*** 1/2 VARIOUS ARTISTS, "Twisted Willie", Justice
Cowpunk lives--and not just because such alternative types as Jello Biafra and X turn Willie Nelson songs into raging rockers in this tribute collection. It's because they connect so strongly with the songs, a rarity in recent tribute albums.
And well they should connect: Nelson's decades of nonconformity in the rigid country music world makes him an ideal punk role model. But it's not only whippersnappers who make good here. The album kicks off with Johnny Cash leading Nirvana's Krist Novoselic, Soundgarden's Kim Thayil and Alice in Chains' Sean Kinney through "Time of the Preacher." Cash's narrative ballad style paired with the musicians' rock wallop makes for a dramatic introduction to the album's twists.
Nelson himself turns up with both the Supersuckers and Rev. Horton Heat, while Kris Kristofferson guests with Kelley Deal on the bizarre but winning "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground." The centerpiece, though, is not a rocker, but a somber version of "I've Seen All This World I Care to See" by Alice in Chains' Jerry Cantrell. It's a moving expression of the despair that bridges great country and great grunge--no twists about it.
*** Strange Cargo, "Hinterland," N-Gram/Discovery.
Of English mixmaster William Orbit's several identities, his Strange Cargo sets have been the most consistently interesting, mixing sophisticated electronics with entrancing global sounds. This latest floats perfectly as background, but transcends sonic wallpaper status via bits of involving exotica that come in like transmissions from far-off outposts.
* New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).