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April 24, 1996

Big Easy Fantasy

Willie DevilleWillie DeVille, Big Easy Fantasy (Wotre/Roir 1995) - Ex-patriot Willie DeVille, long of New Orleans, and comfortably settled in France, is an eclectic talent. Through drenched in his idiosyncracies, DeVille has a great ear for a pop song.

Formerly the frontman for Mink DeVille, DeVille made great pop-and-rock albums that never really caught on in the States. However, he had developed a solid following on the Continent.

Big Easy Fantasy is a half-live/half-studio set. The live material was recorded at the Bottom Line in New York and the Olympia Theater in Paris, and the studio songs were recorded in New York and Los Angeles.

Willie DevilleBut DeVille's inspiration for this album was what he calls "Jump City, the Crescent City, the city that care forgot, New Orleans...The Big Easy!" Thus, DeVille recruited a host of New Orleans-based musicians to help him, including Dr. John, Alan Toussaint, and Eddie Bo.

There are some great songs on this album, including the lively "Every Dog Has Its Day," and a wonderful studio version of "Being Like a Tom-tom," a song written by Ernest (K-Doe) Kador back in 1963.

For my money, I'd have released this album as either an all-live set, or an all-studio recording. However, I'm not complaining too loudly -- DeVille's a great talent, and any serving from him is richly welcomed.

Gavin FridayGavin Friday, Shag Tobacco (Island 1995) - Dublin native Gavin Friday reaches into the smokey past on Shag Tobacco. With partner, Maurice Ceezer, and producer, Tim Simenon, Friday has created a 21st century neon cabaret, where the spirits of Leonard Cohen, Mark Bolan, and Jacque Brel collide in a vision of 30s Berlin decadence transposed to a Las Vegas of the future.

Which is to say, this is a moody, swirling sort of album. Friday began his recording career in 1978 with the Virgin Prunes, whose audacious live shows and unique blend of humor made Friday a local sensation. After the band's breakup in 1985, Friday worked on a variety of solo and collaborative projects with such diverse talents as The Fall, David Bell, and Maria McKee.

Gavin FridaySays Friday, "As we come to the end of the century, everything's going ballistic, a lot of stuff is being cleared out from under the carpet. When I went to work on this album, I had this thing about being obsessed with the 20s, 30s, and 40s, the fascinating between-the-war era when decadence was tempered with darkness, and transporting that into the 90s.

Friday continues. "From the monogamy of 'Shag Tobacco' to the transexuality of 'Dolls' to the camp of 'Mr. Pussy,' if there is to be a location for this album, it's a place where love is most definitely the drug and everyone is a junkie."

Gavin FridayWith its moody, cabaret-and-pop-drenched sound, Shag Tobacco is an unusual release. Definitely British and sweetly tempered by pop influences, Shag Tobacco is an album that holds up to repeated listenings.

Victor, Victor (Atlantic 1996) - Victor is the brainchild of Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson. Having taken a break from Rush because singer Geddy Lee's wife had a child, Lifeson found himself with a year-and-a-half on his hands.

Alex LifesonAnd so he decided to plunge himself into Victor, which was recorded during a ten-month period at his home studio north of Toronto. While Lifeson eventually called in local session players, including guitarist, Bill Bell, bassist, Peter Carinali, and drummer, Blake Manning, many of his original solo demo tracks remain. Also featured is a guest appearance from bassist Les Claypool of Primus.

Victor is an unexpectedly dark, diverse and aggressive album. Vocals were provided by Lifeson, Edwin from I Mother Earth, and acclaimed Canadian vocalist and songwriter, Del Vello. With Lifeson's signature guitar playing, you'd expect a hard-rocking album, and fans won't be disappointed.

VictorBut there's more to the album than that. Victor harkens back to the days of arena rock, when richly-produced rock tracks dominated the airways. (And if Led Zeppelin were still in the business today, would we call them over-produced?) Having sold 30 million albums with Rush, Lifeson knows how to deliver the goods.

From such charging songs as "Promise" and the Zep-influenced "Start Today" to the semi-silly "Shut Up Shuttin' Up" (with guest vocals from Lifeson's wife) to the moody title track (based on a poem by W. H. Auden), Lifeson worked hard on Victor. In fact, he admits that he hadn't written any lyrics since Rush's second album.

More AlexSays Lifeson, "Lyrically the record is linked thematically from beginning to end. I wanted to make a record dealing solely with the issues of love...The darker side of love and the things it can cause people to do. There is such a dark side of it that can cause so much grief and angst, and in a lot of cases, it's for nothing. Those were the things I wanted to touch on."

While Victor creates a sonically-dense and richly-programmed sound, the album never turns to self-parody. Victor is just a good rock album. And we can use more of those. My wife, the anti-hard rocker, doesn't like it. And that means that rock fans will dig this release.

-- Randy Krbechek

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