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Wednesday, October 10,2001

The Gourds


Bubonic chronic and Copenhagen Longcut mingle in the mouths of singer/songwriters Kevin Russell and Jimmy Smith on the re-release of Gogityershinebox, an EP originally dropped in the United States in 1998 on the now-defunct Watermelon/Sire label.

Deliverin' the D-O-Double-G from his Long Beach stoop to a front-porch hoedown, The Gourd's jangly mandolin and cracker-twang cover of Snoop Doggy Dogg's "Gin & Juice" leads a posse of cover tunes and standards on the Sugar Hill label's Gogityer-less U.S. issue, Shinebox (2001). Including five live tracks recorded during a VPRO Radio Netherlands show in Amsterdam-home of the Austin band's mother label, Munich Records-this precursor to last year's whimsically cryptic Bolsa De Aqua features an elegant treatment of David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust"; a fiddle-backed, tear-jerkin' version of Townes Van Zandt's "Two Girls"; a squeeze-boxing, foot-stompin' rendition of Doc Watson's "I'm Troubled"; and a downhearted, down-home re-creation of Grin's "Everybody's Missing the Sun."

Mixing hip-hop irreverence with timeless numbers and a few fresh originals, the album is a brisk tonic for those weary of the current roots resurgence. Plus, "I got a pocket full of rubbers/And my homeboys do too" never sounded so wholesome.


Machine Head
Machine Head
Supercharger / Roadrunner

Bands in rock's heaviest milieus walk a fine line between the contradicting desires of their fans. On the one hand they have fans who expect nothing less than gut-wrenching, inarticulate screams backed by jackhammering double bass beats and frenetic, pick-shredding guitar riffs. But on the other hand they have fans who expect and desire musical styles to develop and artists to change.

Machine Head's newest release, Supercharger, is an album seemingly torn between these two poles. While the Bay area quartet's debut album, Burn My Eyes (1994), and its follow up, The More Things Change (1997), were hailed by fans of ultra-aggressive metal, their third album, The Burning Red (1999), was a departure that alienated some fans but garnered a justifiable share of critical acclaim.

On Supercharger, the band sticks to the distinctive sound of The Burning Red but only a mellowed version. The band falls back slightly on its roots. The resulting compromise is a well-crafted album that in many ways works, but unfortunately will fail to live up to the hopes of most fans. Fan's hoping for a complete return to Machine Head's original sound will be left searching and fans hoping for a step forward from The Burning Red will only find an extension of what they've already heard.


The Attraction to All Things Uncertain / Six Degrees

Successful concept albums are usually backed by major cojones. Chris Vrenna, the artist behind Tweaker's The Attraction to All Things Uncertain, unquestionably has them. He first made a name for himself as the drummer/programmer for Nine Inch Nails. After leaving the band, he reinvented himself as a producer and only added to his reputation. Since then he has worked with such names as David Bowie, Smashing Pumpkins, The Wallflowers, Marilyn Manson, Weezer and U2-all the while creating his own music on the side.

His album shows what a little hard work can reap. The Attraction to All Things Uncertain is a weird and often times creepy mix of electronic, rock and pop. The album, inspired by a depressingly intriguing painting by Joe Sorren (which graces the cover), tells the story of Elliot, a lost, disillusioned Everyman. The track's Vrenna lays down for this story are dark, moody and remarkably impressive. Yet only four include vocals. The majority of the album's storytelling is left to Vrenna's particular brand of well-balanced fusion. The interspersed vocals that do emerge at a few crucial points are left to veritable unknowns, such as Craig Wedren of Shudder to Think and David Sylvian, who are nonetheless well respected. The focus of the album, as it should be, is Vrenna's skillfully guided tour into the ordinary-yet-amazing sonic world of Elliot.


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