Album Review

Buffalo Tom - Three Easy Pieces / Meat Puppets - Rise To Your Knees

Buffalo Tom - Three Easy Pieces

The early-'90s alternative-rock "revolution" is far enough in our collective rearview mirror for nostalgia to have set in. And here we have a couple of potential beneficiaries, two bands that had brushes with the mainstream before fading out -- Meat Puppets as cameo stars of Nirvana's 1994 swan song Unplugged, Buffalo Tom with the song "Sodajerk" in My So-Called Life the same year. Both are returning from long absences with albums that sound like they've picked up right where they left off. Rise To Your Knees is billed as the old lineup of Arizona desert rats the Meat Puppets, although original member Derrick Bostrom is not present. But this is the first record that brothers Curt and Cris Kirkwood have made together since 1995, after which Curt carried on with other players while Cris descended into a wicked drug problem that culminated with an 18-month prison sentence. While Cris is reputed to be clean and sober now, plenty of darkness lingers. The leadoff cut, "Fly Like The Wind", opens with the sound of chirping birds before giving way to Curt's guitar looming up like a shadowy beast, as he moans in his sun-bleached deadpan, "You can run, but you'll never get away from the smell of the garbage." Curt's voice has never sounded more like Kurt Cobain, which is more than a little unsettling. But most of Rise To Your Knees sounds like the Kirkwood brothers getting in touch with their inner jam band. For all the meandering, it's never less than pleasantly listenable, even when things get indulgent (such as the modified reggae beat on "Enemy Love Song"). But at fifteen songs and 67 minutes, it could use less sprawl and more focus. Did nobody clue them in that the H.O.R.D.E. Festival has been gone for nine years? In Buffalo Tom's early days, wags mockingly called the band "Dinosaur Jr. Jr." By their early-'90s prime, the trio of guitarist Bill Janovitz, bassist Chris Colbourn and drummer Tom Maginnis was closer to Soul Asylum's loud fast rules. For better or worse, that carries over to Three Easy Pieces, Buffalo Tom's first album in nine years; indeed, "You'll Never Catch Him" falls just a bit too close to "Runaway Train" for comfort. Still, catchy's catchy, and these songs are a cut above anything Dave Pirner has managed in years. For the most part, Three Easy Pieces hits a fine balance between Soul Asylum-styled rootsy popcraft and pre-sappy Goo Goo Dolls' rougher rave-ups. It leaves you wondering what Buffalo Tom might have done with that level of success.