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February 20, 1981 - Image 7

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The Michigan Daily, 1981-02-20

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ARTS

The Michigan Daily

Friday, February 20, 1981

Page 7

Ry sounds pretty but lacks style

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764-0558

By KENNETH FELDMAN
Ry Cooder is an accomplished
musician; that is apparent from both
the session work he has done (for the
Rolling Stones, Randy Newman, and
*Little Feat) and on his own solo albums.
In both cases, he has displayed, an en-
cyclopedic knowledge of American
guitar aftd vocal styles.
So it was no surprise that his Wed-
nesday night performance at the Power
Center was a scholarly lesson in coun-
try=blues and gospel. The sell-out crowd
enthusiastically cheered Cooder, who
long ago inspired Duane Allman'S slide
playing and taught Keith Richard the
open tuning style he has used for a
decade.
BUT WHILE the concert was at
times exciting, the 90-minute set
illustrated a problem that Cooder has
toward his music - he seems too
distanced from the styles he admires to
be believable. For example, the 33-
year-old musician opened his set with
"Little Sister", the first in a series of
old blues standards that, in their
original forms, were moving examples
of the raw emotionalism of the genre.
ooder's technically inventive ver-
sions, however, pale in comparison.
Perhaps Cooder actually believes in
these songs, but his testifying and
raving ("yo lucky yo shoes don't talk

IT'S PARTLY TRUE that Cooder's
cover versions aren't meant to be com-
pared with the originals on an
emotional or artistic level, but simply
constitute the preservation of certain
technical styles. After all, the originals
are not around anymore, and it's nice
to have someone who can at least
recreate the fun of these vital American
forms.
On a purely technical level the con-
cert could hardly be faulted. The band
was as versatile as any in the R&B vein.
They easily followed Cooder from
Tex-Mex to country to more modern
rock styles, remaining tightly
restrained during several of Cooder's
slide guitar instrumentals. Throughout
these latter moments, Cooder main-
tained an open tuning for a "thick" and
expressive sound. At least as a
guitarist, Cooder has integrated his in-
fluences into an exotic but coherent
mix.
The individual members of the band
were similarly distinguished at various
times throughout the performance.
Rhythm guitarist, John Hiatt, has
released two underrated solo albums,
but he possesses a voice that is more
convincing than Cooder's. Hiatt added
blistering harmony and even a lead
vocal (a great version of "Guilty Of

Love"). Cooder also whipped up some
playful arrangements for his two other
harmony singers (a falsetto and a bass
profundo), whose dancing, a la the Tem-
ptations, nearly stole the show.
AMONG OTHER things, Cooder
makes sure he has good material. In
addition to obvious classics like "Little
Sister" and "Chain Gang", he throws in
obscure but delightful gems like
"That's the Way the Girls are From
Texas" or "Married Man's a Fool".
The composers he has covered range
from Wilson Pickett to Burt Bacharach,
and if you can't write your own stuff,
that is certainly the next best thing.
And that's the bottom line with
Cooder: He is entertaining, but he is the
next best thing to other performers who
have the same love for American
idioms molded into personal styles
(Dire Straits, Rockpile, for example).
While Wednesday night was fun, it
wasn't engaging the way rock music
can be. Why? Because a rich musical
background is no substitute for having
something to say. As long as Cooder
continues to peddle strictly second-
hand goods, he will remain a second-
rate diversion.
American
Cancer Society
This space ccntObueo by the publisher
HAPPY BIRTHAY
ALI

Daily Photo by DAVID HARRIS
Ry Cooder (above) showed how good he is at performing other people's
songs in his Wednesday night concert at the Power Center. Although Cooder
gave a technically proficient performance, our Daily critic didn't thinK
much of his stage presence - his most outstanding aspect was the tacky
Hawaiian shirt.

else they'd tell me where you was")
sound ridiculous coming from a native
Californian in a Hawaiian print shirt.
The gap widens even more when one

realizes that at least 90 percent of
Cooder's material was written by
other musicians, most of whom wrote
their songs decades ago.

Elvis C. earns some 'Trust'

By FRED SCHILL
Elvis Costello naming an album
Trust is a little like Anita Bryant
naming one Make Mine Gay. It's a
helluva cheeky title coming from the
world's leading misogynist.
But I should have known. Applying
any modicum of insight surely would
have made it evident that Elvis inten-
ded to sing about the abuse of trust, the
lack of trust, the unwilling extension of
*trust, or anything at all rather than
trust-in any positive humanitarian sen-
se. Let's not break with tradition here.
WHICH ISN'T quite a fair thing to
say, since Trust is Elvis' finest album
since This Year's Model. That isn't
because of the lyrical content, though;
Costello still can't love a woman
without wishing he had better sense,
nor can he watch any given social sham
without letting us know he sees through it
all.:
No one else in rock 'n' roll could get
by with this much indignation or
grudging romantic angst and still be
listened to. It's a privilege earned by
genius, unimpeachable evidence of the
man's artistic power. The greater the
artist, the larger his margin of safety;
the greater his skill, the more personal
be can become without seeming so, and
the more he can dress up his own per-
ceptions with enough sartorial splendor
to make everybody still want to watch
1 the show.
This time Costello has draped his
acerbic commentary with a whole new
stock of arresting textures and sleek
cuts that bound about whimsically in
the demilitarized zone between chic
and cheek. The crowning accomplish-
ment of Trust is that there is a pure joy
in listening to the man work, apart from
all of the wit and pith of the lyrics, aside
even from their impact or insight.
2COSTELLO SINGS better than ever
on "New Lace Sleeves," "Watch Your
Step," "Pretty Words," and "From a
Whisper to a Scream." At times he
positively croons, sending his voice on

an extended tour of vocal range and in-
flection. The carefully-enunciated
assurance of "Watch Your Step," cooly
ominous in its delivery, loads enough
credibility into your-time-will-come
lyrics to keep them from being eloquen-
tly hollow.
"New Lace Sleeves" is as
charismatic as anything Costello has
conjured, with Bruce Thomas filling

Step," and concocting ingenuously
melodramatic funeral parlor music for
"Shot With His Own Gun." Bruce
Thomas and drummer Pete Thomas
create whatever mood Elvis demands
with unaffected ease.
The moods are mostly custom-fit for
the lyrics, which are blessed with the
usual Costello -command of language.
One by one, Costello trashes snooty
highbrows ("Clubland"), writers
("Pretty Words," where he is actually
heard to say, "Pretty words don't mean
much anymore / I don't mean to be
mean much anymore"), patriotic in-
doctrination British Empire-style
("New Lace Sleeves"), marital
brutality ("White Knuckles"), and
emotional transience ("Fish 'n' Chip
Paper").
Almost all of the lyrics decry the
abuse of trust-in romantic relation-
ships, in social institutions, even in
oneself when it is abandoned in lieu of
emotional transports and stop-gap
quickie supplies of fake romance
glossed over with pretension in the

desperate search for self-respect.
BUT TRUST IS not as uncom-
promisingly judgmental as Costello's
previous efforts, and for that reason it
is his most admirable album. He is still
cynical enough to make Kafka seem an
optimist, but there are periodic
suggestions of compassion and even
empathy.
"White Knuckles" is the album's
finest tune because Elvis doesn't treat
the brutality as just a nasty old atrocity
to be criticized and abandoned. The
issue isn't that shallow, nor is the
adultery in "Different Finger" or the
emotional pretense in "Big Sister's
Clothes," but they would have been
treated shallowly (if wittily) on
previous albums.
Elvis Costello is still not a loveable
human being, but he has learned that
valuing moral integrity and despising
lack of it is not enough. I think he is
taking a few tentative steps towards
trying to understand. He is growing,
and for an artist already so talented,
what more can we ask?

holes with rumbling, nervous
brasswork and Costello sending out
quavering guitar vibes over heavy
backbeat drumming. Elvis' vocals
shine like Grandma's brass spittoon,
slithering deliciously around the lyrics,
ending phrases with upturned
flourishes, measuring smooth
deliberation into each syllable and note.
"From a Whisper to a Scream" is
even more delightful, as Elvjs duets
with Glenn Tilbrook in a vocal hang-
gliding contest that excels even
"Oliver's Army" for sheer sensual
charisma. "Different Finger" finds
Costello going country with a voice that
sounds like Buddy Holly grafted onto
Merle Haggard.
MUSICALLY, THE album is impec-
cable. Steve Nieve outdoes himself on
keyboards, pounding home glittering
piano accompaniments in rockers like
"You'll Never Be a man;" oozing out
soaring organ airs in "Watch Your

~rI

CINEMA I

presents

FRIDAY FEB. 20

AUD. A, ANGELL

BUGS BUNNY NITE
Program A-7:00 & 10:00 Program B-8:40 only
Tonight we have two (count em, two) completely different selections of
Warner Brothers cartoons for those of you too lazy to get up early on Saturday
mornings and laugh. Guaranteed appearances by Bugs, Foghorn, Dawg, Daf-
fy Duck, and Yosemite Sam with more wisecracks than you can shake a stick
at. Featuring the work of director Tex Avery.

SAT. FEB. 21

AUD. A, ANGELL

THE BLUE DAHLIA
(George Marshall, 1946)
ALAN LADD stars in this 1940's thriller about a war hero who returns home,
only to be accused of his errant wife's murder. VERONICA LAKE plays the
mysterious woman who helps him prove his innocence. Original screenplay
by Raymond Chandler. (99 mm.) 7:00 only.
THE BIG HEAT
(FRITZ LANG, 1953)
When ex-cop GLENN FORD'S idyllic home life is literally blown apart, he goes
on the hunt to find the culprits and avenge the deed. His journey leads him
down to the underworld and up to the top of city politics. LEE MARVIN and
GLORIA GRAHAME throw scalding coffee at each other, and director
Lang out "noirs" film noir itself. (90 min.) 9:00 only.
SUN. FEB. 22 7:00 & 9:00 AUD. A, ANGELL

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