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Music Reviews

Randy's Buttons

November 10, 1993

Fat Lady Sings

Human WheelsJohn Mellencamp, Human Wheels (Mercury 1993) -- On Human Wheels, John Mellencamp mixes his "gypsy rock" with the harder, more techno rock being explored by bands such as U2. Recorded at Mellencamp's home studio in Nashville, Indiana, from October, 1992 through April, 1993, Human Wheels is a welcome return to form by one of rock's best songwriters.

Nobody ever said that John wasn't the prototypical angry young man -- a James Dean with fire in his belly and words running through his head. However, by his last album (Whenever We Wanted), John seemed to be running out of steam -- as his personal life fell apart, his music lost its edge.

During this period, Mellencamp directed more attention to his paintings (as showcased on the cover to Whenever We Wanted), his kids, and his new marriage to model Elaine Irwin (and the real question is, are those actually tatoos on Elaine or just fakes?)

On Human Wheels (John's 12th album), Mellencamp is reunited with long-time band members Kenny Aronoff (one of the best drummers in the business), Toby Myers (bass), Mike Wanchic(guitar), and Lisa Germano (violins and mandolins -- don't miss her dynamite solo disc Happiness). The results are ten consistently strong cuts.

Three cuts off the disc are immediately radio-friendly. These include "Human Wheels," with its funky, processed vocals (although the video is disjointed and unsatisfying -- John seemed more interested in making a home movie than in making a story out of his song), and "What If I Came Knocking," a song which showcases John's tendency to challenge stereotypes (racial and otherwise).

However, the strongest track on the album is "Beige to Beige." Mellencamp reaches deep down on this understated gem and subtly exposes all of the corruption and dishonesty in conformity -- as John sings, "Uniforms for this and that/To be in our club, you must wear this hat . . . If you need a thought/We'll give it to you/Our statistics show/What we do is true."

"Beige to Beige" is a dynamite tune, and deserves tons of radio play. Call your favorite radio station today. Don't wait. Tell them to play "Beige to Beige" by John Mellencamp. Tell them, "We want a hit. We want a rock song that isn't drivel. We want 'Beige to Beige'."

Fat Lady SIngsThe Fat Lady Sings, Johnson (Atlantic 1993) -- Johnson is the second release on Atlantic from Irish trio The Fat Lady Sings. Having received considerable press overseas, The Fat Lady Sings looks to make a breakthrough in the States. Johnson may be that album.

The Fat Lady Sings consists of lead vocalist Nick Kelly, Dermot Lynch (bass and keyboards), and Tim Bradshaw (guitars). Frontman Kelly is an impassioned singer, and brings his sense of urgency to these songs.

The sound on the album is reminiscent of Beautiful South(whose last release, the delightful 0898, fell, mercilessly, like a pebble into the ocean), and combines the best elements of United Kingdom rock (disaffection, cynicism, and a yearning for improvement) while avoiding the UK tendency to needlessly add layers of sound and droning echo treatment.

The standout single on Johnson is "Show of Myself" in which the band both brags of, and winces from, its tendency to "make a show of myself." Though not as intriguing as The Cranberrys or Dexy's Midnight Runners, The Fat Lady Sings has a strong release in Johnson.

HeroesMark O'Connor, Heroes (Warner Bros. 1993) -- Acclaimed studio fiddler Mark O'Connor has gathered a group of music's best violinists for his new release, Heroes. Having conquered the studios in Nashville, O'Connor desired to "produce an album in tribute to these gentlemen." The result, Heroes, is a spontaneous and slightly countrified collection of instrumental duets.

At an early age, O'Connor showed a tremendous aptitude for the violin, and began winning national fiddle contests by the age of 11. In fact, his conquests were so swift and sudden that the rules to certain contests were changed to prevent the winner from the prior year (usually O'Connor) from competing in the next year's competition.

O'Connor eventually advanced to Nashville and established himself as the premiere studio fiddle player in town, appearing on countless hundreds of recordings. His last solo release was the acclaimed New Nashville Cats.

On Heroes, O'Connor is joined by Charlie Daniels, Jean Luc-Ponty, Bill Monroe, and Pinchas Zukerman, among others. While the album isn't straight country (it includes a version of Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehaving"), and isn't purely instrumental (a few cuts have vocals), the primary focus is a fiddlin' country swing.

And a pleasant swing it is. Standout cuts include "The Devil Comes Back to George," a sequel to the Charlie Daniels hit from the early 70s, and "Ashokan Farewell," a melancholy and honest version of the theme from the PBS Civil War series.

By the way, if you haven't yet seen the multi-part Civil War documentary (produced by Ken Burns), scrap your plans for the weekend and go to Tower Records to rent the videotapes. Each episode is fascinating and lovingly made, as Burns uses moving cameras to bring life to our most monumental national tragedy.

Indecent Proposal Update -- In recent news from South Korea, a 60 year-old businessman retained the "services" of a younger man's wife (ala Indecent Proposal) for a three-year period. The total consideration to be paid was $25,000.

The story made the airwaves when, at the end of the three years, the older man followed the woman home, bitterly complaining that he "had not gotten his money's worth," and then got into a fight with the woman's husband. No charges were filed, and there is no report on the amount the older man demanded as a refund.

-- Randy Krbechek

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