McLachlan, Surfacing (Arista 1997) - 29-year-old Sarah McLachlan
has been making emotionally and texturally challenging music since her
debut with 1988's Touch. Surfacingholds
true to the elements that made her last album, Fumbling Towards
Ecstasy (1993) a classic of its genre - swirling melodies,
mixed with brooding lyrics and densely-layered instrumentation. McLachlan
deserves praise for sticking true to her artistic vision.
Surfacing was recorded with producer/engineer Pierre
Marchand in Montreal. Sarah contributes vocals, piano, and
principal guitar. Her band is rounded out by Marchand
on keyboards and bass, Brian Minato on bass and guitar,
and new husband Ashwin Sood on drums. Also appearing
is Jim Creeggan (of Bare Naked Ladies fame)
on bowed bass.
McLachlan is the headliner in this year's Lillith Tour,
the all-woman venue that is the hottest tour of the summer. McLachlan
has had difficulties with overly enthusiastic fans in the past (some
have even stalked her), but now seems more at ease with her fame and
herself. According to McLachlan, "I have learned to trust myself, to
listen to truth, to not be afraid of it and to not try to hide it."
That emotional honesty carries through on Surfacing.
Thus, tracks like "Sweet Surrender" (certain to be a radio hit) and
"Witness" (with its memorable line, "Will we burn in Heaven/Like we
do down here?") are as haunting and ethereal as anything previously
recorded by McLachlan.
For my taste, McLachlan resembles Alanis Morissette.
Not in style (the two artists could not be more opposed), but in consistency
(or lack thereof). Both have recorded tracks of startling lucidity and
emotional intensity; yet other songs are far less memorable.
So it is with Surfacing. Maybe half the album is brilliant
(and I mean, I liked it from the word go); the other half is of lesser
quality. But then, I had the same feelings about Fumbling Towards
Ecstasy, which ranks as one of the decade's best discs. McLachlan
has exceptional talent, and must be heard.
Minus 5, The Lonesome Death of Buck McCoy (Malt Records/Hollywood
Records 1997) - The Minus 5 is a loose aggregation of musicians led
by Scott McCaughey
(pronounced "McCoy") and Peter Buck (of R.E.M.).
The album's Jethro Tull-influenced "story" disguises
the album's true sound - solid country-oriented rock, ala last year's
one-off project from Golden Smog.
Lonesome Death includes guest appearances from such
musicians as Jonathon Auer, Kenneth Stringfellow, and
Mike McCready. According to the liner notes, the album
is about "little Buck McCoy, [who] wakes up born in
the middle of a wheat field. He decides to carry on alone despite his
many acquaintances until dying years later."
Unfortunately, the album doesn't develop this story. While the musicians
are talented, Lonesome Death never gels. Fans of the
new country sound heralded by such bands as Wilco will
enjoy this eulogy, which is a bit too smart for its own good.
Dale, Better Shred Than Dead, The Anthology (Rhino 1997) -
Better Shred Than Deadis a 2-disc anthology spanning
the 35-year recording career of the "King of the Surf Guitar." This
39-track set showcases Dick Dale's enormous influence, from the early
years of surf rock (the Beach
Boys used to attend Dick's shows at the Rendezvous and
the Aragon Ballroom in Southern California)
through film maker Quinton Tarantino, who featured
Dale's "Misirlou" in Pulp Fiction (1994).
Now age 63, Dale began packing ballrooms in the late 50's with his
phenomenal left-handed guitar style. (In an ironic note, a local session
man once said, "Dick, if you would only change your strings around the
right way, you would be the greatest guitarist that ever walked this
earth." Dick's reply: "Why fix it if it ain't broke?")
While his very early recordings (such as "Ooh Wee Marie") show big
band influences ala Gene Krupa (Dale also played trumpet
on his recordings), he soon developed his classic surf sound on songs
like "Let's Go Trippin'," "King of the Surf Guitar," and "Night Rider."
In discussing the roots of his sound, Dale says, "I first heard 'Misirlou'
as a child when my uncle sang it in Arabic and played it on
an oud. I still remember the first night we played it. I changed the
tempo and just started cranking up that mother. And it was eerie - I
knew I had tapped into some sort of power, and that power was labeled
Dale also helped create the technology that let to today's modern rock
sound. As he notes, "they call me "The Father of Loud.' In Australia,
they call me 'Louder than Motorhead.'" Dick started
stacking amplifiers and speakers to create his huge sound, and also
worked with Leo Fender, who designed the Show Man Amps
and the Fender Stratocaster, which Dale play to this day.
Though he has only recorded ten studio albums (Dale did not release
any vinyl between 1965 and 1983, when he released Tiger's Loose,
then went another ten years before releasing 1993's Tribal
Thunder), his influence is enormous. (Yes, his fans are proud
to call themselves "Dick Heads"). One of rock's signature stylists,
Dick Dale cannot be ignored. For a big blast from this huge talent,
check out Better Shred Than Dead.
-- Randy Krbechek