- The Washington Times - Monday, October 20, 2003

Grandpaboy

Dead Man Shake

Fat Possum

“Dead Man Shake” marks veteran rocker Paul Westerberg’s return as his swaggering alter ego Grandpaboy and offers 14 stylish tracks infused with gritty Delta blues, alt-country and good time rock ‘n’ roll.

In the ‘80s, Mr. Westerberg’s seminal Minneapolis garage band the Replacements redefined heartland rock by incorporating influences ranging from Bob Dylan to Kiss and the Ramones. After leaving the band to pursue a solo career, Mr. Westerberg began recording as Grandpaboy and did not disappoint with his 2002 debut, “Stereo/Mono,” a record underscored by sumptuous Keith Richardsesque guitar riffs.

“Shake” picks up where “Mono” left off and breaths new life into the mix with pop touches. “Vampires and Failures” offers edgy, infectious grooves reminiscent of Lou Reed’s hopeful crunch “Busload of Faith.” But where Mr. Reed managed to intone effortlessly that it takes “a busload of faith to get by,” Mr. Westerberg croons meaninglessly that “the night is full of vampires and failures.”

“MPLS” sets the record ablaze, combining rockabilly and Delta blues packaged in a joyful Muddy Waters-style frolic. On “Bad Boy Blues,” Mr. Westerberg sings about “broken hearts and broken windows,” and his lightning guitar work recalls Bob Dylan’s raw-boned romp, “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat.”

Nailing Hank Williams’ honky-tonk anthem “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” Mr. Westerberg shows off adroit, scorching slide-guitar jams and aching, heartfelt vocals. Most rockers wouldn’t be caught dead — or shaking — recording a song Sammy Davis Jr. once sang. Yet Mr. Westerberg’s rendition of “What Kind of Fool Am I?” proves a strange, haunting rant disguised in exquisite self-parody.

As a Replacement and as Grandpaboy, rock superstardom has eluded Mr. Westerberg despite his considerable talent. “Dead Man Shake” won’t garner mass appeal either, but with its beautiful mess of eclectic boogie, it should raise spirits, if not the dearly departed.

H. Andrew Schwartz is at work on a biography of New Orleans piano wizard Professor Longhair.

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