What in the world is ARTURO SANDOVAL thinking?!? The Cuban trumpet virtuoso released some of the most exciting Latin-jazz CDs of the '90s (including such masterpieces as 1998's Hot House and 1995's El Tren Lati) but then closes out the decade with a shriveled-up turd of an album called Americana that sounds like a cross between a geezer hotel-lounge band gurgling in their Depends and background music from a low-budget porn flick in which missionary-position sex poolside is the most adventurous scenario. I am disappointed, appalled, flabbergasted and disgustipated.
Even the title of the album is misleading and wrong-headed, suggesting that Sandoval might explore the works of jazz masters who came before him and emerge with his own exciting take on their music. Instead, we get an all-covers album of material by such Wonder Bread wusses as Lionel Ritchie, Chicago, Roberta Flack, Billy Joel and, incredibly, the fucking Carpenters. I shit you not; the man actually plays "We've Only Just Begun." Worse, his versions are flaccid and literal rather than adventurous riffs on curious material; they're closer in spirit to Mantovani doing the Beatles than Coltrane ripping the guts out of "My Favorite Things" or "Chim Chim Cheree."
If Sandoval thinks he's gonna sell more albums this way, he's wrong. This kind of desiccated dog shit was stillborn, obsolete upon creation; even the most pasty-faced, tassel-loafered yuppie would be embarrassed to have this atrocity in his CD collection (well, maybe not, but that's still no defense). The arrangements are lobotomized elevator music of the worst sort. It's impossible to reconcile this album with the chops monster who created it, a man so ribald that he has been lambasted by critics for sacrificing taste and musicality to flash and showmanship (a critique I wholeheartedly disagreed with, by the way).
Sandoval plays Friday through Sunday at Founder's Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. We shall discover then, perhaps, that Americana was a mindlessly ill-conceived sidetrack—out of his system now like Montezuma's Revenge—and that he'll return to form in concert. But if not, if he decides to lay a little Engelbert Humperdinck on you, I say have a stash of rotten fruit on hand to pelt his ass.
Speaking of Branson bait, GLEN CAMPBELLplays the Orange County Performing Arts Center on Friday and Saturday nights. You might think this hardly worth a mention, but the fact is that when Campbell isn't recording loathsome country pop, drugging himself into oblivion, whomping the piss out of Tanya Tucker and subsequently turning born-again Christian, he's one of the most amazing and versatile guitar players on the planet. Arkie-boy Campbell first started picking at age 4 and gravitated toward the hot jazz of guys like Django Reinhardt and Barney Kessell. He moved to LA in his early 20s and became an in-demand session man, recording with a huge variety of artists ranging from Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Elvis Presley and Merle Haggard to the Monkees, the Mamas & the Papas, and the Beach Boys (with whom he also toured). After that came solo stardom in the '60s and '70s and a lot of really annoying hit records like "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Wichita Lineman," "Galveston," "Rhinestone Cowboy" and the brutal assault of "Country Boy (You Got Your Feet in LA)." I must admit, though, I actually did like "Gentle on My Mind."
Campbell can be relied on to deliver much unfortunate tuneage in concert, most likely along with some galling white gospel that would give George W. Bush a Jeezo-woody. He can also be relied on, however, to deliver some stunning guitar instrumentals. If you want to take a chance and brave the woeful with the wonderful, I say have a stash of rotten fruit on hand to pelt his ass with at the opening chords of "Rhinestone Cowboy."
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We've been very fortunate indeed to have much country royalty gracing us in Orange County in recent months; another will be in town when MERLE HAGGARD plays the Crazy Horse Saloon on Wednesday and Thursday nights. Haggard is a singer/songwriter whose emotional honesty is so heartfelt as to be chilling, his stance on social issues unprecedented in his chosen field of music, his lyrics at once guileless and poetic in the best sense of the words, and his vocals so artlessly gorgeous yet so brimming with disconsolation that they re-define the meaning of the blues itself. He also has a temper like a roomful of hyperactive boys and African killer bees and a headful of thoughts so wildly politically incorrect that Ralph Nader faints at the mere mention of his name. In one conversation we had a few years ago, for example, Haggard launched into an obscenity-laced tirade against the music business that concluded with him shouting about how he'd like to put a bullet in the heads of Dick Clark and Country Music Association president Gene Weed (key quote: "FUUUUUUCCCKKK THEM!"). What a fun guy!
A mini-litany of Hag classics would have to include "Swinging Doors," "The Bottle Let Me Down," "Mama Tried," "Workin' Man's Blues," "Big City" and the sublime hippie-stomping anthems "Okie From Muskogee" and "The Fightin' Side of Me." That only scratches the surface, though. This guy is in a league with Buck Owens, George Jones and Hank Williams Sr. when it comes to the Number of Country Standards Penned category. You will not require any rotten fruit at a Merle Haggard show because he's never done anything cheesy in his whole long life. But go ahead and toss some at him anyway because it would be very entertaining to watch him rush from the stage to beat and strangle you.
I forgive JOE WALSHfor being in the Eagles because as laid-back '70s rock limp dicks go, he's not in a league with the rest of those fartknockers, and the band was much better with him than without ("Hotel California" vs. "Peaceful, Easy Feeling"? No contest!). Also because I enjoyed much of his pre-Eagles work, particularly with the James Gang, as much as anything that was around at the time. Also because he gave my pal Billy Bacon a live pig as a gift once (the fresh sausage was delicious, Joe!). But mostly because he's a really damn good guitarist whose variations in tone, attack and approach are often stunningly unique. And I still stay tuned when "Rocky Mountain Way" comes on the radio, too. Walsh has gone solo again and will play the Sun Theatre on Sunday night.
JAMES INTVELD will host a CD-release party Sunday night at the Blue Cafe. As I haven't heard the new disc yet, I can't relay anything about its merits, but a $10 cover not only gets you into the club but also gets you a copy of the new album. That's merit enough to warrant mention. Arturo Sandoval plays in Founder's Hall at Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 556-ARTS. Fri.-Sun. Call for times. $36-$42; Glen Campbell performs at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. $23-$67; Merle Haggard performs at Crazy Horse Steakhouse Saloon, 71 Fortune Dr., Irvine, (714) 549-1512. Wed.-Thurs., March 9, 8 p.m. $15-$70; Joe Walsh plays the Sun Theatre, 2200 E. Katella, Anaheim, (714) 712-2700. Sun., 8 p.m. $45-$52; James Intveld performs at the Blue Cafe, 210 The Promenade, Long Beach, (562) 983-7111. Sun., 9:30 p.m. $10 (includes free CD).