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Musical Maunderings in Sunni's Salon

September 2005

After closing with Mancini last month, I seem to have gotten stuck, so this month's music is sponsored by the letter M. Even so, it's a diverse selection, so let's get to it.

How about we start with some Morphine? What an apt name for this singular band, whose sound washes over one. A bluesy-jazzy sort of rock band, Morphine doesn't rely on a lead guitar; instead, saxophones -- sometimes the most familiar alto sax, but more often the beguiling baritone sax -- are the primary instrumental voice, capably backed up by fluid bass lines and a nice touch of drum. Vocalist Mark Sandman's rough-edged voice is right at home, whether natural or electronically altered, as it is in a number of songs.

From lyrics that often address love and loss to Sandman's voice that sounds like he spent many a night drinkin' and smokin' away his woes and thus delivers those lyrics perfectly, Morphine offers a great cure for pain, which is, ironically, the title of their second release. It's a short disc that's chock-full of goodies, including I'm Free Now, Buena, and the short, ethereal instrumental Miles Davis' Funeral, and is an excellent introduction to Morphine's sound. I also like their unintentional farewell release (Sandman died in 1999 of a heart attack during a performance), The Night, in large part because it, in places, melds their signature sound with Tom Waits'. My favorites on it include Top Floor, Bottom Buzzer, Like a Mirror, and Slow Numbers. Their 1995 release Yes is the one I play most, though, because it delivers Morphine's hook -- irony -- best. Dark lyrics dealing with drugs, love, and sex are often served up in whispers or with tasty, driving sax riffs that keep the feel from becoming too heavy. The only tossable track here is Free Love, and even it almost redeems itself. If pushed for faves, I'd say Honey White, Yes, All Your Way, and the beautiful, sad Gone for Good. If I were "ridin' around forever on an empty tank of gas" (from Radar), Morphine would be a must-have musical companion.

Another eclectic mix of styles that works for me is served up by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. They combine ska, punk, and metal in an upbeat, driving style that often packs worthwhile lyrics into the mix. We currently have only two of their releases, Let's Face It and Pay Attention, and it's hard to say which I queue up more. From Let's Face It, I like 1-2-8, Another Drinkin' Song, Let's Face It, and Desensitized; the latter two explore tolerance and the media in ways that remain relevant. From Pay Attention, it's The Skeleton Song, Over the Eggshells -- a great, totally rocking motivational tune with some hot guitar licks, and Riot on Broad Street, a Boston historical song that successfully blends Irish musical nods into the Bosstones' style and also offers inspiration for freedom lovers in the chorus. If you prefer harder music, between these two releases Let's Face It has more of that. Atop my list of Bosstones stuff to acquire is the EP Where'd You Go?, which is mostly covers. Ska-metal treatments of Enter Sandman and Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love? I gotta hear those ... so, don your plaid -- it's party time!

Last, something to get your ears bleeding: Motley Crue. Yes, I freely admit it -- I love 80s rock. It's what got me through college and grad school, and when I recently saw Crue in our list and queued it up, I realized how much I've missed a lot of that decade's flat-out rocking, good-times music. Although a lot of people think of Motley Crue as a late-80s band, they helped launch the glam/metal rock sound, starting with their debut, Too Fast For Love. It's got the now classic Crue tracks Live Wire, Piece of Your Action, and of course, the title track. Shout At The Devil similarly offers classics that went underappreciated at the time of its release, including the title track, Looks that Kill, the thoughtful Too Young to Fall in Love, and a cover of Helter Skelter. Dr. Feelgood is often credited as the best Crue studio release; it certainly has several powerhouses, and is solid all the way through. Some of my favorites are Rattlesnake Shake, Same Ol' Situation, Kickstart My Heart, and Don't Go Away Mad (Just Go Away).

Various "bests of" and boxed sets abound. If you're on a budget and want the essential Crue, Decade of Decadence is probably your best bet. It includes the old classics mentioned already, plus newer hits like Rock 'N' Roll Junkie, Angela, Primal Scream, and a rockin' cover of Anarchy in the UK. If you're serious about owning all the Crue released, save your pennies and get Music to Crash Your Car To, Volume 1 and Volume 2 as well.

Why am I a hard-rocking snake? "Make up your mind to keep your mind up/And to your life be loyal" (a Bosstones lyric). That's the only answer you're getting from me this month -- next month I'll answer it more fully. Consider yourselves warned.

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