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Steve Wynn
Crossing Dragon Bridge
Blue Rose Records
www.stevewynn.net


24 years after The Dream Syndicate burst onto the LA Paisley Underground scene, Steve Wynn is still going strong as a great American singer/songwriter. Since 1990 he's been putting out records as a solo artist, and has amassed an unrivalled body of work that draws inspiration from the decades of guitar rock that inspired him and then takes it to a whole new level.

Crossing Dragon Bridge was recorded solo in a small studio in Lubljana, Slovenia, and then embellished with separately-recorded strings and choir, plus contributions from old pals such as Linda Pitmon and Chris Cacavas back home. There's less of the full-on, cranked-up rawk feeling of his last three (great) albums with regular band The Miracle 3 and more of the reflective, personal feel of older albums such as My Midnight. I have to admit I prefer the Miracle 3 records (they've played with Wynn for long enough now to get the intuition thing going, and are super tight live), but there is plenty to enjoy here if you're in a contemplative mood.

"Slovenian Rhapsody 1" opens the album; it's a spaghetti Western-ish tune complete with whistling, which I've never thought is a good thing on rock records, but is much improved once voice and swelling strings come into the mix. First great new Wynn song comes with "Manhattan Fault Line," an urgent 12-string guitar strum in 3 / 4 time. It has a great story line about how snobby New Yorkers think us Californians deserve to live in an earthquake zone, but could get their own seismic comeuppance some day, intertwined with an analogy about Wynn's move from California to New York being similarly earth shaking. More beautiful strings (as on the other tunes, courtesy of the Apollon Chamber Orchestra) make this one really memorable.

There follow a few less compelling tunes; "Love Me Anyway" is OK (but not nearly as good as the Waterboys song of the same name), but would be much improved with real percussion instead of a drum machine. "When We Talk About Forever" is another string-embellished waltz, with a nice East European feel to the melody.

Things pick back up on "Annie and Me," a nice, chugging tune driven by a pretty basic drum machine and a dense acoustic strum, with some tasty electric guitar on top and nice backing vocals from Linda Pitmon. The song changes about halfway through to a slower tempo, in the vein of the epic "No tomorrow" from last album ...Tick ...Tick ..Tick, but then we're back to the stomp to finish. "Bring The Magic" is another great Wynn road song in the vein of "Amphetamine": "50,000 watts from the back of my Impala / Wolfman Jack is on the line tonight" This is more of a slow cruise through a Southern night than a full-on blast down the highway; the song works pretty well with a muted arrangement, including some more great strings.

Things get a little bit patchy again after that, but special mention goes to the swampy and atmospheric "God Doesn't Like It," which features some killer Beggars Banquet-style harmonica from the main man himself.

Overall, Wynn plays really well here on an impressive breadth of instruments (for example, the organ on "Love Me Anyway" is Wynn, not longtime contributor Chris Cacavas); still, despite the additions by other musicians, the record still has a homemade feel that might give fans who've come to Wynn via the Miracle 3 albums some pause for thought. Overall, though, budget and schedule constraints are always there, and it's always great to have a new Steve Wynn record; I'd much rather have these songs out there in any form than stuck on the shelf.

-Gareth Bowles

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Mike Doughty



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