Record Review - 1 October 30 2003

It may not be a marriage made in rock 'n' roll heaven, but the collaboration between Nashville's Los Straitjackets and Chicago bluesman Eddie "The Chief" Clearwater exudes a charming compatibility. The predominately instrumental Nashville-based Straitjackets have been stuck in a groove deeper than a dusty Ventures record album since their 1995 debut. Though they have experimented with vocalists and even released a Christmas disc, their surf/rockabilly/garage shtick was desperately in need of a fresh transfusion. Clearwater was in a similar position, his Chuck Berry/Chicago blues hybrid starting to stagnate.

Besides their colorful choice of headgear — Mexican wrestling masks for Straitjackets, Indian headdress for "The Chief" — the partnership pushes both past their comfort zones. With the Straitjackets goosing him as they travel off their beaten path, this project is arguably Clearwater's best and certainly most ambitious. The noir '50s R&B shuffle of the "Harlem Nocturne"-styled "Lonesome Town" unites genres, with Clearwater's gutsy singing and stinging guitar energized by the quartet's edgy, shadowy attack.

Possibly inspired by this association, Los Straitjackets adds guests on their new release. But Jon Spencer's theremin, and X-men DJ Bonebrake's drums and guitarist Billy Zoom (who also plays sax and flute) don't nudge Los Straitjackets far enough away from their established '60s influences. The self-penned instrumentals are so enslaved in their roots that these could be obscure covers.

The music remains sharp and the production is rougher than on previous releases, but along with the knowingly cheesy 3-D graphics and 32-minute running time, Supersonic Guitars is just another blast from Los Straitjackets' past.

Los Straitjackets play the Echo Lounge Fri., Oct. 31. $10-$12.