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Mannish boyz

Trace Adkins, Will Kimbrough



Sho'nuff these mack daddies and rebels without a pause are some kinda men -- but they ain't always reliable narrators:

Honky-tonk badonkadonk put slow-burn country baritone Trace Adkins permanently on the map; now they call him Toby Keith-lite. Well, Adkins supported Bush's re-election, but, "Fightin' Words" aside, his latest disc's messages hew to the pleasure principle more than anything else (like Keith, he's fine). Adkins may never attain Funky Broadway (see Wilson Pickett below) either, but the new Dangerous Man (Capitol Nashville) shows Ole Trace, post-hat playa, taking a few twirls 'round the disco ball anyhow. The title track is rote dirty after dark blues-rock that will work the honky-tonks just fine. Other cuts ably limn the space joining twang and R&B that the Allmans and Skynyrd permanently made safe in the early 1970s. (Ronnie Van Zant's "Turn it up!" cry from "Sweet Home Alabama" appears in the lyric of "Ladies Love Country Boys.") "Southern Hallelujah," a Southeastern booty roll call, dubs Adkins as the California country version of Kid Rock -- give or take some Marshall stacks (BTW, Kid Rock's still attempting to perfect this persona). And Treacle Trace visits Stax territory on horny country-soul ballad "Ain't No Woman Like You." Where his previously hailed country-crunk crossover rears its head is (oddly) on baseball paean "Swing" and the inevitable "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk (Video Mix)"; all that's missing is a Lil Jon cameo. Can Badonkadonk screwed & chopped be next? Now, I like manly Trace, but the fact that this remix and "Ride" are among the few most interesting cuts here suggests he needs to eschew the hat and dare to fully embrace the complicated sound his boots have scooted him into. Besides politics, poon and long-players don't mix.

Will Kimbrough is a Nashvegas resident but about as polar opposite to Adkins politically as he can get -- exhibit A: Americanitis (Daphne). Mobile, AL-born Kimbrough has built his rep by working with such Americana luminaries as Rodney Crowell, Guy Clark and Todd Snider, as well as penning smartly-crafted pop songs á la Randy Newman. Americanitis opener "I Lie" slyly continues this tradition: "I lie. / Why? / Because I can. / It's the pleasure and the privilege / Of the richest people in the land. / Don't you understand?" Although several years overdue (cough), Americanitis is one of the finest (and wittiest) protest albums to emerge from Bush America, its sound ranging seamlessly from bluegrass polemics ("Rag") to rollicking blues ("Wind Blowing Change") and jangle-pop ("Everyone's In Love"). Overall, "Life" makes suffering our common, tricolor affliction most fun.

Sam Roberts, a Canadian singer-songwriter from Montréal, has thrown his rock gauntlet down with psych-tinged Americana concept album Chemical City (Secret Brain/Universal Canada). "The Gate" sweeps the listener into Roberts' sonic dystopia, all Beatlesque harmonies and aswirl with dueling organ and fuzzy guitar riffs courtesy of his four-piece band. Thematically, Roberts operates as road bard conflicted between his indie milieu's veneration of Lennon's "Working Class Hero" and arena aspirations (and there's proggy album art too!). Fortunately, some epic grandeur seeps out of the cracks: the aforementioned track, "Mind Flood" and "An American Draft Dodger in Thunder Bay."

Wolfmother appears to have used Roberts' artiste for its disc, too: the self-titled CD (Modular/Interscope) deploys Tommy font, a succubus muse and menacing sea serpents to spark rockists of a certain age. "Where Eagles Have Been" brings swirl Roberts could love. Wolfmother is cited as the Oz rebirth of the power trio. But that already went down in the 1990s, with the emergence of Gov't Mule. It's unsurprising that frontman Andrew Stockdale and Co. are inspired by bombast from Deep Purple to Sabbath and Kyuss. What's curious is how these Aussie's shtick is garnering such acclaim in the same season as self-reflexive metallists the Darkness is dropped. Is it down to a lack of cheek?

Wilson Pickett is a relic from the unapologetically sexist pop era. The late, Alabamian Wicked Pickett's soul shout positively drips macho on such sweaty classics as "Mustang Sally" and "Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won't Do)" from The Definitive Collection (Atlantic/Rhino). Of course, the braggadocio is constant in music, but -- offensive or no -- Pickett's grit is far more pleasurable than the whiny-voiced "R&B" boyz of today. And Pickett also shows a tender side on a remake of Bobby Womack's "I'm In Love."

Bonus track: Olé! Tarantula (Yep Roc) is the latest from erstwhile Soft Boy and Egyptian Robyn Hitchcock (plus the Venus 3 featuring Peter Buck). If Hitchcock's never been my particular cuppa, still gotta cut him some slack -- two of his most abiding idols departed recently: Arthur Lee and Syd Barrett. One of the best cuts here, "Museum of Sex" actually features Lee hallmarks: Latin rhythms, galloping sax, ax fuzz and Lee's lilting/staccato phrasing.

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