"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Thursday, August 21, 2003


Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer


The Thorns

Sony Music Japan Int'l, 2,400 yen

Grab your 12-string guitar, California folk-rock has returned.

The tasty three-part harmonies of singer-songwriters Pete Droge, Shawn Mullins and Matthew Sweet instantly evoke the The Byrds, the early work of The Eagles and especially Crosby, Stills and Nash, with an occasional hint of Tom Petty, the Beach Boys and the Mamas and Papas.

All three are accomplished solo artists and producers. Despite being accustomed to working alone, they were keen to try a more interactive project.

After things clicked during a brief demo session in the spring of 2002, the three spent a couple of weeks writing songs on a ranch in California's Santa Ynez Valley and in a suite in the Montrose Hotel in Los Angeles. That autumn, they were joined in the studio in Atlanta by producer Brendan O'Brien (Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Train), ace session drummer Jim Keltner and E Street Band pianist Roy Bittan.

The result is 13 tracks (plus two extras just for Japan) that hark back to the best of the aforementioned bands while creating a new melodic, harmony-driven power-folk for the new century that owes more to 1970s pop singer-songwriters like Jackson Browne than traditional folk roots. No faux-soul boy band nasal whinging tweaked in the studio here, these guys are the real full-throated deal.

The lead track "Runaway Feeling" has a steering-wheel tapping feel and simple catchy progression that could fool the listener into thinking they've stumbled onto a lost track from Tom Petty's Full Moon Fever, and the melancholic "Dragonfly" could have been the lead single from a Vietnam-era Crosby, Stills and Nash album. "Long, Sweet Summer Night" is the kind of short, sweet pop tune that Brian Wilson wishes he could still write.

The production and arrangements are polished and bright, but the rougher original demo of "Brambles" featured as a bonus track for Japanese release indicates that The Thorns might benefit from a looser, more acoustic-based approach that lets a darkness into their California sunshine.


Masked and Anonymous

Sony Music Japan Int'l, 2,400 yen

While film soundtracks rarely feature enough new material to merit critical attention, an exception must be made for Bob Dylan's latest cinematic effort, Masked and Anonymous. By all reports, the movie, directed by Larry Charles, is surreal, and the soundtrack certainly reflects that with four new performances by Dylan and 10 by other artists covering his compositions, often in other languages.

The Magokoro Brothers' "My Back Pages" with its Japanese lyrics might provide a good entry point for Japanese interested in seeing what all the fuss is about. Los Lobos add a little Latin spice to the semi-cajun "On a Night Like This" and the album even includes an Italian rap version of "Like a Rolling Stone." One of the most interesting interpretations is Sertab Erener's Arabian-flavored "One More Cup of Coffee."

America's greatest living songwriter tackles the traditional bluegrass number "Diamond Joe" and the Confederate anthem "Dixie" with equal aplomb and his scorching reworking of "Cold Irons Bound" from his 1997 Grammy-winning album Time Out Of Mind is the high point of the album.

A must-have for serious Dylan aficionados, but for the casual fan there are better collections of covers available.

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