Like Billy Joe Shaver only less so, Guy Clark is what many non-Texans think of when they think of Texas songwriter's songwriters: a sentimental sweetheart beneath a gruff, salty exterior who's capable of condensing the universals to their pith and setting them to simple melodies that make them impossible to forget. On a good night, he might even spin a few yarns that tie everything together. This album captures just such a night, hence its title. Prairie Home Companion wouldn't have been wide of the mark either.
Coulton is currently on tour with They Might Be Giants, and it's easy to see how he got the gig. Like TMBG he specializes in setting witty, nerd's-eye-view observations of life's nooks and crannies to melodies bouncy enough for kids. His vocabulary, however, presumes adulthood, from his vulgarities (two) to songs called "Nemeses" and "Je Suis Rick Springfield." And while kids might giggle at "Glasses," you definitely have to be old enough to know better to get "Today with Your Wife" and "Alone at Home."
The "Super" comes from "supergroup," rock slang for "all-star team." The "Heavy" comes from the '60s term for "Wow, man, that's deep." Unfortunately, this music only feels heavy as in "overweight," with reggae-isms courtesy of Damian Marley, Bollywood-isms courtesy of A.R. Rahman, guitars courtesy of Dave Stewart, over-singing courtesy of Joss Stone and Mick Jagger, and kitchen sink courtesy of the other dozen-plus credited musicians crammed into nearly every song. The standard edition has 12 songs, the deluxe 16. Both prove more is less.
If Iron Maiden's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" could make Coleridge fans of lumpen proles, who's to say Mike Scott's transformation of these 14 poems into cabaret-folk won't bear similar fruit where Yeats is considered? Scott forgoes most of the more-anthologized poems, but he does do "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" (as a blues) and "The Song of Wandering Aengus" (as the intense meditation upon mystery that it is). And if you think his singing overdramatizes the material, wait till you hear Yeats reading it.
Those who recoil upon encountering the computerized, Auto-Tuned sheen of [Re]Production (Gigatone), the newest album by Todd Rundgren, should consider that Neil Young tried something similar in 1982 with Trans, an album almost universally reviled at the time but whose charms have gradually come to the fore. And Rundgren's album has an edge: Whereas Trans contained only one vintage Young remake, [Re]Production finds Rundgren revisiting hits and "deep album cuts" that he produced for other performers.
Whether anyone will ever prefer his technocratic "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad," "Personality Crisis," or "Love My Way" to the originals by Meat Loaf, New York Dolls, or Psychedelic Furs, respectively, is doubtful. And the atheism anthem "Dear God" sounds even more petulant coming from him than it did coming from XTC. But, because the material is strong and-or catchy, these versions, like his electric versions of Robert Johnson songs from earlier this year, at least have the capacity to surprise.