Adrian Belew is the Jimmy Stewart of rock, a genuinely nice guy who does consistently great work across a variety of styles. Belew brings a wealth of talent and experience to each successive project that features his name on the marquee.
Belew's resume is rife with the most influential names in modern music. Over the last three decades, he's appeared variously on tours and recordings with Frank Zappa, Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel, Laurie Anderson, and Joan Armatrading. His higher-profile gigs include membership in the band King Crimson, a stint as David Bowie's sideman, and his own solo efforts (including the 1989 hit "Oh Daddy," a duet with his young daughter, Audie).
The '90s have been Belew's most prolific period to date. He has recorded new Crimson disks, appeared on Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral, recorded a handful of both pure pop and boldly experimental solo offerings, and continued to produce small independent artists whose work he respects and enjoys (singer-songwriter Sara Hickman, for instance).
But before Belew travels into the 21st Century, he finds himself looking back at his estimable accomplishments, a retrospection which has led to the recording of his latest solo work. Only a few new tunes made the cut for Salad Days, which is essentially a spartan acoustic scrapbook of Belew's personal favorites from his voluminous catalog. The disk kicks off with "The Lone Rhinoceros," a gentle acoustic reading of the title track from his solo debut, The Lone Rhino, and moves into a string quartet treatment for "Men in Helicopters," both songs prime examples of Belew's environmental concerns translated into music.
One amazing highlight is Belew's acoustic live take on his Crimson composition "Three of a Perfect Pair." Fans familiar with the complex textures of the band's presentation will be astounded by the interplay between Belew's guitar and voice to create the same atmosphere with only two elements. Belew's sound-collage methodology is explored on the snippet-driven, Zappa-like "Return of the Chicken" and the concrete avant-gardism of "Things You Hit With a Stick." And his pure pop evocations are evident on the gorgeous melodiousness of "I Remember How to Forget," "Everything," and "The Man in the Moon."
Ultimately Salad Days is just a placeholder as Belew gears up for his next full-blown studio excursion or Crimson revisitation or odd interplanetary transmission. Belew is indeed a rare breed in the music industry, as he excels and succeeds at both popular songwriting and unique sonic experimentation. Salad Days proves that contention definitively.
-- Brian Baker
The Other Ones
The Strange Remain
God is dead, yes. But that doesn't mean His bandmates have to disappear as well. And the same goes for His legions of followers, who turned out en (half) masse last summer to see the first tour by the surviving members of the Grateful Dead since Jerry Garcia's death in 1995. Billed as the Other Ones, Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Bruce Hornsby, and four other musicians played mostly old favorites and, in typical Dead fashion, recorded the events for this double live album that is, in purest Deadhead tape-trading terms, hot. Garcia's weeping lead guitar is missed for sure, replaced by talented imitators Steve Kimock and Mark Karan as well as Dave Ellis on saxophone, but the absence of the late leader's gravelly, tear-stained voice and his ability to turn songs into sermons, makes The Strange Remain strange indeed.
The set's opening notes -- the delicate announcement of "St. Stephen" -- set the tone for a nostalgic two and a half hours. The music is startlingly Dead-like, with a pop that the boys themselves often lacked in later years. "The Eleven," sung by the sultry Weir, is played to perfection but lacks the darkness, distortion, weight, and raw energy of classic Dead versions. To be fair, the Other Ones did not set out to play the best "Eleven" ever; everyone knows that happened in 1969, when Jerry Garcia, a smaller stage, and free LSD were available. The Other Ones set out simply to play the song and to have fun doing it.
Even with all the surprise old-school gems ("Mountains of the Moon"!) on The Strange Remain, there are a few letdowns. The late-era Dead snooze "Corrina" is probably the band's worst song ever; "Only the Strange Remain," a new tune penned by Hart and Hunter and sung by Hart, who sounds like Vincent Price, makes you want to hear "Corrina."
"Playing in the Band" features relaxed vocals but sharp interplay between Hornsby and Ellis. Like much of the set, the "Playing" jam is more deliberate than most Dead versions. It takes less time to unfold and is clearly going somewhere, unlike some jams supervised by Garcia, which hit cul-de-sacs and dead ends while searching for enlightenment. The Other Ones improvise, but they play it safe, sounding better than anyone could have expected. The Strange Remain is worth buying to satisfy your curiosity, not to play in heavy rotation.
-- Jonathan Lesser