Zeke And The Wheel (KOCH) Rating: NNN
By now, R.B. Morris must've figured out that he's really a novelist trapped inside the body of a rakish Knoxville songwriter.
On Zeke And The Wheel, he's still keeping up appearances to make some scratch on the coffeehouse circuit, but more than ever his rich imagery and broad themes seem constrained by the limitations of the three-minute narrative format. Don't be surprised if Morris suddenly breaks into a James Agee-esque monologue during his NXNE showcase at Chicago's Friday (June 9) at 11 pm. TP
MAJOR MATT MASON USA
Me Me Me (Fortified/Big Daddy) Rating: NN
Calling it antifolk -- at least the kind peddled in NYC coffee houses by disenfranchised sad sacks like Jonathan Richman and Major Matt Mason -- acts as a warning that what you're about to hear has less in common with music than poetry, and frequently bad poetry at that.
Mason is no worse an offender than the rest, but can anyone really derive much joy from hearing a nasal guy grocery-list all the shit he sees in the world to the bare, tuneless strum of an acoustic guitar? Er, no. Perhaps Mason will turn things around during his NXNE showcase at Graffiti's Saturday (June 10), 9 pm. KH
Tangled Messages (Star Star Stereo) Rating: NNNN
Lambchop saxophonist Deanna Varagona is best known as a fixer whose deft harmony singing and multi-instrumental skills have enhanced the music of Paul Burch, Steve Wynn, Neutral Milk Hotel, Yo La Tengo, John Wesley Harding and Chris Mills.
On the intimately rootsy Tangled Messages debut (due in August), Varagona -- joined by members of Lambchop, Bablicon and the Elephant 6 axis -- proves to be a captivating song stylist tempering blood-simple Appalachian rawness with a jazz-informed sense of structure and time. Varagona plays Ted's Wrecking Yard Friday (June 8) at 1 am. TP