PopMatters home | short takes home | archivesPopMatters Music Short Takes
Darren Hayman, Table for One (Track and Field) Rating: 6
Darren Hayman's been dabbling in bluegrass and playing lots of synthesizers in the four years since his band Hefner's last album. For his first full-length album under his own name he's mostly back to playing pop/rock songs with his guitar. There's some country banjo and other cross-genre touches here and there, but the music is mostly in the vein of Hefner. But that's not a bad thing, considering that band's legacy. With Hefner, Hayman was a keen human observer, writing piercing, astute examinations of the sexual and social maneuverings of humans, not to mention heartbreak and neuroses and eccentricities. Table for One strongly continues that tradition. There's songs occupied by conversations between lovers, songs about people's inner-most wishes, and a song about how impossible it is to really know what someone else is like. The album title reflects his time spent alone in cafes, and several songs come off like the detailed observations of someone watching the people around him and imagining what they're like. His tone, as always, is wryly humorous as well as heartfelt. He's watching us, analyzing us, laughing at us, but not standing apart from us in a high-and-mighty way. It's catchy music that feels grounded in real life.
Henning Pauly, Credit Where Credit Is Due (Prog Rock) Rating: 3
Henning Pauly and former Skid Row singer Sebastian Bach had a spat of sorts with Bach alleging Pauly cheated him out of songwriting credits on his previous album. Pauly has now one-upped Bach however with a new album that used the battle between them as his inspiration. Pauly tears into the record with a brooding guitar riff on "Your Mother Is a Trucker" that wouldn't be out of place between Metallica or Sabbath, but lead singer Juan Roos vocals bring to mind those of J.D. Fortune, he of "Oh boy! I'm in INXS now!" fame. Throw in a rapid banjo plucker and this ditty is indeed a trucking good one. Then there is another hard rocker "Cure the Breach" that is a cross between Disturbed and Orgy. But "Three" sounds like it's been exhumed from some hair band vault. The longer the album goes, the more you want to put on Coverdale/Page, with the riff on, ahem, "Scheisslautundhartwiedreck" sounding like "Feeling Hot". However, there are some redeeming moments, especially on the cheeky "I Don't Wanna Be a Rock Star". Other cunning items about the album include track six entitled "Six" and track seven entitled "Seven". Ingenious! "Have you moved on to Skid Row?" Roos sings again with banjo and electric guitar battling for space. Bizarre? Yes. But with titles like "Copyright Conspiracy", ridiculous is perhaps more fitting.
Steep Canyon Rangers, One Dime at a Time (Rebel) Rating: 7
Like the best bluegrass records, One Dime at a Time is a group effort in the most perfect sense -- the banjo, bass, fiddle, and vocal harmonies (led by Mike Guggino) all pop, all at once. At times, everything here is so raw and perfect that it sounds like a live recording. The requisite happy-go-lucky tracks abound, but far from one-note, the Rangers experiment, too, with devilish writing on "The Ghost of Norma Jean" (a similar dark theme arises on an excellent cover of Robbie Robertson's "Evangeline") and sorrowful freedom chasing on "Slow Burn". The title song with its hook -- "Two dollars in the jukebox / A dime at a time / Sing the same old songs about love gone wrong / 'Til closing time" -- exemplifies the Rangers' ethos and work ethic: it's all about the music, and down to our last dollar, we'll spend it making and listening to our own kind of blues.
The Maybelines, A La Carte (Best Friends) Rating: 6
The Maybelines give you 16 minutes of rock and roll. At least that's the intention. Yet as much as you are rooting for them to dazzle you with various pop masterpieces, the restrained, basic indie pop is too basic and restrained for keyboard-centric numbers like "The Only One" as singer Julie Dorough makes Juliana Hatfield sound like Janis Joplin as even her louder moments are still terribly self-conscious. It improves with "Dream Vacation" and the infectious, slow building "Autumn, September". Just as fun and summer-sounding is the breezy "Come On" that recalls Weezer on Ritalin. The highlight is a radio-friendly, catchy pop picture captured during "Our Hearts Keep Time" that resembles The Minders.