CD Reviews

NEIL YOUNG, Road Rock Volume 1 (Reprise) One minute and nine seconds into "Cowgirl in the Sand," Road Rock's 18-minute opener, the crystal-clear voice of an overly enthusiastic female fan cries out, "Like a Hurricane." It's an easy mistake—Neil's laid-back noodling and his band's all-star jamming entice the cheering crowd for over three minutes before he begins to sing. We all know what live albums are like, and this is an archetypal one. Recorded during the recent Music in Head tour, the disc is complete with ambient crowd noises, requisite classics (none younger than the previously unreleased "Fool for Your Love" from 1988), and a couple of songs stretched to just within their limits. An 11-minute account of Harvest's "Words" slices the album into two concise sets and segues blissfully into the bluesy "Motorcycle Mama." The collection concludes with a perfunctory cover of Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," the song Neil used all summer to end his shows. Yes, the song has been done. In fact, Neil previously recorded it for 1993's Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration. So why include it in this collection? Probably because he can. The same way random old folks stop you on the street and tell you your coat needs washing; their experience has earned them the ill-advised authority. Besides, this version features Chrissie Hynde, whose throaty glare falls right in line with the crude slay of Young's vocals and the Crazy Horse- era patinated electric solos. The same question could be raised about why Neil would bother to put out yet another live album. I suspect as long as there are folks out there who remember when and those of us who wish we could—not to mention zealous bootleggers to avenge—he'll continue doing it. Road Rocks is like those souvenirs of your nonage: "Mom and Dad went to Red Rocks and all I got was this dumb T-shirt." And, hey, those were damn good consolation prizes.—Laura Learmonth

DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS, Alabama Ass Whuppin' ( Drive-By Truckers songwriter and vocalist Patterson Hood writes about smart, aware people being driven crazy by their dead-end existences. His lyrics hit the target so acutely that the temptation here is just to quote them and add my byline. It's not just lyrics I want to quote, either. Perhaps the best thing about the Athens, Ga., honky-tonk punk quartet's blazing new live album is the monologues that pepper it, like "The Avon Lady," about a 6-year-old Hood getting ripped off by the neighborhood cosmetics dealer, or the "how I wrote this song" howler prefacing "18 Wheels of Love," which finds the singer detailing the absurd, heartwarming tale of how his mother found true love with a truck-driving ex-convict. The songs themselves harness this shaggy-dog story-telling prowess to jubilant block chords and instantly catchy rhyme schemes. "Why Henry Drinks" tips its hat to Bocephus ("Them stories that you tell me are so hard to swallow/You said 'Go to hell' but I know you'd just follow"). "Buttholeville" takes advantage of Hood's deep twang to rhyme every line with its title ("Working down at Billy Bob's Bar and Grille/The food here tastes the way I feel"). Climaxing it all is a harrowing rendition of Jim Carroll's classic "People Who Died," a song whose blunt beauty fits right in here. —Michaelangelo Matos

TWO LONE SWORDSMEN, Tiny Reminders (Warp) Ever since he coproduced Primal Scream's rave-rock classic Screamedelica in 1991, Andrew Weatherall has remained among the crucial figures in the evolution of English techno, one of the few elder statesmen who've not gone soft or pop or wanky abstract conceptual at the expense of their audience. Uniting with engineer Keith Tenniswood under the name Two Lone Swordsmen, Weatherall lately has been searching for grimy, dark synthetic sounds, and with Tiny Reminders, the Swordsmen's fifth full-length, he has found their ultimate formulaic core, to wit: This one's only for those dance-floor trippers who like their rides dark as hell and their minimalist electro-funk kind of mean- spirited. Expertly mixed so that each bass line and drum-machine high hat crackles like a digitized live wire, this is the sound of a quietly screaming overload in the machine age. Only a handful of tracks shine even the slightest bit of melodicism into these shady corners, and even then, it feels like the light of an invisible sun (the sublime and melancholy confusion inside "Akwalek" or the ingenious Casio stride of "Section"). Mostly though, it is as though Weatherall and Tenniswood are reimagining Metropolis in the privacy of their bedroom and forgetting hope.—Peter Orlov

FAULTLINE, Closer Colder (ThirstyEar) A techno-organic virus has been within the world of music for some time now. Much like the infamous pod people, it has slipped in while humanity slept and has gradually integrated itself into human musical culture. David Kosten (Faultline, himself) serves here as Minister of Information for the pro-virus movement, and Closer Colder is rife with examples of why the virus is good. Kosten assigns horns, strings, and piano to the same living space as breakbeats and drum-and-bass riffs, resulting in eerily calm works that are more than good enough for film but live a better life without. In "Mute" a muted trumpet could easily be narrating a tale of a modern dancer trying to find a niche at a drum-and-bass gig. Just as easily, "Control" could be a chronicle of Schroedinger's cat wandering too close to a wormhole instead of into the box. Neither the technological nor the organic dominates, and the man behind the curtain just stays back and lets the newborn hybrid roam its new digs. Left to its own devices, Kosten's virus creates some beautiful new creatures.—Gregory Parks

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