By Ashley Zimmerman
By David Von Bader
By Sayre Berman
By Steve Brennan
By Ashley Zimmerman
By Michele Eve Sandberg
By Abel Folgar
By Ashley Zimmerman
Caught in a Trap and I Can't Back Out 'Cause I Love You Too Much, Baby
It's hard to imagine a better title for an album by Mark Eitzel, the verbose and despondent singer-songwriter who once led San Francisco's much-heralded band American Music Club. This solo CD (which takes its title from Elvis Presley's old chestnut "Suspicious Minds") is Eitzel's third since the collapse of AMC in 1995, and it recalls the gloominess of his earlier work: The lyrics are about introspection, inner torment, and general emptiness. Here too are the desperate whispers and operatic dirges that surfaced on Eitzel's previous album, West (1997).
What made that album so colorful was the presence of the guitarist Peter Buck, whom Eitzel borrowed from R.E.M. Likewise, fresh instrumentation by alterna-heroes from Sonic Youth (Steve Shelley), Yo La Tengo (James McNew), and the Bad Seeds (Kid Congo Powers) saves Caught in a Trap from terminal Eitzelitis. Throughout the album these players embroider Eitzel's acoustic guitar with a tremulous Hammond organ, the haunting echo of electric guitar, and shuffling drumbeats. There is plenty of breathing room for Eitzel's singing, and breathe he does over this perfectly appropriate gothic music.
The first song, "Are You the Trash," is almost as cheeky as the album's title. While a guitar plunks out happy chords, Eitzel sings offhandedly about a manipulative relationship: "Evil wears a big smile/Evil loves your mind/Evil gets what he wants/Evil leaves you behind/Are you the trash he left behind?" Elsewhere Eitzel touches on violent fantasies ("If I Had a Gun") and the pain of loss ("Goodbye") before reaching the album's climax in "Queen of No One." The likeliest candidate for radio play, "Queen of No One" describes the hollowness of nightclub romance; a slinky vamp leads to a chorus so heart-rendingly triumphant it would likely make Morrissey shiver with ecstasy.
Recorded in a mere two days in New York, Caught in a Trap has been released by Matador because Eitzel's current label, Warner Brothers, has a contract with him for just one album per year. Eitzel appears to have trouble fitting his abundant thoughts -- and album titles -- into his CDs. Thankfully, in this case, he had some help.
Gov't Mule's third album begs to be played loud. Only then, when you can't hear your own thoughts and the bass threatens to unravel your intestines, do you realize what's going on: You're in the '60s, man, where heavy, repetitive guitar riffs melt into mind-expanding, pyrotechnic jams. The CD's title, Dose, is no enigma.
But this power trio, which includes two members of the Allman Brothers Band (Allen Woody on bass and Warren Haynes on guitar and vocals), has never been difficult to figure out. In concert they flaunt their influences proudly, covering Cream, Steppenwolf, and Grand Funk Railroad. On Dose they slow down and stretch out the Beatles' "She Said She Said" (2:37 on Revolver, 6:57 here) so it sounds more like a Black Crowes song. Then there's "Thelonious Beck" (don't think too hard -- it's Thelonious Monk meets Jeff Beck) and "Birth of the Mule," a nod to Miles Davis' first album, Birth of the Cool. Haynes and Woody (along with drummer Matt Abts) excel at jazz, blues, and classic rock. There is no other musical influence at work here; there is certainly nothing relevant to '90s rock.
Dose opens with the urgent "Blind Man in the Dark," which soars from in-your-face rock to jazz free-for-all, then back again. It's followed by "Thorazine Shuffle," a funky groove led by Allen's bass. The obvious reason to buy this disc is the virtuoso guitar work: Haynes, nearly twenty years younger than Eric Clapton, is the preeminent blues-rock guitarist of his generation and without a doubt the best with a slide. Eight years with the Allman Brothers will do that for you.
Lyrically, Dose doesn't push any boundary. Having already taken all the good drugs, Haynes is left to grouse about Thorazine and deliver cool, mature observations on mortality. On "Larger Than Life," he sings: "It won't take long/To get to the bottom/It won't take much/To be lookin' down at yourself." On "Game Face" he clearly separates himself from the rock casualties who came before him, singing: "Satisfy your angels/With your cocaine and your guns/ As for me/I don't need them." He then glides into a dreamy jam that evokes "Third Stone From the Sun" -- heading back, yet again, to the '60s.
The prospect of a collaboration between the Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba and the American tenor sax sensation Joe Lovano is a thrilling one. Rubalcaba was discovered by Dizzy Gillespie, who developed such respect for the pianist that Rubalcaba wound up serving as a pallbearer at that legendary trumpeter's funeral. Lovano, the former accompanist for the guitarist John Scofield, has become perhaps the tenor saxophonist of the '90s. His Rush Hour CD was widely regarded as the best jazz release of 1995. Its followup, Live at the Village Vanguard, showcased not only Lovano's technical proficiency but his passionate and vibrant playing.