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Testify

Various artists


Rise Above: 24 Black Flag Songs to Benefit the West Memphis Three
(Sanctuary)

You’ve got to hand it to Henry Rollins. Love him or hate him, he remains one of the most prolific artists American hardcore has ever produced, and this downright caustic celebration of the one and lonely Black Flag is further evidence of that fact. Rollins has been known to sometimes donate portions of CD sales to advocates for the homeless and other benevolent organizations in the Los Angeles area, but this project is a bit larger in scope. With Rise Above, the relentless actor-singer-writer-commentator has found a worthy opportunity to politically redefine the band’s catalogue to raise dollars, awareness and hope for the much-publicized West Memphis Three, a trio of Arkansas youths believed by many to have been wrongly convicted of murdering three young boys in 1993.

By his own admission in the liner notes, Rollins feels that benefit records are usually “well-meant but anonymous and boring,” but even as Public Enemy’s Chuck D. kicks off the title track with an ominous “Get ready to go world wide!,” it’s clear that this salvo of mortal shells transcends the often contrived nature of such efforts and gives us something truly inspiring, a sonic tap-and-die kit that duly screws the outrage, contempt and resistance that made the Flag famous into our collective middle ear. It’s just in there. It’s in Lemmy’s stellar “Thirsty and Miserable,” Tom Araya’s iniquitous “Revenge,” and original Black Flag singer Keith Morris’ “Nervous Breakdown.” It’s impossible to pick a favorite; Iggy Pop, Ice-T, Exene Cervenka, and Hank Williams III are just a few of the many deities who chorus-up with former members Rollins, Chuck Dukowski and Kira Roessler. Sadly, founder Greg Ginn chose not appear on the recording, but Rollins Band guitarist Jim Wilson gave due props by using an Ampeg Dan Armstrong Lucite guitar, the eclectic ax for which Ginn was famous.

This retrospective is authentic, significant and will most likely (for some) bring back a lot of memories. It is a testimonial that allows Rollins and his band to flex a considerable deal of interpretive muscle, while offering the man himself an opportunity to simultaneously solidify and perhaps rearticulate Black Flag’s role as a trailblazer. At the same time, the listener can explore the validity of its rage in newer contexts. Not so soon will any fan of this acerbic outfit forget its cause, which proposes a surgery upon justice, fairness and the uniquely American notion of freedom. It’s a thousand feet tall and rising. Freakin’ great disc for an even better cause. Visit www.wm3. org for more information.

—Bill Ketzer

The Wait

Hollywood
(Paint Chip)

The Wait’s latest EP adds yet another feather in the cap of Albany’s best pop-rock band, who sound more confident, more skillful and more closely poised for greatness with each recording they issue. Hollywood features seven well-written, tightly played songs, covering the full spectrum of the Wait’s formidable studio capabilities, from the lovely and catchy radio-ready sweetness of “Hollywood” to the hard-rocking, harmony-fortified rock aggression of “Starry Eyed.” “Can’t Do Right” (the next radio single) and “Forever More” round out the rougher end of the equation on Hollywood, while the gentle “Isn’t It a Pity” and the U2-flavored “Hold Tight” find the Wait tugging at the heartstrings atop gorgeously arranged pop constructions. Smack dab in the middle of the sonic palette lies “Rock Star,” a thoughtful midtempo rocker with fabulous build-release dynamics. Dominick Campana’s spacious production style serves the Wait well, with each member of the band given ample opportunities to soar without ever falling into showboating mode. Brendan Pendergast may sing about not wanting to be a rock star or the next big thing, but Hollywood proves that he and his bandmates have it in themselves to be both.

—J. Eric Smith

Michael Hurley

Sweetkorn
(Trikont)

Nearly 40 years into Michael Hurley’s recording career, he brings forth the new Sweetkorn (and nearly simultaneously, Blueberry Wine, a reissue of his 1965 debut, originally titled First Songs on Folkways). This 11-song set is rendered with a casual ease that belies its depth, confidence and utter timelessness. Hurley stands nearly alone in this cross-genre land of mountain ballads, oblique yarns, sly humor and timeless paeans to love and hope. That his basic approach has not altered over the decades is a testament to how fully Hurley has invested his own personality in his work since the very beginning. He sings with a voice that moves easily between world-weary bluesiness and giddy near-yodeling. In his song “Get Over It,” he manages the neat trick of describing the small gruesomeness of a sewing needle being broken off at its end and becoming embedded in a toe, yet delivering it with such offhand ease that it floats by nearly unnoticed at first. His gruff optimism ultimately wins out at every turn. He’s also rerecorded one of his classics, “O My Stars.” Jill Gross and Dana Kletter add harmony, the three voices blending for the magical and heavenly chorus. Hurley goes it alone for the 18th-century ballad “Barbera Allen,” which makes his own songs sound like they’d have been at home alongside it 300 years ago.

Currently, Hurley depends upon overseas labels such as Trikont in Germany to find release for his music. Music this bracingly natural makes much of the current country and roots crop look like landfill fodder. Now 61, Hurley deserves the same college-circuit revival afforded the blues elders of the ’60s. A hundred years from now, our great-great grandchildren will be affixing stamps to letters bearing his portrait.

—David Greenberger

The Donnas

Spend the Night
(Atlantic)

The Donnas put boys down and jerk them off at the same time in a knockout major-label album that single-handedly restores the sheen to heavy metal. Modeled on Joan Jett, the Donnas are vocalist Brett Anderson, bassist Maya Ford, drummer Torry Castellano and guitarist Allison Robertson. They blow the dust off rock & roll with their fifth album, the kind of record fans of Ratt and Mötley Crüe will slaver over. (Anderson, by the way, is Donna A., Ford Donna F., Castellano Donna C., Robertson Donna R.). High school buddies from Palo Alto, the Donnas got together in the early ’90s under the moniker Ragady Anne. The hormonally precocious girls were pegged as a novelty act, and by the late ’90s, they’d developed their own repertoire and released several albums. Spend the Night is a hummer. For every tune of desire (“Please Don’t Tease” is an outstanding example) there’s a kiss-off (“Not the One” is deliciously nasty), lending the record a great Powerpuff Girl dynamic. The strategy would be merely contrived were the music not so in-your-face. The sound is terrific from the “It’s on the Rocks” start to the “5 O’Clock in the Morning” finish. The production is huge, the layering exquisite, the harmonies aggressive and beautiful.

Ultimately, Spend the Night doesn’t lend itself to analysis. It’s about enjoyment and energy. Rock pundits might dis it for its teen spirit. Rock fans will revel in it.

—Carlo Wolff


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