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Music Reviews

Randy's Buttons

August 27, 1997

Oh Boy

Madder RoseMadder Rose, Tragic Magic (Atlantic 1997) - After a three-year layoff, Madder Rose returns with the followup to 1994's Panic On. Featuring vocals by Mary Lorson, Tragic Magic finds the band expanding its college rock sound.

As the foursome admits, Madder Rose's early albums were studio affairs that were difficult to duplicate on stage. But after long months of touring in support of such acts as Juliana Hatfield, Bob Mould, and Belly, the group developed a strong stage presence.

Tragic Magic sports two great singles - "(She's a) Satellite" and "Peter and Victor." The latter song borrows from Bob Geldof's spoken word vocal technique on Happy Club (1992), while "(She's a) Satellite" has an uptempo alternative sound.

With production assistance from Bearsville veteran John Holbrook (known for engineering Natalie Merchant's Tigerlily), Tragic Magic finds the band exploring deeper themes amid pop sweetness.

And that tension - the ability to mesh heavy topics and pop sensibilities - is a great skill, perhaps first mastered by the Doors. I'm not saying that Tragic Magic is the equivalent of L.A. Woman. But the album's undertows will make you put in some extra effort.

John Prine John Prine, Live On Tour (Oh Boy Records 1997) - To celebrate his 25 years as a touring musician, John Prine has released Live On Tour. And good as the new album is, it doesn't capture the joy and brilliance of his concert this spring in Hanford.

Prine's story - from Vietnam veteran to Chicago letter carrier to overnight sensation to cult favorite -- is a story of lucky breaks. And perhaps his biggest break came in the early 80's when he decided to found his own label, Oh Boy Records.

With his 1991 release, The Missing Years, produced by Howie Epstein of the Heartbreakers, Prine made a leap forward, as his new fatherhood helped temper his earlier cynicism. Followed up by 1995's Lost Dogs & Mixed Blessings (which included the VH1 hit, "Ain't Hurtin' Nobody"), Prine found a second wind.

Live on Tour features Prine on vocals and guitars, Jason Wilbur on electric guitar, Dave Jacques on electric and upright bass, and Phil Parlapiano on squeeze box, mandolin, and piano. The album was recorded at various venues, including the Rymann Auditorium in Nashville and the Navy Pier Skyline Stage in Chicago.

Live On Tour contains solid recordings of such gems as "You Got Gold," "Quit Hollerin' At Me," and "Angel from Montgomery." Also included are two new tracks, the best of which is "You Mean So Much to Me," a touching duet with Benmont Tench on keyboards.

The Hanford set was one of the outstanding shows in recent memory. Maybe there was just magic in the air at Hanford. In any event, John Prine remains one of the most fundamentally decent persons in the music business, and deserves every bit of his hard-won success.

Laureen HoffmanLaureen Hoffman, Megiddo (Virgin Records 1997) - A resident of the "swinging" town of Charlottesville, Virginia (home of the University of Virginia and Monticello), 19-year-old Laureen Hoffman has a whole lot of explaining to do.

Better to let Laureen say it herself. "If you wish to know more of my young life - bad acid trips, selfish lovers, slick A&R men, one-night stands, lascivious swamis, existential angst, and neurotic introspection -- please listen to my music."

What a bunch of teenage bullshit. Makes me glad I'm not 19 anymore. But I like her music. With production work by David Lowery of Cracker (and here's the pop-oriented album that New York grinders Cracker can't swing), Megiddo is a boldly-textured audio tapestry.

With a heady mix of alternative, pop, and folk, Hoffman displays some of Liz Phair's soul-bearing openness, while mixing in elements of Kate Bush and some of Lisa Germano's edgy anxiety.

Thus, songs like "Persephone" and "Fall Away" display Hoffman's teenage uncertainty, with a minimalist rock vibe that is part spooky and part British alternative. Not to be outdone, "Alive" is a powerful rocker, with plenty of feedback, and Hoffman's boldly confrontational introduction, "I came in bloody and screaming...I'm not alone."

Not quite in the same league as Jill Sobule's excellent Happy Town, Megiddo has enough twists and turns to bring you back again and again.

My main knock on the album is the "art direction/design" by Falvia Cureteu. The lyrics are double justified (both left and right), producing a text that is illegible, while the inner sleeve photos are a series of smeary, overdeveloped, yellow prints of Hoffman that can barely be deciphered.

But, as the saying goes, don't judge an album by its cover. Laureen Hoffman has a boat load of loose cannons rolling around, and Megiddo stands on its own merits.

-- Randy Krbechek

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