Despite my best efforts to enjoy life, sometimes I'm not able to relax, or maintain a positive view. Between self-imposed work demands and family responsibilities, it's frankly surprising I don't fail more often. When I do, my lovable grrls of L7 are there for me. Not familiar with 'em? Well, you might be; if you've seen Natural Born Killers or Serial Mom, you've heard bits of their music. L7's sound is a tasty jumble of punk/grunge, hard rock, and metal. Crunchy guitar riffs, meaty bass, and versatile, emotional vocal performances add up to a powerful punch. L7's an all-female band, and while they've some songs that address girl stuff (Monster being the obvious example), they easily resist a simple grrl-band pigeonholing.
Probably their best-selling release, Bricks Are Heavy is also the best place to start one's L7 experience. The aforementioned Monster is here, along with the still relevant Wargasm and Pretend We're Dead. Two tunes that I usually crank up from it are Shitlist (used in Natural Born Killers) and One More Thing. Hungry for Stink continues their questioning of mainstream culture, most notably with Bomb and Questioning My Sanity. The third CD we have, Smell the Magic, predates the others I've mentioned; it's more rough and dirty, both in sound and lyrics, but it's nonetheless quite solid. The closer, American Society, is far and away the best song for individualists; and for grrls who know they don't need to be like guys to have it together, sing along with Fast and Frightening -- especially that last line of the second verse. Forget comparing L7 to other chick bands -- at their best, they can dish it right along with the likes of Metallica. Yum!
T-Bone Burnett is another quirky musical genius many people probably haven't heard of. He's contributed to several movies, and is more successful as a music producer than a singer. That's too bad, because his talent extends to singing, as perhaps best evidenced by The Criminal Under My Own Hat. A layered examination of various elements of the human condition, it's nonetheless full of catchy melody and toe-tapping rhythms. It opens with one of the best love-gone-wrong songs I've heard, Over You. Sparsely -- and acoustically -- instrumented, the lyrics and Burnett's full, emotive voice shine. My favorite song is Primitives, in part for the line I used to have in my email sig: "The frightening thing is not dying; the frightening thing is not living". Also strong is the second version of I Can Explain Everything, a scathing song directed at all the "liars" on television -- primarily politicians and big-time ministers. Criminals explores the issue of personal responsibility and integrity, from an angle that's a refreshing change from the victimizing culture that's all too common. Solid musicianship, thoughtful lyrics clearly delivered -- The Criminal Under My Own Hat is an understated punch for thinking music-lovers.
Typically, the greatest hits collections we have of most artists are enough to satisfy me. But not when it comes to Cream. All I have is The Very Best of Cream, and while it may be as the name suggests, those twenty songs simply aren't enough. For any youngsters reading, Cream was perhaps the first supergroup power trio; Baker, Bruce, and Clapton's combinations of blues, straight-on rock, and psychedelic music and lyrics was stunning back in the 60s, paving the way for Led Zeppelin and others. It remains exuberantly powerful music today. This is Clapton at his smoking best, and Baker and Bruce are equal to his chops -- and then some. Whenever I'm down, I Feel Free helps pick me up; and the driving rhythm and crunchy guitar work of Politician have me grinning because they match the lyrics perfectly. And I wouldn't be the Sunni Snake if I didn't love Sunshine of Your Love. My heart flip-flops every time I hear that chunky guitar riff that opens the tune ...
One problem with Cream's greatest hits release is that it doesn't include any of the epic live improvisation that Cream is famous for. Other releases notably pick up that slack, including Gold, Live Cream, volumes 1 and 2, and their farewell release, Goodbye. Given that Cream had such a short run -- just over two years -- they're one of the rare bands for which all their music can be easily crammed into a box set. And it has: Those Were the Days has pretty much everything, it appears, except for material from BBC Sessions. I'm saving up for it ... but will probably get the original studio releases as well. Why? Two reasons: it's the original music in the order they wanted it -- a bit of history; and the groovy cover art, especially on Disraeli Gears and and Wheels of Fire! And as any music lover who's enjoyed the blistering axe work of Eric Clapton, the pounding bass and superb vocals of Jack Bruce, and the incomparable drumming of Ginger Baker can tell you, you just can't get too much Cream.