CD REVIEWS

Hayseed Dixie

"A Hillbilly Tribute To AC/DC"

Straight outta Deer Lick Holler, Tenn., comes Hayseed Dixie, whose barn-dance interpretations of AC/DC's greatest hits comprise this 10-track highway to hellbilly. The band's all-acoustic lineup � guitar, dobro, banjo, mandolin and fiddle � keeps this motley collection from straying into annoyingly obvious Southern-fried Skynyrd territory. The drummer-free environment allows the Dixie pickers to serve up plenty of hot grits-and- gravy twang that relievedly owes more to George Jones than George Thorogood. Unfortunately, the musicians' relative charm is overshadowed by singer Barley Scotch's Bosephus-style delivery, which sounds exactly like a guy in a band named Hayseed Dixie should. Thus, the "Deliverance"-inspired redneck dialect is dragged off the porch and beaten to death. "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" ends in a long belch instead of Bon Scott's patented yowl and "T.N.T." becomes an ode to flatulence ("Watch me explode"). To his credit, Scotch sings a lot better than Scott's replacement, Brian Johnson, whose cheese grater vocals went south about 20 years ago. But there's no surprises in the song selection � all the expected hits are here with no nuggets unearthed from AC/DC's extensive catalog. In fact, no less than five of "Tribute's" 10 tracks were taken from AC/DC's classic 1980 opus "Back in Black." Of course Hayseed couldn't resist reviving "Big Balls," one of rock's most obnoxious songs of all time � a phenomenon that remains unchanged by the Deer Lick Holler rendition. A single AC/DC cover on an album of originals probably would've made Hayseed Dixie's point more palatable. As with most novelty records � and most "tribute" records for that matter � the kitsch wears off quick, leaving the music to stand or fall on its own. I guess the Hayseed's point is that any song can be interpreted through the lens of country, a well-known fact given Nashville's predilection for similar fare. Fortunately, at less than 30 minutes, "Hillbilly" is practically EP-length, perhaps this shoddy "tribute's" lone redeeming quality.

Manic Street Preachers

"Know Your Enemy"

There's a certain desperate quality to a Manic Street Preachers album. Always a U.K. bridesmaid but never a U.S. bride, these self-proclaimed "generation terrorists" have attempted to spread their sonic gospel to American shores for more than a decade with marginal success. Too bad because the group's early efforts contained a breathless mixture of glam rock, punk and politics that helped usher in the mini British invasion of the mid-'90s. Unfortunately, the band's creative force, Richey James, went A.W.O.L. in 1995 and hasn't been seen or heard from since. In the wake of James' disappearance (ruled a suicide by investigators though his body was never found), the Preachers achieved fortune and fame abroad but left much of their former charm on the cutting room floor in doing so. "Know Your Enemy" won't do much to capture the elusive (and lucrative) American audience the band has always sought. Once capable of making music that mattered (James' swan song "The Holy Bible" remains a darkly demented classic from the Syd Barrett school of psychosis), MSP seems to be spinning its wheels on "Enemy." With nothing manic or street about it anymore, the trio opts for lots of heavy preaching and screeching on a gut-busting 16 tracks. The arena-ready soccer-chant choruses of songs like "Found That Soul" strip the music of its intensity, birthing something akin to the bastard child of The Clash and Def Leppard. Vocalist/guitarist James Dean Bradfield certainly pours some sugar on "Ocean Spray," a tune that sounds like it was composed with future beverage endorsement earnings in mind. "Oh please stay awake/And then we can drink some ocean spray," Bradfield croons over a fairly lackluster alt-rock backdrop, like he was born to hawk juice to 5-year-olds. "Intravenous Agnostic" fares better, a trash can tube screamer that works despite its pretensions. "So Why So Sad" immediately kills the mood with a banal and straight-faced attempt at re-creating The Beach Boys, falling flat on its face and forgoing all notions that "Enemy" is a cohesive work. "Wattsville Blues" takes a stab at Love and Rockets with equally dismal results. Why not? The band is obviously intent upon sporting every hat in the sonic haberdashery, looking for something � anything � that fits. Instead of the "diversity" for which MSP was surely striving, "Enemy" sounds like a group of musical nymphomaniacs � willing to try anything once.

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