Playback 

Ike Turner did a lot of screwed-up things in his life, but even he deserved better than the eulogy he received last week from Phil Spector.

I know that violent, misogynistic, drug-warped, old music pros have to stick together, but who thought it would be a good idea to send Spector up at Ike’s funeral as a character reference?

Some of what Spector had to say was characteristically ill-considered. He blasted the Tina Turner bio-pic What’s Love Got to Do With It? (which cemented Ike’s rep as a coke-snorting wife beater) as “that piece-of-trash movie,” before acknowledging, “I haven’t seen the movie, but it was told to me.”

Spector also took issue with Oprah Winfrey, saying the talk-show queen made “Tina Turner’s book `I, Tina` into a best-seller which demonized and vilified Ike.”

While much of this sounds like the rantings of an alienated man who’s spent the last four years trying to beat a murder conviction, when Spector turned to the subject of music, he actually made some valid points. He was right to say that Ike could play circles around Eric Clapton, though most rock-guitar connoisseurs would probably disagree. Ike all but patented a funky guitar style that easily moved from rhythm to lead, and no British guitar god could ever match his expertise at that style.

Spector was also right to argue that “Ike made Tina the jewel she was.” It’s not devil’s advocacy, but simply historical accuracy, to note that Ike was a star on the chitlin circuit, who’d played piano on “Rocket 88” - which many consider the first-ever rock ’n’ roll record - when a teenager from Nutbush, Tennessee, named Anna Mae Bullock sought him out and asked to sing with his revue. They met because Tina was a star-struck fan and an ambitious, aspiring singer looking for a shot. Ike renamed her Tina Turner, married her after she’d become pregnant with another band member’s baby, and gave her an invaluable musical education.

Because that musical education came with a heavy price, Tina later dismissed not only her work with Ike but her very R&B roots. When she made a dramatic comeback in the ’80s, her producers had to beg her to record soul material, because she’d come to view R&B as miserable, down-in-the-dumps music, and rock ’n’ roll as its upbeat, energetic, classy antithesis. In her mind, singing a duet with Bryan Adams or camping it up with Rod Stewart on a cheeseball song like “Hot Legs” was preferable to hollering “A Fool in Love” with Ike. While leaving Ike surely saved Tina’s life and transformed her career, it’s hard to agree with her musical taste.

Gilbert Garcia

 

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Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
John C. Reilly
(Columbia)

Creating the music for the rock-biopic parody Walk Hard posed Spinal-Tap-like challenges. On the one hand, the songs had to be credible enough to convince you that they provided Dewey Cox with a series of hits. On the other hand, they needed to be sufficiently askew to make you laugh.

For the most part, the songs (largely co-written by Dan Bern and Mike
Viola) work this balancing act with a sure sense of craft. One of the implicit running jokes in Walk Hard is that Dewey Cox (much like Spinal Tap) jumped on every trend to come along over the course of his career. Even without the benefit of seeing John C. Reilly’s goofball mug, the soundtrack album conveys that opportunism.

The Marshall Crenshaw-penned title song is a perfect Johnny Cash pastiche, while “(I Hate You) Big Daddy” apes the Sun Records rockabilly of Elvis Presley’s “Baby Let’s Play House,” with Cox urging his estranged father: “Get gone, man/ get real gone!” Reilly even pulls off a sweet Roy Orbison impression for “A Life Without You (Is No Life at All).” That song, a tender ode to Cox’s wife, is funny in the context of the movie, because it clashes so much with the disinterest he consistently shows her offstage. On the album, it’s a pleasant, if unspectacular, period piece.

The album’s two best songs, “Let’s Duet” and “Royal Jelly,” also provide the most brazen jokes. “Let’s Duet” exploits the sexual tension that’s charged most male-female country singing teams, with Cox unable to camouflage his lust (“In my dreams you’re blowing me … some kisses”) and singing partner Jenna Fischer (who lip-syncs in the film) teasing him mercilessly. “Royal Jelly” finds Cox in his Bob Dylan phase, eager to make a social statement but not quite in command of his chosen metaphors: “Rim job fairy teapots mask the temper tantrum / oh say, can you see ’em?”

“Royal Jelly” works because it mocks Dylan as much as Cox, in the same way that Spinal Tap’s “Big Bottom” was an all-inclusive cock-rock parody. If the rest of the Walk Hard soundtrack doesn’t rise to those heights, it’s close enough to make you seek out this music when you’ve left the movie theater.

Gilbert Garcia

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Free at Last
Freeway
(Roc-A-Fella)

Philadelphia Freeway came out in 2003. But the Pennsylvania rapper didn’t let his subsequent period of inactivity deter him from releasing another excellent album. Here he chooses to address the changes head on, both the external (his tenuous relationship with Beanie Sigel; the fact that he’s “back without a track from Kanye” or Just Blaze) and the internal (his realization that it’s OK to cry about “grown-man shit”). And his straightforwardness allows him to create an honest record that still manages to rock.

A lot of this success is thanks to the cadre of producers behind him, from J.R. Rotem to Don Cannon to the Left Coast’s Jake One, who make warm, soulful beats to lay behind the vocals. Nevertheless, it’s still the MC himself who makes Free at Last really shine. With a rough-edged flow full of quick internal rhyme and plenty of metaphors, including one about Brandon Inge, Freeway weaves his way through the album’s 14 solid tracks with a confidence that doesn’t come across as cocky. Four years is a long gap between albums, especially in the ephemeral rap world, but Freeway demonstrates that he’s lost nothing in the wait — he’s as relevant and talented as he was back then.

Marisa Brown


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