Most of the time, big collaborative records between musicians and their friends turn out to be big, self-indulgent wank-fests. Anyone remember Hagar, Schon, Aaronson, and Shrieve? How about GTR? Anyone dust that one off recently? I didn't think so. Basically excuses to solo endlessly -- free of the constraints of, you know, being tasteful and actually advancing the song -- these records clog cut-out bins from coast to coast, or else dustily reside in the record collections of mulleted, Guitar Center employees ("Dude -- when Morse goes into that pentatonic scale, he just rips it up!")
Thankfully, Mylab -- basically Seattle recording weirdoes Wayne Horvitz and Tucker Martine, plus a dozen or so of their musician pals -- manage to avoid such stumble-footed studio stasis, mostly through their own good taste and commitment to an experimental mindset. When there is no plan, after all, you don't have to worry about it going awry.
Enlisting the help of pals like Danny Barnes (Bad Livers), Skerik (Tuatara) and guitar whiz Bill Frisell, the Mylab boys shake it like a Pyrex beaker, using found sounds, field recordings, old acoustic instruments, saxophones, pianos, shrieks, giggles, clarinets, fiddle, something called a Ngoni, a Flugelhorn and more (evidently there was a shortage of good "kitchen sink" players).
Much of the record has little recognizable "structure" in the classic sense, but it's not Dada, either, nor the doo-doo mentioned above. Think of it more as a musical conversation between musicians who each have something to say. There's overlap, certainly, and a decent bit of repetition, but the ideas being bantered about contain more than enough heft to make this a back-and-forth worth eavesdropping on.
Track to burn: "Master Korean Musicians"
Grade: B+ --Timothy C. Davis
Southern Culture On the Skids
Yep Roc Records
There was a time back in the mid-90s when Southern Culture on the Skids was the great white trash hope for the Great North State (that's North Carolina, for you history buffs). Known as much for pelting their audiences with banana pudding and fried chicken as for their homespun swamp-boogie, everything was a party and this the soundtrack to it. But as the food fetish came to the fore, fans started to smell something rotten. Could it be that SCOTS had become a novelty act? Mojo Box offers little to quell those fears. Tales of trailers, muscle cars and rednecks have lost their luster, though there are brief glimpses of the band that SCOTS once was. "Where Is the Moon" is a Mavericks-like love song, and the two instrumental tracks ("Wet Spot" and "The Sweet Spot") show that SCOTS can be a very fine rockabilly band. These few tracks offer a welcome respite from songs that bludgeon with their hyper-campy lyrics, e.g., "Swamp fox in a halter top" ("Swamp Fox"). We get it already...you're into the whole rural-hick rock thing. Fine. As the too-long record drags to a close with "It's All Over But the Shouting" Rick Miller asks, "How long can this go on?" He's not the only one asking. Maybe it's time to hang up the overalls and start serving the banana pudding and fried chicken at Sunday dinner instead.
Track to Burn: "Where Is the Moon"
Grade: C --Tara Flanagan
A Day at the Farm with Farmer
Yep Roc Records
Jason Ringenberg, who tore up countless stages with Jason & the Scorchers and has also released hip country solo records over the last two decades, takes a bit of a detour here. On A Day at the Farm with Farmer Jason, Ringenberg has assembled a nice batch of self-penned tunes for children. That's not to say Ringenberg doesn't maintain his country and rock roots, it means he has created a batch of peppy sing-along tunes that will invariably entice youngsters to get up and dance or jump around -- as is usually the case with that target audience. There's fiddle and banjo, steel guitar and harmonica, and the zesty guitar and humorous turns that that recall his revved-up past -- all reset in a farm setting with acoustic instrumentation. Ringenberg doesn't need to prove his authenticity either, as he is currently raising three young daughters on a farm outside of Nashville. This is a fun record, whether meant for youngsters or long-running fans of Ringenberg's forward-looking country ethos. Yeeehaw, as they say, the acorn doesn't fall too far from the tree. (Ringenberg will be playing two shows -- one for the kiddies, one for the older kids -- at The Evening Muse, Feb. 29; stay tuned for more.)
Track to Burn: "A Guitar Pickin' Chicken"
Grade: A- --Samir Shukla