Angel in the Dark (7/27/2001)
The Stone Coyotes, Born to Howl (Red Cat Records 2001) - Here's a killer album from a most unusual combo - 53-year-old singer, songwriter and guitarist Barbara Keith, her 60-year-old husband Doug Tibbles on drums, and Doug's 35-year-old son, John Tibbles, on bass.
Even more - John was a successful screenwriter in the 60s, penning dozens of episodes for such shows as The Munsters, Bewitched, and The Andy Griffith Show before an eight-month strike by the Writers' Guild in 1973 forced him out of the television business.
Let's skip all that. Barbara enrolled in Vassar College in 1964, and discovered a knack for songwriting. Says this bitchin' mama, "After that, I never knew whether I wanted to be Little Richard or Emily Dickinson." Barbara wound up playing with a band called Kangaroo, which cut one album and enjoyed a brief moment of glory opening for The Who and The Doors.
After that band split up, Barbara made her way as a songwriter, penning tracks for such artists as Lowell George and Delaney & Bonnie. Adds Barbara, "Storytelling in songs is something I grew up with. That tradition of Johnny Cash and the Carter Family is a flame I want to keep alive. That's why we fall somewhere between rock and country. Country gives us the stories and rock gives us the sonics."
Press play on Born to Howl. Jump forward to track five, a raging cover of Dolly Parton's "Jolene," and you'll be hooked. Then move into the scathing "Rocket" (about blaming everyone else for your problems), before heading down to The Rolling Stones circa 1969 on "Four Times Gone."
This is a band with all the chops and attitude needed to make it. Best-selling author Elmore Leonard (Get Shorty, Jackie Brown, and Out of Sight) walked into The Troubadour in Los Angeles one night looking for inspiration when he discovered The Stone Coyotes. They become the model for Chill Palmer's next adventure, Be Cool, which is being developed as a major motion picture for John Travolta.
The best track is "The Death of The American Song," a terrific jam number that recalls the sound of The Grateful Dead, circa American Beauty.
Barbara's take-no-prisoners attitude reminds me of Chrissie Hynde. And "The Death of The American Song," about standing around a grave side with Tammy and Patsy in a long black dress, is a killer song. The Stone Coyotes know how to make a great rock record. All moths should flicker toward this bright light.
Alejandro Escovedo, A Man Under the Influence (Bloodshot Records 2001) - Here's one of the gems of the year. A melodic, melancholy, miasmatic collection from a deeply-rooted musician - Escovedo was the seventh of twelve children in a family that included older brothers Coke and Pete, two of the premier Latin percussionists of the last half century.
Escovedo is an enormously talented songwriter and performer, ranking alongside Robbie Robertson. Now age 50, Escovedo started with the San Francisco 70's punk outfit The Nuns, then went on to form Rank and File at same time The Blasters were helping merge punk with Southern California country.
Yet Escovedo's glory has come with his exploration of American roots, sometimes with a band (with Walter Salas-Humar on the Setters), sometimes by himself on such albums as Thirteen Years (1993) and With These Hands (1996).
On A Man Under the Influence, Escovedo works with Brian Standefer on cellos, Cornbread on bass and harmonies, Mike Daly on chamberlain, 12-string guitar and tremello-bar guitar, Aaron Olivia on double bass, Chris Stamey (formerly of the DB's) on guitars and kurzweil, and Joe Eddy Hines on electric guitars.
When Escovedo cuts loose on tracks like "Castanets," you'll swear there is no better rave-up band in Texas. Yet Escovedo has a deep-rooted sense of the melancholic. Now on his third marriage, Escovedo looks back equally on broken relationships and pained family situations.
Thus, Escovedo's father, the 93-year-old Pedro Escovedo, was a prize fighter, mariachi singer, semi-pro baseball player and plumber who fathered two families by two women. Says Escovedo, "I feel a real kinship for my father, because he accomplished so much under such trying conditions. But I don't understand why he didn't tell me things that might have made my life easier. My father wasn't a man who exposed his feelings, and yet I have become a person who has exposed everything emotionally through my music. What I write about is what I have lived."
Uh-oh. Getting deep here. Be careful when Escovedo sings "I don't need you/Like you don't need me" or when he breaks into the plaintive "Across the River," with its refrain, "What kind of love destroys a mother/And sends her crashing through the tangled trees?"
Glorious, aching, unforgettable. That's Alejandro Escovedo, who has cornered the market on slit-your-wrists roots rock. The comparison is Reveal, the new album from R.E.M. Both turn a dour streak, yet Escovedo emerges triumphant, using his pain to break through barriers.
Escovedo captures the lost chord that has eluded Margo Timmins and Maria McKee for years; the closest is Marvin Etzioni on the haunting, Weapons of the Heart. Look no further than A Man Under The Influence.
Laura Nyro, Angel in The Dark (Rounder 2001) - Angel in The Dark is gathered from Laura Nyro's last studio sessions in New York in late 1994 and the spring of 1995. The album shows Nyro, who vaulted to fame as the songwriter of such late-60s standards as "And When I Die" and "Eli's Coming," to be a gifted interpreter in her own right.
Laura Nyro died of ovarian cancer in April 8, 1997, having left behind a lasting influence on the 60s folk and pop scene, with her songs made into hits by such artists as Three Dog Night and Blood, Sweat & Tears. In the 90s, she hooked up with Eileen Silver-Lillywhite to form Luna Mist Music. While the pair had ambitious plans, they never got past the sessions for Angel in The Dark.
Yet those sessions yielded a number of gems, including evocative covers of "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" (by Gerry Goffin and Carole King), "He Was Too Good To Me" (by Rodgers & Hart), "Embraceable You" (by George and Ira Gershwin) and my favorite cut on the album, "Walk on By" (by Burt Bacharach and Hal David).
For Angel in The Dark, Laura assembled a solid crew of New York musicians, steeped in jazz traditions: John Tropea and Jeff Pevar on guitar, Will Lee and Freddie Washington on bass, Chris Parker and Bernard Purdie on drums, and Carol Steele and Bashiri Johnson on percussion.
While the recordings build from Laura's piano skills, they have a sophisticated jazz format. Laura also performed her own songs, including "Don't Hurt Child" and her final recording, "Angel in The Dark" (recorded on August 5, 1995).
Yet when you hear her covers of "Let It Be Me" and "Ooh Baby, Baby" you know you're standing in the presence of greatness: a songwriter of the highest order, who had the ability to wring the meaning from other people's words. Get healed with Angel in The Dark.
- Randy Krbechek © 2001
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