Following the coma-inducing overdose, Neil Young tried to call Kurt Cobain. Although they’d never met, Young knew this younger brother was cut from the same cloth and it was time to help soothe Kurt’s raging anguish. That never happened; their phone lines didn’t connect. Cobain died in a nauseous haze with a line from Young twirling close enough around his head for him to include it in the suicide note: "It’s better to burn out than to fade away." It was a horrible misinterpretation of Young’s wisdom. Neil would have told Kurt to quit rock stardom, not to quit living.
Neil Young has neither burned out nor faded away. His integrity and his survival give us hope, a
sense that the whole world can’t possibly go up in flames with a presence like him around. Young began his career cryptic and introspective. We fell in love with a man who found it "hard to make arrangements with yourself.” Twenty-five years later, he’s still the same person, just as confidential, but now he sings more about the world around him. His new album,
Sleeps With Angels (Reprise), hauntingly evokes lives sliding into darkness "like a Safeway cart rolling down the street.”
The title cut is a eulogy for Cobain, told from the perspective of his widow. The songs preceding and following it also deal with being young and in love during a horrible time. On "Driveby,” a girlfriend is murdered in a shooting. Two songs after that, a sixgun-packing "Western Hero” metamorphoses into an ugly old patriot, "big money in his hand,” the precedent for all urban chaos. Amazingly enough, Young uses the exact same melancholic melody and rhythm track for "Western Hero” on a completely different lyric—a pledge of romantic fidelity called "Train of Love”—just three cuts later. He’s not being ironic and he’s not being lazy either. Young just seizes the opportunity to create a musical link between what tears this country down and the spirit we need to pull it back together again.
Young’s band, Crazy Horse, can still sound naive as they clang their guitars on "Piece of Crap,” yet another dead-on bluster against the commercial world. And on the disc’s most sublime cut, "Change Your Mind,” they jam with Young like it’s "Cowgirl in the Sand.” This song alone is worth the price of Sleeps With Angels. —John Savlov
/our (ASM) Those sumo wrestlers of rock’n’roll, Blues Traveler, can
nail a crowd to the mat at live shows. But even devotees have bought their previous three studio albums primarily for their archival value, four marks Traveler’s leap forward from "great live band” to well-seasoned studio warriors. Used sparingly, John Popper’s peripatetic harp has more bite than usual. On songs like "Stand”—the emotional center of the album—his singing benefits from multitracking, and Chan Kinchla’s twisted, free-fall guitar break echoes the near-fatal 1992 motorcycle crash endured by Popper. His ultimate survival is ensured by the rest of his gang of "four”: the phat cushioning of Bobby Sheehan’s bass and the marksman-like precision of drummer Brendan Hill. In much the same way they’ve layered irony on top of irony by covering Beck’s "Loser” in recent shows, Blues Traveler mediate despair by shadowboxing with hope. —CreeMcCree
War Anthology 1970-1994 (Avenue) One of the truly unsung great bands of the ’70s,
War get hip-hop props and occasional soundtrack nods for radio classics like "The Cisco Kid” and "Low Rider.” But, by and large, most people don’t know much about this brilliant Chicano rock band out of L.A. The seven members of War were originally cast to back up British blues-rocker Eric Burdon ("Spill the Wine”). By 1971, Burdon was gone and the band began pouring its soul into a succession of albums, fusing jazz, rock, salsa and R5B. The 32-track Anthology has been accompanied by the CD release of seven albums packaged as the Collector’s Edition. Shortened versions of songs and the inclusion of more recent material mar the Anthology. Since War were always an album band, I recommend picking up the Collector’s Edition, which includes All Day Music, The World Isa Ghetto and the 1973 Live double set. War wrote happy music for the post-Vietnam War generation, and I’ll always revere them for it. —Steve Bloom
DAVE MATTHEWS BAND
the Table and Dreaming (RCA) The Dave Matthews Band’s
strong fan base—some 80,000 devotees bought last year’s live CD, Remember Two Things—kicked this studio debut into the Top 40 like a lightning bolt. It’s got a good mix of dance tunes, dirges and diatribes about the uncertain nature of love, conformity and fulfilling one’s dreams. And Matthews pays tribute to the hallowed herb on "Jimi Thing” ("Smoke my mind/Make me feel better for a small time”). Despite their long live jams and ever-growing hippie following, this band is distinguishable from other HORDEtour groups. They marry rock, jazz and even classical guitar and flute, although the blend is sometimes too smooth and easy-listening. Presumably it’s the poetry and musical intricacy of Matthews’ songwriting, the variety of his arrangements and his Sting-like phrasing that sent fans running to stores the week the record was released. —Sari Botton
1. Chocolate Y?N-Vee (Def Jam) 2. Space Cowboy Jamiroquai (Columbia) 3. Marijuana on My Brain Lords of Acid (American) 4. Badass Weed No Further Excuses (Venue) 5. What's Up Wit Da Puff Boogie (Relativity) 6. High-Head Blues Black Crowes (American) 7. Wind Is Green 360's (Link) 8. M.V. Nirvana (Geffen/European import) 9. Red Eyes Israel Vibrations (from Splitf Relief, Mesa) 10 . One Cookie or 2 Incredible Smoking Bongs (unreleased)