing inspiration. He's never topped the high-class weeper "South of Cincinnati" or the fervent "Bury Me," both from his '86 debut, "Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. ," and too much of his '90s material feels just plain forced (a handful of exceptions -- "A Thousand Miles from Nowhere," "Fast as You," "Lonesome Roads" -- from 1993's "This Time").

So it's no surprise that most of the tunes on "A Long Way Home," Yoakam's seventh batch of new songs, are merely workmanlike, made memorable only by that smooth, smooth tenor. There are a few chestnuts: the title tune, with its doleful, wistful lope; "Listen," which has a Ventures-like surge (most likely thanks to Yoakam's longtime producer, Pete Anderson); and a nicely lilting "Same Fool." But if I were Dwight I'd start delegating, and farm out some of that writing.

That's my beef, as it were, with "Will Sing for Food." Produced by Anderson, with proceeds going to America's homeless, the album consists of 15 artists' renditions of Yoakam's tunes. Intended as a tribute to Dwight's songwriting, it backfires; what it leaves me with more than anything is a heightened awareness of how few recent country singer-songwriters genuinely deserve tribute albums: Merle Haggard (who's gotten, and deserves, two), Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and one or two others I can't think of right now. Some of the performances on "Will Sing" are fine: Rhonda Vincent jerks your tears on "I Sang Dixie"; Tim O'Brien rises to the drama of "A Thousand Miles From Nowhere"; Jim Natt scores with "Heart That You Own," one of Yoakam's finest; and Scott Joss gives the performance of the album on "Johnson's Love," more affecting in Joss' plain-as-dough treatment than in Yoakam's. But coming up with something new in three chords -- that's a life's work, not a dozen year's.

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Smashing Pumpkins


BY GAVIN McNETT | What day isn't a great one when you can crumple the plastic off a new
Pumpkins CD, shake out your typing fingers and -- once again -- thwack
Corgan's enameled pate into the hole with a single swing? The guy
practically begs for his drubbings: Without restraint, perverse in his
affectations (his cheap, razzy guitar sound is one; Jeff Lynne another),
popular beyond reason and somehow yucky in his very substance, Corgan is
a bad person. His records -- twitchy, grandiloquent masterpieces, as some of
them might be -- are the work of one. So what's left is just to fill in the
song titles and to choose a shade of invective, eh?

Unfortunately not. "Adore" is -- how do you say? -- incompletely
displeasing. Despite the wedgies it's already gotten in the press, it's
something of a bona fide maturity move for Corgan and his (now two)
Corganaires. The technofied, yet tuneful, "Ava Adore" is at the top of the
heap -- but "Perfect" and "Daphne Descends" are hit material of the same
sort and caliber. Much of the rest is sensitive, restrained (!),
sweet-and-sour soft rock, hampered neither by Corgan's trademark rat-boy
screech nor by his traditionally overbaked arrangements. It's ... it's
good. It's interestingly put together. It has scope and depth, with
cool electronic accents and largely acoustic backing. It's a keeper.
About all you can say against "Adore" is that it's kinda slight and
samey, especially after the halfway mark. Ahr! What a black day.
(Corgan's still a knob.)

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The Jesus and Mary Chain


BY MARK ATHITAKIS | Bookended by "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" and "I Hate Rock 'n' Roll," everything
in between on the Reid brothers' sixth studio album is a search for, well,
something in between. Not that they've uncovered anything new in the
process; they're still in love with their fuzzboxes as much as they were on
their debut, "Psychocandy," and they're loath to expand much beyond
three-chord rave-ups, moody grumbles and noisy guitar vamping. The approach
can get wearying across 17 songs, but there's an energy to the
album that suggests that they truly are trying to figure out their
love-hate relationship. They hate rock because it's stupid (telling song
title: "Supertramp") and simplistic and filled with love songs (telling
song title: "Dream Lover"). But they love it because they get to play it,
too. If "Munki" is conventional, it's also exuberant, filled with glammy
posturing like "Birthday," crafty punkish hooks like "Virtually Unreal" and
fuzzy, despondent dirges like "Never Understood" and "Black." Love and
hate are passionate emotions, after all, and passion is enough for good
rock music, if not great rock music. That's something you get when you
stop bowing to your idols long enough to actually do better than them,
which the Reids seem no longer willing to try (telling song title: "Mo

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Nicholas Payton


BY TONY SCHERMAN | New Orleans is a city of drummers and trumpet players, no doubt because
of its rich tradition of marching bands: a major, still-living taproot
of jazz. The latest Crescent City trumpeter to make his mark in a big
way is 24-year-old Nicholas Payton. The son of bassist Walter Payton,
one of New Orleans' jazz and R&B eminences, Payton spent his mid-teens as
a hometown phenomenon apt to bust visiting trumpet stars' chops. In the
last five years he's become a busy member of the nation's jazz circuit,
the, well, third-best young Crescent City trumpeter, after Wynton Marsalis and
the superb Terence Blanchard.

On this, his third album as a leader, Payton wrote nine of the 12
tunes. As a composer he hasn't yet developed his own sound -- things pick
up noticeably on the three pieces he didn't write: Rodgers and Hart's
"With a Song in My Heart," Wayne Shorter's "Paraphernalia" (which
Payton's quintet gives just the right air of mystery) and a (reworked)
pop-soul surprise: the Stylistics' "People Make the World Go Round." But
to demand a real composer's voice from a young guy barely past his
apprenticeship would be unfair. What Payton does have right now is a
beautiful, full-bodied playing style in which you can hear the burnished
bluesiness, the transmuted martial spirit, of New Orleans jazz. When it
comes to straight-ahead, down-home blues-playing, Wynton had better
watch his back.

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BY MARK ATHITAKIS | Rock supergroups aren't what they used to be, and thank God for that; the
'70s and '80s treated us to a frightening array of "Projects" whose collective
superstar musical wisdom was supposed to take rock to the next level, but
instead offered only self-indulgent noodling. The "superstars" that make up
Tuatara -- Peter Buck (R.E.M.), Justin Harwood (Luna, the Chills), Barrett
Martin (Screaming Trees), Steve Berlin (Los Lobos), Scott McCaughey (Young
Fresh Fellows) and Skerik (Critters Buggin) -- are only modest superstars,
and their music is much more modest-sounding than typical supergroups',
which is to say it's listenable. Sounding cinematic without the dullness of
film music, feeling jazzy without muting the power of their free-form
Coltrane/Dolphy influences, "Trading With the Enemy" is a brash, inventive
and thoroughly winning piece of pop instrumental musicianship.

With "Enemy," Tuatara piles on new instruments to expand beyond its debut, "Breaking the
Ethers." The new album is impressive in its mastery of a multitude of
sounds -- Japanese koto, vibraphone and Skerik's transcendent sax playing, particularly on the audacious, driving "L'Espionnage de Pomme de Terre," which makes him the true band leader here. Polite but never timid, the music sweeps from ambient moods to avant-surf rock experiments to the rollicking closer, "Afterburner." For eight full minutes, the band collectively drives the rock rhythm forward like they're having the time of their lives. And they are -- except, unlike with most supergroups, you're invited to join in the fun.

By Tony Scherman

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