Short Cuts 

Williams and Ween highlight a busy week.

World Without Tears

Lucinda Williams

(Lost Highway)

World Without Tears confirms that where Lucinda Williams most earns the "female Dylan" comparisons inspired by 1998's Car Wheels on a Gravel Road isn't in her celebrated lyrical gifts or her facility with the whole of the roots-music lexicon but in her idiosyncratic vocal technique and in her personality, which, like Dylan's, is prickly. For all the vibe of reactionary respectability and Southern Gothic exploitation that some detractors heard in Car Wheels, Williams remains the lone female roots star whom one could never envision making nice on an O Brother, Where Art Thou? stage. If you doubt that, just listen, on "Those Three Days," to how she leans hard on the end of the first verse: "Bite through flesh down to the bone/And I have been so fuckin' alone/Since those three days."

But World Without Tears is also where Williams threatens to surrender to her most potentially annoying schtick, which isn't her Southernness or even her geographic specificity (a usually winning trope that fails her when she moves north to "Minneapolis") but her seemingly helpless romanticization of the substance-addled and emotionally wounded. In other words, this is the Lucinda Williams record for fans as enamored with beautiful losers (or, in the artist's own parlance, "drunken angels") as she is. It even contains a song called "Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings," which seems to be a test of sorts -- a title sure to inspire some fans to hoist a Corona in hearty approval and others to forswear alt-country forever in favor of a strict diet of such "inauthentic" music as hip-hop and techno.

It's an album where Williams' sweet old world has morphed into "this cruel world," though her unparalleled gifts remain intact: On "Sweet Side" she flashes one of those provocative, open-ended lyrics she writes like no one else: "Every Christmas there were presents to unwrap/But the things you witnessed when you were five and a half."

-- Chris Herrington

Grade: B+

Lucinda Williams will perform Monday, September 15th, at Shelby Farms.

Quebec

Ween

(Sanctuary)

What do you do when you're a skilled musician but technique is out of fashion?

Well, it helps if you're funny. And Ween is funny --scarily demented, yes, but funny. But Ween's secret over the course of their remarkable career is not their sick sense of humor, which has paled over the years. Brothers Gene and Dean Ween are incredible technical musicians, able to successfully pull off any genre any time they feel like it. But the combination of their twisted viewpoint and exceptional talent sets them above mere parodists like Weird Al Yankovic or high-profile imitators Tenacious D. When they write a song that spoofs the Foo Fighters, like Quebec's "Transdermal Celebration," it could easily be the best song on any Foo Fighters album; only the insane lyrics ("Jets flew in formation/Dropping the crustaceans") give it away.

Examples of this are legion on Quebec."It's Gonna Be a Long Night" is pure Motorhead carnival metal ("You bring the razor blades/I'll bring the speed"), while the English-dandy vocals of "Hey There Fancypants" veer into Kurt Weill territory. But these types of songs also provide the album's weakest moments, like the closing songs "The Argus" and "If You Could Save Yourself (You'd Save Us All)" which cover familiar Ween targets like Genesis and Led Zeppelin without much spark.

More interesting are the songs where all the parts get scrambled together, like "Happy Colored Marbles," where a dash of Frank Zappa (a spiritual forerunner) emerges when sunny multilayered vocals collide with lyrics such as "Most people are not okay," and "So Many People in the Neighborhood," where cheesy drum machines, death-metal guitars, thin, analog electronics, and voice synths create the closest thing Ween has to a sound of their own. But merely deconstructing Ween doesn't do the band justice. Their genuine affection for music blurs the line where irony begins. Like Beck's later work, they're having so much fun playing, they're not sure if they're kidding anymore. -- Chris McCoy

Grade: B

Ween will perform Sunday, September 14th, at the New Daisy Theatre.

Wild Emotions

Tyler Keith and the Preacher's Kids

(Romeo Hood)

Tyler Keith, formerly of Oxford's Neckbones, has always seemed to wear his Mississippi roots on his sleeve, but what's really interesting about Wild Emotions is how he and the Preacher's Kids have wedded this downhome stance with a sound that hearkens back unmistakably to the New York Dolls, specifically in the David Johansen boozer-bellow that Keith brings to most of his songs.

Oxford is all over this record: "Adult High" is a nasty slap at what I would presume to be "the scene" in that town, or maybe it's just high school nostalgia, and "Summertime" is, I would guess, about tending bar in a college town (as Keith sometimes does) and looking forward to summer when all those damn college lunkheads clear out for a season. But other tracks are pure Dolls: "Tonight I Want to Be Alone" is a "Lonely Planet Boy" plea to a sweetie for a night off to hide behind a locked door cuz the world is just too damn much sometimes.

--Ross Johnson

Grade: A-

Tyler Keith and the Preacher's Kids will play a free show at Shangri-La Records Saturday, September 13th, at 5 p.m.

This Side

Nickel Creek

(Sugar Hill)

After Nickel Creek's sophomore release netted a Grammy Award earlier this year, Sugar Hill Records decided to capitalize on the hype by re-releasing the album. It was an astute move: As This Side makes clear, this ain't your granddaddy's bluegrass. Backed by searing fiddle licks and thoughtful guitarwork, mandolin player Chris Thile soars on folkie covers like the traditional acoustic number "House Carpenter" and Carrie Newcomer's "Should've Known Better." Producer Alison Krauss -- queen of the modern bluegrass scene -- ably guides the trio through all 13 tracks, applying a laid-back approach to original tunes like "Smoothie Song" and the gorgeous title track, always giving her young charges the space needed to claim their territory.

But it's a harmony-driven rendition of Pavement's "Spit on a Stranger" that best depicts the juxtaposition of ancient and modern sounds on This Side. Nickel Creek are at a critical juncture here, carefully straddling the chasm between traditional bluegrass and modern alt-rock; not surprisingly, they barrel through the intersection with a steady grace. -- Andria Lisle

Grade: A-

Nickel Creek will perform Wednesday, September 17th at the New Daisy Theatre.

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