Break Your Mother's Heart
(New West Records)
Ohio-gone-L.A. troubadour offers up a solid bag of roots musings.
With the critical success of his sophomore effort, the big-band-backed (read: Wilco) Truth About Us, Ohio native Tim Easton could have glibly obliged with a matching bookend showcasing his erudite songwriting and meticulous musicianship. Instead, he stripped down his folksy, antiquated sound, tapping into an early-'70s L.A. vibe that's ambitious, mood-setting, and nearly live, reverberating with conventional rock, folk, and country. Six seconds into the opening track, "Poor, Poor LA," a scrumptious Hammond B-3 appears with nominal aplomb, as Easton's abounding, colorful imagery delivers the signature phrase, "You don't have to break your mother's heart to change the world." Then he takes off, his tattered notebook spilling out the Paul Simon-like "Blackhearted Ways," the early-Dylan blues ramble "Lexington Jail," the exquisite, two-chorded "Hummingbird," and a Latin-flecked love song called "Amor Azul." Easton drops in the usual obscure covers by J.P. Olsen, including the down-and-out "John Gilmartin." But Easton's "Man That You Need" serves as Mother's kingpin, a solo performance starring a riddled pump organ and the doubting turn of phrase, "Could I be the man that you need?/I think so sometimes when I'm out of my mind." Ten songs to gratify Easton fans, wherever they are, and hopefully catch a few new ones leaping from the Ryan Adams bandwagon. SCOTT HOLTER
Len Parrott's Memorial Lift
Charming debut from that suspendered kid on the cover of New Boots and Panties.
They say this Baxter character is Ian Dury's son and I don't suspect they've got any reason to lie, but the majority of lush, atmospheric pop tracks on this album would probably have you betting that he's the spawn of a Beatle rather than the offspring of a Blockhead. In fact, if you have Imagine, go put it on while you read the rest of this. Backed by a couple dudes from Portishead and Pulp, his dad's old bass player, and a backup singer with one of those gorgeous AM-pop gossamer-wing voices, Dury Jr. often sings about people you probably already know with names that are easy to rhyme: From "Oscar Brown" ("We all let you down/We let you down") to "Auntie Jane" ("never be the same"), these narratives are typically underscored by Dury on some variety of vintage keyboard, giving the songs an immediately antiqued patina. Though occasionally Dury's vocals are so sandpapered and hushed that it's almost impossible to make out the individual words (and, as with his dad, that Cockney thing doesn't help), the illustrative instrumentation almost always picks up the slack. Who knows what, or who, the hell a "Fungus Hedge" is, or what Dury is mumbling on and on about, but the song's folksy, acoustic beginnings give way to a psych-pop swirl that's like the Flaming Lips backing McCartney on "Uncle Albert." History is not always kind to kids of celebrated men (anyone seen Julian Lennon lately?), but Dury may prove to be the exception. LAURA CASSIDY
EASY STAR ALL-STARS
Dub Side of the Moon
Pink Floyd classic gets the island overhaul, mon.
It takes balls to mess with classic albums, especially one as firmly entrenched in the psyche as Dark Side of the Moon. For at least one generation, every note and inflection off that LP is imprinted on the brain. So is this reggae redux of the Pink Floyd classic heresy or wild invention? A bit of both, as it turns out, and far more successful than anyone would have imagined. This album isn't intended as novelty; the Easy Star All-Stars have turned it into a real reggae piece, changing the rhythms, adding lots of suitably spacey touches of dub (just check the opening of "Breathe [In the Air]," for example), and even breaking into some jungle for "On the Run." "Money" proves the proverbial acid test, with that familiar, slightly off-kilter riff and David Gilmour's signature guitar solo. Here, the riff remains the same, while the beat is different and the sly sound of bong bubbles replaces the ringing of the expected cash registers. And just when you're ready for the guitar to come in, Dollarman takes off on a high-speed rap and the whole thing goes dance hall. But that's the beauty of this disc: It subtly subverts the conventions of the original with a wink, yet never comes off as too cheeky. More than anything, it works. From now on, you'll listen to Dark Side in a new way, with fresh insights. And it still syncs up to The Wizard of Oz. CHRIS NICKSON