All aboard for exotic guitar

CD REVIEWS

January 15, 1998|By J.D. Considine COMEDY Denis Leary

Bill Frisell

Gone, Just Like a Train (Nonesuch 79479)

There are plenty of guitarists who have mastered the pop vernacular -- the bent-note moan of the blues, the feedback-sweetened wail of rock, the tart twang of country, the satisfying crunch of metal -- but few who use that vocabulary as inventively as Bill Frisell does on "Gone, Just Like a Train."

A jazzman by trade, Frisell built his reputation on the music's cutting edge, playing with such avant-leaning players as bassist Marc Johnson, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and drummer Paul Motian. His approach was as distinctive as it was unconventional, and his solos were often flavored with muffled shrieks, quicksilver runs and note-blurring electronic effects. But however exotic his sound got, his improvisations have always been marked by logic and lyricism, spinning out lines as eloquent and expressive as anything Pat Martino ever played.

Granted, Frisell hasn't been working in a vacuum; fellow guitarists Pat Metheny and John Scofield have been making similar noises on their own albums. But he hasn't exactly been content simply to color within the lines, either. "Nashville," released early last year, found him working his magic with material that drew on progressive bluegrass and new acoustic music, while "Gone, Just Like a Train" takes its cues from rock.

That's not to say that "Gone" is a rock album, or even fusion jazz. As much as the music might rely on rock elements, be it the surf-guitar tremolo in "Lookout for Hope" or the doo-wop-derived cadences of "Egg Radio," Frisell and company take them only as reference points, landmarks they pass on their way to more exotic terrain.

Except that Frisell's playmates are crossing from the opposite direction. That's particularly true of Jim Keltner, a drummer who has backed everyone from Bob Dylan to Elvis Costello. Although Keltner no doubt can play in a standard, jazz-based style, his timekeeping here is firmly rooted in rock, offering more drive than swing.

That, in turn, gives a different sort of lift to what Frisell does, putting a slow sizzle behind the greasy, distorted lines of "Blues for Los Angeles" and adding sass to the wry, witty solos in "Pleased To Meet You." But because Keltner is himself a fairly unconventional player, there's never any danger of the music giving in to cliche, as the stuttering pulse he provides for the sunny, John Fahey-ish "Verona" makes plain.

Add in Victor Krauss' deceptively understated bass lines, and "Gone, Just Like a Train" ends up a sort of sonic dreamscape, seemingly familiar but operating on a logic entirely its own. And as with the best dreams, it's the sort of place that leaves you anxious to find your way back.

Lock 'N Load (A&M Records 31454 0832)

Pro-vice and anti-nice, Denis Leary's new stand-up album, "Lock 'n Load," is an ironic, raspy, butt-kicking, satisfying sonic assault. The comedian's delivery, from hiply sardonic to comically psychotic to edgily pathetic, adds electric sincerity. He's profusely profane and spouts the A-word without coming off as one. He acts instead as an exaggeratedly frustrated victim of the status quo. He laments the difficulty of getting coffee-flavored coffee and goes off on "The Lord of the Dance" ("The last time someone called himself Lord on this planet, he got crucified"). He similarly skewers Catholics, Marv Albert and the Kennedys. Toward the end, Leary turns to domestic material and loses cynical steam. But by then, listeners will be so deliriously bent on torching Starbucks and unraveling self-help tapes that they probably won't care.

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Tamara Ikenberg

COUNTRY

Mindy McCready

If I Don't Stay the Night (BNA 67504)

Between the come-hither pose of her cover photo and the rock-flavored arrangements crafted for her album, it's clear that Mindy McCready is being groomed to become the next Shania Twain. Trouble is, "If I Don't Stay the Night" is hardly the hook-fest Twain's "The Woman in Me" was. Some of that has to do with McCready's delivery, which seems too closely wedded to country tradition to be entirely at ease with the album's rock-oriented fare. But the biggest problem is the album's assembly-line material. Apart from an occasional gem like Matraca Berg's "Oh Romeo," most of these songs have the depth of ad jingles -- though without being as catchy.

J.D. Considine

GOSPEL

Rev. James Moore

It Ain't Over (Till God Says It's Over) (Malaco 6026)

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