Rosie Flores stole the show on Tulare Dust, her label Hightone's plucky tribute to Merle Haggard. On her elegant reading of the countryman's "My Own Kind of Hat," she sang with the kind of quiet fortitude that gives last-dance bayou two-steps such a gorgeous bittersweet air.
With her own Rockabilly Filly, Flores, a veteran SoCal barroom warrior, explores the wilder side of neon signs, delving into the rockabilly tradition with a reverence for the form and the abandon of a punky revival-scene survivor. Her crackerjack band features San Francisco's Russell Scott on upright bass, T.K. Smith on lead electric, John Herron on piano, and handyman Greg Leisz on assorted strings. Fem-rock forerunner Wanda Jackson makes a pair of cameos, including one on her own chestnut, "Rock Your Baby."
Combined with her intuitive blend of sass and amicability, Flores' obvious enthusiasm for the checkpoints of honky-tonk and classic rock 'n' roll makes this record much more thoroughly entertaining than most memory-laners. Filly brims with echoes of Hank Sr. (the high-lonesome "Boxcars"), the Killer (the raver "You Tear Me Up"), poppy Patsy ("Hard Times," complete with chirpy "shoo-shoo" backing vocals and tinklin' pianah), and melancholy Patsy (a cover of Lefty Frizzell's "Stranger"). "Bop Street" has a 20-second pulp-Beatnik intro/outro that highlights the bandleader's playfulness and her sometimes stunning vocal abilities.
Ending the release, there's a short outtake of a 7-year-old Rosie crooning a verse or two of "I'm Gonna Sit Down and Write Myself a Letter"; her final two words -- "oh yeah!" -- are sung with the effervescent self-confidence of a grade-school Mae West. Even then, Rosie was shit-sure of her career to come.
Rosie Flores opens for labelmates Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys Fri, Nov. 10, at Bimbo's 365 Club in S.F.; call 474-0365.
-- James Sullivan
Doe or Die
AZ is called "The Visualiza" for his evocative rhyme style, flows consisting almost entirely of action verbs flipped with a dexterous tongue. A native of the Queensbridge projects in Brooklyn, AZ is part of the renaissance of rap in the area, which started with Nas and grew to encompass Kool G Rap and Mobb Deep. Though AZ's raps are as lyrical as those of these peers, his topics aren't all that original -- basically, he dreams of living surrounded by the cream, as his hit single "Sugarhill" testifies.
Still, it's hard not to respect a kid who meticulously planned for his big chance and makes the most of his debut, aptly titled Doe or Die. His homey Nas makes an appearance on "Mo' Money Mo' Murder," but AZ comes so tight he doesn't need help from the Illmatic one. In fact, he may even be a little smoother than Nas, and with stellar production by Pete Rock on some cuts, Doe or Die balances the line between being rugged enough for the boulevard and funky enough for the clubs.
AZ was reportedly signed without a demo, on the strength of his intro to Nas' "Life's a Bitch," a verse he repeats on his own title cut: "Visualizing the realism of life in actuality/ Fuck who's the baddest/ Status depends on salary." It's a good line, but if it's that easy to get a record deal, then I got my own lyrics for the industry to peep.
-- Eric K. Arnold
The Luv Show
She'll never turn the world on with her smile again: When even Mary Tyler Moore comes out with admissions of a boozy past and suicide assistance, you know the myth of perky sitcom personas is over. As a performance artist, actress, and singer/songwriter for the acrimoniously disbanded Bongwater, Ann Magnuson has routinely conjured up similarly powerful but tarnished female entertainment figures from a deliciously ironic perspective. Hey, she even appeared on a sitcom -- Anything But Love.
Magnuson's first solo album, The Luv Show, is a theatrical experience, a winky faux-soundtrack concept album that tracks a narrative journey of a failed actress' "epic search for love." With a pensive opening track called "Dead Moth," you know it's gonna be tragic -- in a lusty, Jacqueline Susann kind of way.
With a highly developed sensibility, Magnuson employs a savvy thrift-store shopper's approach to cultural commentaries and musical stylings, toasting everything from Nico to black velvet paintings, Ethel Merman, Ouija boards, and cheesy cocktail lounges. The songs range from the smooth, show-tuney "Some Kind of a Swinger," which aches to be a martini-splashed, Bob Fosse-choreographed production number, to the rocker-chick raunch of "Miss Pussy Pants," in which the titular character desperately howls for someone to "Love my ass!" In between, Magnuson explores the rise and fall of ruthless vixens with a pop approach that owes much to the Carrie Nations, the tempestuous pre-grunge girl group of Russ Meyer's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. The droll, free-range strategy results in an infectious, if uneven, experience.
As produced by Don Fleming, and featuring the musical contributions of L.A. art star Mike Kelley and Jim "Foetus" Thirwell, The Luv Show has a cleaner, more serious sound than Magnuson's murkier Bongwater output, yet confidently emerges from the same intoxicating liquid.
-- Glen Helfand