For his past several CDs, Buddy Guy and his label, Silvertone Records, have seemingly been bent on trying to reach a rock audience by modernizing and polishing his potent sound and reaching beyond a strictly blues repertoire. The strategy hasn't paid off, as none of the albums that followed his 1991 comeback classic, Damn Right I Got The Blues, have matched its passion and power. His sound grew progressively sleeker, culminating in a mixture of classic soul, rock and blues, dressed up with tape loops and modern percussion.
Given this trend, Sweet Tea comes as a shock of the best kind. Guy, who spent the early '60s playing alongside the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Willie Dixon, returns to his roots in raw Mississippi blues by covering a set of songs by Junior Kimbrough, T-Model Ford and Cedell Davis, among others, tapping into the volatile energy and raw passion that has long typified his electrifying live sets.
Sweet Tea opens with a solo acoustic version of Kimbrough's "Done Got Old" that sounds as frustrated, weary and stark as the song title suggests. From there, Guy plugs in his Fender and shows just how much life he has over the remaining eight tracks. His guitar stings its way around the rumbling bass line and pleading vocal of Kimbrough's "Baby Please Don't Leave Me." On Ford's "Look What All You Got," Guy and his band settle into a smart shuffle. And Davis' "She's Got The Devil In Her" is fittingly lowdown and dirty.
The songs give Guy enough room to cut loose on guitar and show off his formidable chops. Even on a 12-minute stretched out version of Kimbrough's "I Gotta Try You Girl," the exuberance of Guy's playing almost compensates for pushing the song far beyond its limit.
Sweet Tea makes no apologies for its gritty blues sound and no concessions for the sake of crossover potential. The result is a return to Guy's stellar heights with his most authentic music in a decade.
White Blood Cells
The White Stripes
Sympathy for the Record Industry
The White Stripes are the Detroit-based duo of Jack and Meg White. He plays guitar and sometimes piano; she drums. They rock.
White Blood Cells is their third album in three years. Each album has evinced their impressively constant evolution. The self-titled debut was so explosive that even its one acoustic track, "Sugar Never Tasted So Good," threatened to combust on every chorus. Last year's De Stijl was a melodic tour de force that, with covers of both Son House and Blind Willie McTell, drew unabashedly on country blues. In contrast, WBC captures a more deliberate sound.
Rather than small punk bombs or soulful shout-alongs, the songs are churning and tense. At best, the tunes stomp and strut, as in "Expecting," reminiscent of early Black Sabbath, or they ache just like the blues -- save for the changes ("Now Mary"). Even the near throwaway "i smell a rat" and histrionic "The Union Forever" redeem themselves by virtue of sheer rock 'n' roll weight.
Jack and Meg also have, however improbably, further pared down their streamlined approach. Jack abstains from solos and his usual gritty slide guitar. In the past they've arranged old standards and paid homage to influences as variable as Dolly Parton and Captain Beefheart, but only originals comprise WBC. Guest musicians (read: bass) and blues progressions also remain in absentia.
Happy continuity marks White Blood Cells' place in The White Stripes' oeuvre. Jack's signature one-guitar call and response -- caustic licks followed by power chords -- abounds. His voice still catches, boyishly, mid-lyric with something between a sob and a gulp. Meg still bangs unadorned four-four beats. The White Stripes invoke the best qualities of a teenager with his first amp: Even at their most subtle, they inspire you to jump up and down or go break the YMCA's windows.
By rights, there should have been no expectations on Weezer in 2001. Their second CD, Pinkerton (1996), flopped rather spectacularly after their self-titled debut, featuring the hit "Buddy Holly," had been a huge success. Band member Matt Sharp had left and formed the Rentals and frontman Rivers Cuomo seemed more likely to try a solo career than try to keep Weezer moving forward.
But a funny thing happened on the way to Weezer's seemingly certain fate as one-hit wonders. The band's popularity kept mushrooming as radio refused to let songs like "Buddy Holly" fade from their playlists of alternative rock oldies, and fans slowly began discovering Pinkerton. So the newly released self-titled CD from Weezer (also known as "The Green Album") arrives under the burden of great expectations. This time Weezer is fully up to the task.
With Cuomo once again at the songwriting helm, Weezer reels off 10 guitar-pop nuggets that rate with anything the group has produced. The slam-bang first single, "Hash Pipe" has already put Weezer back on the alternative rock charts, but it is by no means the only worthy song on Weezer.
"Don't Let Go," "Knock-down Drag-out" and "Crab" also provide potent doses of melodic power pop. "Photograph" and "Glorious Day" travel a more sugary melodic vein, but Weezer keeps enough crunch in the sound to keep the wimp factor to a minimum. On "Island In The Sun," the group keys down their guitar pop sound a notch or two, but the bouncy groove of the song provides a welcome change of pace.
The songs and their abundance of pop hooks come and go quickly and convincingly, but this is one case where short is definitely sweet, as Weezer succinctly stakes its claim as one of rock's premier pop bands.