Killers and Stars
On this home-recorded, solo acoustic album from Drive-By Trucker Patterson Hood, there is only one song that's a revelation --and it's a cover. It's Tom T. Hall's "Pay No Attention to Alice," written about a friend's alcoholic wife. Of course! For all the comparisons that the Drive-By Truckers draw to classic-rock forebears such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Neil Young, and Bruce Springsteen, the band's songwriting style and ethical sense owe a clear debt to Hall, and as a devout Hall fan, I can't believe I didn't make the connection before Hood made it for me. In retrospect, Hall's sneaky-smart, deadpan-funny character sketches now clearly seem to be a model for great Truckers songs like "Guitar Man Upstairs" and "Margo and Harold."
The disappointing thing about Killers and Stars is that the rest of the album runs away from this connection. Maybe that's okay, since it would be better to hear Hood's best efforts locked in to his band's three-guitar attack (Killers and Stars is being slipped out between the releases of last year's Decoration Day and this summer's next DBT full-length, The Dirty South) than strummed casually in his dining room.
Hood's gifts are for humor and detail, be it personal or, like Hall, observed. Only two songs on Killers and Stars fit into this vein --"Old Timer's Disease," clearly the former, and "Phil's Transplant," which seems to be the latter. The rest can be divided into two more groups: archetypal songs that come across like songwriting exercises and musings on some of Hood's pop-culture obsessions.
The first group --with titles such as "The Rising Son," "The Assassin," and "The Hobo" --may well all be metaphors for things Hood was going through when he wrote them, but they don't hit as hard or dig as deep as the songs Hood writes for the Truckers. These are strong songs, but they sound as if they could have been written by anyone.
Better are the pop-culture songs, which reflect more of Hood's personality. "Uncle Disney," with the opening lines "When they thaw out Uncle Disney/Gonna be some changes made/Pointing fingers, asking questions/Forty years of decisions made," reaffirms Hood's gift for subtle vernacular. "Frances Farmer" is no match for, say, Woody Guthrie's "Ingrid Bergman" as musical mash note to an actress, but it gets in some good lines. The others are more up-to-date and far cheekier: "Belinda Carlisle Diet" ("Cocaine and milkshakes, milkshakes, cocaine/All that money down the drain") and "Cat Power" ("My little disaffected sex symbol, you/If you was any more shy, you'd break in two").
All in all, not a bad effort, though I think I'd rather hear Hood do a spoken-word record.
-- Chris Herrington
Patterson Hood performs at the Hi-Tone CafÇ Thursday, June 3rd.
90 Day Men
What an odd little bird, this Panda Park, the third missive from the once-predictable 90 Day Men. Making ripples around 2000 with (It (is) It) Critical Band, the foursome added an assertive post-punk repetition to post-rock and post-rock fallout of fellow Chicagoans Tortoise. Now they've taken a novel course straight into the early '70s, with an electric piano front and center. The vocals of Brian Case will never be mistaken for the polished pipes of Yes's Steve Howe, and the music lacks the complicated discipline of those dinosaurs, but the feel and sway of the original heavy-hitters of prog rock is unshakable. The vocals will make or break this band for some listeners. Case is as tuneless as the day is long. Alternating between a murmur, a mumble, a yelp, an ill-conceived Prince falsetto, and a dead-on Scott Walker send-up, the vocals on Panda Park drive home the fact that singing isn't really the point with this band. The point is that, while there is a Chicago post-rock flare, 90 Day Men also sound unlike any underground trends of the moment. Hats off to originality. I just wish originality had a different singer. n --Andrew Earles