CHUCK E. WEISS Extremely Cool (Slow River)
Immortalised in song by Rickie Lee Jones and Tom Waits, eulogised by Willie Dixon ("Ain't you got ears son? That little Jew boy with the big old head be one of the best musicians in this town, this country even.") , "Extremely Cool" is Chuck E. Weiss' first album in 18 years (heck, he could join The Blue Nile with a work ethic like that!) in which he's heavily assisted on production, composition and performing duties by Mr Waits himself. That should make "Extremely Cool" an essential purchase for Waits aficionados such as myself; the fact that Chuck's music sounds like an exotic amalgam of both phases of Tom's career (the troubadour as barfly and the avant-garde composer who made operas from the contents of scrapyards), Captain Beefheart just before the evil Andy DiMartino got hold of him and Dr John in full on Night Tripper mode is merely a bonus.
Opening with the lurching blues of "Devil With The Blue Suede Shoes", you'll know within seconds whether this album is for you. Persevere, and you'll grin at the jangly piano intro of "Oh Marcy", nod in recognition at the Beefheartian acapella verbal jousting that constitutes "Do You Know What I Idi Amin", be pleasantly unsettled by the anachronistically-recorded good-time jazz of "Roll On Jordan" and tap along on a convenient surface to the Van Vliet-like rhythmic tug of war behind "Pygmy Fund". Listen on headphones and you may well log the background twittering of birds behind many of the tracks. And then there's the lyrics: "If you want to find me it's not very hard to do/You just dial information and ask the operator for Extremely Cool", he growls on the title track, and you have no reason to disagree. Elsewhere it took me a while to realise that "Deeply Sorry" is an everyday tale of boy meets girl, girl meets boy's mother, girl leaves boy for boy's mother...probably safe to assume that it'll be a while before Steps start covering the Weiss songbook.
If you like Tom Waits you'll have reason enough to buy "Extremely Cool" already - after all, the new Tom Waits album is, ooh, weeks away. But if Beefheart or Dr John are your bag I'll wager that you'll find much to enjoy here as well. It's not all high class, but when it rocks it makes every minute of that 18 year wait seem worthwhile.