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Wednesday, Nov 20 1996
Rig Rock Deluxe: A Musical
Salute to the American Truck Driver
(Upstart/Diesel Only)

One has to wonder who the intended audience is for a trucker song: us general Joes with soft spots for the picaresque, or real truckers? I mean, how would it sit with you to hear songs about your job? ("She's jessa a shoe-sellin' gal," or, "That's when he up -- thump, thump -- and punched the punch key," etc.) And if you were blessed with your own career-oriented subcategory of music, wouldn't you spend your working hours listening to songs sung by famous singers that made your job sound way more exciting than it was? Songs that made the rest of the world jealous and you a hero; lover; rogue; legend?

(Ahem.) Breaker one-nine, breaker one-nine. Any of you wannabe double-clutching, pill-popping, widow-making, coffee-drinking, Rolaids-eating road hawgs got your ears on? If you do -- if you're not bedded down with some little teddy bear or settin' inside a truck stop eating pie -- you better get yer donkey off the freeway and grab aholt of Rig Rock Deluxe: A Musical Salute to the American Trucker.

Compiled by Jeremy Tepper and Jake Guralnick, who hail from the freight yards of Brooklyn, Rig Rock Deluxe is actually one of the better country albums of the year. Sixteen songs celebrating -- or moaning about -- the open road, and, like when you're backhaulin' freight at night out of San Antone, the pedal is to the metal from the giddyup go. (I can't stop myself -- I'm like a semi that's blown its brakes, barreling down the Devil's Grade, coming up on a microbus full of hippies like they was a-settin' still.) Personal faves include Don Walser's smoking version of "Truck Driving Man"; a wistful, elder Buck Owens asking "Will There Be Big Rigs in Heaven?" (I wonder if even truckers would want the accouterments of their profession with them when they make their "final run"); twangmeister Junior Brown and the legendary Red Simpson hovering near low C together in "Nitro Express"; Kelly Willis' cover of "Truck Stop Girl" (yes, Little Feat had one good album -- their first); Steve Earle's chugging bluegrass version of "White Freight Liner Blues"; and Cheri Knight's heaving Celtic sob of a song, "Wagon of Clay." True, there're a couple too many recently penned bar-rock boogie numbers, and the all-star sing-along version of "Six Days on the Road" -- even if this is a "salute" -- leaves me missing Dave Dudley and tasting Bob Geldof. Nevertheless, Rig Rock Deluxe merits this gear-jamming critic's big ten-four. ('87 Toyota short bed, good buddy.)

-- Curtis Bonney

Vanessa Daou
Slow to Burn

Vanessa Daou dares you to take her music lightly, so it's no surprise that her current single, "Two to Tango," has found itself aired among the cheesy schmaltz of New Adult Contemporary radio. But unlike the pathetic sounds of Kenny G and his creepy imitators, Daou's recordings richly reward those who delve below the easygoing surface. Yes, her music is, at its best, about sex. But Daou is miles ahead of the bump-and-grind celebrations of illicit triumph commonly found in conventional pop music. Her music is sensual in a way that would go right over the head of Keith Sweat or Adina Howard (though Salt-N-Pepa would likely understand). It's about the joyous eloquence and keen articulation that results from blissful states.

While this may seem like the crass projection of repressed male desire onto the art of an attractive woman, it isn't. Daou has cultivated this sound and approach over three recordings. In 1991, she and her husband, Peter, working under the name the Daou, released Head Music, a batch of warm and ambient delicacies that were far too intelligent for Sony Music to market. Working as a solo artist (produced by her husband), Daou returned in '93 with Zipless, a collection of poems by Erica Jong put to music. The wispy, jazz-inflected sounds won her underground cred with ambient-groove and acid-jazz lovers.

On Slow to Burn, Daou expands her explorations of what she calls a "fugue state" -- the powerful but temporary sensation that occurs when mental ground gives way. The album is a series of meditations on Billie Holiday, Bettie Page, Isadora Duncan, Frida Kahlo, Nico, Josephine Baker, and other strong women. Daou's lyrics maintain her erotic focus; it is often as if she is creating the soundtrack for a documentary on Judy Chicago. The music stays a bit closer to conventional song forms, but like Betty Carter's jazz, it remains lithe enough to follow the emotion of the moment. Daou's delicate vocals bring each figure to life in her own idiosyncratic way. Daou creates a sound that is alluring without sacrificing substance. At this rate, she may soon redefine the art of pop-music seduction.

-- Martin Johnson

Hell on Earth
Biomechanical Ejaculations
of the Damned

Yes, all you perhaps excessively open-minded West Coast folk -- even this sort of retarded, gross, puerile, self-caricaturing phenomenon can serve a purpose. Not so much because the target market for adolescents needing to offend their parents remains a national niche -- it does -- but, frankly, because of the intellectual, political, and social clime (and perhaps the actual climate) of the Sunshine State. Yes, the boogers, the necrophilia, the Satanism, the HIV "jokes," the perversion all seem so childish, dumb, and indulgent to us Californians -- we who take for granted various privileges, we who enjoy the concept of our permissiveness, provided the activity in question bears the huggy-feely love-thy-sibling propriety we require. But in Florida -- whoa, man, if the buzzards and insects don't get you, the Christian good ol' boys will. Californians often forget that other areas of the nation to which we're federally attached still cling to such heathen homilies as, oh, Faggots Die, or, uh, Niggers Hang, and, um, Women Suck. At the same time, witness the good-hearted efforts of West Coast organizations like JAMPAC, who claim that censorship and oppression are bad for rock. Like hell. Rock thrives on oppression -- it was, after all, born of it. And even if the concepts are lower in oppressed environments (like that of Florida's metal scene, whence we get acts like Napalm Death, Hell on Earth, and even Marilyn Manson), it's only because such grunt-gutter tactics are so effective. Bear in mind, Florida is the state that prosecuted and convicted "artist" Mike Diana for obscenity, ordering him to stay away from children. (An illustration of Diana's -- a wheel of fishhook- and nail-pierced dicks -- graces Hell on Earth's CD.) And for what? Drawing dumb, unpleasant, pornographic pictures. The courts only succeeded in giving Diana a fame that his inept little squiggles hardly merit. In Florida, tastelessness isn't just tasteless, it's prosecutable.

Hell on Earth is in no way a good band. The music is nothing new -- it's just the same chromatic power-chord riffs we've heard in metal for the past 20 years, however low the tuning, rendered "novel" with pseudo-industrial machine beats. And, yes, the lyrics are misogynous ("Fuck That Bitch"; "Toilet Licking Maggot"), sacrilegious ("Baptized in Semen"; "Raped by the Virgin Mary"), and offensive in general. The whole effort is good for basically nothing. And yet, for reasons surpassing aesthetic aversion, I'm glad they're flinging their dumb crap on the opposite coast; it's not only easy to make Florida squirm -- it's necessary.

-- Michael Batty


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