Saturday, March 3, 2012

Baby Scream - Secret Place (2011)

On their 8th album Secret Place Baby Scream have taken some fairly common power pop influences and either by design or by accident they've managed to create something entirely unexpected. Most of that originality stems from Juan Pablo Mazzola's vocals, which occasionally resemble John Lennon at his most hushed but more often than not remind me of the Promise Ring's Davey von Bohlen (circa their moody Wood/Water album). There's a yearning fragility to his voice, a sense of impending heartbreak that colors every song, so even when the band stretches its muscles (like on the comparatively rockin' opener "The Last Call") there exists an appealingly odd melancholy to the proceedings. Guitars may jangle and buzz, a bit of Garth Hudson organ might flit in and out of the mix, but Mazzola anchors it all with that distinctive frailty.

Elsewhere, Mazzola toughens up a little on "Cold Weather Reggae", which slips in actual reggae without forsaking the mellow pop ambiance, and power chords pop up in "London Sun", but mostly this album is rich with delicately Lennon-esque gems like "Hit and Run" and "Eating My Face," songs of a singular mood that might go far deeper than a casual listen would suggest. The b-side of their "Hit and Run" single is a cover of a posthumously-released T. Rex demo, "20th Century Baby", and that choice (Marc Bolan, the elfin coke-ravaged man-child, stripped of all glam trappings and hippie optimism, playing it straight from the heart) seems an obvious key to Baby Scream's intentions on Secret Place.

Baby Scream at CD Baby

Lucero - Women & Work (2012)

When Lucero lurched into public consciousness at the beginning of the previous decade, they were the sonic equivalent of a savagely angry barroom drunk itching for a knife fight. The band played punked-up Americana, a definite southern twang buried under layers of electric fuzz and distortion with  murky influences touching on the Replacements, Uncle Tupelo, Crazy Horse, and, buried deep, Springsteen, all while leader Ben Nichols sang in a rasp so thick he must've gargled with gasoline and rusty carpet tacks. Since joining the major labels with their previous album (2009's 1372 Overton Park), the band hasn't exactly reinvented their wheel, but they've certainly buffed up those whitewalls with some Armor All. Women & Work continues that trend towards respectability. The songs feature a full horn section, keyboards, as well as the occasional gospel choir, and Nichols' ear for a hook continues to get more pronounced. Old fans may quibble about the clean, big budget production gloss, but to my ears it still sounds like good ol' Lucero - in other words, the angry drunk with a knife in his pocket is still sitting at the end of the bar, just now he's wearing a brand new pair of beatin' jeans.

Lucero website

Freddy Lynxx and the Jet Boys - Larger Than Life Dusted (2004)

This re-issue of the Jet Boys' impossible-to-find 1990 album Larger Than Life (now credited to "Freddy Lynxx and the Jet Boys" and complete with a handful of bonus tracks) boasts some New York Dolls worship of the highest order. The Dolls may have been blamed for influencing a lot of late '80s/early 90s glam - from Faster Pussycat and Poison to Motley Crue and Guns'n'Roses - but as much as those bands may have looked the part, they seldom sounded like it. The Jet Boys, on the other hand, were the real deal. Although originating in France, leader Freddy Lynxx did time as a roadie for Johnny Thunders, and Thunders himself chose the band's name (from one of his songs). Much of Larger Than Life sounds like the Heartbreakers with a horn section, with Lynxx bleating like the ghost of St. Johnny and the band oozing such a high dosage of junkie sleaze that you'd think they were birthed at the Mercer Street Arts Center in '72. The six bonus tracks, including covers of Thunders' "Pirate Love" and Wayne/Jayne County's "Toilet Love", allow the party to last just that much longer. Viva la France.
Jet Boys on Amazon