From Try Again, by Mike Ireland & Holler (CD, Ashmont Records)
Meteorological disturbances have long been tied to romantic upsets, often in a charming, less-than-devastated way. (The Cascades' 1963 "Rhythm of the Rain" is a perfect example.) So Mike Ireland has an established genre to play with on his "Mr. Rain," a sweetly sad tune that makes the personification more concrete than usual. This Mr. Rain is working for the narrator, inflicting his blue mood on a world that otherwise would go about its business. ("You paint a masterpiece in black and gray/That swallows up all the light of day/'Til just my darkness remains/Look around: it's my world today/And I want to thank you, Mr. Rain.") The song's no lament — it's a note of gratitude.
Another indication that Ireland has his tongue at least a little bit in his cheek is the instrumental arrangement: a tinkly Floyd Cramer-ish piano part, a string section, and background vocalists going "ooh-woo, ah-ah." Given the bitter pain that overflowed in Ireland's debut, Learning How to Live (a collection of songs he wrote after his wife took up with his best friend and bandmate), any hint of humor is welcome. The other tunes on this fine follow-up contain their share of regret, but tend more toward the sadder-but-wiser angle than the "I'm so devastated I'm gonna burn our house down" sentiment expressed a few years ago. All in all, the songwriter seems willing to take the leap indicated by the album's title, and fans of smart country music should be happy to hear it. — John DeFore
Chapter Two (To Doug)
(CD, Boxholder Records)
Our recent Taco Land extravaganza issue gave some ink to new releases from local bands who call the dive home. But the bar isn't only integral to the SA scene because it keeps local no-goodniks off the streets — it's also one of precious few venues for interesting touring artists, and few have been more interesting in the last couple years than Dr. Eugene Chadbourne, who played Taco Land with percussionist Paul Lovens. Here, the guitarist/"singer" continues a series of tributes to Texas music with a disc that's half his music, half the songs of Sahm.
From the beginning, on a schizophrenic cover of Muddy Waters' "I'm Ready" (the only song here not penned by Chadbourne or Sahm), the artist makes it clear that this'll be no staid tribute. Bouncy, pingly guitar noises and chopped-up vocal samples hover in the background of a conventional blues arrangement, forming a bed for the frontman's rather — how to say this nicely? — unique voice.
No, like some E.C.s before him, Chadbourne isn't loved primarily for his voice. As he warbles through "Key to My Heart" and "Old Habits Die Hard," it's clear that this project exists simply because the musicians — including veteran Sahm sidemen Speedy Sparks and Ernie Durawa — wanted to get together and have some fun. But the skewed nature of Chadbourne's voice provides an interesting context for his free improv-meets-R&B guitar work, which here serves an overall group sound without losing its individual character.
The singer's voice is far more appropriate to his own songs, such as his "The Bully Song" and "The Navy Song," two quirky anti-establishment numbers that seem pretty out of place until you hear Sahm's like-minded "You Can't Hide a Redneck," which follows right after them. After that pairing, the spirit of this record begins to make more sense; by the end, when the group takes on "She's About a Mover," the match feels almost as right as Lone Star and a plate of enchiladas. — John DeFore