Insane Clown Posse
The Amazing Jeckel Brothers
I have heard the enemy. Not the enemy of the state, of young minds, or even of the moral well-being of anyone within earshot of Insane Clown Posse, but the adversary of rock music itself. Forty-plus years of public scrutiny and revolution, from Elvis's shaking hips on Ed Sullivan to Marilyn Manson's Antichrist poses, loogied in the face by a couple of dysfunctional white jokers, who also happen to rape, sodomize, and generally spoil rap, hip-hop, and metal along the way. Forty-plus years crapped away in the name of commerce.
And it's not the confrontational tone or even the pandering to fifteen-year-old kids that makes Insane Clown Posse's second major album, The Amazing Jeckel Brothers, so offensive. It's the deliberate attempt to shock, the way they take gangsta rap's most disillusioning and repulsive facets and build their conception around them. Loaded with pet killings, bowel jokes, and a whole lotta "fuck"s, The Amazing Jeckel Brothers appeals to the most damaged and gullible of audiences (Juggalos, they like to be called). And it's all charged with forced adrenaline. And that's what makes it so reprehensible.
Making matters worse is the fact that Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J have no musical chops whatsoever; they can't rap for shit, and their beats are about as lame as a 1985 beatbox set on "inept." With comic relief supplied by one-note telephone pranksters the Jerky Boys, wasted cameos by Ol' Dirty Bastard and Snoop Dogg (who should have known better), and a concept about as inventive as ICP's use of the word "dick," The Amazing Jeckel Brothers makes Korn's slightly homophobic rants sound spirited and erudite. And they at least lay the hip-hop/neo-metal merge thing down with some invention.
But Insane Clown Posse is expecting this critique. "Fuck critics/Fuck your review" they spew in the typically and obviously titled "F*ck the World." No, ICP, fuck you.
With a solo record by Cesar Rosas on the shelves and a new album by the Latin Playboys also vying for ears, can the public handle a third Los Lobos side project in as many months? David Hidalgo (sometime Lobo, sometime Playboy) sure hopes so as he unleashes the self-titled debut disc from Houndog, a studio-generated collaboration with bluesman Mike Halby.
Unlike Rosas's rootsy record and the Playboys' ambitious space noodlings, however, Houndog takes a lowdown, lo-fi approach to the nine dirge-like songs that make up its album. Halby, a veteran player who's done time with both John Mayall and Canned Heat, sings the blues like it takes all the effort in the world for him to do so. He sounds genuinely down and out. Hidalgo, being Hidalgo (the Lobo with the oddball side to him and the brains behind such unrootsy classics as Kiko and Colossal Head), can't leave well enough alone and does Halby's voice one better (if that's the word) by slowing down his vocals to a crawl. The result is a modern blues record spinning at half speed.
Yet Houndog's twist on the blues has its distinctions. The mix of scratchy violin and acoustic picking (along with spare percussion and chug-chug rhythms) sounds authentically despairing. Hidalgo fiddles with the studio knobs so much that even relatively spacious numbers like "Down Time" end up sounding like Tom Waits on a partly sunny day (and how about that creepy doo-wop vibe that "Eddie's Gone" is shooting for?). This is music for a swinging party of one.
But even at an economical 39 minutes, Houndog begins to drag. The novelty of the project begins to lose its allure about halfway through. There's only so much room to move in the limited space given (the album was recorded in Halby's home studio in Los Angeles and sparingly produced by Hidalgo). Hidalgo does his best with it by injecting little stylistic touches here and theresuch as the opening "No Chance," the lazy shuffle of "Lonely Dying Love," and the "workout" at the climax of "Killin' Me"but more often than not, Houndog will have you singing the bluesalbeit in a brand new way.
Jim Hall & Pat Metheny
Jim Hall & Pat Metheny
While it's easy to be cynical about the motivations of the established musicians doing a collaborative project, it's obvious from the first note of Jim Hall & Pat Metheny that this was not an idea whose time has come, but one that should have come a long time ago.
The seventeen-track album, an excellent release from the Cleveland-based Telarc label (it's a homecoming of sorts for Hall, who earned his music degree here forty-some years ago), is split between standards, original material by both players, and five spontaneous improvisations, all performed as duets.
Hall, whose legato phrasing and unique melodic sense have heavily influenced not only Metheny but players such as John Scofield, Bill Frisell, and Mike Stern among many others, opens with his own "Lookin' Up," and immediately you know why Metheny patterned his style after him. The listener will be as much entertained by who is playing what part as by the music itself. In fact, at times the only way that even true fans of either guitarist can tell who's who is that Metheny occasionally uses acoustics and other exotic instruments, while Hall sticks to his electric.
The empathy between Hall and Metheny, evident on every cut, is particularly profound on their total deconstruction of "All the Things You Are," where they change beats and accents, and throw in melody lines that morph into bass lines, from union to dissonance to harmony, with ease and precision. Their brief improvisations border on becoming repeatable compositions at times, a tribute to the sense of melody that both musicians possess in abundance.
Metheny recasts "Summertime" as a hyper-strummed folk melody, while his own "Farmer's Trust" retains all the pensiveness of the original recording he cut with his group nearly twenty years ago. Attila Zoller's "The Birds and the Bees" and Hall's "Cold Spring" also stand out.
The only question left is posed by the inclusion of live material on the disc: Any chance of seeing this act here anytime soon? Fans of the two guitaristsand fans of jazz on any instrumentwould welcome that.