Short Cuts

Elsewhere CRU's sense of enlightenment gives way to standard hip-hop misogyny. "Hoe 2 Society" -- which relates the interrogation and beating of an allegedly unfaithful girlfriend -- is supposed to be funny, I guess. But it comes off as nothing more than an audio aggravated assault. Generally speaking, in fact, CRU's Achilles' heel is humor. Its skits are pointless and often mean-spirited, a dull foil to the often sharp lyrics. That, however, is where CD technology proves so satisfying. Hit the program button, and Da Dirty 30's lesser tracks disappear.

-- Steven Almond

Cherry Poppin' Daddies
Zoot Suit Riot

The problem with most of the contemporary swing played by tattooed knuckle-draggers trying to jump-start their aging bones off the punk rock merry-go-round is the Jukebox Syndrome. Afflicted by this illness, most new swing bands sound like the retro equivalent of a Top 40 band. Here comes the Louie Armstrong tune; here comes the Cab Calloway tune; here comes the Louis Jordan song. You might as well buy the originals.

One of the few exceptions to this rule is a ten-year-old ensemble out of the least-swinging town in the U.S.: Eugene, Oregon. The Cherry Poppin' Daddies, fronted by Steve Perry (no, not that one), possess a wide and deep knowledge of musical history and an absolute lack of respect for tradition. Like any real artist, Perry, the main songwriter and singer, doesn't hesitate to reanimate the body of tradition, taping Duke Ellington's head onto the body of David Lee Roth and then drawing real big boobies on it. Because the Daddies aren't traditionalists, one of their albums might include ska, straight jazz, big dumb rock, and carnival sounds mixed in with the swing. After the fantastic Ferociously Stoned, the wretched Rapid City Muscle Car, and the adequate Kids on the Street, the Daddies have cobbled together most of the swing songs from all three of those albums, added four new tracks, and released it as Zoot Suit Riot.

The album runs the gamut of styles in the swing vernacular, all of them laced with cartoonish humor ("Mr. White Keys"), 40-ouncer fury ("Dr. Bones"), or sex-clown buffoonery ("Pink Elephant"). Perry's lyrics are as contemporary as the original swingers' lyrics were when they first surfaced. "Drunk Daddy" has one of his many characters singing, "Kitchen smells like rotten garbage/Can't chew my food my face is sore/Momma didn't come home last evening/Neighbors say that she's a whore." "Ding Dong Daddy of the D-Car Line" is a musical profile of an early-twentieth-century San Francisco tram operator and sixteen-time bigamist, who "Reaped a little more than he could sow/Of the pleasures the Mormons in Utah know/He could not restrain himself when he saw a nice caboose." The previously unreleased "When I Change Your Mind" promises the lady in question "Everything's gonna be nice and sweet/When I come sweep you off your feet/You won't think I'm such a creep/When I change your mind."

Added to the twelve originals are the fantastic Sammy Davis, Jr., song "Come Back to Me" (convincingly inhabited by Perry), plus perhaps the best song on the album, a swing arrangement of the old Oregon hardcore band E-13's "No Mercy for Swine."

Because of the band's Ricochet Rabbit-style personnel changes, it's hard to talk too much about the musicianship. Perry's vocal competence and range has improved over the years; bassist Dan Schmid provides the rubber floor for the band's more Carl Stalling-like moments; and trumpeter Dana Heitman coaxes both antic acrobatics and soulful nuance out of the powerful horn section.

The album is not without the musical equivalent of farts at a dinner party. The unremarkable "Brown Derby Jump" begs the question, "What the fuck?", "Here Comes the Snake" is about as sexy as a grown man wearing a diaper, and the title song is nowhere near as powerful as the Hispanic riots that inspired it. Still, all in all, Zoot Suit Riot is a rarity: a collection of songs with the power of the past and the relevance of the present, full of sex, life, and death.

-- Curt Hopkins

Juliana Hatfield
Please Do Not Disturb
(Bar None)

Boston power-chord fairy Juliana Hatfield hangs up her chirpy angst and red-tags the pixie dust on her new six-song EP, Please Do Not Disturb. Though she once wrapped her sugary melodies in layers of noise and attitude, railing smartly but cutely against irritants and infidels, she's now feeling her way through a change in direction. After the spasm of attention surrounding her last major-label release, 1995's Only Everything (Atlantic), Hatfield decided to stretch her legs a bit and step off the commercial fast track. Moving to indie Bar None, she has turned down the volume and the spotlight a notch so that she can indulge a need to fingerpaint for a while. Self-produced and casually recorded, this EP is a snapshot of an artist who's currently more into the journey than the destination.

Among the stronger tracks is the album-opening "Sellout" in which Hatfield cautions and complains about the process of trading one's soul for success. "It's not a sellout if nobody buys it," she contends, adding defiantly, "I can't be blamed if nobody likes it." Though that's debatable, "Get Off" makes it clear that if there's rejection coming, she'll be the one doing it. "When will you get off of me," she hisses, as layers of harmonies deftly spin into meandering guitar lines in a lead-footed waltz. And the Zeppelin-ish ballad "The Edge of Nowhere" works surprisingly well given the lightness of her voice, even though the vocal noodling here is a bit overdone.

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