For all the publicity Wilco got for having their art-rock opus Yankee Hotel Foxtrot rejected by their (major) label only to have it picked up and released by a smaller subsidiary of the same corporation, the tide seems to be turning when it comes to major labels taking a chance on interesting music. First, the White Stripes' White Blood Cells gets picked up and rereleased by minimajor V2, then punk-rock indie Epitaph teams up with Warner Bros. to introduce America to the Hives, and now Clinic's recent indie Walking With Thee is set to be rereleased by Universal. But perhaps the happiest example of this recent trend is Alabama's long-suffering Drive-By Truckers, who self-released their prize project, the double-disc concept record Southern Rock Opera, last fall and are now seeing it rereleased this month by Mercury subsidiary Lost Highway, the roots label behind Ryan Adams, Lucinda Williams, and the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack.
No offense to Jeff Tweedy and company, but Southern Rock Opera is the kind of hubris I can get with -- one in which the guitars burn like the missing link between Crazy Horse and Hüsker Dü, the jokes crackle with down-home flair, and the conceptual concerns are intensely engaged, whether frontman and talker extraordinaire Patterson Hood is giving his take on "The Three Great Alabama Icons" (Bear Bryant, George Wallace, and Ronnie Van Zandt), musing on the "duality of the Southern Thing," or reliving the glory of a Molly Hatchet (?!?) concert.
The Truckers hit town this week for their first local show since Southern Rock Opera's initial release and will be joined by like-minded Nashvillians Bare Jr. This loud and raw showcase of regional pride will be at the Hi-Tone Café on Thursday, July 18th. -- Chris Herrington
So you've never heard of garage torchbearer Ben Vaughn? Well, I'm not too surprised. Lots of people haven't, though they are no doubt familiar with his work on the idiot box. Thanks to Vaughn, an audiophile's audiophile and longtime Alex Chilton crony, Big Star's ever-catchy "In the Street" is the theme to That '70s Show, even though nobody in the show's Wisconsin (except maybe a super-hip music writer or two) had even heard of Big Star back in their '70s heyday. Vaughn is likewise the alien force behind the surf-rock guitar that punctuates the zany John Lithgow vehicle 3rd Rock From the Sun. In addition to his film and television work, he's also served as producer for groups as dissimilar as the foolishly perverse (but nonetheless awesome) Ween, the savvy instrumentalists Los Straitjackets, and Memphis' late, great country artist Charlie Feathers. On top of all that, Vaughn has toured constantly and released a string of unique recordings (one was recorded almost entirely in a car) since sometime back in the mid-'80s. His clever, often laugh-out-loud lyrics never seem like mere novelty as they ride along on a variety of slick rock, rockabilly, punk, pop, blues, soul, and country riffs. He'll be playing the Blue Monkey with a pickup band of Memphis all-stars (including sax man Jim Spake, drummer Paul Buchignani, and bass player Scott Bomar) on Friday, July 19th. -- Chris Davis