REVIEWED! 22.12.00

PINETOP SEVEN Bringing Home the Last Great Strike (Self-Help/Truckstop Records) 

Even as Radiohead, Muse & Coldplay draw strength from the living legacy of the late Jeff Buckley, American bands like Chicago-based Pinetop Seven trade in a kindred sense of poetic melancholy. For good reference, file next to such luminaries as Townes Van Zandt, Mark Eitzel, Nick Cave, Tom Waits & Leonard Cohen. Think of Brian Wilson’s deft gift with beautiful fragile density albeit with the Americana bent of Will Oldham, 16 Horsepower & Freakwater. Darren Richard’s affecting songs are enveloped in Spanish figures (Ten Thousand To Carlisle Came), bizarre neo-Byrdsian electronics (Mission District), Spy movie pastiche score (Amateur Night) & spine-tingling shimmering pristine pop (On the Last Ride). Essential. 8 

MIKE SHUPP The Key (Private Mind Records) 

Together with Chris Zogby (drums) and Jeff “The Shoes” Murphy (production), Mike Shupp has assembled a strong set of tunes that manages to re-create the strident post-punk alternative college rock that eighties’ last standers like R.E.M., Replacements and Soul Asylum ‘saved’ us with. Which is indispensable because nobody seems to be churning it out anymore. The Key, Shupp’s sophomore effort finds the singer-songwriter in confident mood as the cut loose quality of music found on Head On Straight, The Key (the kind of Westerberg-esque rocker that the man himself has struggled to achieve of late), When I Die, Don’t Let Me See You This Way & What Did You Mean indicate that Shupp is able to deliver where other so-called heartland rockers fail. 8 

ARCO Coming To Terms (Dreamy Records) 

Uh…another Coldplay allusion coming up. Is this a sign of the return to health of the British rock scene after a couple of lean years? I hope so. Like Coldplay, Arco (Chris Healey, Dave Milligan & Nick Healey) deals in songs and craft with an emphasis on understated acoustic guitars and introspective lyrics. Songs like Speak, Alien, Flight can be immediately commended for their gorgeous chord changes and dreamy presentation if one is inclined towards the quieter spectrum of folk-pop. Only reservation would the reluctance of Arco to raise the pulse and the tendency to remain content in one tone. Maybe next album… 7 

IDLE WILDS Unheard (Kool Kat Music) 

Why isn’t David Gray as big as Tom Petty? Based on the evidence on this compilation of demos & rarities from the band that released one album (Dumb, Gifted & Beautiful) in 1994 and dropped off the face of the planet, leader Gray might just be his generation’s Dwight Twilley – a obscure talent. Well, Gray and the Idle Wilds need not be obscure to you, kind reader, as powerpop classics like Tender Distance, Are You Awake & You’re Cool (and more…) deserve to be heard and appreciated by those in the know…don’t hesitate. 8 

JOHN HIATT Crossing Muddy Waters (Vanguard) 

Hiatt returns on roots-rock label Vanguard and that gives you a good idea which direction this latest endeavor might be headed. Yeah. Like Peter Case’s Flying Saucer Blues, this eleven track record is a rustic, homegrown delight. You get tons of mandolins, acoustic 12-strings, harmoniums and foot-stomping rhythms but the songwriting is where the action is, so to speak. As Hiatt spins his yarns on lovelorn sickness (Lincoln Town), devastating circumstances (Crossing Muddy Waters), broken relationships (What Do We Do Now), social commentary (Take It Down), the transience of life (Gone) & angry regret (Take It Back), he never holds back, he lays it all on the line, singing it true and sure. Like the man says – “Oh darling, the faces will change/The names of the innocent/The story at five/Oh darling, the places get strange but only the song survives.” Indeed. 8 

EVELYN FOREVER It’s Good To Be Alive (Airplay) 

Compared to its predecessors (Nightclub Jitters and Lost in the Supermarket), this jumping little record finds Evelyn Forever at a slightly more accessible place. The production is improved, the songs appear to be better thought out and the overall commercial ‘feel’ seems primed for the radio and the all-important charts. Which is not a bad place to be for a youthful talented band that Evelyn Forever obviously is. Indecision & Precious Time should get the teenyboppers’ attention whilst Imagine & Little Girl will satisfy the powerpop intelligentsia nicely. Hopefully, 2001 is the year powerpop and Evelyn Forever finally breaks…7 

MARGO GURYAN Take A Picture (Franklin Castle) 

Timeless beauty. Linus of Hollywood covered Margo Guryan’s Sunday Morning on his fine debut album and he returns the favour with this re-issue of this gorgeous 1968 classic. Written entirely by Guryan, it still possesses a power and resonance all these years later with its densely layered, baroque ‘soft’ pop reminiscent of the Beach Boys, the Zombies and the Left Banke. The difference being, Guryan’s striking vocals. Also included: three ‘bonus demos’ that fit with the rest of Take A Picture seamlessly. Highly recommended. 8