June 12, 1996
Rosanne Cash, Ten Song Demo (Capitol 1996) - Former country queen, Rosanne Cash, has developed a confessional and introspective musical approach since her divorce from long-time husband Rodney Crowell. On Ten Song Demo (actually, there are 11 songs), Cash takes this introspection to the Nth degree; the arrangements are spare and uncompromising, just like the lyrics.
It's hard to believe, but Cash released the big-selling King's Record Shop less than ten years ago. King's Record Shop boasted four number 1 singles, and helped Cash capture Billboard's "top singles artist" for 1988. But despite her huge success, change was in the wings, in the form of Cash's impending breakup with Crowell.
Following her divorce, Cash (a mother of three girls) released two troubled albums, 1990's spare Interiors, and 1993's more-accessible but more-jumbled, The Wheel. Now married to producer Jon Leventhal, Cash is long removed from her Nashville roots.
Cash's confessional lyrics and radically-stripped down production is taken about as far as it can go on Ten Song Demo, which features little more than guitar and piano accompaniment. In describing the new album, Cash acknowledges that, "Rebirth, inspiration, solitude, salvation - and I don't mean that in the religious sense - these are my obsessive themes. That's how life is, right? Nothing is neat."
Cash originally sent Ten Song Demo to Capitol president Gary Gersh as a demo; Gersh liked it so much that he approved it as is. The inside liner notes contain a handwritten note from Cash to Gersh stating, "Dear Gary: I hope you got the tape...We have a mastering session scheduled for Wednesday...My cohort, Mr. Leventhal would love to speak with you - he's at his studio adding lots of drums and strings and background vocals. Just kidding."
And that's about the only kidding you'll find on Ten Song Demo. Cash is still torn-up by her relationship with Crowell, and can't seem to get past it. An occasional song about a busted romance is one thing; a 36-minute dirge, which offers no hope or salvation is another.
Ten Song Demo is a well-made album, but its themes and structure are dark and uncompromising. If Cash got a little happier, she could make a much more accessible album.
Willie & Lobo, Between the Waters (Mesa 1995) - It's impossible to say enough good things about the instrumental duo of Wolfgang (Lobo) Fink on flamenco guitar and Willie Royal on violin. Their spicy, international, and jazz-flavored sound is filled with the musical sounds and styles that the pair have absorbed from the many cultures and locales they have lived in, including gypsy, jazz, cajun, Tex-mex, flamenco, Middle Eastern, tango, Southern rock, country reggae, and hoedown.
And that great synergy comes bears rich fruit on Between the Waters. Says Willie, "There's an unexplainable chemistry between Lobo and me. It is a psychic energy thing...Some of our best tunes have been created live on stage. Lobo has expanded his rhythm techniques beyond flamenco to encompass many different styles...salsa, reels, Middle Eastern, Irish jigs, zydeco, Southern blues, or whatever we decide to play."
In the end, it's the music that counts. As their producer, George Nauful says, "These guys are authentic - the real thing - in every way. You can picture all of this in the musical influences they reveal, from the haunting arabic melody of 'Los Caravan' to the hot and humid Spanish flavor of 'El Faro.'"
Lobo adds, "We don't analyze how we play together, we just flow with it. We are somewhat unconventional, but our songs seem to touch people. Each of our elements feeds off the other. Neither rhythm nor melody dominates. It's a true collaboration. Sometimes the interplay is so tight, it is like breaching together."
Nauful continues, "Willie and Lobo are not about the stringent technical nature of recording in the 90s. They fill their music with the emotion and passion of their melodies and feel the time flow with the beat of their heart, not the mechanism of a metronome. They are not about slickness and pretentiousness, but more about the way classical composers treat a score with ebb and flow. They have a rawness and a purity, a presence and a sinewy nature that makes you sense the magic their spirits bring together from all ages."
Robert James Walker knows this too. After Willie & Lobo's debut album (Gypsy Boogaloo) soared to number 2 on Billboard's World Music Sales Chart (where it remained for ten weeks), Walker included Willie & Lobo as side-characters in his new novel, Puerto Vallarta Squeeze. In conjunction with the novel, Mesa also released a new collection from Willie & Lobo, The Music of Puerto Vallarta Squeeze, that features songs from their three albums.
If you've ever had the pleasure of seeing Willie & Lobo live (hopefully, they'll return to Fresno soon), you've recognized their undeniable chemistry. Willie & Lobo's music is singular and unique - challenging, haunting, melodic, and invigorating all at the same time.
Words cannot fairly describe their sound. Nobody else makes music like this. And, of course, that has limited their ability to penetrate the mass market. That's a real shame.
These guys are great. Discover this hidden treasure
-- Randy Krbechek
Copyright (c) Randy Krbechek
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