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Music Reviews

Randy's Buttons

February 16, 1994

Approaching the Tramopline

Joe HenryJoe Henry, Kindness of the World (Mammoth 1993) -- Kindness of the World marks the fifth disc from folk-rocker Joe Henry. Henry's folk influences are reflected not in his musical arrangements (which include electric guitars and the strong work of Mark LaFalce on the drum kit) -- instead, they're in his lyrics, which address the everyday problems of life.

Henry says that the album was recorded during a two-week stretch in New Orleans. The sea level elevation is always good for musicians: on Kindness of the World, it gives Henry's slightly raspy voice a clear and soulful turn. Also sitting in on this disc are Gary Louris and Marc Perlman from the Jayhawks and Victoria Williams on guest vocals.

Though some people say Henry's the heir to John Prine, the assessment doesn't hold up. Prine's songs touch on heavy subjects, but he balances them with his streak of irrelevance. Prine's been there, but he'd like you to smile about it.

The same can't be said about Henry. He's been there, but he's a bit dour about the experience. Consider the song "Some Champions," with its line "Why look/He's getting up again/Some people just don't get it..." There's a sense on Kindness of the World that Henry's lost his roots -- his Southern sensibilities just don't mesh in Los Angeles.

When Henry allows his heart to show, his songs work best. For example, on the countrified "I Flew Over Our House Last Night," Henry expresses the puzzlement of a divorced generation when he sings "30,000 feet below and you were fast asleep/30,000 feet above, I almost stopped to weep/So close and yet so far away/So wrong and yet so right/I flew over our house last night."

Likewise, on "Kindness of the World," Henry (with able assistance from Ms. Williams and a haunting pedal steel in the background) displays his vulnerable side -- "I'd like to see your badge/Who are you to be so brave?/With one arm free to catch yourself/And you are using it to wave/Who are you to be so strong?"

This cut ably shows Henry's grasp of life: despite the American ideal of self-reliance (as reenforced by life in rootless Los Angeles), Henry recognizes that the trip doesn't work unless you're able to trust in the "kindness of the world." And he's right.

This kind of honesty is uncommon. Kindness of the World may have its down moments, but the maker is real. If Joe could only find his illegal smile, he'd be something special.

ZZ TopSecond Opinion -- Last month's Calendar section from the L.A. Times featured this pithy pronouncement on RCA Records -- "their A&R staff might have better luck signing a hit rock band by holding a raffle." As proof of the pudding, RCA started 1994 with Antennae, the uninspired new disc from ZZ Top (not to say that the Tres Hombres aren't cool, just that their new album is as flat as the Lone Star State).

RCA reportedly paid $35 million to sign ZZ Top in the biggest rip-off since Prince inked his multi-year contract with Warner Bros. It's no wonder RCA appears luckless -- hell, even the artwork on Antennae sucks.

Z.Z. Top, Part 2 -- Discussing their change of labels to RCA, ZZ Top bandmember Billy Gibbens says "One guy had an ad for some RCA stuff which he referred to as having 'the round RCA meatball logo.' From then on, I said 'We gotta go for the meatball.'" And based on Antennae, it's safe to say they found their meatball.

ArbitronArbitron Radio Ratings -- According to newly-released information from Arbitron, the top ten radio stations in Fresno County for the Fall 1993 quarter (ending December 15, 1993) are as follows:

1. KMJ (AM 580) 15.2%
2. KBOS (FM 94.9) 10.6%
3. KSKS (FM 93.7) 7.8%
4. KNAX (FM 97.9) 5.4%
5. KTHT (FM 102.7) 5.1%
6. KRZR (FM 103.7) 4.3%
7. KEZL (FM 96.7) 4.3%
8. KJFX (FM 95.7) 3.7%
9. KFSO (FM 92.9) 3.6%
10. KFRE (AM 940) 3.0%

These ratings are copyrighted by Arbitron, and are based on the percentage of listening audience ages 12 and over tuned in during any 15 minute period from 6 A.M. to midnight on Monday through Sunday.

-- Randy Krbechek

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