Hellbilly Deluxe (Geffen 25212)
Having spent several years building an audience for White Zombie, why did frontman Rob Zombie decide to ditch his band and make a solo album? After listening to "Hellbilly Deluxe," the answer seems obvious: The devil made him do it.
Don't get the wrong idea. It's not as if our Mr. Zombie has made a pact with Satan or is engaging in any anti-Christian skulduggery. "Hellbilly Deluxe" may be loud and obnoxious enough to tick parents off, but it's certainly not part of some dark plan to harvest souls for the Dark One.
No, the only kind of deviltry Zombie cares about is of the Halloween and horror-movie variety. From the album's cover art, which finds Zombie looking like a cross between Rasputin and the Creature from the Black Lagoon, to the novelty ad parodies inside the CD booklet, it's clear that Zombie revels in all sorts of spook-show silliness.
It isn't just a matter of visual style, either. Like Vincent Price, Zombie knows how to use his voice for maximum (melo)dramatic effect. In "Living Dead Girl," his drawling delivery is as dark and dry as a death-rattle, while on "Demonoid Phenomenon," he ends up shrieking the "Violator! Desecrator!" chorus like a fiend
writhing in torment.
Yet as spooky as all that should seem, the scariest thing about Zombie is the thought that someone might actually think he's being serious. Unlike the death metal bands who embrace demonology because they think it's cool, Zombie is drawn to this stuff because it's such a hoot.
At most, what he wants is to get his listeners' adrenalin pumping, and even then, he does that more through the music than through his message. Although the album credits suggest that Zombie is working with a standard guitar/bass/drums rock band, the actual sound of the album has much more of a techno edge to it, with pulsing synths and clanking electronic percussion.
In addition to making the music more ominous and relentless, the thumping electro-beat gives these songs a stronger sense of groove. Zombie isn't exactly a funk machine, but there's enough rhythmic insistence to songs like "Dragula" and "Return of the Phantom Stranger" that the album is at times downright danceable. Was this what they meant by a "disco inferno"?
Admittedly, Zombie's morbid wit and maniacal music won't be to every listener's taste. But if you enjoy whistling past the graveyard, you'll love singing along with "Hellbilly Deluxe." ***
Spyboy (Eminent 25001)
It used to be that country singers rarely changed styles in mid-career. Not anymore. Emmylou Harris, for one, is in the midst a total revitalization, trading the twangy traditionalism of '70s recordings for a sound that's amazingly airy and modern. There are some moments on her new live album, "Spyboy," that evoke U2, some that recall Joni Mitchell, and others that echo Neil Young. At the same time, Harris and her brash, jazzy backing band have no trouble handling material as traditional as "Green Pastures" or Roy Orbison's "Love Hurts." Best of all, Harris makes all of it seem of a piece, suggesting that there's less difference between country and rock than most fans think. ***
Payton's Place (Verve 314 557 327)
On "Payton's Place," his third CD as a leader, 24-year-old trumpeter Nicholas Payton is off to the races in a mostly hard-bop mode. Payton plays with amazing precision, his big round tones perfectly articulated even on the fastest runs. Early on, he sounds a bit predictable, as if trying too hard to emulate the likes of Freddie Hubbard or Blue Mitchell. That's not such a bad thing, but he soon opens up, and the quintet that includes Tim Warfield on tenor sax, Anthony Wonsey on piano, Reuben Rogers, bass, and Adonis Rose, drums, moves in unexpected directions. Some cameos help, too. On "Three Trumpeters," Payton and guests Wynton Marsalis and Roy Hargrove trade ideas and then come together in an impressive bout of simultaneous soloing. The band reaches a high point on the Wayne Shorter composition "Paraphernalia," a tune that comes off as alternately ethereal and menacing. ***1/2
I Will Survive: The Anthology (Polydor 31455 7236)
Taken in small doses, the Studio 54 fare on Gloria Gaynor's double CD "I Will Survive: The Anthology" is the perfect complement to a party or a mix tape. But taken in its entirety, the bell-bottom melodrama is the aural equivalent of getting hit over the head with a disco ball. It's not that the afro-adorned Gaynor doesn't have more to offer than the definitive disco self-help anthem. Remakes of "Never Can Say Goodbye" and "Reach Out, I'll Be There" are strobe-light standouts. And the kitschy, come-hither blaxploitation novelty, "Casanova Brown," is a gem on the second disc, which is full of funky yet generic R&B trifles. But only the most devoted of disco divas and dudes will survive this anthology. **
Jennifer Paige (Edel America 62171)