On his own records, former Green on Red keyboardist Chris Cacavas treads spiky Southwestern guitar-rock turf that should be vaguely familiar to admirers of such combos as Green on Red, the Dream Syndicate and Giant Sand (all of which Cacavas has recorded with). But Cacavas’ own records — on which he sings, writes and plays guitar as well as keys — reveal both an individual musical sensibility and a plainspoken songwriting talent that establishes his significance beyond those past associations.
The Steve Wynn-produced Chris Cacavas and Junk Yard Love is a worthy if tentative debut, as the Arizona native sings his songs in a dry, unadorned voice that underlines their straightforward observations. The ironically titled Good Times (which Cacavas co-produced with Bad Religion’s Brett Gurewitz) is generally less reflective and more aggressive, in the activist streak of numbers like “Did You Hear What She Said?” and “Many Splintered Thing,” in the harder-hitting arrangements and in the artist’s assertive vocal performances. He also sounds noticeably more confident on the acoustic numbers (“Chain of Roses,” “Rocking Chair”). The self-produced, relationship-oriented Pale Blonde Hell has an especially organic feel, as Cacavas and band rock with force and subtlety on such tunes as “Rejection as Usual” and “Let You Down.” New Improved Pain is Cacavas’ best yet, with rockers (“Heart of Sand”) and moodier numbers (“Freak”) boasting full-bodied performances and lyrics that take on personal and political matters with equal lucidity.
Dwarf Star (later issued in the US) and Six String Soapbox are both part of the German Return to Sender series of limited-edition releases by American artists. The former features unadorned band performances of eight otherwise unavailable originals, plus an oddly effective reworking of Matthew Sweet’s “Someone to Pull the Trigger” and an unlisted jazz-piano bonus track. The latter consists of mostly solo renditions of eight songs, some of which (including the title track) appear in fuller versions on other albums.