Too Little . . . Too Late . . . and Just Right : Louie Louie has a bad second half; likable Mike Reilly may have trouble in this decade; D.D. Wood aims for the heart--and hits it.
The hyphenates have it in this week’s survey of new local album releases: pop-rock from D.D. Wood, blues-rock from the Mike Reilly Band, and dance-pop from Louie Louie. Ratings range from **** (amazingly-great) to * (god-awful).. Three stars denote a solid recommendation.
*** 1/2 D.D. Wood “Tuesdays Are Forever”
Hollywood Judge this book by its cover and you’ll come away with a mixed message that’s hard to fathom.
On the front we meet the sturdy-but-beleaguered materfamilias of a Dust Bowl Okie clan, posed with her closest kin in front of a collapsing shack. But flip through the CD booklet and you encounter a pouting glamour-puss. On the back of the booklet, Wood turns into a Calvin Klein ad, with nothing coming between her fair skin and the camera’s eye save a strategically placed guitar.
It makes you wonder whether you’re about to hear a record-industry first: an attempt at a crossover album aimed at Emmylou Harris’ fans, and Madonna’s, too.
As it turns out, “Tuesdays Are Forever” is a much more straightforward and level-headed statement than its artwork suggests. Harris’ fans might indeed find the album’s occasional country hues appealing.
As for Madonna’s legions--sorry, but this music is blessedly free of attempts to strike an in-vogue pose. Instead, Wood is a model of simplicity and directness, offering unflaggingly attractive melodies and plain-spoken lyrics that aim for the heart.
Wood has spent most of her life in the company of punks and hard-rockers: her brother, Jack Grisham, and her husband, Joe Wood, are both longtime fixtures on the local alternative-rock scene. But the Long Beach singer’s debut album is pure, catchy pop-rock with those aforementioned country leanings.
Having written herself a set of inviting, readily memorable tunes, Wood is smart enough not to try to gild the lily with overstated emoting.
She rides the melody lines with her deep, amber-hued voice, which can sound like an earthier version of Natalie Merchant. Trusting the songs and their sincerity, Wood’s approach is rich in feeling without having to strain for effect.
She gets fine support from a crew of studio pros, as well as guest shots on “I Wonder Why” by three esteemed country aces: accordionist Flaco Jimenez, steel guitar player Jay Dee Maness and fiddler Byron Berline. Husband Joe, who co-wrote the title track, turns up on the album’s final fade with some ebullient bluesy howling.
The album’s sound is lush and gleaming, full of chiming and jangling guitars, warmly whirring organs, and, in some spots, string sections. Producer Julian Raymond deserves credit for crafting a rich, full sound that is sleek, not slick.
Wood’s most personal songs portray a character who knows and accepts that love is a bumpy ride and makes you believe she has the strength not to jump off.
In “Runnin’ on the Edge,” the coursing anthem that opens the album, she’s the constant wife of a rambling-man husband, fervently coaxing him to return: “You’ve got all you need in my love, let me hold you in my arms / I’ll keep you safe, I’ll keep you warm.”
But in the next song, the weary lament “Cry,” she gives up on this “man who is lost in his ways.” The rest of the album traces further romantic ups and downs, culminating with the closing “Dreamin,’ ” in which Wood vows not to give up her quest for an enduring love.
The album’s most touching and intimate song is “Lexi’s Room.” As she watches her sleeping daughter, Wood can’t help weeping over hard times past, uncertain times ahead, and the realization that she can no longer retreat from adult cares into the blissful innocence she sees in her little girl: “I know she’s happy here, but I can’t find the reasons why / I realize I’ve lost the child that was deep inside.”
Wood knows there are worse fates than going through heartaches over people you love. You could be alone and adrift--like the women in “Louie Cooper,” an “Eleanor Rigby"-like tale of fatal loneliness, and “Sweet Lorraine,” whose protagonist is a dazed, burned-out stripper, “a little girl lost in a dream that died.”
These are hard times commercially for grown-up pop that can’t be sold as country music, and Wood’s twang factor may not register sufficiently to gain country radio’s support. But “Tuesdays Are Forever” could be just the ticket for disenfranchised Bangles lovers and Wilson Phillips fans who want to move on to something more adult, assuming they haven’t all converted by now to the Church of Grunge. Regardless of its fate in an unfavorable marketplace, Wood has made a fetching debut.
(D.D. Wood plays a free concert at Bogart’s on Feb. 22.) *** Mike Reilly Band “Take All My Money?”
Crow Magnum Records This one is definitely a case of better late than never.
Reilly, a veteran of the Orange County blues-rock scene, originally set out to make this record in 1985, but ran into a series of business obstacles that he sketches in a humorous explanatory note. The album, a patchwork of tracks recorded between 1985 and 1991, finally emerges on the band leader’s own label.
One reason Reilly might have had trouble landing a deal is that much of this music doesn’t fit latter-day notions of what roots-rock ought to be.
Instead, it is grounded in the mid- to late-'70s, when the likes of Boz Scaggs, Elvin Bishop and the Atlanta Rhythm Section scored by putting a pop shine on blues-rock sources.
Reilly’s grab-bag of separate sessions (which feature a relatively stable set of players) actually makes for a more diverse album than you’d expect from a bar-blues vet.
The older numbers tend to go for pop appeal. The smooth romantic song, “Forevers,” and “Home Boys,” a chunky, Little Feat-style tune about a woman who has a penchant for relationships with jailed convicts, come across with effective melodic hooks.
“Second Hand Heart,” despite some pretty touches, is saddled with an overly slick, synth-based production. Even here, though, Reilly’s singing remains warm and down-to-earth.
What carries the album is the sharpness and vigor of the playing.
Consistently cooking rhythm work provides movement and bite, and an array of strong soloists decorate full arrangements in which dual guitars and dual keyboards work in sync and without clutter.
Reilly’s buddy, Gregg Allman, contributes Hammond B-3 organ on two songs; elsewhere, brothers Mike and Sean Finnegan come up with tasty keyboard parts. Reilly and his fellow guitarist, Danny Ott, get into hot-licks trade-offs on “Best I Ever Knew” and “Loneliness Will Wear You Down.”
Along with “Ain’t Knockin,’ ” those tracks show the tougher, more basic blues-rock side that emerges in the album’s 1990s sessions. They make a good case for Reilly’s ability to combine catchy melodies with more muscular settings.
The album ends with “Skunked,” a sizzling jazz-fusion instrumental that probably would have been a hit 15 years ago. That goes for the whole album.
If Reilly can’t turn back the clock to a time more welcoming of his style, he can take comfort in having released an album that keeps its appeal as it moves between roots and mainstream. In fact, “Take All My Money?” is better than anything Little Feat has accomplished along those lines so far in the ‘90s.
(The Mike Reilly Band plays Saturday at the Heritage Brewing Company in Dana Point.)
** 1/2 Louie Louie “Let’s Get Started”
Reprise Louie Louie gets started nicely on his sophomore effort, which is due in stores Tuesday. But a mediocre second half keeps the album from becoming the fully satisfying fiesta of lively, sexy dance-pop that it might have been.
The former Santa Ana resident, recently transplanted to Los Angeles, doesn’t have the most powerful or the most pliant voice, but he has a knack for musical role-playing, the ability to bring a situation to life.
On his best songs, Louie (nee Cordero) creates miniature scenes centering on the dance floor and the boudoir, and plays them with energy or ardor as the situation dictates. That gives his inventively arranged music spice that more one-dimensional dance music usually lacks.
On the title track, which moves to a hammering techno beat, Louie injects plenty of heat into the tale of a frustrating night on the town.
“The Thought of It” finds him playing two parts well: a conspiratorial Iago figure who plants rumors of infidelity, and a jealous lover who is all too ready to believe them.
“Get Blue” lets Louie take back the role of male charmer in a seduction scenario that’s simultaneously steamy and cool. It is one of two tracks co-written and co-produced by Prince (billed here as Paisley Park).
In the ballad “Walk With Me,” Louie is the tremulous, choked-up lover overcoming his insecurity to pledge his romantic all with convincing ardor.
The slippage begins with “Too Much Pressure,” a stiff reworking of an anthem by the English ska band, the Selecter. The album never regains its momentum. Louie proceeds with a couple of unremarkable ballads, and another Prince-aided song, “Dance Unto the Rhythm,” that doesn’t turn into the caldron of hip-hop funk that it aspires to be.
The closing “Aggression” finds Louie singing the praises of slam-dancing as a remedy for Angst , against a monolithic, thudding industrial beat. It’s an incongruous track that has nothing to do with the deft production and arranging touches and the knowing little stories of sexual gamesmanship that are the album’s strongest suits.