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May 31, 1995

Hanky Panky

CakeCake, Motorcade of Generosity (Capricorn 1995) - Sacramento-based Cake, a five-piece group that is truly alternative (in the sense of creating a unique and different sound), has a big winner in Motorcade of Generosity. Originally independently released, Motorcade of Generosity marks the major-label debut for Cake. And lots of good things should happen for this band.

This hard-working quintet features John McCrea on vocals and guitar, Greg Brown on guitar and organ, Victor Damiani on bass, Vince di Fiore on trumpet, and Todd Roper on drums. As noted by Billboard, Cake is "a band that is hard to describe, but easy to listen to." The band admits to a fondness for both "Sly Stone and Hand Williams, Sr.," which gives a feel for their range.

In fact, Cake employs such a multitude of such styles and influences (from funk to punk to country to mariachi) that it's impossible to pin down. Thus, "Jesus Wrote a Blank Check" begins with a countryish sound before breaking into a hoedown; "Ain't No Good" has a solid Commander Cody feel that segues into a swing-style coda; and "Up So Close" starts with a south-of-the-border intro before melding into Fiore's tasteful trumpet solos.

My favorite tracks are "Haze of Love," a subdued rocker in the Collective Soul/grunge mode, and the anthemic "Rock 'n Roll Lifestyle," a deft (and thinly-veiled barb) at rich suburban kids who have more money than brains.

Motorcade of Generosity is a real treat -- a funky, weird little album, with a genuine rock 'n roll attitude (angst and isolation) at its core. Every so often, something truly unique and new comes along. Motorcade of Generosity is such a release. This stuff is original in the sense that Love was original. That's a compliment. Support the Central Valley. Check out your neighbors to the North and get Motorcade of Generosity.

The TheThe The, Hanky Panky (Epic 1995) -- People keep asking, When will a tribute album go too far? Hanky Panky might be the answer. The The, a British art-rock band centered around singer and songwriter Matt Johnson, laid down eleven Hank Williams, Sr. songs for this disc. Though it's an odd concept, the album often works, as the band's echoey, electrified efforts give Hank, Sr.'s songs some breathing room.

The The has been recording in various forms since 1981, and has evolved into a springboard for the efforts of Matt Johnson. The The's studio work through the years has embraced hundreds of temporary band members, including such luminaries as Nenah Cherry (vocals), Sinead O'Connor (vocals) and Johnny Marr (guitars).

The strong-willed and multi-talented Johnson (who also plays guitars and keyboards) has long been at the center of The The, which now consists of D.C. Collard (keyboards), Jim Fitting (harmonica), Brian MacLeod (drums), and Eric Schermerhorn (guitar).

The tracks on Hanky Panky are not among Hank, Sr.'s best-known songs, but represent a reasonable cross-section of his work. Johnson did considerable homework for this 33-minute album, stating "I listened intensely to everything I could get by Hank [who died at age 29 in 1953], including early demos, and read all the books I could find...I think Hank's real passion was for the darker songs; that's where the real sincerity was."

Matt JohnsonJohnson (who posed for the cover shot) adds, "'Honky Tonkin'' is a light song, but Hank's idea of going out for a good time was getting pissed out of his head, causing fights and picking up women. It wasn't very innocent. I think he was a very dark guy, very intense, but sensitive and brooding. It's been an inspiring thing to work on. I've come to feel quite close to him."

Which is a concept in itself. Not many people would want to feel close to Hank, Sr., a hugely influential "hillbilly" star (as country music was known at the time) whose troubled and womanizing life came to an early end with a combination of barbiturates and alcohol.

From the electrified, gothic version of "I'm a Long Gone Daddy" to the more gentle, quasi-acoustic "My Heart Would Know," to the full-tilt rocker, "I Saw the Light," Hanky Panky works on various levels. Johnson's voice is often amplified and distorted, and the band seemingly doesn't look for the melodic structure in the songs. Any British art rocker would be proud of the final product.

Like last year's Solitude, the new album has alternating high and low spots. Matt Johnson is a melancholic and intense guy; when he gets deep into some of these songs, you get the feeling that he's fallen way into the well. Maybe too far. Another tribute, please?

Legacy of the Master -- "More than anything, I wanted to be Hank Williams. I even stayed drunk for three years trying to be like him. But it didn't work." Producer and musician T-Bone Burnett.

Feeling Stressed? -- "If the kids can hear the words, they'll turn their radio down. We want them to turn it up. It sort of relieves a kid's anxieties if he can drown out his parents." Jan Berry (of Jan & Dean), circa 1965.

-- Randy Krbechek

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