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February 8, 2000

Big Rude Jake (Road Runner Records)

In his self-titled first recording, Big Rude Jake puts to rest any notion that sex belongs to Rock and Roll. With all the big bands and old folks swing, we forget that swing started in the streets and was the devil's music long before Elvis started to shake his pelvis. But with his irreverent lyric and saucy arrangements, Big Rude Jake brings back all the zoot suit swagger that made swing the scorn of parents and choice of teens everywhere.

In the current wave of swing bands, the thing that differentiates the really good ones and the also rans comes down to three things -- you have to have a drummer that makes the earth quake just like Gene Krupa, the horn arrangements have to be clever enough to make your head spin, and you've got to wrap it all up in a red silk dress and soak it in gin. Big Rude Jake has all this in spades.

The album gets off to a lukewarm start with the weakest link - "Gotham City Serenade." But it quickly escalates with "Queer for Ca," a song about finding your girl with the girl of your dreams. Big Jake voices what many men feel about the situation: the Romans might have liked to do it with little boys but he much prefers the current fashion. Big Rude Jake is definitely a wolf in sharkskin clothing and he raises the baud factor to new heights in songs such as "Buster Boy" (an ode to his circumcised penis) and "Song for Lillie Christine." But Big Rude Jake is not just naughty; he's more accurately refreshingly irreverent.

In "Dinner with the Devil," Big Rude Jake finds himself sitting down to dinner with his mother and the devil. In his mother's eyes it's preferable to be polite and politically correct like "their esteemed satanic guest." The devil might have his mother fooled but Jake has seen enough to know nice from right. Anyone who has railed against the religious right knows just what he means. "Mercy for the Monkey Man" continues in this irreverent vein. In "Let's Kill all the Rock Stars" Big Jake draws a giant line in the sand. You are either in the scene or out of it. Don't be a charlie all your life; get into the swing and buy this record.

-- Jay Sharpe

Hank Becker and the Boggie Chillin (Duck Tape Music), 2000.

Albums often contain story songs. Broken hearts, lost love and perpetual hope frequently appear as themes in modern song writing. It’s very rare however, when a collection of songs is also a man’s journal, high-school yearbook and aural history rolled into one neat package. Such is the case with Hank Becker’s Boggie Chillin release. Recorded and produced at Southern rock legend Johnny Sandlin’s Duck Tape Studio, Hank’s album showcases not only himself but also Mobile’s finest musical talent. Hank’s electric, acoustic and slide steel guitar is joined by Voxtone/Gretsch Rockin’ Cat alum Warren Wolf on guitar. Becker and Wolf have honed their guitar interplay through 20 years of collaborative effort and the result is two guitars woven together like the Harlem Globetrotters work a basketball. The entire project is anchored by Rick Long’s always-in-the-pocket bass playing. As a child of the 60’s, Long cut his teeth on the British Invasion and blues, and provides this album with its musical backbone. Former Will and the Bushmen drummer Jimmy Roebuck also brings his metronome accuracy and jazz feel to these sessions recorded over the recent holiday season. But, it doesn’t end here, the Boggie Chillin are a big family. Add Ricky Chancey’s harmonica and the band’s sound is multiplied. Chancey’s harp slides from single note blues runs to church organ swells with ease. His appearance on all ten tunes solidifies his reputation as this town’s premiere harmonica cat. Bo Roberts steps in line to round out the ensemble with his Hammond B3 organ and Fender Rhodes piano. His solo work on “Hot Sauce” is reminiscent of Dr. John and sews the whole sound together. But hold on, it’s not over yet. The Boogie Chillin can play and sing. Hank himself provides all the lead vocals, but the background voices are what puts the boggie in these chillin. Anchored by Hank’s longtime friend and open mic partner Randy Landers and songbird Lisa Mills, their well-rehearsed harmonies provide a sweetness not often heard. The real treat is the inclusion of a member of Mobile’s musical royal family, Donna Hall. She worked with her brothers in a band that got its start in the Port City, Wet Willie. Her gospel style vocals serve to define the Chillin sound. That’s enough about the band’s pedigree; now let me tell you about the music. Ten songs in all (“Hot Sauce” is featured twice, the full thrown Mambo version and the unplugged Pig Meat version), CHILLIN AT PLAY contains Hank’s best known and most popular original compositions. Long time Hankheads will appreciate “Henry’s Truck” copywritten in 1977 as well as Becker’s signature tune “Bull Bream Blues.” But it’s his new stuff that will turn heads and attracts new listeners. His most recent writing shows maturity and refinement in his songwriting skills as well as an appreciation for our fragile existence on earth. “Long Time Coming,” “I Can’t Give Up,” and “Standing Around in the Rain” reveal a survivor who has been given lemons but rather than turn sour, Hank Becker and the Boggie Chillin have made champagne! Hank’s ready smile and can-do attitude when paired with his natural music talent have won him the respect and participation of Mobile’s finest musicians. Give it a listen and see why.

-- A.J. Hidell, Jr.

Violent Femmes (Beyond Records), 1999.

VIVA WISCONSIN is the latest from the band Violent Femmes. Recorded live while on a 1998 tour of their home state of Wisconsin, Viva Wisconsin is as the cd liner notes says: "Two guitars, two drums and three voices. Femmes back to basics, no overdubbing, no electronics, no crap." It goes on to describe the cd as "the ultimate Violent Femmes recording" and as a best of cd, it definitely delivers. All the best alternative/college favorites are here with all the driving bass riffs and angst ridden lyrics that first blew up our skirts in the early eighties.

The Femmes came out in a time before the music was alternative and Generation X was a band with a burned out punk rocker named Billy. But their sound would become the foundation for such bands as Green Day and the Seattle Scene, which would voice the angst that defined a generation. Songs such as "I'm Nothing" would put words to the universal teen feeling of disenfranchisement long before wearing flannels and drinking coffee would become cool. The irreverence of the Femmes paired with the snap of the snare is as fresh now as it was then.

VIVA WISCONSIN showcases the lyrical and vocal talents of Gordon Gand, who brought mutual masturbation to its rock climax in "Blister in the Sun." This recording reminds us that only the Femmes could sing about infanticide with a sly grin on their faces ("Country Death Song"). It has everything we have already loved about the Femmes: the deceptively simplistic in your face musical style and straight ahead lyric sung with that breathless rasp wrapped in a tight professional package. With its seamless performance and artistic dissonance, it is easy to forget this is a live recording. In a time where everything from vocals to breasts are enhanced, the stripped down honesty in these recording is a breath of fresh air. Long-time fans and neophytes alike will find something to enjoy in this recording. I suggest grabbing a triple espresso latte and listening to this with your favorite pubescent nephew, but make it decaf because the Femmes will pump up your pressure enough.

-- Thomi Sharpe

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