Drive-By Truckers, "Brighter Than Creation's Dark" (New West Records)
I don't care if the songs are about the killing imperative of a soldier, the life of a guy named Bob or the joys of throwing up out the window of a Cadillac, the Truckers' music maintains its lingering melancholy. Maybe it's the cover art by Richmonder Wes Freed, but I have a feeling that even pictures of smiling Southern children couldn't wipe away the shadows of inevitable loss that haunt these songs. On "Brighter Than Creation's Dark," the band bends that barrenness to 19 songs, many the familiar soaring anthems that paint the Southern experience.
This album expands that world, most notably by the addition of a woman's voice to the boys' club of previous albums. In live performances, Shonna Tucker's presence sometimes gets lost in the mythology of cars-guns-and-drinkin', but it asserts itself here on a few tracks, turning each into a country song no matter how hard the guitars work. And while Patterson Hood scrapes his voice raw on his narratives, like the great booming "That Man I Shot," the best songs on this album belong to Mike Cooley and his deep-voiced rumble, which has softened here -- or clarified maybe but adds a gentleness to the melancholy. With John Neff's pedal-steel twanging brightly throughout, there's a bit of nostalgia to this album, too, light moments that disappear in the Truckers' raging sound, proof that the band continues to expand the borders of their South. Brandon Reynolds
Drive-By Truckers play The National with The Whigs Friday, March 28, at 9 p.m. Read next week's Style Weekly for an interview with Patterson Hood.
Snoop Dogg, "Ego Trippin'" (Geffen)
Gangsta rap hasn't aged well. Ice Cube stars in family-friendly movies, Ice-T played a cop on television, Dr. Dre has become hip-hop's Howard Hughes, and now Snoop Dogg has his own reality show, "Father Hood," in which he plays his comically easygoing self in a gated-community setting. That image of Snoop essentially reduced to the role of traditional sitcom father looms large over his latest effort, "Ego Trippin'," on which he raps like he's still out on the streets, dropping verses on "Gangsta Like Me" that allude vaguely to his perpetual gangsta-ness without going into the day-to-day operations. That's a shame. Snoop is one of the most charismatic MCs in hip-hop's history, and post-gangsta life is a subject ready for thoughtful examination. His latest album is an opportunity missed, but fortunately, Teddy Riley injects some much-needed humor into the proceedings with "Sexual Eruption," "Cool" and "Life of Da Party," which force Snoop to skewer his own image. He sounds all the better for it. Stephen Deusner
Carlene Carter, "Stronger" (Yep Roc)
As she enters her 50s, former Nashville wild child Carlene Carter is becoming the spitting image of her mother, June Carter Cash. Her blonde hair grown darker, Carlene has her mother's rough-hewn beauty, but more crucially, she possesses that same bold twang in her voice, which allows her to drop down into a sultry lower register.
Continuing her inventive combination of country and pop, "Stronger," Carlene's first album in 13 years, showcases her strong vocal similarities to her mother. She sounds brassy on "Break My Little Heart in Two" and suitably vulnerable on the tender "Spider Lace." But the obvious studio doctoring, by John McFee of the Doobie Brothers, can be distracting on the full harmonies of "Bring Love" and "Judgement Day." The album peaks with the closing title track, which Carter sings as a hymn to resilience. That song is her true return to form; the rest of the album sounds simply like a return, which is better than nothing. S.D.
Steve Bernstein, "Diaspora Suite" (Tzadik)
A 12-part, heavily improvised suite with sections for each of the founding tribes of Israel may not be standard jazz fare, but it's so much in line with the Radical Jewish Culture releases on John Zorn's Tzadik label that it's surprising no one has done it before. What's less surprising is the family resemblance to popular Richmond band Fight the Big Bull. Big Bull leader Matt White cites Bernstein (leader, most famously, of Sex Mob) as a major influence, and Bernstein has returned the favor, sponsoring the Bull's recent appearance at the prime NYC downtown club The Stone.
The fourth "Diaspora" project following "Diaspora Soul," Diaspora Blues" and "Diaspora Hollywood" is a bicoastal project, with Bernstein hooking up eight members of San Francisco avant-jazz band Hieroglyphics, including its leader, Peter Apfelbaum. The songs are constructed on a shifting foundation of vamps over which solos and unison sections are layered. There's a strong Sephardic tinge, minor melodies, bright snatches of klezmer clarinet, but more than equal parts of dark, electric Miles Davis atmospherics and post-Hendrix guitar.
The CD was completed in a single afternoon, making it more of a living document than a commercially polished product not a major drawback for this kind of music. With a nonet, each of the nine members gets a chance to shine, but it doesn't have the sharp intimacy of some of the small-group Tzadik projects, such as Zorn's Masada or the phenomenal Masada String Trio. Or Fight the Big Bull at Cous Cous, for that matter. But fans of the local band will find a lot to like here. Peter McElhinney
DVD: "The Holy Modal Rounders: Bound to Lose" (Badbird)
Most people know weirdo '60s folk outfit The Holy Modal Rounders from the goofy song "If You Want to Be a Bird," played during a classic scene from the film "Easy Rider" when Jack Nicholson flaps his arms on the back of Peter Fonda's chopper. Or perhaps they know the band because playwright Sam Shepard used to be its drummer.
This enjoyable documentary by Sam Wainwright Douglas and Paul Lovelace paints an affectionate but clear-eyed portrait of the New York-based group by focusing on wacky founders Peter Stampfel (fiddle/mandolin) and Steve Weber (guitar/vocals) true originals who took traditional Harry Smith-inspired folk into irreverent, psychedelic places. Sometimes disturbing, the film is not only a portrait of a band but also of the beatnik era post-'50s, pre-hippies with dramatic tension flowing mainly from the dysfunctional pair of kindred musical spirits. Stampfel is a reformed speed freak who settled into a family and job; Weber is an unrepentant hedonist who simply settled from heroin/crack addict to round-the-clock alcoholic, surviving (amazingly) with a semblance of charm and charcoal-distilled talent.
Using talking heads from band members to rock critic Robert Christgau to the ever-insightful chronicler of the Greenwich folk scene, Dave Van Ronk, the film looks at the group's history leading up to a recent 40-year reunion concert in Portland, Ore. which in typical fashion is spoiled by Weber, a mythic character who disappears whenever prospects start looking good. By the end, we can see that it isn't so much the art of the pair but the playful, unpredictable chaos they engender that allows them to be continually rediscovered.
Extras provide 60 minutes of additional live footage, both new and old (including the band's surreal appearance on "Laugh-In" with comic Ruth Buzzi), which more music DVDs should do. Brent Baldwin