Wednesday, January 25, 2006

MUSIC: Cash and Cheese

Here's a look at a couple fine new CDs I've recently acquired (from a man named "Vito" in a black limo in the alley behind the pizza joint, but I digress).

Image hosting by PhotobucketRosanne Cash, "Black Cadillac"
Rosanne Cash has been a critical favorite for years, crafting literate country-flavored rock along the lines of Lyle Lovett and Lucinda Williams. Her latest, "Black Cadillac," is both a eulogy and a moving ode to things lost. It's universal in scope yet very personal in feeling.

In the space of just a few years between 2003 and 2005, Rosanne lost three parents — her father, singing legend Johnny Cash, her stepmother, June Carter Cash, and her mother, Vivian Liberto Cash, Johnny Cash's first wife.

Sure, she's paying her respects to Cash's musical legacy, but part of Rosanne Cash's own appeal has always been her dogged insistence on going her own way. She carved out her career separate from her father's years ago.
But how do you deal with private grief in the public eye? You pick up your notebook and guitar and sing about it.

"Black Cadillac" is a searching quest, for meaning and the small epiphanies that follow death. What happens next? Does love die when the loved one does? Cash's quest here is deeply personal, full of tiny observed details that flesh out her songs and make them true stories, rather than just treacly bombast. "Black Cadillac" doesn't offer firm answers about life and death — how could it? — but it offers melodic food for thought.

These are beautiful, heartfelt songs about loss that will only fail to move the stone-hearted. "I Was Watching You," as Cash pictures her young parents meeting for the first time, has the sweet tang of ever-optimistic first love. "The World Unseen" nicks a line from the hymn "We Three Kings" to craft an affirming ballad about the search for faith, while "God Is In The Roses," with its chorus — "God is in the roses / and the thorns" – aptly captures the bittersweet, wise feeling of "Black Cadillac."

Despite the serious tone, the music, with hints of folk, soft rock and juke joint-stomp, isn't dour — Cash rocks in the anthemic "Like Fugitives," and the bouncy "World Without Sound" turns from a witty lark into a haunting ballad and back again at the drop of a hat. The title tune even includes a trumpet deep in the mix that evokes Cash's father's classic "Ring of Fire."

It's sometimes a melancholy tonic, but it goes down warmly, unforced, without manufactured sentiment. Rosanne Cash is simply telling us stories, about how she feels and the things she's seen. With "Black Cadillac," she's made a rich, layered CD that honors the memory of her family yet continues down her own unique path.

Image hosting by PhotobucketRichard Cheese, "Sunny Side of the Moon: The Best Of"
Lounge music and rock 'n' roll. Dare I say, it's a match made in heaven.

The bastard child of Bill Murray's "Starrrrr Waaaaarrrs!" singer from "Saturday Night Live," Richard Cheese and his band Lounge Against The Machine take on the heavyweights of alt-rock, from Slipknot to the Beastie Boys to Snoop Dogg, running them through a purifying rinse of sheer lounge-lizard smarm and charm.

"Sunny Side" culls the best of Cheese's first three CDs with a selection of new and reworked tunes. It's a great primer to one of the more oddball talents in music, out there on the fringes of parody with Dread Zeppelin and the godfather of the genre, "Weird Al" Yankovic.

You can't beat his gloriously offensive cover of Nirvana's "Rape Me," which starts off with a sleazy, "This one's for the ladies!" and ends with a conga-line chorus of "Rape-rape-rape-rape-rape-me!" That right there will give you a clue if you're in tune with the Cheese-meister. Other highlights on this collection are Cheese's classic take on Nine Inch Nails' industrial anthem "Closer" (complete with chorus of "I want to f__k you like an animal"), and a cover of Radiohead's "Creep" that manages to be the opposite of everything Radiohead's ever stood for.

It's all a fine line between wit and worn-out, and the Cheese joke — uncool lounge versions of raunchy, often profane modern tunes — could easily get old fast. Yet what makes this Cheese fresh is how hard they work. He sings the hell out of these goofy songs, and his band gives them the lounge treatment with smooth-flowing skill.

"Best Of" offers a solid collection of Cheese, even if it's not all-inclusive. The CD is short enough that a few more tracks could've been packed on (I'm partial myself to his covers of Prodigy's "Smack My Bitch Up" and Green Day's "American Idiot"). Sure, Cheese is a novelty act, but he's a darned groovy one. It's lounge livin' large, and guaranteed to be the hit of your next party. Or as Cheese himself would say, "Par-tay!"

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