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  Listen Up! 4/1/04 Listen Up!

Thursday, April 1

Marty Robbins, “Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs,” Columbia Legacy. 1959 was only 45 years ago, but the assumptions generally accepted by the American public which allowed this album to be a big hit seem very quaint now. First, it’s hard to imagine modern listeners understanding ballads in the folk sense of tales told in music, rather than in the jazz-based sense of slower pretty songs. Second, the clarity of Robbins’ vocals is something nobody is looking for in modern music. He sings with an emphasis on the words, and he lets his lilting tenor carry these words crisply across the simple melodic flow. There ain’t no playing around here. Third, there is the concept of country music being allied with Western. That alliance broke down just a few years after this album; cowboys don’t ride the trails in modern country music. Fourth, there is the romantic image of the cowboy. The fifties Americans were fascinated by Western movies and TV shows; now, if the genre is revisited at all, it’s done with the intent of deconstructing the romantic myth once taken for granted. So, with all this time capsule interest going for it, it’s truly surprising how pleasurable this album is just on its own terms. Robbins wrote some timeless originals – “El Paso” and “Big Iron” especially are masterful songs which seem effortless – and he dropped them alongside some lovely traditional numbers.

Graham Parker, “The Up Escalator,” Demon Records. One of Parker’s most overlooked records, because it followed up “Squeezing Out Sparks,” easily one of rock’s all-time classics. It’s nice to hear it this morning, though this 1990 CD is a little disappointing in terms of remastering. The album was later put out again in the US by Razor and Tie, and I suspect that would be the one to get, especially because it includes the excellent b-side, “Women In Charge.” How Parker left that one off the album in the first place is a mystery to me.

Aerosmith, “Honkin’ On Bobo,” Columbia Records. This is the big return to the recording studio for Aerosmith, after several years of existing in limbo. The boys decided to revisit their roots, and play classic blues and r’n’b material. Yes, they play it, and yes, they sound like they care about it, but nope, it’s not worth your time listening to it, let alone your money buying it. Because every single song on here has at least two or three and sometimes ten better versions done by other performers, not to mention half the songs here can be heard nightly played just as competently in bars by middle-aged guys who never made the big bucks. Why do you want to hear Aerosmith throw in extraneous drum fills on “Road Runner” when you could go back to Bo Diddley’s classic groove, or even listen to the Who or the Animals do it? And that cut is probably the best thing on here. For a long time, Aerosmith seems to have become confused about its purpose in life. If they want to go back to their roots, I suggest they fast forward past their years as a teenage garage band and listen very closely to “Toys in the Attic.”

--Steve Pick


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