A short one this week. Some people have commented to me that last week’s in depth examination of Tori Amos’ new album was a bit too dense, so we’re going for light and breezy this time. Some news, a small-ish review of a good new disc, and we’re out. Nothing you would, as friend and correspondent Chris L’etoile would say, need your “thinkin’ specs” for.
So, new releases news.
Just when I thought this year couldn’t get any bigger, better or more artistically-driven (witness great new discs by Ben Folds, Ani DiFranco, Daniel Amos, Tool, Tori Amos, They Might Be Giants, etc.), one Mr. Richard D. James checks in. Electronic music fans may know James by the name he uses most often, Aphex Twin. James will release his first all-new full-lengther under that name in six years on October 23. It’s called Drukqz, and that’s not a misprint. It’s also a 100-minute double-disc affair that reportedly mixes the more bizarre, aggressive style of his last two albums with the reflective soundscapes of Selected Ambient Works. If you’ve never heard James’ work before, trust me, he’s a genius.
Considering how the majority of my musical taste runs to the subtler, more thoughtful artists, the fact that I’m a huge Dream Theater fan may come as a surprise. DT is loud, bombastic, and almost jaw-droppingly pretentious. They’re also five of the greatest musicians you will ever hear in one place. Every Dream Theater album is a huge, breathtakingly technical undertaking. With the addition of Jordan Rudess on keyboards, the quintessential DT lineup is now complete, and they’re readying a one-two punch that sounds like their most ambitious yet.
Those of you who went to the record store over the last few weeks and were unable to find the promised three-CD set Live Scenes in New York, well, it was recalled. The original release date was September 11, a day that will live in infamy, and the band wisely decided that an album whose cover artwork coincidentally depicted the Manhattan skyline in flames would only add to the tragedy. They’re officially releasing the set with new artwork on October 23. Three months later, the new DT studio album hits, and it’s a six-song, double-disc set that runs 95 minutes. It’s called Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, and the title track alone clocks in at 40 minutes and takes up all of disc two. Sheesh. Can’t wait for this one.
Anyway, we move from there to the furthest point away from prog-rock, the traditional American stylings of the criminally ignored Lost Dogs, coming up right after the asterisks.
I heard a radio report the other day that some scientists have discovered a link between music, food and sex. They say that music stimulates the same chemically-triggered feelings of satisfaction that are commonly associated with warm sex and a good meal. (Or good sex and a warm meal. Whatever.) The scientists postulate that people’s emotional connection to music is in fact linked to the same connection people have with intimate human contact and nourishment.
If that’s true, then the new Lost Dogs album, Real Men Cry, is the chemical equivalent of biting into a sugared lemon near the end of six months on a deserted island. It’s a sweet, sad, slow sigh, mixed with many different colors of loss and pain. It’s also the most consistent, unified record this assemblage of graciously aging gents have made. Considering the circumstances under which it came together, that’s remarkable.
The Lost Dogs are a supergroup of unknowns, a spiritual Traveling Wilburys formed from the ranks of four of the best bands to never sell a million copies. Between the four original members, the Dogs have participated in a few hundred superb records, and their bands are responsible for more than 50 should-have-been classic records over the past 25 years. I’ve mentioned quite a few of them in this column, and one of them (Daniel Amos’ Mr. Buechner’s Dream) is a shoo-in for this year’s Top 10 List. I won’t go into the Dogs’ respective careers here, except to mention the bands they came from – Daniel Amos, the Choir, the 77s and Adam Again. Anything bearing those names is worth your cash.
Together, the Dogs have embarked on a quest to unearth the roots of traditional American music, in much the same way that bands like Wilco and artists like Gillian Welch have been digging through this country’s rich musical heritage. In the past, Dogs albums have seemed like slapdash affairs, lunging from country to rock to bluegrass to blues with almost no navigational center. The songs were mostly spectacular, but the albums suffered somewhat from a lack of stylistic cohesion.
That mix-tape sensation all but disappeared on the band’s fourth album, Gift Horse. On this record, the songwriting reins were taken by Terry Taylor, guiding light of Daniel Amos, and the band settled on a sweet, updated country-rock sound. Gift Horse hung together, from first note to last, as a unified vision. It was the best record they’d ever released, and it was also their last with original Dog Gene Eugene, who died last year.
The tributes to Eugene have been many and varied, from songs on the new Choir and DA records to a moving concert given in his memory last summer. His band, Adam Again, released their own tribute album before calling it quits. As for the other band to bear the stamp of his heartbreaking voice, well, no one would have blamed the Lost Dogs for calling it a day.
Long story short, that’s not what they did. The three remaining Dogs got together earlier this year and laid down some of their best tracks. The resulting album, Real Men Cry, is the most authentic-sounding recording they’ve made, and though Eugene’s earthy vocals are sorely missed, the songs and performances here are better than they’ve ever been. Real Men Cry is a turn-of-the-century slice of arid desert yearning, a loping skyward gaze buried in sand.
The album sticks to a traditional Merle Haggard-Johnny Cash country sound throughout, bereft of the modern touches of Gift Horse. The best tracks are the slower ones, although the ironically titled “Three Legged Dog” is a silly, fun romp. More affecting, though, is Mike Roe’s lovely voice and guitar on the title song, Derri Daugherty’s angelic vocal on “No Shadow of Turning,” and the trio’s tear-jerking work on highlight “In the Distance.”
All these songs are tales of sadness tinged with spiritual hope. The record is saturated in loneliness and loss, and while it doesn’t specifically reference Eugene, one can feel the influence his absence had on this recording. The Dogs have never sounded more genuine, more honest about the painful stories they’re relating. Modern country is full of artifice, and when said modern country artists attempt the move to traditional music, the phoniness becomes even more apparent. This is the real thing, informed by a true love of simple, sad songs sung from the heart.
It’s worth mentioning as a coda that 11 of these 13 songs were written by Terry Taylor, and with Daniel Amos’ double-disc Mr. Buechner’s Dream, that brings his 2001 output to 44 tunes. And not a dud in the bunch. The man just never runs out of great songs, and in lieu of fame and universal acclaim, it’s those songs that will stand as his legacy. Real Men Cry is just the latest chapter in a long and varied career that, God willing, will continue for decades to come.
See you in line Tuesday morning.