Music: Pop: This Week's Album Releases

Chuck E Weiss Extremely Cool: Slow River/Rykodisc
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The Independent Culture
THE COVER of what is only Chuck E Weiss's second album in 18 years features a shot of him as a teenage tearaway, ciggie drooping from lower lip as he stares the camera down. It's the sensible choice, given that the cult figure now has a face that's not so much lived-in as squatted in by a greengrocer looking for somewhere to store a few extra sacks of spuds.

Weiss is a Los Angeles legend best known as the eponymous subject of Rickie Lee Jones's "Chuck E's In Love", a song rooted in the early-Seventies when Rickie, Chuck and Tom Waits all lived at Hollywood's seedy rock'n'roll hangout, the Tropicana Motel. For 11 years he had a nightly residency at West Hollywood's Central night-club, before joining Johnny Depp in transforming it into the Viper Room. It was sometimes thought that, like the Tropicana, Chuck himself had long since been demolished. But thanks largely to the efforts of Tom Waits - who is co-producer here, as well as co-writing and sharing vocals on a few tracks - he's delivered this steaming plateful of what Chuck calls "twisted jungle music".

Unsurprisingly, Chuck's style shares several characteristics with Tom's, particularly in the way it's deeply rooted in post-war jazz and blues modes - "Deeply Sorry" could have come straight off Blue Valentine, while "Pygmy Fund" and "Do You Know What I Idi Amin" find the pair jamming hipster-jive nonsense with the aplomb of Lord Buckley. But there's a more Beefheartian cast to tracks such as "Devil With Blue Suede Shoes", a typically Angelenean slice of electrified country-blues. Chuck also shares something of the Captain's vocal range, slipping from growly baritone to keening falsetto in the space of a single line.

He's a versatile performer, too, turning his hand to cajun music, rock'n'roll, jive and cool jazz/poetry sessions, but always with a smirk that prevents them becoming mere dilettante exercises.