Sharps & flats

Reviews of new releases from the Cranberries, Medeski, Martin & Wood, the Mary Janes, Danny Gatton


Salon Staff
April 20, 1999 1:12PM (UTC)

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Medeski, Martin & Wood
"Combustication Remix"


EP | Blue Note

By Ezra Gale | There's a running debate in DJ culture about the relative
merit of remixes. One faction thinks that remixes are tired,
unnecessary regurgitations; the other side holds the best of
them up as art forms in their own right. New York organ trio
Medeski, Martin & Wood's new "Combustication Remix" EP -- a
collection of trip-hop influenced mixes of tunes released on
their 1998 album -- lands right in the middle of the
squabble. Naysayers can point to the last track,
experimentalist Bill Laswell's "Satan's Church of Hypnotized
Logic," a pointless 10-minute version of "Church of Logic"
where Laswell does little more than add reverb and ambient
washes. It's danceable, sure, but so is the original.

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The other five tracks make a compelling case for those who
claim that remixes are legitimate art. The two best tracks,
Dan "The Automator" Nakamura's "Nocturne" remix and Yuka
Honda's (from Cibo Matto) take on "Sugar Craft," jettison
the original tune and end up with something entirely
different. The Automator takes a tiny snippet of bass line,
adds a cannon-shot drumbeat and finally layers on what
sounds like a scholarly lecture about violence and the
media. The result is so creepy and paranoid it wouldn't have
sounded out of place on Tricky's first album. Yuka Honda,
with help from Cibo Matto-mate Miho Hatori and Sean Lennon,
needs only a slice of John Medeski's organ melody to turn
the shuffling "Sugar Craft" into an eccentric, sunny pastiche
of flavors for Hatori to wail over.

The last three tracks are less abstract. IllyB -- who is
actually MMW drummer Billy Martin -- turns "Hey-Hee-Hi-Ho"
into a sound collage of Latin grooves and funky Meters
shuffle. Rapper Guru's laid-back production makes a perfect
backdrop for spoken-word artist Steve Cannon's oddball tale
about an obscure jazz drummer on "Whatever Happened To Gus?" And DJ Logic turns "Start-Stop" into a seminar on seamless
beat-mixing.

MMW have put themselves through the remix treatment before.
"Shack Man" (1996) yielded the "Bubblehouse" EP, a batch of
remixes by relatively obscure artists like Logic and DJ's
Olive and Loop that proved that the trio were willing to
expose themselves to a more experimental form than what
appears on their albums. The "Combustication Remix EP"
continues that trend, and aside from serving up versions
that in the best cases are more engaging than the original,
they also manage to lord over a referendum that resoundingly
backs the remix itself.

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The Mary Janes

"Record No. 1" | Delmore

By Bill Wyman | "Shooting Star," the first song on the Mary Janes' debut
album, starts out soft and resigned -- "Pale Blue Eyes" as
reinterpreted though the uncynical mind of a Midwestern
woman. But as a violin, a thumping drum and other voices
kick in, you begin to understand that the woman, Janas Hoyt,
is after something more than a sanitized Velvets retread;
the song, nearly eight minutes long, turns out to be
epically scaled, and emotionally afire. One doesn't want to
spoil the surprises of such an ambition; suffice to say
that, in the end, Hoyt and her quiet, six-piece ensemble
achieve something in rock truly rare: the truly orgasmic.

The Mary Janes began as an offshoot of an Indiana band
called the Vulgar Boatmen; the original all-female ensemble
has now evolved into a mixed aggregation marked
distinctively by its two violinists. Hoyt writes the songs,
sings and plays all the guitars. In the early years of this
decade the Boatmen, themselves tangentially related to a
better-known Amerindie outfit called the Silos, played a
part in the secret history of what's now called alternative
country, a strange mélange of assertively noncoastal,
country-inflected bands displaying odd lessons learned from
punk. More than any of them, the Boatmen, while largely
unheard outside the Midwest, specialized in an emotionally
volatile palette of atmospherics, these achieved largely
through acoustic recording techniques and restrained, mostly
unelectronic instrumentation.

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Atmosphere is what the Mary Janes do best. On "Record No.
1," Hoyt, who also produced the record, uses "feel" -- the
space in the air between the instruments, the softness of
the production, the lack of compression in the recording --
most successfully to create a slightly dissonant,
emotionally somber setting for her songs. Even when she's
singing something upbeat, darker straits lurk below, and
even when she's being optimistic the atmosphere quivers with
ambiguity. The other undeniable presence on the record is
her supple, ringing voice, which can breathe and keen,
whisper and howl. Hoyt emerges as an extravagant song
constructor whose reliance on strings for texture doesn't
trivialize or soften the songs' force; instead, they provide
a drony, Velvets-ish tension that's nicely ameliorative of
the sometimes one-dimensional lyrics.

The album is most thrilling when the dynamics, sound and
Hoyt's voice come together. On "Part of Me Now" the killer
chorus serves both to anchor the song and hurl it
dynamically ahead. What begin as conventional tracks --
"Throwing Pennies," for example -- suddenly take flight with
iridescent, almost hypnotic string passages. And on the
closing "Final Days," Hoyt pulls off another stunner -- a song
of musical and emotional extremes, and one with a refreshing
burst of wearied pessimism: "Time's not really on your
side," she wails. "Record No. 1" is an unprepossessing gem --
entrancingly subdued, empty of postmodern posturing, filled
instead with older and, some would say, better things:
Beauty, ambition and something like grace.

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The Cranberries

"Bury the Hatchet" | Island

By Donna Freydkin | Released after a three-year recording hiatus, the
Cranberries' fourth record is a perfect continuation of the
languid, textured jangle pop the Irish foursome first
introduced six years ago. The songs are not particularly
innovative -- they still have that same grungified
dreaminess -- but the album maintains a consistency and
stamina absent on the group's bland third album, "To the
Faithful Departed" (1996), an ill-thought attempt to make
the delicate Cranberries sound like a forceful rock band.

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The Cranberries seem reenergized; in interviews the band
members -- singer Dolores O'Riordan, guitarist Noel Hogan,
bassist Mike Hogan and drummer Fergal Lawler -- attribute
the album's vigor to time off from recording and tours.
Somehow the gorgeous and deftly constructed
pop melodies of "Bury the Hatchet" are both fragile ("Dying in the Sun") and
furious ("Fee Fi Fo"). Still, O'Riordan's keening voice is
the focal point of any Cranberries song. On the torrential
"Animal Instinct" and dainty "Just My Imagination" she
creates moments of inspired vocal beauty when she overlays
her lilting, wistful voice against the stripped-down guitar
backdrops.

Having sold some 28 million albums since their 1993 debut,
the Cranberries understand the combination of naive lyrics
and familiar melodies that add up to commercial hits.
They're still at their best when they stick to the
forcefully moody, rich pop songs like "Linger" and "Dreams"
that gave them a huge U.S. audience. Producer Benedict
Fenner (Brian Eno, Laurie Anderson) helps the band get away
from harsh guitars and back to the sounds that made them
likable in the first place. And that might be the most
important message implied by "Hatchet's" soundscapes and
O'Riordan's swirling words about emotional turmoil and
ruined relationships: "Departed" was a only short detour.

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Danny Gatton

"Hot Rod Guitar: The Danny Gatton Anthology" | Rhino

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By Tony Scherman | Rock 'n' roll has never been kind to great instrumentalists
unless they sing (Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton) or have a
flair for spectacle (Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck). The music
business never knew what to do with guitarist Danny Gatton,
who was not only painfully shy, a chronic limelight-avoider,
but whose unbelievable playing embraced so many pop music
styles that no record label could ever figure out how to
sell him (one, Elektra, tried for a few albums in the early
'90s, and then dropped him). To hear Gatton play is at once
dazzling and disorienting. Too much comes spilling out all
at once -- too many notes, too many references, too many
nuances -- for most listeners to process. Gatton must have
been bemused by the gap between his genius and the
indifference, the depressing silence, that greeted it. I
dont know what purely private demons beset him, but that
gap alone is enough to explain his 1994 suicide.

"Hot Rod Guitar," a two-disc set from Rhino, puts together
the pieces of Gattons 20-year recording career and does a
good job of indicating his scope: rockabilly ("Love My
Baby," from the hard-to-find live album "The Humbler");
down-and-dirty blues ("Harlem Nocturne" and "Notcho Blues");
sleek, harmonically dense bebop ("Dollys Ditty" and "One
for Lenny," where Gatton fronts a band that includes Joshua
Redman and other first-rank jazzmen), bluegrass (Bill
Monroes "Gold Rush," which Gatton turns into
Lynyrd-Skynyrd-style southern rock) and country (an
appropriately hell-for-leather "Orange Blossom Special").
Musicians like Gatton come along very infrequently, which
makes his premature departure all the sadder. What he was,
finally, was a rock version of classical pianist Vladimir
Horowitz or violinist Sir Yehudi Menuhin: a virtuoso, but in
a genre where virtuosity often goes unrewarded.


Salon Staff

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