Mermaid Avenue Vol. II

Mermaid Avenue, the first volume of Woody Guthrie lyrics brought to life through the musical collaboration of Billy Bragg and Wilco, was a somewhat haunted affair. Granted, the teaming of Bragg and Wilco's Jeff Tweedy was both artistically and intellectually unassailable, and the resulting album was a highly reverent collection of songs that fit themselves nicely (albeit cautiously) around the scruffy splendor of Guthrie's homespun poetry. Yet, though I listened to it quite a lot, I always sensed a certain disconcerting weightiness about Mermaid Avenue, as though the tasteful compositions and impeccable musicianship were hedges. For me, the mantle of responsibility to Guthrie's legacy gave the musicians' efforts an undercurrent of trepidation that translated into a monotonous salute. But hell, that was unavoidable. It was, after all, the sacred heritage of Woody Guthrie: It's amazing they had the guts and the goods to pull it off at all.

If the first collection, then, was gorgeously yet fearfully haunted by the ghost of Guthrie, Volume II is suffused and therefore liberated by his indomitable spirit. Obviously, to get to this CD, with its jangly, alternatingly upbeat and low-down arrangements and fiercely heartfelt performances, the guys had to get through the landmark-making of the other. That's history: Now that the humble-flag has been raised, Bragg and Tweedy allow themselves to dance around it, triumphantly, and to have some fun, American-style.

The vocal trade-offs and interplay are invariably stunning. For example, Tweedy's interpretation of the tender "Remember the Mountain Bed" is perfectly, unabashedly romantic, and Bragg's angry chanting on the rave-up "All You Fascists" is powerfully politic without being pompous.

Most importantly, the collection as a whole captures the quirky, oddball humor of Guthrie's timeless wordplay, the way he spun together relevance, irreverence, and an aw-shucks vernacular into wonderful odes of common dignity and uncommon humility.

Mermaid Avenue Vol. II is quite joyfully buoyed by its own sense of freedom, by the melodic anti-establishmentarian razzings and humane pleas for individuality Guthrie championed throughout his lifetime. RICK LEVIN

Double Danger (2CD/LP)

Shit... it's been a while since I hollered 'bout these boys, huh? Hell, I figgered maybe I didn't need to as y'all OUGHTA know yer shit by now! Am I RIGHT? Whatever, I'm back to let cha'll "in the knowers" in on this live collection!

The Double Danger package features fer us two shows, the first from November of '73... the second... with Blue Oyster Cult and KISS from the following December, spread out on two discs, one show per disc. (Wax heads can snag the "best of" both shows edited onna single LP.)

Cool... now I know there're other Stooges shows out there, so why bother with this? Dammit, THIS collection has action I been 'spectin' to hear for a while... it's THEE place to find the mighty fo'gotten ones all jacked up on the booger sugar 'n' smacked DOWN, but STILL gettin' TIGHT like that!

I was impressed by the strength of these performances, the first 'un bein' the best--'cause legend, historical rewrites, 'n', well, most audible testimonies has the band completely shakin' loose 'n' fallin' down FUCKED... but NOT this time. Double D proves the Stooges' live prowess was NOT completely based on an all-consumin', angry, slurred icon o' the Pop, but rather the band as a whole! Hey... whiny pee pants Ron Ashton... I'm VALIDATING your contributions!

Oh, beware you "pussies": The sound quality... (ahem) the "fidelity," is kinda shitty. But EVERYTHING, the instruments 'n' such, cuts well enuff through the melee, and the "live" sound adds to the chaos! There's a couple slew prises too: "Head On," heard befo', but here it's brilliant, 'n' how 'bout the track "Wet My Bed"? Hmmm, a testimonial TO the MC5? MIKE NIPPER


by Kris Adams

Lil' Kim, Notorious K.I.M. (Queen Bee/Atlantic) The snappy dresser and former squeeze of Notorious B.I.G. releases her first album in five years.

Nina Gordon, Tonight and the Rest of My Life (Warner Bros.) Remember that song about that cat? Gordon used to be half of Veruca Salt.

Kelly Price, Mirror Mirror (Def Soul) Price isn't the only famous vocalist on this album. Method Man, R. Kelly, and Gerald Levert all make appearances, and Price's two children make their professional debuts for good measure.

Richard Ashcroft, Alone with Everybody (Virgin) The Verve broke up, so if Ashcroft wants to put out something worthy of a Nike commercial, he's going to have to do it himself.

Sister Hazel, Fortress (Universal) Radio-friendly tunes soon to follow.

Vega, Life on Earth (Freeworld/Capitol) Another male harmony group from the producer that brought us Boyz II Men. Yippee!

Dave Davies, Live at the Bottom Line (Koch) He's not just Ray's brother. He makes his own music, too.

Nelly, Country Grammer (Universal) Misleading name, misleading title. This is rap, with bad words and everything.

Queensrÿche, Greatest Hits (Virgin) "Silent Lucidity" will be on this one.

Sasha, Dedicated To (Reprise) He's the number-one pop star in Germany. But remember, Germany also loves David Hasselhoff.

Taproot, Gift (Atlantic) Four guys from Michigan playing rock. Next thing you know, they'll start building cars in Detroit.

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