Music Reviews

You could dub the past 12 months Urge Overkill’s Year in Hell: While Nash Kato and Eddie ‘King’ Roeser toiled away on post-Urge projects in B-grade Chicago clubs, a new generation hopped a hipster magic carpet ride by jacking both their retrofitted ’70s rawk sound (Queens of the Stone Age) and ironic poses (At The Drive-In). Most folks, though, were busy slugging it out over whether Eminem was an idiot savant or just a plain idiot; lost in the din was the fact that, aside from a handful of killer cuts, his album was awash with filler. Elsewhere, only the blue-collar heroes from Metallica had the smarts and the nerve to state the obvious about Napster: It’s wrong to take something without paying for it. (An aside to my supposedly radical fellow writers – how many of you hand over the fruits of your labor for nothing? I sure don’t.) Rage Against the Machine imploded – was it the Battle of Lost Egos, or were they simply mortified that their role in fusing hip-hop and hard rock had helped make the world safe for the Insane Clown Posse? Smashing Pumpkins (finally) packed it in, with all of the self-obsessed, overly dramatic weepiness of a suburban high school graduation. Radiohead suffered some serious pop culture whiplash, seeing their disc hailed as the greatest human achievement since the invention of moveable type (it wasn’t), and soon thereafter trashed as being even more mind-numbing than Lou Reed’s recent work (nothing is). Elsewhere, it was business as usual: The boy/girl acts continued to replicate, Bjork remained the Empress in New Clothes, Macy Gray did cameos on every album except Dwight Yoakam’s — and there were some great new discs out there for folks willing to do a little hunting.

1. ‘Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today,’ Slobberbone (New West)

It’s hard to figure out how the latest disc from this bare-fisted Texas outfit never materialized on the pop culture ‘hot’ radar. It’s got the best pop hook no one ever heard in the bittersweet lilt of ‘Trust Jesus,’ and the best song the Bottle Rockets wished they’d have come up with in the anti-materialistic hoot ‘Lazy Guy.’ Gravel-voiced frontman Brent Best winces through a busted heart on the clever ‘Gimme Back My Dog,’ and then, on the self-effacing ‘Bright Eyes Darkened,’ proves himself to be that rare wounded romantic who realizes that no one else really wants to hear him moan about it. And he tops it off with a tale in which a drunk tank, year-round Christmas lights and a pinball machine add up to a one-night stand and a shattered friendship. What’s not to love?

2. ‘Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea,’ PJ Harvey (Island)

Polly Jean Harvey eases off the pomo blues drone in favor of straightforward chiming guitars on this new disc, yet doesn’t sacrifice much of her trademark intensity. Not quite as arresting as her landmark ‘To Bring You My Love’ disc, but still plenty great, and the perfect introduction for Harvey neophytes.

3. ‘Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai,’ Various artists (Epic/Razorsharp)

The new Wu-Tang disc didn’t live up to expectations, but on this earlier soundtrack group leader RZA kept the wolves at bay, filtering old-school slinky funk through the bad-trip vibe of his ominous and disorienting beats.

4. ‘Furnace Room Lullaby,’ Neko Case ‘ Her Boyfriends (Bloodshot)

She’s Loretta Lynn for a new generation – smart, suffering no fools, and possessed of a voice as big as the Mississippi.

5. ‘Relationship Of Command,’ At The Drive-In, (Grand Royal)

Yes, the Afros are ridiculous, and they slather on irony as if it hadn’t gone out of style years ago. But there will be no denying the vertiginous climb and propulsive roar of songs like ‘Pattern Against User’ and ‘One Armed Scissor.’

6. ‘Tarbox Ramblers,’ Tarbox Ramblers (Rounder)

Well before the Coen brothers’ new film ignited the latest media buzz for old-time folk and country, this overlooked quartet took a dozen ancient songs and shot through ’em with a ragged, just-this-side-of-dangerous passion. And you thought that George Clooney lip-synch number rocked.

7. ‘Like Water for Chocolate,’ Common (MCA)

When the competition finally caught on to his enlightened yet funky vibe, Common upped the ante by displaying an earthy sense of humor and boosting the sensuality quotient in his music.

8. ‘Journey To The End Of The Night,’ Mekons (Quarterstick)

Longtime punk/country refugees from the land of misfit musicians finally drop the slapdash experimentation and settle into some reggae rhythms that begin to approximate the jolt of their live shows. Bonus points for staring greed, corruption and stupidity dead in the eye, and remaining true believers nonetheless.

9. ‘Supreme Clientele,’ Ghostface Killah (Epic)

After an endless parade of mediocre Wu solo discs, Ghostface wins back group bragging rights by tossing a curveball – eschewing the played-out Wu strings-and-piano claustrophobia for a vibrant, wide-open production, full of thumping beats and high-drama soul flourishes.

10. ‘Quality Control,’ Jurassic 5 (Interscope)

In a rap world too often bogged down in the battle between thug posing vs. peacenik preaching, Jurassic 5 brought hip-hop back to its real roots – showcasing their wit, verbal skills and turntable dexterity in the highly underrated pursuit of sly party music.

The Best of the Rest:

‘The Platform,’ Dilated Peoples (Capitol)

‘Alabama Ass Whuppin’,’ Drive-By Truckers (

‘Public Domain,’ Dave Alvin (Hightone)

‘Electric Waco Chair,’ Waco Brothers (Bloodshot)

‘Three Cherries,’ Sin Ropas (Perishable)

‘Trance States in Tongues,’ Zen Guerrilla (Sub Pop)

‘Beneath The Country Underdog,’ Kelly Hogan ‘ The Pine Valley Cosmonauts (Bloodshot)

‘Kid A,’ Radiohead (Capitol)

‘Hot Rail,’ Calexico (Quarterstick)

‘Say It Is So,’ Tim Finn (Periscope/Sonny’s Pop)

‘Kids In Philly,’ Marah (Artemis/E-Squared)

‘One Endless Night,’ Jimmie Dale Gilmore (Windcharger/Rounder)

‘Stubborn,’ Tommy Womack (Sideburn)

‘Like Red On A Rose,’ Robert Lee Castleman (Rounder)

‘Prisoner Of Love,’ Ray Price (Justice)

Reissues, Live Discs, Compilations, Etc.:

‘Have a Good Time But Get Out Alive’ and ‘Love’s So Tough,’ Iron City Houserockers (Rock Heritage)

‘Under One Roof: Singles ‘ Oddities,’ Barbara Manning (Innerstate)

‘(MIA) The Complete Anthology,’ Germs (Slash/Rhino)

‘Blues At Sunrise,’ Stevie Ray Vaughan ‘ Double Trouble (Epic/Legacy)

‘The Duke,’ Duke Ellington (Columbia/Legacy)

‘Last Date,’ Emmylou Harris (Eminent)

‘What Would You Do In Exchange For Your Soul,’ Bill and Charlie Monroe (Rounder)

‘Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, Volume Four,’ Various artists (Revenant)

‘Ambassador Satch,’ Louis Armstrong and His All-Stars (Columbia/Legacy)

‘Poor Little Critter On The Road,’ The Knitters (Slash/Rhino)


‘Things Have Changed,’ Bob Dylan (Columbia)

‘The Real Slim Shady,’ Eminem (Aftermath/Interscope)

‘Oooh,’ De La Soul with Redman (Tommy Boy)

‘Murder on Music Row,’ George Strait and Alan Jackson (MCA Nashville)

‘Answering Machine,’ Green Velvet (F-111)

‘Transcendental Blues,’ Steve Earle (Artemis/E-Squared)

‘Oh! Chicago,’ The Yahoos (Bloodshot)

‘Horseshoe Lounge,’ Slaid Cleaves (Rounder)

‘copy; TMS Campus, 2001