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Dec. '04

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Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys
Empty HouseBloodshot

One of the best ways to tell good country music from bad is to ask a few simple but telling questions to yourself: Would this sound good on a juke-box, in a bar with wood floors and a fantastic lack of sports jerseys hanging on the wall? Does it make you want a yard-beer and an old dog to bemoan your latest falling out with Lola the waitress? Are the song titles filled with phrases like "...break your heart." or "...tear I left behind"? Well, if you can say yes to all that, Hoss, you just might have yourself some of the true sounds of Nashville (whatever's left of it, anyway...)

Rex and his boys (consisting of JB Morris, Solomon Hofer, TC Dobbs and Blackjack Snow) echo the styles of past country greats so perfectly that it's hard to believe that the release date for their latest 11-track album is Feb. 22, 2005, rather than sometime around 1955 or so. Songs like "Empty House Dawn and Twilight" evoke the spirits of Campbell and Kristofferson so freakin' well that this reviewer was suddenly flooded with memories of 10,000 miles of listening to the variety of radio stations on childhood trips to Oklahoma City and back (Best exampled by a line from The Blues Brothers: "Oh, we got both kinds (of music) — country and western!)

Having played just about every venue in KC and Lawrence for years, Rex has built up quite a following, and given the state of live music in general, it shouldn't be any other way. So get your boots and John Deer caps on, look 'em up and fill up the house. The misery is on them. —Brandon Whitehead


Eminem
EncoreAftermath

Marshall Mathers, a k a Eninem, a k a Slim Shady, a k a the angry white kid has fascinated rap fans with his slick productions, tight rhymes and a destructive attitude. That he has swung around with all the subtlety of a drunken crackhead with an M-16.

Racism, misogyny, fratricide and self-loathing ooze out of unabashedly autobiographical tracks like “Evil Deeds,” only to turn into the repentant tones of his perfectly sampled version of “Like Toy Soldiers.”

In an age where mainstream rap has turned into a shallow and laughable parody of itself (much like country or rock or metal...enough, this is depressing), Eminem continues to quietly prove what most of the music industry forgot long ago: If you want to last then the music must come before the fame. A pretty face on an new album cover might get it bought, but only good music will keep them commin' back for more.

While in a sense Mathers “jumped the shark” at the MTV awards a few years ago when, no doubt in an effort to prove his gansta street creds, he shoved Triumph the Insult-comic dog — whom in addition to being hilarious (insulting people, by the way...remind you of anyone Slim?) also happened to be a puppet. Still, once you get passed the feuds against his mom, ex-wife or Michael Jackson (really, who cares?), you can't deny that this is as compelling (and sometimes as repelling) as a train wreck. —Brandon Whitehead


Catch 22
Catch 22 LiveVictory

Recorded (and filmed for an included DVD) live in concert at Long Island's Downtown, Catch 22 shows what is both so great and infuriating about ska-punk. Simply put, the fun sloppiness of rapid-fire ska means that the CD tracks often sound, well, sloppy.

Like much of rockabilly and neo-punk, this kind of music is at its best live — because that's what truly matters: getting the word of mouth going for the next show. So Victory, in a very clever move, has included much of the concert live on an included DVD, which is easily worth as much as the CD itself.

In fact, the growing option for combining CDs with DVD footage is probably going to make this kind of package more and more common in the future. Being part of the infectious fun of the crowd, the banter between band members, the sloshed beer on the floor and the sweat-soaked stage antics are what makes bands like Catch 22 fun. No philosophical messages, overblown emotion outbursts or pompous elitist scorn is needed here, just horns, double-fast drums and a desire to enjoy music with other human beings. That's exactly what these six goof balls do. No catch there. —Brandon Whitehead


Bobby Darin
Aces Back to BackHyena Records

It’s a good bet few people under 35 know who Bobby Darin is much less know about his talent. Outside of some “oldies” station occasionally putting “Mack the Knife” in rotation, Darin’s musical legacy is largely unknown. His death in 1973 at 37 of heart failure cut short the life of artist who the could have easily bridged music-lovng generations for decades.

Though a step younger than Frank, Dino and Tony, Darin was every bit a crooner on par with Sinatra, Martin and Bennett — in flair and class. Every cut on Aces Back To Back demonstrates this. Put a full orchestra behind Darin, and his presence holds center stage — particularly in songs like “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You,” “A Quarter To Nine” and “Up A Lazy River” — as the power in his voice stays confident but flexible and his phrasing impeccable. The singing is pure Vegas but far from tacky or cheap. Call it entertainment with a singer very sure with what he could do with a song.


Darin could take bubble-gum love tunes like “Dream Lover” and “All I Have To Do Is Dream” — in a duet with Petula Clark — and wipe the triteness off of them. As this CD shows, Darin’s range and adaptability to cultural shifts seemed to come easy. In the late ‘60s, Darin had his Big Sur sessions on his own short-lived Direction record label. The cuts “Jive” and “Long Time Movin’” highlight this period. Darin even recorded so-called protest music including Tim Hardin’s “If I Were A Carpenter” and his own anti-war song “Simple Song of Freedom.”

The people at Hyena should be congratulated for releasing Aces Back To Back. The bonus DVD is nice touch also, with archive footing of Darin in the studio and commentary from the likes of George Burns. —Bruce Rodgers


Badly Drawn Boy
One Plus One is OneAstralwerka

Is there a direct correlation between CDs that run more than 60 minutes and ample use of the glockenspiel?

On Badly Drawn Boy’s latest, One Plus One Is One, he assembles a work that is cinematic in scope and uplifting in tempo. It is also 61:43 of humming organs and giggling banjos, which could mean a lifetime to someone who is only interested in what can be drudged up with a guitar, bass, and drums. Yet the curious thing about Boy, a k a Damon Gough, is that he doesn’t inspire the same steel-toed backlash that bands like Radiohead and REM conjure up in the softened frontal lobes of Metallica fans. Like Beck or the Flaming Lips, he wins them over with his steady melodies, while he strolls through sunny lyrics that assail cynicism and celebrate very un-rock-and-roll themes like monogamy.

Take “Year of the Rat,” an operatic ballad about hopefulness, with backing vocals delivered by a children’s choir. Ordinarily, this would be pathetic top-40 pandering, a la Michael Jackson; yet because of his thin vocal range and quiet delivery, lyrics like “if we hold on, we can find some new energy” are vulnerable, but never schmaltzy.

On “Four Leaf Clover” and “Logic of a Friend,” he structures the rhythm around simple beats, yet allows the tracks to unfold seamlessly by adding delicate textures like handclaps and strings.

One might argue that Badly Drawn Boy makes records for the same reason that Jodie Foster makes movies: It’s all about the awards. Yet accolades aside, this work can stand on its own bells and whistles. —Gillian Titus


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