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Vic Chesnutt

Title: "The Salesman and Bernadette"

Format: CD

Label: Capricorn, 1998

My favorite Vic Chesnutt album is "West of Rome" (Texas Hotel, 1992); the music is somber and depressing, filled with wry, twisted humor. It's centerpiece is Chesnutt's trademark thin, solitary voice and muffled guitar work. The whole thing sounds like it could have been recorded on a grandmother's back porch. Imagine my surprise when I first heard the "upbeat" horns and pop designs of the "Until the Led", the cornerstone track of Chesnutt's sixth album, "The Salesman and Bernadette".

Chesnutt is a coveted treasure of Athens, GA. He's sort of the anti-REM: he's been the town's best kept secret for years. After each release, he has gained a little more notoriety, including a short film all about his eccentric approach to music. This disc is sure to continue this attention and popularity.

As I mentioned before, Chesnutt's sound is usually stripped-down, but this time he gets a little help from his friends-- a group of 14 in the form of folk "orchestra" Lampchop. They provide a wall of sonic support which includes horns, extra guitars, organs, an accordian, and a lap steel, among others. The result is amazing. Chesnutt's songs take on a whole new dimension with all these additions, making them sound grand and larger than life.

His knack for lyrical prowess should get lost in the clutter, but the opposite happens. Now free from the task of providing background music, his writing comes alive: "Not really in the middle of the murder/surely left of center of the swirl/I bolster my conviction as a character reference/with a sweetie-neatie drop of pearl" (from "Scratch, Scratch, Scratch"). The words are almost tangible, and his crackled voice forces you to focus on his bizarre statements. Chesnutt is known for his seemingly self-degrading manner, and when the tunes give any hint of being upbeat, he uses this talent to create bold irony. The tough, bluesy strut of "Prick" seems out of place with the uncomfortably self-concious lyrics: "Did I destroy the ambience?...It wasn't pretty when I looked into the face, oops, into the eyes, ruptured icy chaos".

Far from being stuck in a rut, Chesnutt has created yet another masterful work.

MISH MASH Mandate: Southern eccentric folk-rock.

Capricorn Records Website
Listen to the song "Until the Led" in Real Audio


Title: The "As If" Demo

Format: 4 song Cassette

Copyright: 1998 Howie Doyle

Somewhere between the pained wails of Neil Young and the rambling whines of Bob Dylan lies the voice of Howie Doyle. Subterra's lead singer is no golden throat, and he's well aware of it. While it may not be the prettiest thing you've ever heard, it is full of the emotion and raw energy that made Young & Dylan icons of folky roots rock.

Subterra takes this similarity to its logical conclusion by borrowing the familiar sounds of the founding fathers. From Mr. Young, Doyle and subterra have hi-jacked the big guitar presence, full of loud over-driven chords and clunky solo work. And, Mr. Dylan provides inspiration for the vocal phrasing and meandering lyric work: "Well I begged and I pleaded, I was on my knees/I prayed to get her back without the disease/I'm told that these things come in threes/It's gonna rain again".

It's loose and a little sloppy, yet somehow it comes together beautifully. The songs have a familiar impression that makes me feel like I'm stepping into an old shoe; like I've known these tunes and refrains for years. That's not to say that these guys are rip-off artists or lacking in originality. Maybe this is a bad example (depending on your musical tastes), but it's like how the Crowes and Kravitz have borrowed from the past to make it feel new again. As this tape is a preview of subterra's first full release yet to come, it will be very interesting to see how they round these tracks out. In the meantime, these are four loud and proud songs you should check out.

MISH MASH Mandate: Rambling and rocking classic roots rock.

The subterra website
Listen to "Underground" in Real Audio

Ernesto Diaz-Infante

Title: "Tepeu"

Format: CD, 6 songs

Label: Pax Recordings

It is rare to receive a full resume in a press kit. The whole page is filled with the awards and accomplishments of composer Ernesto Diaz-Infante. Recognized around the world, he has achieved a lot in a short amount of time: for his resume states that he only recieved his Masters degree in 1996. So he has a long career ahead of him, and more pages to fill.

"Tepeu" is his second effort, an exploration of solo piano improvisation. It is not improvisation of the jazz/blues sort. It is totally free-form and unstructured. The 22 minute title track (which is "structured", according to the liner notes) begins with successive hits of single chords and notes, then gives way to falling phrases which seem hesitant. This lack of flow keeps you on edge, waiting to hear what's if every new note will be a surprise. One note will ring out while followed by a quiet stream of chords. There is structure, but it is a loose one, focused only by theme. It's a conscious effort, as if Diaz-Infante is planning to be spontaneous. It's powerfully sublime and dynamic. The music is too painful to simply remain in the background. It's always falling in tonality, not a free-fall, but never "up", either. Totally of-the-moment, there is little anticipation beyond the next note. Diaz-Infante traps you in, and doesn't let you break free until the last note is played. He is in control.

The following song, "Antithesis", is more active, providing a relief from the previous track. There is a great deal of movement, quick and sharp. This is flowing and driving with attitude. It is a free sound, loud and aggressive. It holds no melody, but a cohesive theme; a complimentary response to the start and stop staccato of "Tepeu".

"Synthesis" is turn, is a response to both. More melodic, it is easier with less aggression. There is a relaxing feel, but it is filled with very distinct notes, as if he wants you to hear every tone clearly. No doubt here, he strikes every key precisely, as if he were speaking with perfect enunciation.

The music of Diaz-Infante is a breath of fresh air in the stifling world of modern music. It is challenging and revealing all at once, riveting and full of emotion. There are few artists who can manipulate the very essence of music and push the boundaries like this.

MISH MASH Mandate: Modern music for emotional manipulation.

Buy the CD!
Ernesto Diaz-Infante Webpage

Chris Cunningham

Title: "Stories to Play"

Label: Lunchbox Recordings, 1998

Format: CD

The first word that comes to mind while listening to "Stories to Play" is confidence. Right away, I was struck by the boldness of former studio musician Chris Cunningham. It's hard to believe this is a debut, because he sounds like a seasoned veteran venturing out into uncharted territory. He doesn't play it safe; taking chances is the name of the game. You won't find catchy pop and standard three-chord progressions here. Be prepared for adventure.

"Walking Into the Lightning" begins the CD with a very ephemeral, natural atmosphere, that reminds me of Daniel Lanois' debut, "Acadie". Here Cunningham defies categorization with an artsy folk sound that develops a nice groove, but it is a groove that is always held in check, creating an anxious edge.

There is a primal, earthy feel to the instrumental "Papa Johnnie's Eyes," which features a sort of guitar "duel". Two (or more) guitars are running over a quick, steady beat. It's a simple concept, but the complexity comes through in the relentless movement. A pause here and there lets you catch your breath before the chase resumes. Another highlight is found in "Stay", a slower number that is filled with strained vocals and painfully emotive guitar chords. Very nice.

But the title track truly reveals the complete songwriting ability of Cunningham. It features a walking bass line, set underneath an inventive, offbeat melody; I'd call it "new age blues". The lyrics here paint a dark, mysterious picture: "You are the murdering kind/and I think I'm gonna sharpen my tooth of crime".

Those with a love of innovative guitar work and not-so-typical music will find a new treasure in the music of Chris Cunningham.

MISH MASH Mandate: The age of exploration.

Buy the CD!
lunchbox recordings website/Chris Cunningham

Captive Audience

Title: "Pivotal"

Label: Pivotal

Format: CD

Get ready to move. Captive Audience, an NC duet consisting of Craig Conley and Michael Warwick, has the uncanny ability to bring the past and present of digital-based dance music together into one strange little package. Their sound is retro-futuristic, with styles of the 70s & 80s blended in with the 90s and beyond.

The main focus is the beat, and most of the sampling antics are kept to a minimum, relegated to short sound bite clips that are solely there to enhance the mood. One thing that is really noticeable from a late-90s standpoint is the lack of a "hard-edge", a la Prodigy or the Chem Bros. But that doesn't prevent these guys from packing a punch. Captive Audience utilizes a more "traditional" style that evokes a late-80s/early-90s rave feel. This is backed up with the bpm notices in the liner notes. The beat goes on...

There are a few more tricks up their sleeve. The sounds and feelings they conjure up range from the melodramatic to the downright cheesy. "Temple Fugit" features a funky, quirky beat, accented with electric hand-claps and a staccato melody. "Faces of the Moon" has a retro spacey sound, and "Voice Disintegrator" is just plain weird. My favorite track is the two part "Bring Your Pillow/Get Out of Here", which starts out with an unusual phone message along with storm effects. It sets an eerie mood, which signals the true storm to come. Everything gets going as "Get Out of Here" carries us through the monsoon and on to safety. Whew!!!!

These guys are good at doing their own thing, and it works more often than not. Hey, it's got a good beat and you can dance to it... That works for me.

MISH MASH Mandate: DIY at 160 bpm. Shake your groove thing.

Captive Audience Website
Download "One Small Question" in mp3

Our Contest

Want to win a CD? Just e-mail us your address with "contest" in the subject header. One winner is picked every month. Good Luck!

THIS MONTH'S WINNER: Ken Kinman, who lives in Hays, Kansas.