Noise 

Various Artists
Touch My Heart: A Tribute to Johnny Paycheck
Sugarhill

To listen to the heartbroken lyrics of Johnny Paycheck, one might think that he wrote with every canned cowboy cliché in the book. To listen further, though, and to know a little bit about who he was, is to understand the brutal honesty of his songwriting.

Personally, I wouldn’t care if every one of his songs was born in fiction. Titles like “I’m the Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised,” “(Pardon Me) I’ve Got Someone to Kill” and the classic “Take this Job and Shove It” need no credibility check in my book. Halfserious, halfhumorous, Paycheck embodied everything pure about country music: heartache, love and a little bit of fun. That Paycheck lived the part, from bar brawls to prison time, only adds more authenticity and heartache to music that is, even despite the sorrow, damn fun to listen to.

A house band featuring pedal steel legend Lloyd Green gives a clean continuity to this tribute album. Neko Case provides the highlight, belting out “If I’m Gonna Sink (I Might as Well Go To the Bottom).” Hank Williams III delivers equal parts twang and soul on “I’m the Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised,” and Bobby Bare, Radney Foster, Buck Owens and Jeff Tweedy join in unlikely union to tell the boss: “Take This Job and Shove It.” Excellent. (David Nolt)

Various Artists

Por Vida: A Tribute to the Songs of Alejandro Escovedo
Or. Music

Alejandro Escovedo’s music is as hard to describe, or to classify, as any music out there. Most times it’s rock and roll stripped bare, with a sense for classic, rolling movement akin to Tom Petty or My Morning Jacket. Then it can be incredibly bluesy and languid. Then it can be Latin—Escovedo’s roots. At all times, his music is bare-bone simple and honest. It is, in other words, many things, which is why this tribute to Escovedo’s best music is performed by such a large group of diverse musicians.

The double-disc playlist starts with Lucinda Williams lending her gravelly voice nicely to a delayed, bluesy guitar in “Pyramid of Tears.” The Cowboy Junkies, Peter Case, Steve Earle, the Jayhawks, Charlie Musslewhite, Ruben Ramos, Calexico and the Minus Five are just a handful of those paying homage to Escovedo’s music. Calexico’s “Wave” flows in and out like tides pulled by an accordion. Musslewhite lends a deep Delta blues to “Everybody Loves Me,” and Ruben Ramos offers a heartfelt cover of “Thirteen Years.”

Escovedo is currently suffering from complications from hepatitis C and is without health insurance. This album, beyond just being a worthy tribute, is also an effort to relieve him of his medical bills with money raised from record sales. (David Nolt)

Helmet

Size Matters
Interscope

Too bad. The first Helmet record since 1997, and it’s just as wearisome as all the crappy nü-metal spawn guitarist Paige Hamilton and company inadvertently groomed to fill the void left by their breakup two years later. It’s not really Hamilton’s fault that his band helped clear the way for Slipknot and its ilk, but with seven years to think about it, you’d think the Glenn Branca alumnus could have come up with a more innovative comeback strategy than this uninspired mess of warmed-over riffage.

And to think these cats were once the cream in every riffhead’s coffee. 1992’s Meantime was an awesome union of metal’s power and punk’s face-biting attitude. The stumbling, off-kilter attack of the title track was something you just couldn’t listen to too loud or too long, but by Wilma’s Rainbow and Aftertaste it was clear that Helmet had just about spent itself.

Size Matters wants to sound like Meantime, but Meantime sounded like Meantime just fine, and there’s only room for one. And why just now for a reunion? To guess from the lyrics, which are by turns spiteful and conciliatory, Hamilton reformed the band as therapy for a bad romantic breakup. Most of the songs make vague mentions of “you” and “him” and who’s better off with whom. Sheesh! Almost everybody’s better off without this lifeless retread, that’s for sure. (Andy Smetanka)

Wolf Eyes

Burned Mind
Sub Pop

In the movie business, “prestige pictures” are the classy movies studios are willing to take a loss on because they at least foster the impression that the overpaid suits are capable of underwriting something other than the usual sewage. In the music business, a record like Burned Mind is called a “loss leader,” a money-losing release subsidized by other releases that make money for the label.

I can’t imagine that Burned Eyes will be anything but a loss leader for Sub Pop, because I just can’t imagine anyone wanting to buy it after hearing it, except maybe a bunch of German nihilists shooting rats with a zipgun in a Berlin squat. And how many of those can there be? I’m not going to say it’s bad. Or, worse, boring: The three guys behind this act of audio terrorism put a lot of thought into making their record as unlistenable and alienating as possible. It was probably fun, too, piecing enough tape loops and scorched electronic screeches together to replicate the sound of a coffee can going through a garbage disposal with someone yelling into a walkie-talkie in the background.

But so what? I prefer enjoying music, not enduring it. And this isn’t music, or even “music.” It might be [music] or music*, but as a listener I really couldn’t care less. (Andy Smetanka)

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