The Kinks -- Soap Opera (Koch): Reissues of the last phase of the Kinks' career -- the return to rock 'n' roll albums that began with 1977's Sleepwalker -- are no surprise, and although the records hold up well, there's not much news in them. Soap Opera, from the mid-'70s music hall concept album period, is catchier than some of the other recordings from that time, where Ray Davies' desire to make musical theater overwhelmed his song sense. Here, tune after tune pays off, though it could use more of Dave Davies' guitar nuttiness -- a sentiment he himself voiced during the recording sessions in 1974. The message of the story is Davies at his darkest -- that day to day, working class existence can grind the life out of the most radiant star -- though the songs are a lot more fun than that.
Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass -- The Lonely Bull, South of the Border, Lost Treasures (Shout! Factory): In 1962, the Tijuana Brass' instrumental "The Lonely Bull" put Herb Alpert on the musical map. In fact, the track and the album caricature Mexican music, and the album put out to capitalize on the track's success now sounds weak and phony. "Tijuana Sauerkraut" is a faux-Latin polka, and tracks such as "Struttin' With Maria" and "Limbo Rock" are as generic as dance tracks get. It's not a wash; the band was adept at taking the hits of the day and making them into what now sounds like quaintly charming muzak. Alpert's trumpet attempts to mariachi away Dionne Warwick's quiet drama on his take of Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "Let it Be Me."
South of the Border sports unbelievably cheerful, bouncy versions of "The Girl From Ipanema," "Hello, Dolly!" and the Beatles' "All My Loving." It also has some of the best Tijuana Brass original compositions, including "Mexican Shuffle," which older readers will recognize from the Beech-Nut gum commercials.
The previously unreleased Lost Treasures is almost entirely covers, and listening to it recreates the feeling of supermarket shopping brilliantly. He further mines the Bacharach/David and Beatles songbooks, both with excellent taste, and produces music that isn't entirely faceless, but close. Interestingly, Alpert's tracks sound locked in the '60s in a way the songs he covered didn't.
Roky Erickson -- I Have Always Been Here Before (Shout! Factory): Rock 'n' roll is full of sad stories, artists who are living casualties of their lifestyles, whose promise and talent is never fully realized for one reason or another. One of the most famous is Roky Erickson of the 13th Floor Elevators, whose "You're Gonna Miss Me" is more than a garage anthem. Erickson is singing from his toes on that track, and that intensity transcends its moment and genre. As the band became a vehicle and testing ground for Tommy Hall's theories about LSD, the music became more private and more psychedelic, though no less engaging or passionate. Unfortunately, that and a stay in a mental institution in Texas channeled his musical gifts toward songs mixing B-movie horror images with a completely idiosyncratic spirituality.
A story like that, not surprisingly, means Erickson's output has been collected a number of times, though I Have Always Been Here Before may be the most extensive to deal with all facets of his career. To a great degree, the selections mirror choices made on 1990's Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye, a tribute album, but since the tracks here are uniformly strong, it's hard to quibble. The psychedelic songs from 1966-1967 are dated by the recording technology of the day, but the performances and songs remain as enigmatic and engaging as ever. The material recorded with the Aliens remains the best rock 'n' roll about Lucifer, demons and the bloody hammer, and it's better than a lot of rock 'n' roll about love, peace and all that stuff.
Even in the latter phases of Erickson's career, as recordings became more sparse, more acoustic and more obviously the bare leavings of someone who's struggling with life -- much less his music -- his gift for hooks and emotional vulnerability remain undiminished. So, though, do the puzzles he presents. You can hear Erickson for years, know the English language, understand the words, and still not understand what he says. At some point, the inability of his music to convey ideas limits it, but the fact that it still communicates passion, desire, hope and fear after all this time makes it worth revisiting on a regular basis.
Slipknot at Kiefer UNO Lakefront Arena Friday, March 25 -- When there's a 7-year-old girl on her dad's shoulders brandishing devil's horns, a taeenage couple making out in matching "People = Scum" T-shirts, and zealous metalheads catapulting themselves over barricades into the swirling mosh pit 10 feet below, you'd think it would be tough to keep an eye on the band you came to see. Not so with Slipknot, Iowa's nine-piece masked metal marauders. The band's Good Friday night performance marshaled a captive audience; not even the two breast-baring girls in the front row detracted much attention from the nefarious nü-metal circus on stage.
Lead singer Corey Taylor had the audience following his every command -- quite literally. When he yelled, towards the end of the show, "Get down as low as you possibly can, then raise the f--k up," the entire arena dropped to the ground, crouching, knees bouncing in anticipation. As a handful of coiled fans sprung up too early, Taylor bellowed, "Not until I say, Raise the f--k up!'" The kids fell silent and sank back down until he said the word and the crowd exploded into a mass mosh. Now that's power, the same kind of power that Fred LeBlanc and his band, Cowboy Mouth, frequently wield in making similar demands of their audience.
Equally powerful was Joey Jordinson's gravity-defying drum solo, during which his monstrous double-bass kit was raised toward the ceiling and tilted to face the audience at a 90 degree angle, spinning like a tilt-a-whirl as he hammered and lashed out in a drumming frenzy. Two other drum kits flanked the stage, as additional percussionists banged on custom beer keg sets with fists, heads and baseball bats.
An orgy of blinking lights, lasers, fog, and screens playing reels of squirming maggots, a dismembered digit, and the haunting "Vermillion Pt. 2" music video accompanied the dual guitars, turntables, and Taylor's sometimes-crooning, often-growling vocals. Though the show maintained a vicious pace, it did have its mellower moments -- just long enough for fans to whip out their lighters and wave them about before the aural pummeling resumed.
Lamb of God, influential thrash-death-metallers from Virginia, opened the show, along with the brutally melodic Shadows Fall, and the Bled. -- Jody Worthington