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Sonic Circus

[whitespace] TNT Tortoise

Post-rock phenoms and a ramblin' man

Izzy Stradlin
117 Degrees
(Geffen)

Tortoise
TNT
(Thrill Jockey)

The Who
Odds & Sods
(MCA)

IT'S STRANGE that hip theory periodically proclaims the "death of rock" despite popular proof otherwise. The rise of a DJ-oriented underground of electro-dance soundscapes supposedly signals a remission for songwriters and old-school bands; however, scores of guitar-based and song-focused rockers like Marcy Playground, Third Eye Blind, Matchbox 20, and Sugar Ray are enjoying the kind of platinum sales and mass airplay that has eluded post-rock artists. The most visible acts in electronica--Prodigy, the Chemical Brothers, and Moby--come on like rock stars and sound like driving rock 'n' roll. And much of the spiritual core of classic rock is the same sense driving the post-rock/DJ underground to free itself from rock structures by reveling in pure sounds.

This isn't about techno replacing alt-grunge; it's about how fluently pop acts speak an old language or how clearly they create new ones. On his second solo venture from his rhythm guitar role in Guns n' Roses, Izzy Stradlin speaks plain English in the form of a Stones-based groove featuring country-blues slide guitar. Stradlin lacks the vocal firepower of Axl Rose, but ironically, like the post-rock acts, his disc isn't about his songs; it's about sonic pleasure. Stradlin's achievement isn't that's he's cutting-edge, but that he uses a vocabulary where rednecks, punks, and hippies can find common ground.

Tortoise is more tangible than usual on TNT, but the post-rock icons still sound like a tree falling in the forest: If they speak in obtuse tongues, can we hear anything? TNT is definitive post-rock--formless compositions, odd arrangements, abstract quirks rather than hooks or momentum. Tortoise's idea is that a loose, kitchen-sink approach will yield sonic adventure. But by rejecting reference points, they've made themselves not only unintelligible, but worse--uneventful.

So, if the new boss is dysfunctional, why not meet the old boss? The Who's 1973 disc Odds & Sods was one of rock's first rarities packages, and this reissue adds 12 more tracks to the original 11. From their R&B roots to their glory-era anthems, the Who blazed through any tension between tradition and experiment. Their insistent in-your-face inspiration is a value held by classic rock, yet their sonic circus and Pete Townshend's conceptual compositions opened doors for post-rock values. The FM-staple "Long Live Rock" offers a clear translation: For one moment in the abruptly somber bridge, Roger Daltry cries "Look ahead--rock is dead." What comes next? Keith Moon's pounding drum cascades, Townshend's slashing power chords, and a honky-tonk piano: the sounds of rock very much alive.
KARL BYRN


Ramblin' Jack Elliott
Friends Of Mine
(Hightone)

THE "GREATEST living folk singer" tag is mighty heavy baggage to haul around. But Elliott has responded by recording some of his best work in decades, having earned a Grammy for 1995's South Coast. This time out, he's joined by some of the folks whom he's influenced during his five-decade career. Arlo Guthrie, John Prine, Guy Clark, Emmylou Harris, Peter Rowan, Nanci Griffith, Rosalie Sorrels, Jerry Jeff Walker, Tom Waits, and Bob Weir ("Friend of The Devil") duet on 11 cuts, with instrumental backing from Norton Buffalo, Tom Rigney, and Roy Rogers (who also produced the album). Jack steps up for a solo rendition of Tim Hardin's "Reason to Believe" and on "Bleeker St. Blues," which he dedicated to his early protégé, Bob Dylan. Though it may seem contrary for a folk legend, it should be Grammy time again.
TERRY HANSEN

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From the April 9-15, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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