Owsley - Owsley Owsley

You've never heard his name, but you may have heard him before. Before retiring for months to a home studio to craft this perfect pop debut, Owsley sang and played with Shania Twain, Judson Spence and Amy Grant, and started out in a band that also included a pre-Ben Folds, Five Ben Folds.

You can hear on Owsley what brought him together with Folds in that long ago band. Owsley shares the same '70s-influenced harmony pop sensibility that Folds has turned into '90s radio hits. The pounding piano of "Uncle John's Farm" is very Folds-ish, and "Good Old Days" has a gently strummed verse and achingly harmonized chorus about "wandering down memory lane" that hearkens both to the ballad side of Ben Folds Five, and to the sweet '80s confections of the sadly short-lived Bourgeois Tagg.

If I didn't know better, I would have sworn that the plunking piano, restless bass and high "ooh-hoo-hoo" harmonies of "Sonny Boy" were a long-lost Jellyfish song. Then there's "The Sky Is Falling," with its modern crunchy guitar base that dissolves into a throwback Beatles harmony break.

You can definitely hear the Folds, McCartney and Todd Rundgren influences strewn throughout Owsley's music, not to mention in his approach hiding out in his own studio to write and produce everything himself. Fans of those artists (as well as fans of crafty popsters Jellyfish) will truly enjoy the sounds and slick timeless pop sense of Owsley. This is a warm, inviting album that will play over and over again without growing stale.


Honky Toast - Whatcha Gonna Do Honky? Honky Toast
Whatcha Gonna Do Honky?

Speaking of avoiding stale, the members of Honky Toast adopt the personas of bread to take on the rock riffs of the '70s and '80s in this sometimes hilarious and usually headbanging hard disc. Taking on "formidable" last names like Butter, Bake, Toast and Croissant, this quartet covers ill-advised, un-PC funk in the title track, make fun of white trash in "High School Burnout" and handle vintage sounding Rolling Stones/Black Crowes swamp rock in "Shakin' and a Bakin'."

"Scared Boy" lifts the simplistic country rock tones of Creedence Clearwater Revival and "Love Bites" hones in on the mindless stomp rock of AC/DC.

Watcha Gonna Do Honky sounds like the first original recording of a '70s hard rock cover band. If they didn't nail the guitar tones to the wall and send up a pretty impressive flare of energy, I'd be hard-pressed to recommend it. But, even when the lyrics are banal and they often are ("I gotta scratch my itch because my itch it keeps on itchin'") Honky Toast send up a loud, amusingly obnoxious, guitar bending album for summer driving.

Now if we could just get to the summer part...


Wilco - SummerteethWilco

When Wilco formed out of the ashes of critically acclaimed Southern Illinois folk rockers Uncle Tupelo, there were a lot of expectations to live up to. With Summerteeth, Jeff Tweedy and the rest of Wilco which includes other former members of Uncle Tupelo and the guitarist from Champaign, Ill.' Titanic Love Affair have surpassed them all.

Opening with the Byrds-guitar twine and pounding drums and piano/organ meld of the offhandedly poppy "Can't Stand It," Summerteeth moves on through a landscape of perfectly realized bar-band gems. Guitars swap riffs with organs, vocals pop and harmonize as sleekly as old campfire mates, and when the rock-pop meter is running well, this summer you'll have a hard time topping "A Shot In The Arm" for hooky piano-guitar -timpani pounding power. It's a smart lyrical number as well, as Tweedy compares the story of love to the chords of a song: "We fell in love in the key of C/we walked along down by the sea/you followed me down the neck to D/and fell again into the sea/you changed." The album includes two versions of the song, one with a slightly more techno-keyboard background than the other.

Sometimes sounding as spare, reverbed and vintage as a 1950s Sun Studio recording ("Summerteeth"), as quiet and solemn as a confession ("We're Just Friends"), and sometimes as fully primed as an early solo McCartney effort (the handclappin' happy "Nothingsevergonnastand inmyway(again)," Wilco never fails to spin a rich skein of rootsy, smartly drawn pop rock with a touch of folk. Highly recommended.


Dale Hawkins
Wild Cat Tamer
(Mystic Music)

While we're on the subject of vintage sounds, Dale Hawkins has just released his first new material in almost 30 years. Hawkins had a handful of hits in the late '50s; his most known being "Suzi-Q," which was also turned into a hit by Creedence Clearwater Revival a decade or so later. His new album, on a tiny label but distributed through the big WEA conglomerate, sounds like a time capsule back to his early days the same sort of rockabilly swamp rock boogie as "Suzy-Q" (which he rerecorded for this disc) just released in stereo, instead of mono. Fans of '50s rock will enjoy this upbeat CD as a bit of new nostalgia.


New On The Shelves

Immortal/Epic has released a collection of live cuts taken from the Family Values Tour '98, featuring Korn and Ice Cube.

The disc includes a hits medley from Korn (including "Shoots and Ladders") as well as Ice Cube's "Natural Born Killaz" and "Straight Outta Compton."

Also included are three tracks from Orgy (including a remake of New Order's "Blue Monday"), "New Skin" from Incubus, "Du Hast" from Rammstein and three tracks from Limp Bizkit (including "Cambodia") Rammstein also turns up on the soundtrack to the new Keanu Reeves film "The Matrix," on Maverick Records. Kicked off by a Marilyn Manson track, the high-energy soundtrack single "Rock Is Dead," The Matrix Soundtrack is a non-stop techno soundscape, including the noisy shriek attack of Deftones and Ministry and alt-rap of Rage Against The Machine, as well as a remix of Rob Zombie's hit industrial rock/horror anthem, "Dragula."

The real highlights are the instrumentals from club mix band Propellerheads (the dance-ready "Spy Break") and the haunting classical-meets-techno seven-minute-plus mix from Rob D, "Clubbed Death." There's also a solid mixer from Meat Beat Manifesto in "Prime Audio Soup" and, while it's no "Firestarter," Prodigy toes in with "Mindfields." To join an online contest, with prizes ranging from a laptop computer to software and posters, stop by the online movie site at www.intothematrixmusic.com.