CD reviews: fIREHOUSE, Willie Nelson, Paul Mark & The Van Dorens

fIREHOSE lowFLOWs: The Columbia Anthology (’91-’93)/Sony Legacy

That the influential band fIREHOSE even came into existence is one of those great music stories that never get old.

Following the death of D Boon, the guitarist for punk legends The Minutemen, remaining members Mike Watt and George Hurley were ready to hang it up.

Enter Ed Crawford, a student at Ohio State University and a Minutemen fanatic. After hearing a false rumor that Watt and Hurley were auditioning guitarists for a new band, Crawford drove across the country to San Pedro, Calif., to show the surviving members of his favorite group how serious he was about playing with them. Crawford’s persistence paid off, and fIREHOSE was born.

Where The Minutemen was all about tight, brief songs that often lasted barely more than a minute, fIREHOSE pushed the limits of what a punk band could be as the trio experimented with elements of funk and jazz.

The new anthology “lowFLOWs” pairs the band’s two albums recorded for Columbia Records, “Flyin’ the Flannel” and “Mr. Machinery Operator,” and adds in 15 additional tracks of material that is either previously unreleased or long out of print.

Hearing classic fIREHOSE tracks such as “O’er the Town of Pedro” and “Formal Introduction” in all their remastered glory is great, but the real treat is the rare and unreleased stuff, including live takes of songs such as “What Gets Heard” and “Powerful Hankerin’.”

The band, which broke up in 1994, recently reunited for a tour, so perhaps the possibility of new music might exist. Whatever the case, “lowFLOWs” is a great walk down memory lane for fans of ’90s alternative music.

Key Tracks: “What Gets Heard,” “Formal Introduction,” “Powerful Hankerin’ ”

Willie Nelson Heroes/Legacy One could spend countless hours debating which American artists belong in the upper echelon of the songwriting greats. Names such as George and Ira Gershwin, Duke Ellington and Irving Berlin from the Great American Songbook would be obvious choices, as would more recent songsmiths such as John Prine, Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt.

Whatever your taste in music, I maintain that if Willie Nelson is left out of the conversation, then something is horribly wrong.

In an age where the term “legend” gets thrown around way too flippantly, Nelson definitely deserves the label. Heck, he could have stopped after writing “Crazy” and have been remembered fondly by millions for that single feat.

Thankfully, Nelson has never rested, and is now in his sixth decade of writing and recording music.

Nelson’s latest, “Heroes,” is mostly what one might expect from the country legend, although at one year shy of 80, Willie still has a few tricks up his sleeve. The biggest surprise on the new album is probably the fact that Nelson convinced rapper Snoop Dogg to sing with him on the tongue-in-cheek “Roll Me Up.” Snoop actually doesn’t do a half-bad job of channeling his inner cowboy on the track.

Elsewhere, there are great songs in the styles of Western swing (“My Window Faces the South”), outlaw country (“Every Time He Drinks He Thinks of Her”) and country gospel (“Come On Up to the House”).

Besides Snoop, guests on the album include Sheryl Crow, Billy Joe Shaver, Ray Price, Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson, as well as Nelson’s sons Lucas and Micah.

After nearly 60 years of writing and recording, Nelson shows no sign of slowing down.

Key Tracks: “A Horse Called Music,” “Come On Up to the House,” “My Window Faces the South”

Paul Mark & The Van Dorens Smartest Man in the Room/Radiation

New York City resident Paul Mark has been making music with his band, The Van Dorens, for a quarter-century now.

His deep, gravelly voice and roots rock guitar combine on his new album, “Smartest Man in the Room,” to give the listener a satisfying collection of songs.

Mark sings in a voice that is reminiscent of folks such as George Thorogood and Tom Waits, and his musical delivery owes as much to the barkers that drew curious spectators to circus sideshows a century ago as it does to the blues singers in whose footsteps he follows.

“Smartest Man in the Room” isn’t a perfect album, but what it lacks in quantity it more than makes up for in enthusiasm.

Songs such as “Time Will Tell,” “One More Coat of Paint” and the title track give Mark a chance to display those golden pipes, while instrumentals such as “Wrist Rocket” and “Choke Hold” allow the entire band to cut loose.

One of the more effective tunes on the CD is “When God Finds the Time,” which sounds like what might happen if Waits became a preacher. The track is more fire and brimstone than blues, but Mark puts his soul into it.

Overall, “Smartest Man in the Room” is a confident release from an artist who has obviously been doing his own thing for more than a few years.

Key Tracks: “Time Will Tell,” “When God Finds the Time,” “One More Coat of Paint”

By Devin Grant