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Music Reviews

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June 1, 1994

Get a Watermelon

SettersThe Setters, The Setters, (Watermelon Records 1994) -- Austin-based label Watermelon Records is among the country's strongest roots-rock labels, and the Setters continue their tradition. Roots-rock is a category that defies easy explanation; it's basic American bar rock, with elements of country, folk, and blues mixed in. The Setters take roots-rock to its most elemental level; the sound is stripped-down and lean, with vocals and guitars front and center on every cut.

The Setters are a super-group of sorts, as they consist of three talented singer/songwriters, each with established solo careers; Walter Salas-Humara (from The Silos), Alejandro Escovedo, and Michael Hall. The album was recorded in Austin, Texas, but originally released in Germany in the fall of 1993; it features some tracks written especially for this project, together with covers of older songs that the individual band members have previously recorded.

The band members trade vocal duties on The Setters, and the results are strong and uncompromising. The liner notes say that there are no drums on this album; instead, the percussion is supplied by various "found objects" (such as snare drum cases and orange juice boxes). Don't be misled by this seeming lightheartedness, as the band members all have adult concerns -- this ain't no teenybopper Stray Cats crapola.

Thus, "Susan Across the Ocean" (also the title of the new album from The Silos) is a tale of love lost, set amid a slow, spare background. You can almost feel the pain in this lament for a love that could have been, viewed in hindsight from the perspective of another relationship. However, The Setters are not on a folksy downer; on driving cuts like "Shaking All Over the Place" and a ripped version of "I Wanna Be Your Dog," these guys prove that they are impeccable bar rockers.

The highlight of the disc is "Let's Take Some Drugs and Drive Around." The band strips this track down (which was originally recorded by The Silos' as a bouncy, uptempo rocker) and recasts it as a slow, almost deadpan blues rocker (with vocals that sound just like Willie Nelson). With its refrain, "Nothing to do and nothing to say/Everything I know, I knew yesterday/Until something new comes around/Let's take some drugs and drive around," "Let's Take Some Drugs and Drive Around" is the best song that Willie never recorded, and is the centerpiece for the album.

The album concludes with the reaffirming "A Better Place," a song of hope built around a simple piano background. As the band sings "Everyone is mighty/Everyone is weak/Everyone is damned/Everyone is graced/But you made the world/A better place," you can believe there's a ray of hope at the end of the tunnel.

This kind of material sells big overseas, but is sadly ignored in the States. The Setters' musicianship is impeccable, and their clear, often poignant songs are amazing in their understanding (and understandability). Get this disc, and learn about life.

Willie NelsonWillie Nelson, Moonlight Becomes You (Justice 1993) -- Speaking of Willie Nelson, the old outlaw's got a new disc out that covers standards from the 30s and 40s. Apparently Capitol wouldn't release the disc (even after last year's watershed, Across the Borderline), so Willie shipped it to Justice Records in Texas, which agreed to press it.

No stranger to cutting across the grain, Moonlight Becomes You continues in Willie's own idiosyncratic path. With songs like "Sentimental Journey" and "The Heart of a Clown," Willie's delivery is pleasant, even if the material isn't the strongest. It's awfully hard to dislike Willie Nelson; though Moonlight Becomes You is not a must-own, it's still a pleasant listen.

Underground Books -- While browsing through Tower Records the other day, I discovered that they have begun carrying a series of books from underground publishers. The informative selections in this series include titles on how to change your identity, how to clear your credit rating, a book called Dirty Tricks the Cops Use (And Why They Use Them), and How to be a Dick (a book of tips and hints for would-be private detectives). There's some wild stuff in these volumes, and surely something to fuel the anarchist in you. You'll find them at the end of the magazine section, right beside the mysteries -- go start a revolution tonight.

BackbeatVarious Artists, Music from the Movie "Backbeat" (Virgin 1994) -- The new movie "Backbeat" tells the story of the early Beatles, when Stu Sutcliffe was still with the group, and when the Fab Four were busting their butts in Hamburg nightclubs. Though Sutcliffe is now a footnote in music history (he left the group in 1961, and died under mysterious circumstances in 1962), the music created in this era lives on.

The soundtrack from Backbeat features current musicians (such as Greg Dulli, Don Fleming, and Dave Grohl) recreating some of the Beatles' earliest recorded efforts. I've always been a fan of the later Beatles, but my brother (the big Beatles fan in our family) tells me I'm wrong -- he says their early work is the best. With production assistance from Don Was (whose touch appears to be fading), this talented bunch delivers revved-up versions of classics like "Long Tall Sally," "Road Runner," and "Good Golly Miss Molly." There's some winning cuts on this disc, and the band's renditions are right on the money.

However, there's one big problem with this album -- it's only 26 minutes long! Record company executives should never forget to deliver value to the buying public. This CD is overpriced at $15.00; it should be midline priced (at not more than $10.00). If you like the music, buy the disc -- but remember, you'll be paying full list price for only half a CD of tunes.

-- Randy Krbechek

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