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GUADALCANAL DIARY (Buy CDs by this artist)
Watusi Rodeo EP (Entertainment on Disc) 1983
Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man (DB) 1984 (Elektra) 1985
Jamboree (Elektra) 1986
2 X 4 (Elektra) 1987
Flip-Flop (Elektra) 1989

This underappreciated Georgia quartet distinguished itself from any number of smart, tuneful American guitar combos by combining accessible songcraft with provocatively twisted lyrics. Singer/guitarist Murray Attaway's songs reflect a bizarre variety of far-flung interests, from a preoccupation with the supernatural to a fascination with American cultural imperialism; the band delivers them all with rootsy irony.

Conveying a sense of wonder as well as a sense of humor, Watusi Rodeo — which doesn't include the song of the same name — is an appealing debut, with four fine, offbeat numbers (most notably "Michael Rockefeller" and "Dead Eyes," both later re-recorded on Jamboree) and sturdy playing.

"Watusi Rodeo," a rollicking tale of American cowboys pillaging African wildlife, does appear on Guadalcanal's first longplayer, Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man. Produced on the cheap by Don Dixon, the album presents rocking explorations of several of Attaway's pet themes: religious fanaticism ("Why Do the Heathen Rage?"), Civil War mythology ("Trail of Tears") and spontaneous human combustion ("Fire from Heaven"). There's also a pair of enjoyable instrumentals, plus an unlikely (though somehow appropriate) rendition of "Kumbayah."

Jamboree, produced by mainstream Southern-rock specialist Rodney Mills (with two additional tracks helmed by Englishman Steve Nye), features upgraded sound quality and contains some fine tunes, but overall the album is more competent than inspired. Standout tracks include "Pray for Rain," "Fear of God" and the title tune, all of which take dark views of religious faith; "Country Club Gun" and "Cattle Prod" (smartass redneck character studies); and "I See Moe," which uses the head Stooge as a metaphor for unchecked personal aggression.

Dixon — and inspiration — returned for the smashing 2 X 4, on which the group's members dip into their shadowy art-rock pasts (Attaway once fronted a Yes cover band) to finally create music as distinctive as the lyrics. "Litany (Life Goes On)," "Newborn" and "Winds of Change" sport big, ambitious arrangements that suit their subject matter just fine; "Lips of Steel" is an effective stab at space-rock, while "Say Please" and "Let the Big Wheel Roll" make rude cowpunk noise. Perhaps most impressive, however, is "3 AM," Attaway's quietly harrowing account of alcoholism. The CD adds a good cover of the Beatles' "And Your Bird Can Sing."

Flip-Flop, which proved to be Guadalcanal's final album, finds drummer John Poe emerging as a worthy songwriter, supplanting guitarist Jeff Walls as Guadalcanal's auxiliary composer. Poe's moralistic rockers "Pretty Is as Pretty Does" and "The Likes of You" are among Flip-Flop's highlights, alongside Attaway's sardonically wistful "Always Saturday," the psychedelic "Fade Out" and the wacky singalong "...Vista."

[Scott Schinder]