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Music Reviews

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April 30, 1997
One Chord to Another 

Philip Kroonenberg Philip Kroonenberg, Natural Causes (Munich Records 1997) - Munich Records, a Continental-based roots label, has recently reached an agreement to provide for state-side distribution of its albums, beginning with Natural Causes by Dutch musician Philip Kroonenberg.

Munich Records was founded in 1946, and is Holland's oldest independent label, with a catalog of more than 7,600 roots and blues titles.

Europe is a hotbed for American roots performers. For example, Willie DeVille recorded the wonderful Back Streets of Desire (1992) for the French label, FNAC, and the underrated Setters (featuring Alejandro Escovedo) recorded their 1994 self-titled album in Germany (with distribution handled by Watermelon Records of Austin, Texas).

In fact, Austin, Texas, is where you would expect to hear Kroonenberg play. Backed by a band that includes Louis Deby on drums, Jan Hendriks on bass, and Reus U.D. Zalm on guitars and fiddles, Kroonenberg sports a sound not unlike J.J. Cale.

With such songs as "Two Wounded Souls" and "Rocket," Natural Causes is a testament to faith. Faith, that is, in rock and roll. Look for Natural Causes.  

The Gourds Short note - Also released on Munich Records is Dem's Good Beeble by Austin's The Gourds. The Gourds are a four-piece band built around the singing and song writing of Kevin Russell and Jimmy Smith. Other critics have found parallels between Dem's Good Beeble ("Them's Good People") and The Band.

But for my taste, the Gourds sound like a hillbilly roots band. While some will enjoy the "Piss & Moan Blues" and "When Wine was Cheap," I'll take my roots with a little less yodel, please.  

Dear Janes The Dear Janes, No Skin (Geffen 1997) - The British duo of Ginny Clee and Barbara Marsh comprise The Dear Janes, who go for the jugular with their out-of-left-field harmonies and affecting songs. No Skin, their second album, finds the duo interjecting deadpan wit and subtle irony into songs that address weighty themes. And that's their edge.

The Dear Janes have been together for five years, charming fans in the U.K. with their acoustic performances. For No Skin, The Dear Janes decided to record with a full band, including John Giblien on bass, Speedwell on keyboards, Pablo Cook on percussion, and Richard Evans on dobro and mandolin. As usual, Ginny and Barbara share duties on vocals and guitar.

The album was produced by Richard Evans, who has worked with Peter Gabriel and Diamanda Galas. Aside from a few instrumental overdubs, the album was recorded live during a two-week span. Says Barbara, "We wanted to capture the spark that's created when we're gigging. That's how the guitars and vocals work best together; somehow we end up breathing and pushing and pulling at the same time." Adds Ginny, "Besides, we're no good at singing if we're not holding our guitars."

The duo's offbeat sense of humor is reflected throughout No Skin. The Janes' sound is hard to pin down; at times, it bears a resemblance to the Continental Drifters. In addition, "Sour Thumb" resembles the acoustic Bangles.

With their diversity of themes, ranging from "Get Off the Cross" (no introduction needed) to "Dead Woman's Jewels" to "Ten Milligram Girl" (about mood swings and treatment for depression), the Janes cover ground that is beyond the norm. Not for everyone, No Skin covers new territory.  

Sloan Sloan, One Cord to Another (The Enclave 1997) - The quartet of Sloan have enjoyed a most unlikely career. Plucked from their native Halifax, Nova Scotia, the band shot to critical acclaim with their debut release, Smeared (Geffen 1992). Yet one album later, the band found itself without a label.

With One Cord to Another, Sloan stands ready to reclaim its place in pop music. With a Revolver/Sgt. Pepper's feeling, the new album mixes pop, psychodelia, and harmony-driven choruses in 12 well-crafted songs.

The band includes Jay Ferguson on guitars and vocals, Patrick Pentland on guitars and vocals, bass player Chris Murphy, and Andrew Scott on drums and vocals. From slower cuts like "Junior Panthers" to more upbeat numbers like the horn-driven "Everything You've Done Wrong," Sloan knows how to craft a valid pop album. My favorite cut is "400 Metres," a feedback-driven number reminiscent of Matthew Sweet's best work.

In the end, One Cord to Another will be an album that builds slowly, as friends share it with one another. Heavy hype won't help Sloan: but you can expect it to build a head of steam in college dormitories.  

Big Head Todd Big Head Todd & The Monsters, Beautiful World (Revolution 1997) - Big Head Todd suffer from the same enviable curse as the Grateful Dead -- devoted fans for their live shows, but difficulty in translating their material to disc. On their fifth release (including two indie projects), the Colorado-based trio returns to its roots.

Big Head Todd consists of Todd Park Mohr on guitar and vocals, Rob Squires on bass and vocals, and Brian Nevin on drums and vocals. With more than 1,500 live dates behind them (including performances with the H.O.R.D.E. tour), the threesome has no difficulty starting an extended rock jam. Contributing to Beautiful World is producer Jerry Harrison (ex-Talking Heads), who helped the Crash Test Dummies find big success with God Shuffled His Feet (1993).

Beautiful World flashes back to the glory of Sister Sweetly (1993) on "Please Don't Tell Her," while shifting into a ZZ Top-based southern boogie on John Lee Hooker's, "Boom Boom." Beautiful World is to return to form, and will reward Big Head Todd fans.

-- Randy Krbechek

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