Short Cuts

'68 Comeback
A Bridge Too Fuckin' Far
(Sympathy For the Record Industry)

He isn't a household name even in his adopted home of Memphis, let alone among the hipsters of indie-rock, yet Monsieur Jeffrey Evans is arguably the greatest roots-rocker ever spit from the rock 'n' roll underground. From his late-'80s work with Columbus, Ohio's Gibson Bros. to the astoundingly prolific '68 Comeback, Evans has existed in an alternate rock 'n' roll universe, where Charlie Feathers is Elvis, Junior Kimbrough is Muddy Waters, and blues, rockabilly, and garage rock are approached with punk-rock enthusiasm and a reverence for just how weird the stuff still sounds so many years after the fact. This means that, whether '68 Comeback is covering a Collins Kids obscurity or ripping away at one of Evans' originals, guitars can fly freely out of tune, drums can crash and bang in their own rhythm, and Evans can sing in white-hot, distorted bliss about the shit that's eating away at his insides.

His band's latest, A Bridge Too Fuckin' Far, is all about what's eating at him -- namely, the death in 1997 of his friend and onetime Comebacker Jack Taylor, whose lacerating guitar punctuated and punctured the band's finest singles. Taylor's photo is on Bridge's cover, and his ghost permeates much of this hourlong assault, easily the most intense and brilliantly conceived of any record bearing Evans' name. Much of the album's nod to Taylor's all-too-brief legacy (he died in his early thirties of a drug overdose) is implicit: The piercing feedback and freeform mayhem at the tail end of "Shake Your Hips" is nothing if not an homage to the chaotic flair Taylor brought to the early '68 Comeback singles. And when Evans calls for a solo from organist Jack Oblivian on "Get Rhythm," it's an eerie throwback to his past summonses to Taylor for blasts of well-placed, punk-rock heat.

If Taylor's ghost haunts much of the album, Bridge is just as much a celebration of what may be the best '68 Comeback Evans has ever assembled. (The lineup has been changed numerous times since he put together the first edition in 1992.) Both Evans and guitarist Nick Diablo lose themselves amid the raunch and rumble of their own haywire solos, and drummer Jeff Bouck rides the rhythm as well as he navigates it. Bassist George Reyes brings additional bottom-end firepower to this previously bassless aggregate of noisy rockers, and ex-Jack of Fire harpman Walter Daniels summons tidal waves of sound throughout.

It's Evans, though, who dominates the set, wailing amid the din in a voice that is soaked with Southern-preacher passion, bottomless sincerity, and a die-hard commitment to the words he's singing, whether they're his or someone else's. Sometimes, as on the definitive "That's How My Mind Works," he just gives it all up and screams and shouts like an angry, desperate, sad son of a bitch who's lost a good friend and can find solace only in a cacophonous rage of self-expression. Fortunately he has a band that can help him turn that rage into rock 'n' roll as terrifyingly beautiful as every single moment on A Bridge Too Fuckin' Far.

-- John Floyd

Chris Isaak
Speak of the Devil
(Reprise)

Wouldn't it be great if the title of Chris Isaak's new album signaled a radical career departure, a move toward, say, death-metal? At this point, any change would be welcomed. But Isaak's seventh album is more of the same: slow to mid-tempo Roy Orbison-esque rockabilly full of blue-eyed crooning about loneliness and broken hearts. Since Isaak probably dates models, his sad songs don't say much. Sure, even beautiful people suffer love life traumas, but seven albums' worth? Even the charts suggest that Isaak needs an image overhaul; his one big hit, "Wicked Game," was released back in 1991.

One of Isaak's strengths is that when he sings you're convinced he feels the same way you do. But he's also an actor. So, after you get past the surface, it becomes apparent why he writes -- and rewrites -- songs about misbegotten love: His voice is perfectly suited to the material. As good as Isaak is at playing the Dejected Lover, after a few songs about broken hearts, the role begins to lose its significance. If his anguish weren't an act, you could say, "C'mon Chris, get some therapy, learn from your mistakes, and move on." At the very least, Isaak needs to add some range to his character.

When he dives into his role, however, it's easy to suspend disbelief. On "7 Lonely Nights," with only an acoustic guitar accompanying him, Isaak tells an ex that he no longer thinks about her and that he'll be fine. But, as is the case on another acoustic piece, "Don't Get So Down on Yourself," his voice trembles with so much agony, it's hard not to believe the hurt.

Of course when the name Diane Warren pops up in the liner notes as cowriter for "Breaking Apart," the spell is broken. A musical script-doctor, doling out hit singles to save records from disaster, Warren has written schlock for Michael Bolton, Celine Dion, and Toni Braxton. What's alarming is that "Breaking Apart" sounds similar to the other morose ballads on Devil. So, if Isaak has no problem singing Warren's words, just how sincere is he being with his own songs? Of course, you can't really blame him. His last record, The Baja Sessions, didn't even go gold -- it sold 500,000 units less than its predecessor, Forever Blue. The man needs a hit to regain momentum.

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