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Music Reviews

Randy's Buttons

September 22, 1993

The Boss' Moll

Darden SmithDarden Smith, Little Victories (Chaos/Columbia 1993) -- Little Victories, the third major-label release by Texas-based singer/songwriter Darden Smith, displays strong influences from Bruce Hornsby and Bruce Springsteen, and shows that Darden is just reaching his prime.

Balancing up-tempo rockers with slower acoustic numbers, Darden's band includes Tony James on drums and Graham Maby (taking a break from duty with Joe Jackson) on bass. The strongest takes on this disk are the progressive cuts "Little Victories" and "Levee Song," each featuring layers of meaning against a strong melody. Although Darden's no Woody Guthrie, he has a talent for writing insightful songs, and knows how to turn a phrase to its best advantage.

Darden SmithDarden toured earlier this year with Peter Himmelman and Shawn Colvin, fellow acoustic-rockers whose music doesn't fit into a convenient pigeonhole. This bunch has something to say, but they want to say it on their own terms. When Darden finds his future, he could have a real impact.

Patty Scialfa, Rumble Doll (Columbia 1993) -- Best known as the Boss' better half, wife, mother, & rock 'n roller Patty Scialfa has released an intriguing and engaging debut in Rumble Doll, a disk that can fairly be called a companion piece to Springsteen's Human Touch (a fine release from 1992 that was ignored because the Boss challenged his audience's expectations).

Patty ScialfaProduced by Mike Campbell (guitarist for Tom Petty), Rumble Doll is an extremely strong studio effort from well-established aces Jim Keltner, Roy Bittan, and Nils Lofgren, among others. The Jersey-raised Scialfa aptly demonstrates the difference between West Coast rock and East Coast rock -- the songs aren't just "Fun, Fun, Fun," but more "Fun -- How Much Does It Cost?"

Patty sings about life, love, hope and disappointment with a voice of authority. Though not cut from the classic mold of female rockers (Patty's an estimable second chair, but perhaps over-reaching in the spotlight), she clearly cares about her songs, and delivers them with soul and authority. And in the end, that's all we ask from an artist -- honesty and soul, not glitter and hype.

The Woodman -- I've seen Manhattan Murder Mystery, the new film from Woody Allen that includes the long-delayed return of Diane Keaton. The flick holds up well, both as a comedy and a mystery: in particular, the climatic final scene is a dazzling piece of cinematography.

however, I'll say this about the Woodman. Whereas his prior efforts tended to bend/blur the line between good and bad (see Crimes and Misdemeanors for Woody's best exposition of this theme), I think Woody's finally gone over the edge: it appears he's lost the ability to differentiate between the two.

It's one thing to explore the duality of human nature -- it's another thing when the author can't tell right from wrong. And I think Woody no longer understands the difference.

Dave v. Jay -- I'm not much for late-night television (our one-year old son usually sets our bedtime), but I watched Letterman and Leno one night last week. Perhaps one night's not a fair sampling, but I think Dave's going to bury Jay. Dave was a self-assured bon vivant; Jay was trying (against odds) to connect with his audience. I predict Jay's audience will soon perceive his desperation. And that's the beginning of the end.

Tim FinnTim Finn, Before & After (Capitol 1993) -- Skilled pop stylist Tim Finn has released an enigmatic, world-weary, and highly listenable disk with Before & After. Best known as a founding member of New Zealand's Split Enz, Tim's most recent work was a part-time contribution to Crowded House's out-of-focus Woodface. On Before & After, it appears Tim has found his focus; the question is, what is the object of the inquiry?

Now, this is just my theory, and I have no objective proof for the following comments. But having read the lyrics to the songs, and having reviewed the album artwork, I think Tim must have AIDS.

The clues begin with the first track ("Hit the Ground Running"), in which Tim sings "San Francisco, New York City, strangely silent, strangely empty, His Graffiti fills the subway, but where's my Brother? . . . Deadly Virus, so few Survivors, creeps up quickly, leaves You darkly."

The cover of the album, which features two identical photos of Tim, adds to the proof. One photo is labeled "Before," and the other "After." Isn't Tim trying to show us there is no immediate surface change from AIDS? The photo on the disk itself, which shows Tim's head embraced by a pair of man's hands, further develops the theme.

The clues continue. In the second cut ("Protected"), Tim sings "I want to take the chance and dice with Death with You . . . We stand on the cliff as if we were protected." In "Always Never Now," Tim sings "Once He thought it was forever, but It's always never now/It was the best Decision that he ever made/ Now He's living with the consequences . . . He couldn't stop Himself experimenting in secret/Fire was a constant theme/Now He's glad that It's over/And the horrible feelings gone away."

Maybe it's my fertile imagination. Maybe I'm completely off the wall. But this all strikes me as images of AIDS. Don't get me wrong. It's a good disk, and I'm not passing any moral judgment. It just seems there ought to be a little more candor in the publicity for this disk. I'd like to know the truth.

-- Randy Krbechek

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