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Against the tide

Music | Three musicians offer right-of-center listeners something to enjoy

Issue: "On the rails," Oct. 9, 2010

The balkanization of pop radio and the exponentially proliferating number of acts releasing music has made it harder than ever for music fans to find music they like. And if those fans lean to the right and aren't given to digging through haystacks of the puerile or the sleazy in search of conservative, or at least conservative-friendly, needles, the hunt is harder still.

Enter Red Eye w/Greg Gutfeld, the irreverently freewheeling FOX News show in which the titular host and an ever-changing cast of panelists, some of whom are musicians, prove the G.K. Chesterton nostrum that "supreme strength is shown in levity." Not every Red Eye panelist is a full-on culture warrior, but, in our present over-politicized moment, merely to appear on the show is to rage against the machine.

In recent months, the show has treated viewers to the wit and wisdom of the alternative rocker Andrew W.K., the Melvins frontman King Buzzo (aka "Buzz" Osborne), and the veteran CCM singer-songwriter Regie Hamm, each of whom is as busy as he's ever been at singing (and rocking) the body-politic electric.

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In terms of his music and his public persona, Andrew W.K. is probably the least overtly political of the three. His music has been described by Gutfeld as a "relentlessly positive . . . wall of sound run through a thresher run by Freddie Mercury," and the word that recurs most often in his lyrics and titles is "party." But, as W.K. himself has said, he relishes "floating" in the paradoxical "middle ground" between the shallow and the deep.

And he's serious about the "floating." Although his latest release, Close Calls with Brick Walls (Universal) (a two-disc packaging of his 2006, Asia-only album of the same name with the rarities omnibus Mother of Mankind) is plenty loud, his 55 Cadillac (Ecstatic Peace!) from 2009 is 40 minutes of piano improvisation, broken up into tracks with titles like "Night Driver" and "Central Park Cruiser," and categorized, only somewhat accurately, as New Age. But as a classically-trained-pianist-turned-rocker, W.K. makes the project work. And, as a sample of what W.K. has called the "sound of a piano being played by a free man," perhaps it explains his compatibility with the Red Eye crowd better than any of his albums with words.

King Buzzo's words don't exactly make for Tea Party manifestos either-that is, unless the Melvins' transformation of the Who's "My Generation" into a slow, horror-show stomp (on their latest, and 18th, album, The Bride Screamed Murder [Ipecac]) is intended as an anti-antiestablishment anthem. Like the eclectic and amorphous punk-metal that they accompany, Buzzo's lyrics generally seem to emerge from an unclassifiable place in his subconscious. But even at their weirdest they don't clash with his status as a member of the Republican Party-if only because they don't intersect with it at all. And, like W.K., he's still married to the wife of his youth.

As for Regie Hamm, his appearing on a FOX-identified entertainment show won't surprise anyone familiar with his track record (he penned Clay Crosse's 1990s CCM smash "I Surrender All"). And his latest CD, Set It on Fire (Tate), proves that there's a lot more where that song came from.

Whether it's his American Idol-showcased composition "The Time of My Life" (included as a bonus track), "Pictures of People I Love" (a refreshingly unsentimental filial-love song), or "Not Today" (which goes "They say we won't need God no more, / they say we won't need his crucified Son. / But not today"), he provides ample evidence that entertainment and emotional maturity are by no means mutually exclusive.

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