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Next to the Beatles 

"I think every musician understands this," Mike Mayeux says. "You listen to your band, and it still doesn't sound like your favorite music, the music that made you want to play in the first place. It's sitting there in front of you, and you're like, 'This is me, the culmination of all my influences and all the stuff I love in music, and -- God, I'm not happy. Where did I go wrong? Maybe I shouldn't have listened to Jane's Addiction.'"

As a producer and recording engineer, Mayeux has watched many bands go through that dark moment, and as a member of Beatin Path, he has experienced it himself. With the band's new 3 (Bayou Mamas), he went through it less than on the band's two previous albums. When Eddie Ecker replaced in-demand drummer Mike Barras, Beatin Path was able to play regularly again including a longtime Thursday night residency at The Red Eye. Gigging led to new songs, which they recorded at Mayeux's Ground Floor Studio in Meraux as quickly as they could learn them. The immediacy of the process led to less recrimination.

It also resulted in a solid album shaped by the band's central relationship between the tall, ironic Mayeux and the shorter, more sincere Skeet Hanks. Mayeux's songs rock, while 3's sensitive moments belong to Hanks. Mayeux's "Naked" is about looking at naked women, while Hanks' "Dear Carolyn" is about facing an uncertain future. Mayeux's vocals recall a southern Ray Davies, while Hanks' voice conveys the earnestness of a true believer. For all the differences, though, the CD feels unified, often recalling '70s country rock from California.

"I gave Skeet a hard time," Mayeux says, laughing. "We decided we're going to make a rock record. Skeet came in with all these songs that made me want to cry. I said, 'These aren't rock songs. Rock songs don't make you want to cry.'"

Mayeux and Hanks have been having conversations like that since Beatin Path started in 1994. Mayeux was road managing Dash Rip Rock and Cowboy Mouth while Hanks was singing in Made in Japan. The two had met and friends recommended they write songs together, but Mayeux was standoffish, unsure about whether they would click. "I named the band Beatin Path because I wanted (our CDs) to be right next to the Beatles in the bins," he says. He was a Beatles fan, but Hanks didn't really know the Beatles at the time. "He was a mod rocker; he came after," Mayeux explains. "The one common ground was Elvis Costello -- My Aim Is True. It was the one record we both loved."

Since its inception, the band has gone through periods of playing and periods of inactivity. "Jezebel" -- the title track from the band's 2003 album -- fired the band up to play more regularly. "Jezebel" fits "Sweet Jane" changes to a Sugar Ray airiness, and it confirmed that there was an audience for what Beatin Path does. "People started talking about it; we started getting calls," Mayeux says. One was The Red Eye, which is where the band decided to make a rock record. "The songs people responded to were the rock songs. The other songs -- people sat in the back going, 'I wish they would quit playing so I can pick up this chick right here.'"

Oxford American returns with its 8th annual music issue, this time with a significant New Orleans component. The longest piece contemplates the career of Algiers-born trumpet player Henry "Red" Allen, one that existed in the shadow of Louis Armstrong. Fiction writer and playwright John Biguenet contributed a piece on the yodeling DeZurik Sisters, and the online edition -- www.oxfordamericanmag.com -- includes a short feature on Henry Butler's art camp for blind children and short Q&As with Chris Thomas King and Galactic's Robert Mercurio.

One draw of the issue is the accompanying CD, which includes lesser-known songs by major artists and significant songs by minor ones. As important, though, is that the issue is as smart and entertaining as usual, allowing writers to discuss their musical passions in personal terms. Still, the issue doesn't feel like an event the way previous ones did. Partially it's a function of age; after all, by the 8th time around, people know what it's going to be like. It also suffers for being repetitive in subject matter and voice. The artists chosen are primarily historical figures who recorded country, soul and blues. The articles don't challenge any notions of Southern-ness or examine what it means to be a Southern artist today. It would have been interesting to see Atlanta crunk artist Lil Jon and the East Side Boys or John Thomas Griffith's '70s Clash-influenced punk band Red Rockers discussed in the same measured, M.F.A.-shaped voice typified by the essays read during NPR's All Things Considered.

For reviews of CDs by R. Kelly, the Ying Yang Twins, the Mizell Brothers, David Axelrod and Glen Brown, see Opening Act 2 online.

click to enlarge Beatin Path members Skeet Hanks (center) and Mike - Mayeux (right) came together over their affection for - Elvis Costello.
  • Beatin Path members Skeet Hanks (center) and Mike Mayeux (right) came together over their affection for Elvis Costello.
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