(Zero Hour Records)
For whatever reasons, I don't really like the Indigo Girls that much, don't hate them but I'm not wild about them like my friend Mindy is. But I do like this 22 Brides album, and it does remind me of the Indigo Girls, with its two lead women (sisters Carrie and Libby Johnson) who have pretty voices which wrap around each other. But 22 Brides (augmented by worthy musicians) display a good folk-rock sense that isn't the usual whining. The slightly melancholy "Ghost House" is a standout cut; "Transparent" and "What's So Wrong" rock out in a John Mellencamp heartland vein. They caught my attention, and I just bet they are good in concert. Just don't send them nationwide with the Indigos. (Ellen Levitt)
I want to like this album because it's produced by Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, two old heroes of mine from the Talking Heads and the Tom Tom Club. But it's kind of a cliched album, modern midtempo sort-of hard rock, kind of like a dowdier version of the Primitives, or a lackluster updating of Blondie with little personality. Well, the sound is clear and the drums are upfront (I'm not surprised, Mr. Frantz) and there are some decent hooks here and there, but the album doesn't really get energized, even when singer Shirley Manson starts to sound a wee bit like Debbie Harry. The hype that preceded this album didn't help, because any expectations I had were sunk. Maybe live they sound better, but I can't help but envision pimply, nervous high schoolers frigging to leaden tunes such as "King Of The World" and thinking that they're pretty cool and aren't sweating too much through their black T-shirts. (Ellen Levitt)
NOW I'M A COWBOY
(Vernon Yard Recordings)
This is the second album from this British band led by guitarist/ singer/ songwriter Luke Haines. The band: guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and cello offer 11 medium tempo post-modern pop songs. Haines has a powerful presence of emotion and angst as he sings along to his rich electric guitar wails. Two examples are "New French Girlfriend" and great opening number "Lenny Valentino," which refers to a cross between Lenny Bruce and Rudolph Valentino. In one song Haines makes fun of the jet set. In another he celebrates a self important rock star. Haines admits contradictions. He says "the best stuff is full of contradiction." Honest and shrewd modern music. (Alan Sheckter)
A FATE WORSE THAN A FATE WORSE THAN DEATH
This is a really good album which chronicles the Australian band the Affected, over the past few years. Punk, power pop, metal and garage rock are jumbled together for pure rock enjoyment. Start with their ragged and gleeful version of the 1980s pop tune "Jenny/ 867-5309" (it's an improvement, worthy of the Ramones) and check out the rest of the songs. There's enough variety throughout the album so that you won't grow bored. They have adrenaline and it shows. (Ellen Levitt)
A good old friend of mine (Where are you Kenny?) and I used to bop around in his VW bug in the early 80s and hit the FM buttons. He used to rave about Adrian Belew, someone who was never on the radio, both his solo work and that with the re-formed King Crimson, Belew was a crafty guitar god, he would say. "Why hadn't I heard him then," I wondered. 'Cause commercial radio didn't know where to put him. They still don't. And he's still a crafty guitar god.
On Here, Belew writes, produces, sings and plays every instrument. The CD insert makes the point nicely with a wide photo of Adrian in a house/studio attending to bass, drums, guitars, vocals and cello, and even pouring coffee, all at the same time. The 12 songs here are of a pop song length and nature, quite full of great hooks and melodies. Opener, "May 1, 1990," is a fine Bowie-esque style track and others sound like old progressive Beatles songs ("Fly," is reminiscent of a complex "Julia," and "Peace On Earth" can be likened to "Eleanor Rigby"). Other songs nicely mix pop and Belew's avant-garde guitar cunning that critics will continue to praise, but he won't be selling out 20,000 seat arenas. Somehow though, I think that's okay with him... (Alan Sheckter)
THE SPEED OF GRACE
What we have here are ten soft-electric country & western twinged easy-rock song. The singer/songwriter's Rodstadt/Raitt-type voice complements fine down to earth lyric. She may be trying to entice a guy, like on the sassy "Tall Drink Of Water."
I'm just lookin' for a place to start
Or, she may be pushing one away, like on Paul Buchanan's "Let's Face It."
It's over baby, let's face it
There's a Dolly Parton number here, "Jolene," and a song co-written with Wendy Waldman, "Waiting For The Sky To Fall." Veteran drummer Jim Keltner plays with the band. Nice romantically paced collection of songs. (Alan Sheckter)
The Black Crowes
Amorica is the third release from these Atlanta rockers. The rebellious band is led by the brothers Robinson, Chris and Rich, who are excellent songwriters. And the cover reveals to us a slightly scandalous skimpy bikini bottom in the design of the flag. Chris refers to "amorica" as a play on "America." He says we're all stuck here and scared at times, and "we're just as scared as anyone, but that's what drives us to beat it and find the diamond in this huge coal mine and dig around. Our tools are our music." The songs, led by "A Conspiracy," are rich in stories, rocking rhythms and vocals that are fun to ride, and there are some surprisingly rich subtleties in the instruments themselves, as witnessed on "Nonfiction" and "Cursed Diamond." The instantly recognizable ingredient of The Black Crowes is Chris Robinson's voice, and it's big and bold as ever. Fine, fine album. (Alan Sheckter)
The Barcelona Tribe of Soulsters performs 50 minutes of modern flamenco driven instrumentals. Along with some light chanting and gentle, dreamy bits of Spanish vocals, a modern backbeat keeps time in the background, making it palatable for hard to reach American listeners. Individual credits are not given, but the flamenco guitar is fabulous. The overall result is uniquely pleasant and somewhat eclectic. The title track, "Fiesta Fatal!," a traditional number, and Vangales' (remember his 1982 hit "Chariots Of Fire?") "You Won't See Me Cry" are international hits. Nice and soothing background music. (Alan Sheckter)
LIVE AT SIN-É
No, this is not a Hollywood sequel as the return of, or the son of, although Jeff is the son of the late great Tim Buckley (his complete name is Jeffrey Scott, and his mother is the famous Jainie from the "Song for Jainie" from the first album), he must be judged by his own merit, and believe me there are a lot of it. If you think about the ethereal voice of the father, forget it, the voice is nearer to Robert Plant, and the atmosphere is completely different from anything else. What must be inherited is the magic that can be created with a minimal sound (as is a live recording there are only an electric guitar and his voice), but what a pleasure to hear something as fresh, that mixes the heavyness of the Led Zeppelin with the sensibility of the French singer-songwriter (see Je n'en connais pas la fin "I don't know how it ends", don't worry he sings in English). The only wrong note is that the record has to end, and it is with a wonderful rendition of Van Morrison's "The Way Young Lovers Do", That is the only sad note. The CD is a short one, it lasts only 26 minutes. As the premises are present, as young Jeff has the capacity to be a great musician the only thing that comes to my mind is: can I have more, please? (Gianluigi Blasi)
LIVE AT THE TROUBADOUR 1969
In ancient times, one of the myths that even the common people knew was the Icarus one. Icarus was the son of Dedalus, an architect that built the labyrinth and to get away from it, built two pairs of wings with feathers and wax, one for him and one for his son. Before leaving, he advised his son that flying too near the sun was extremely dangerous, but Icarus, hypnotized by the sunlight, began to fly too close to the sun. The wax melted down and he died falling from those heights. So Tim Buckley did, as no man before him had gone so near the sun, reflecting his light, his warmth so effectively in just a a bunch of songs. This is the latest offering on the market concerning Buckley and I wonder why those tapes had been shelved for so much time. It is really perfect, the recording is crystal clear and the performance is breathtaking, everything, the blues, the deep, the life of a guy that every time he begins to sing discovers new worlds are here, the only weak note is that "give smack a chance" at the beginning of one of the two unreleased tracks (Venice mating call). Even for the newcomers, this is the best Tim Buckley CD as it has plenty of his better tracks. Buy this first, then begin to look for the others and you'll discover musical places where no one had gone before and since. (Gianluigi Blasi)
FROM THE CRADLE
After his last album, Unplugged, earned him a bunch of Grammy awards and racked up mega-millions in sales, Eric Clapton naturally had the freedom to follow up his MTV acoustic set in any way that might please him. So it's no surprise that Eric took the opportunity to turn out the all-blues album that he's long intimated he'd wanted to make. Clapton, once the model student who learned at the feet of the blues masters, earned his Ph.D. in this classic music, and this is a history lesson that few other living bluesmen are as well-equipped to impart. The songs (16 in all, running just over an hour) include ones associated with Muddy Waters ("Standin' Round Crying" and Willie Dixon's "Hoochie Coochie Man") and Freddy King ("Someday After A While"), two blues giants with whom Clapton shared stages in the 1970s. He chose familiar tunes from the repertoires of Lowell Fulson ("Reconsider Baby"), Charles Brown ("Driftin'"), and Elmore James ("It Hurts Me Too").
Clapton includes several songs each from more obscure bluesmen like Leroy Carr ("Blues Before Sunrise," "How Long Blues"), James lane ("Goin' Away Baby," "Blues Leave me Alone") and Eddie Boyd ("Third Degree," a song co-written with Dixon, and "Five Long Years.") Boyd, who died during the summer of 1994 at age 79, enjoyed his greatest success with "Five Long Years," initially when his own version of the song became a #1 R&B hit in 1952, when the pianist was playing the Chicago blues club circuit.
Eric Clapton is probably the only rock artist of his stature who could release a "pure" blues album of this kind and still realistically hope to fill up arenas with enough people on a major tour to make the whole thing succeed from a business standpoint. Although he won't, necessarily convert those non-believers who merely like his style, he may make a few listeners curious about where all this great stuff came from. (Steve Roeser) &
NO NEED TO ARGUE
Delores O'Riordan's, powerful, yet vulnerable voice has brought Ireland's Cranberries from just another dream-pop group into one of the hottest acts today. Honest emotion, sincerity and intelligence all come out in her voice, whose inflections at the end of certain phrases are hers and hers alone. There are acoustic numbers, like "Empty" and "The Icicle Melts" which are like "Lingers" and "Dreams" from the first album.
The feeling of this record is a little more brutally honest in the lyrics and a bit more edge in the music itself. World-wide smash "Zombie" is one example, as is "I Can't Be With You." Great arrangements, wonderful songwriting (all lyrics by the diminutive O'Riordan) and good production make for a pleasant listening experience. (Alan Sheckter)
Dark and eccentric acoustic ballads and a few more upbeat ditties highlight Cope's latest. He has made music for years since forming popular British band Teardrop Explodes in 1979. Cope's cynical, humorous, pro-environmental personality come through and sometimes the result is somewhat inaccessible, yet always clever and thought provoking. The theme of this project and the title, Autogeddon, refer to the evils of the automobile. There are several songs describing the longtime ills of the car, such as "Don't Call Me Mark Chapman," "I Gotta Walk" and the 11 minute "s.t.a.r.c.a.r.." Cope realizes fighting the automobile is futile as he sings "Ain't No Gettin' Round Gettin' Round." An inventive and undoubtedly strange album. (Alan Sheckter)
WHERE WE SLEEP TONIGHT
(Zero Hour Records)
Here's a lovely 13 song pop offering from Deena Shoshkes and Jon Fried, the duo who make up The Cucumbers. This is their first release in five years. You may remember them from their 1989 indie/college hit "My Boyfriend." That was then. This is now. The North Jersey couple have taken six new songs and overdubbed some older songs as they proudly present Where We Sleep Tonight. Deeper than just delightfully simple melodies, darker, moody lyrics lie below.
It shows its fire in everything you do,
I'm afraid of you, and I love you."
from "Something Dangerous"
Outstanding tracks include "Make Him Mine," "I Wish I Was" and feature track, "That Is That," where Deena sings about a relationship that she says is over: "And now like a cigarette, the fire is out." Great lyrics, nice arrangements, and a lot of fine alternative pop. (Alan Sheckter)
Ram Dass & Amazing Grace
THE CHORD OF LOVE
(Triloka Records/Worldly Music)
Ram Dass, or Richard Alpert for you 60s/LSD/Leary/Harvard U. fans, is a world-wide acclaimed spiritual lecturer, and his books are always popular. This medium is intriguing. It opens with a short "Prayer To Hanuman," then alternates between Ram Dass readings and lovely, soothing Indian chants all accompanied by uplifting, spiritual bongos, chimes, dotar and harmonium. Sit still, close your eyes, take deep breaths and let The Chord Of Love strike you. (Alan Sheckter)
It was an extreme pleasure to listen to this one. From the opening and title track, the meticulous production was apparent. And why not? Chris Thomas produced it. Marcella is a gifted musician, formerly of Shakespeare's Sister, as well as being weaned on songwriting, playing guitar and acting. With a voice as beautiful and talented as Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston, Marcella chooses to ignore what "fits into a radio format" and on this, her first solo effort, she gives us art. But wait, there's more than just the 11 stunning originals. How about a version of Sly & The Family Stone's "I Want To Take You Higher?" And the real kicker is a duo with Elton John on Ashford & Simpson's (but made famous by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell), "Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing!" Marcella Detroit. Look for it. (Alan Sheckter)
This, The Devlins' major label debut (they did have an earlier EP entitled Live Bait, Dead Bait), was released in mid-93, but kind of hibernated for many months. 1994 has been a year where more and more folks are taking notice (including myself). Extensively touring with popular acts such as Frente and Sara McLachlan has also widened the public's awareness of the Irish band. Led by Colin and Peter Devlin, there are certain passages of music that are reminiscent of U2 (the mellow "I Don't Want To Be Like This," for one), but then "Alone In The Dark" reminds me of Gabriel, and other tracks have a bit of James and Van Morrison personalities.
Right on target rhythms, soft textures of keyboards and guitars, and Colin's endearing, expressive voice categorize the Devlins' appeal. My favorite is the quite percussive and soft guitar laden "As Far As You Can Go." Lisa Germano sings backup vocals on that one, and the chorus has a dreamy, soul cleansing appeal:
Take a train ride up through the mountainside;
And let it all fade away.
I received oodles of press about this band before I even heard the album, including a tacky 8 by 10 glossy of the lead guy naked in New York City. But I wasn't taken aback by this even-dozen song set. The songs aren't bad, but they're generic, reminiscent of too many other so-called alternative British bands. Sorry, limeys, ya didn't live up to your hype. Keep practicing. (Ellen Levitt)
This is the first effort that duo Lothar Manteuffel and Karl Bartos have released under the aptly named Elektric Music. Keyboard and synthesizer driven, the music is like techno-turned-easy-listening. I found the energy I was looking for to be largely missing with not a whole lot to expound over. Still, the main musician here, Bartos, was the driving force of 70s synth-band Kraftwerk. That kind of excellent quality production and keyboard textures are present, and some neat vocal samples are thrown in, but for the most part, I felt uninspired after listening. (Alan Sheckter)
Everything But The Girl
The veteran English acoustic-pop duo wrote, produced and performed all ten songs presented here. The lovely voice of Tracey Thorn and soft guitar and piano accompaniments of Ben Watt are in fine form. Outstanding tracks among the slow-paced ballads include the melancholy "Get Me," "Missing" and "25th December," which features Richard Thompson on guitar. EBTG have had six Top 30 albums in Britain, but you guessed it, just haven't clicked here with the general public. Too bad. They put out great songs. If you like The Indigo Girls, buy this record. (Alan Sheckter)
FAITHFULL: A Collection Of Her Best Recordings
Released at the same time as her new autobiography (ed. note: see book review in this issue), Marianne offers a collection of 11 songs, most coming from her five albums recorded from 1979 to 1990. Also included are two new songs to be on forthcoming A Secret Life; one called "She" and another, Patty Smith's "Ghost Dance." That one features contributions from Keith Richards, Don Was, Ron Wood and Charlie Watts. The album ends with what is still her biggest claim to fame, the 1966 hit "As Tears Go By." You won't be swept off of your feet with musical inventiveness, but Faithfull's honest, poignant deliveries are quite stirring and impressive. Other highlights include "Why'd Ya Do It," a no-words barred look at sexual jealousy and a great version of Lennon's "Working Class Hero." (Alan Sheckter)
MIDDLE CLASS REVOLT
Middle Class Revolt; also known on the CD insert as "The Vapourisation Of Reality" is the 25th album for the Manchester-based veterans. Mark E. Smith, he who once said, "The difference between us and you is that we have brains," has great command of his voice as he delivers his rock 'n roll sermon. Opening track "15 Ways," also accompanied by a video is a winner as are the exciting, danceable "Surmount All Obstacles," the jangly persistence of "You're Not Up To Much" and the title track. It's amazing, but after 17 years it's not too late to get on The Fall's bandwagon. (Alan Sheckter) Joe Gallant & Illuminati
CODE OF THE WEST
Grateful Dead meet classical music. Aha, I thought I could get you to read further! On what can broadly be described under classical, we have a cast of 61 performers including Gallant who acts not only as composer, but also musical participant on the contrabass. In Joe's words, Code is a travelogue exploring the psychic landscape of pre-millennium Manhattan." He accomplishes that with avant-garde, complicated contemporary textures of a million styles from swing to rock to operatic aria.
Apart from some of the instrumental passages sounding somewhat akin to Grateful Dead "space," there is a bigger connection. Gallant has been on Phil Lesh's "Eyes of Chaos" composer's radio program several times. The album has been praised highly by Owsley Stanley, Bob (super midi-man) Bralove, and made the Dead's Top 10 list in the Grateful Dead Almanac. One track made it onto the national "Grateful Dead Hour." That track is the Dead's "Unbroken Chain," which ends the CD. Hearing this intricate, respectful, orchestral, seven-plus minute "Unbroken Chain" was one of my high album moments of the year. And my chum-since-junior high school, Joe Noce, leader of Philly's Bughunters appears with Gans, Lambert and others for a few guitar riffs. (Alan Sheckter)
WHAT COLOUR OUR FLAG
This trend toward wedding jazz and rap has yielded some clever, catchy stuff, as well as some highly pretentious doo-doo. What Colour treads the fine line between good/interesting/ smart and stoopid/corny. The music harkens back to late 60s and early-mid 70s dance-funk-fusion jazz, and for the most part is decent. But the lyrics are often dopey, and the writer has tried too hard to be... super credible. It seems like dozens of people contributed to this stewpot of music, so I don't know whom to praise or blame. But I will single out "57th Minute of the 23rd Hour" and "So Much Confusion" as particularly hot tracks. Play some of the better songs at your next dance party and people might compliment you for your coolness factor. (Ellen Levitt)
6 FEET DEEP
Serious, soul-searching, reality-checking hip-hop is delivered in this first effort. The Gravediggaz' production is good and each track deals with a separate topic, yet they gel together as a whole album. Sure, the group's name, the blood on the CD disc itself, the NY City mortuary tag, knives and weapons on the CD insert are gimmicky, but what's inside stands on its own and is recommended for any gangsta rap and/or hip-hop fans. Self-explanatory tunes include "1-800 Suicide," "Trippin'," (from the pipe, not tabs of acid), "Blood Brothers" and "Diary Of A Madman." A little humor is thrown in now and then for balance. One CD liner note that certainly isn't funny is probably shared by many deserving yet unsigned acts, "This one goes out to all of those in the business who knew my skills in the past, but didn't give a fu-- about a brother. Y'all could kiss my ass." (Alan Sheckter)
David Grisman & Tony Rice
(Acoustic Disc) 800-221-DISC
The theme here is not only the captivating, skillful, timeless musical art of these old friends. It is the vintage instruments that are showcased. Appearing in your left speaker on these 17 amazing instrumentals is award-winning bluegrass guitar picker Tony Rice, and in your right speaker is the mandolin wizardry of David Grisman.
Like anything else, prices and availability of classic acoustic instruments have gone up and up and those who own them store them unplayed in sealed cabinets. Rice and Grisman dusted off 34 of them for us to hear. A 40 page color booklet with descriptions and photos of each is alone worth the price of the CD.
Examples include an 1891 Martin 1-21 guitar and a 1905 Gibson A-4 mandolin for Grisman's "Turn Of The Century," a 1931 Stahl Style 473 guitar and 1919 Vega Style 202 lute mandolin on the traditional "Grandfather's Clock," ands the good old Martin D-18 guitar and 1942 Gibson F-4 mandolin on Bill Monroe's "Watson Blues." A wonderful idea that created the perfect result. (Alan Sheckter)
It would have been pretty interesting if Jimi Hendrix had still been around to witness the 25th anniversary of the Woodstock festival. What would he have done? Come out of retirement to take the gig, or would his career still be going strong? Maybe he would have told the Woodstock '94 promoters that the whole thing was a farce and refused to participate, a la Neil Young. We can only wonder, but now at least we can easily find out what Jimi put down at the original Woodstock, where he was the final act to perform.
MCA has now made available the entire set that Jimi played at Woodstock, only portions of which had previously been available on the Cotillion and Atlantic Woodstock albums, the official compilation souvenirs of the event. After he strode across that stage in Bethel, New York, Hendrix lived only another year and one month.
He played some of his greatest hits in the ten song set-- "Fire," "Purple Haze"-- but this probably doesn't rank among Jimi's great performances. We'd have to check with the Jimi experts as to where he was on the Saturday and Sunday before arriving to play Woodstock, but the fact is he sounds a little tired, like he could have used a rest. Though the set does include decent performances of "red House" and "Hear My Train A Comin'" (subtitled here as "Get My Heart Back Together"), the most enjoyable portion of the set is the finale, where on "Woodstock Improvisation" Jimi puts on an incredible display of strumming and picking with multiple runs. This segues into another brief, subtle instrumental, "Villanova Junction," which ended his set on a dreamy, poetic note. Musically speaking, it was only an average day for Hendrix. But, then again, an average performance from Jimi might still be regarded as fairly awesome.
The Blues disc is another story entirely. Except for a studio version of "Red House," most of this stuff has never been released before (this CD came out in the spring of 1994, a few months prior to the Woodstock CD) and just about every note of it is indescribable. (Both of these albums contain thick color booklets with interesting notes by Fairchild, as well as many rare photographs.) Hendrix loved Albert King as much as Clapton and Cream did, so it should come as hardly a revelation that his version here of "Born Under A Bad Sign" is unbeatable. Not all of these tracks feature Noel Redding on bass, but one that does is "Catfish Blues" from November of 1967 and it is also outstanding. Hendrix also tears into the Muddy Waters/Bo Diddley song "Mannish Boy" with glee. A performance of "Voodoo Chile Blues," a variation on "Voodoo Child," features the Jefferson Airplane's Jack Casady on bass plus (at that time still "Stevie") Winwood on organ. As it is, Blues is the most exciting historical album of the year. (Steve Roeser)
Hootie & The Blowfish
CRACKED REAR VIEW
Highly acclaimed by critics everywhere, the South Carolina-based quartet with the awful name offer 11 originals (plus a one minute bonus ditty) on this, their major label debut. The band had three previous indie releases. Led by optimistic acoustic/electric rocker "Hold My Hand" (with David Crosby contributing backing vocals), the Blowfish have their own jangly American rock sound sometimes approaching the sounds of REM and Mellencamp, with a bit of Gregg Allman in the vocals, but not really. Darius Rucker's rich-toned vocals are honest and believable, Mark Bryan's electric and acoustic guitars are definitive American rock, Dean Felder's and Jim Sonefield's bass and drum respectively, add to the excellent, credible ensemble. Other excellent tracks include "Let Her Cry," "Only Wanna Be With You" and "Running From An Angel." Good stuff. (Alan Sheckter)
THE GREATEST HITS
Formed in Sydney, Australia in 1977 as The Farriss Brothers, the sextet's personnel has remained unchanged ever since, with three Ferriss', Garry Beers, Kirk Pengilly and a man named Hutchence. The band's innovative rocking sound has spawned many Top 10 hits, yet have remained a credible force in all radio rock formats. The Greatest Hits includes 16 tracks. There are 14 past hits ("What You Need," "Suicide Blonde," "Beautiful Girl") as well as two fine new ones, "The Strangest Party," which has all the vocal and guitar urgency of their past biggies, and a darker tune, "Deliver Me." Good package. (Alan Sheckter)
FOR YOUR OWN SPECIAL SWEETHEART
Jawbox is a quartet with an aggressive sound that flirts with tunefulness but mostly grabs ahold of dissonance. To some extent I've heard their type of material before, and they won't blow your mind. But there's a good deal of energy and earnest vocals that make this album pretty good. "FF=66" is an oddball way to start off the album, a harsh intro to the Jawbox sound. "Reel" and "Whitney Walks" are among the better songs here. (Ellen Levitt)
BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE GIFT POLICE: Spoken Word LP #4
(Alternative Tentacles Records)
Jello has done it again. He went on another tour, recorded some of it, and released it for you and me. He's got some good ideas on this set, even though about half of the second
disc (it's a 3 disc set) is repeated from his previous releases. He talks about his appearances on various talk shows, what the religious right is up to, his ideas for a
better world, a short speech about NAFTA, a whole bunch about censorship, and a little bit about his childhood. It does not, however, have any material about him getting beat up
earlier in the year. This is a good album. It's got some serious thought provoking stuff on it even though he does get a little bit whiney. Well delivered, good material, and entertaining. (Ben Sherman)
The Jerky Boys
THE JERKY BOYS 2
This assortment of 26 short prank phone calls is a follow-up to their successful 1993 release of the same name. Going by phone names like Sol Rosenberg and Frank Rizzo, hear frustrated victims try to have a normal conversation with a deliberately shocking, deviant Jerky Boy. In "A Little Emergency," The Jerky Boy calls a place that sells those tennis ball practice machine. Seems he and his friends used boiled potatoes to be shot into each others rear ends. The operator tries to handle this craziness professionally. In another cut, Sol calls a doctor to get warts removed from his butt and genitals, and wants a complete description of how the doctor will remove the warts. If you like to hear people put on the spot on the phone and put through some embarrassment, pick this one up. A growing national hobby turned into a successful Top 10 album. (Alan Sheckter)
The Jesus & Mary Chain
STONED & DETHRONED
(Blanco y Negro/American)
Founding brothers William and Jim Reid (with a little help in the bass and drum department) wrote, produced and performed all aspects of 17 catchy acoustic and soft electric melodic ditties. Jim's duet with Mazzy Star's star Hope Sandoval on "Sometimes Always" is the perfect vocal complement to the tender strumming layers underneath. The constantly changing facets of the album (all songs are 3 1/2 minutes and under), keep the music very fresh. Some tunes are upbeat and lilting, others pour forth with quiet anxiety.
A little jingle-jangle, a little mellow T-Rex, a little mid-60s Beatles may help to describe the sound of the ten year old JAMC's latest. A gratifying listening experience. (Alan Sheckter)
The Jesus Lizard
(Collision Arts/Giant Records)
Recorded live at New York City's famed CBGB (hence the title Show), in December 1993, the CD offers a real dark and nasty rock club sound. Bass laden, with relentless drumming and emotional, maniacal vocal rantings of David Yow, this 15 track, stripped-down-to-the-bare-music CD delivers head banging, slam dancing energy, even if one listens in the ambiance of their carpeted living-room at 7:00 AM Sunday morning.
From the crazed anarchy of "Nub" to the powerfully slow and deliberate "Elegy," Show is hair-raising, with lots of quality guitar licks to boot. (Alan Sheckter)
Knoxville, TN's Judybats garnished quite a bit of success in 1993 with the single "Being Simple" and album Pain Makes You Beautiful. They are back. Led by opening cut/first single "What We Lose," Full-Empty is a soft, alternative pop/rock effort with an inviting appeal. The songs have a vitality that'll make you tap your foot and examine the lyrics. There's a nice, organic trimmed-down essence to the songs. I really enjoyed "Droughts," the mellow, bongo-accompanied "Stoned" and even a version (quite like the original) of that 1975 Bee Gee's monster "Jive Talkin'." Wonderfully enjoyable soft-rock CD. (Alan Sheckter)King Missile
Sarcasm and satire. There are lots of both here on this bright and entertaining CD. Vocalist John leads the talented and inventive New York foursome on 17 witty tracks. Songs run a spectrum of styles from good old grunge to the funky jazz of "Delores" to the avant-garde "Wind-Up Toys.."
Could we trust the few of us that weren't
To wind us up when necessary? I think not.
HUNGRY FOR STINK
The foursome return with a vengeance to show us who's boss. With blistering guitars ("The Bomb"), Donita Sparks' delirious shrieking vocals ("Baggage"), and more-potent-than-usual lyrics of angst, Hungry For Stink secures L7 to the top of the heap of the "riot grrrl" groups.
Always alarmingly powerful, L7's songs can be personal as in the screaming single "Andres," political as in "Shirley" (about female race-car driver Shirley Muldowny), or somewhat demented as in "Questioning My Sanity." There, the lyrics begin with:
this depression has gone too far,
I'm layin' here in my bed,
Am I alive or am I dead?
Teeth, Lollapalooza 94's magazine, pretty aptly describes L7's sound "like the Go-Go's on a lot of bad crank cut with drano."
Support women in rock. Support music that is sharp, loud and has substance. Support L7. (Alan Sheckter)
HIGH STRUNG TALL TALES
England's Legg is an unusually crafty guitarist who's won several awards and has toured with Kottke, Satriani and Chet Atkins. High Strung Tall Tales is pure solo acoustic wizardry as evidenced in the totally captivating "Celandine," which is played on a prototype guitar, two frets longer than most. "The Cool Cajun" is a lovely guitar piece augmented by soft snare brushes and light accordian. Five opening numbers are followed by six tracks that go together as "High Strung Suite," and all that is followed by nine tracks from the guitar technician's visit to a Philadelphia club called The Tin Angel. The ceilings there may be too low and the room itself too narrow, but it is a fine, classy place for acoustic music. Legg's witty storytelling adds to the 70+ minutes of enjoyment. (Alan Sheckter)
GET DOWN TO THE FUNKY GROOVE
(Charlie Groove Label)
This is a recent compilation of Curtis Mayfield's best known early solo work. It is a moderately priced collection made by The Charlie Label's "Groovemasters" series which also includes Sly Stone and James Brown releases. A no-frills, strictly musical product, this disc is simply packaged without any track information save for the general liner notes penned by John Collis. If you're in the market for a great party CD, this is one to get. Expectedly, it opens with "Get Down," and continues with his greatest hits "Superfly" and "Freddie's Dead," two funky classics whose riffs have complemented more than their share of hip-hop grooves.
The sound quality isn't mind-blowingly enhanced, but the "Groovemasters" series seems to be competently assembled (the James Brown CD from this series sounds good too). Mayfield's gently funkiness is well documented here but the absense of any of his excellent live material is certainly a pity.
The string arrangements and horns come out well, but personally, I'd have taken the liberty of adding some bass to the mix. Then again, that's what equalizers are for, right?
Mayfield's concern for his fellow man is always made clear without compromising the richness of his music, nor the indispensable beat making this hits release vital to both party scenes and at 5AM after the party... (Erik Twight)
MC 900 Ft Jesus
ONE STEP AHEAD OF THE SPIDER
Named for a (never-created) Oral Roberts vision of a towering Christ that evangelist followers would give their faith (and money) to, MC 900 Ft Jesus, a.k.a. Mark Griffin has bestowed on us a jewel of an album. Formerly, MC created music from the simple beat box and sampler. Now, holding on to a few of those studio recording tricks, but adding live studio musicians, and visionary soft jazz-rock musical ideas, the result is one of the finest albums I've heard in a long time. Opening epic "New Moon," a 12 minute fantasy about a woman's high-speed highway adventure, resembles a 1950s Allen Ginsburg poetry reading with soft Indian and jazz accompaniment. "Stare And Stare," a Curtis Mayfield piece, led by stark bass, perfectly moody blues guitar and political lyrics that dream of brotherhood is worth the CD price alone. Some cool radio stations have picked up on some of the other tracks, "But If You Go," "If I Only Had A Brain" and "Buried At Sea." Musical qualities of Arrested Development and flute/World Music flavor of Rusted Root abound. Incredible effort, full of unique excellence, simply on musical merit. (Alan Sheckter)
TOO HIGH TO DIE
This is definitely one of the best albums of 1994! This Western trio just keeps getting better and better. Too High has some of the best stomping guitar songs I've heard in ages ("Violet Eyes," "Backwater," "Never To Be Found") as well as softer songs. And they all work; there's no filler here. Curt Kirkwood, you are a modern guitar deity. (Ellen Levitt)
SOUNDS OF MEDICINE
WEIRD... but nicely haunting, gutsy and different as well as being well-produced, Sounds Of Medicine is danceable stuff led by the compelling voice of Beth Thompson. This six song CD of alternative, electronic dance music comes at you with a layer of vocals, a layer of bass and drums, and intricate, strongly wonderful passages of mysterious machine-made music. My favorite is the five and a half minute "She Knows Everything," a song in which Smashing Pumpkin's Jimmy Chamberlain plays drums and front man Billy Corgan re-mixed. "Zelzah" is an excellent, furiously tribal track with a lot going on and "Lime 6," which closes the EP, is a 16 minute epic recorded live in New Orleans, LA, February 1994. "Lime 6" is more desperate, depressing and gothic than the other tracks, with passages of gut-wrenching guitar feedback, slow deliberate beat, and Thompson's voice that comes across, well, desperate, depressing and gothic. Great sh--, but Ace Of Base fans need not apply... (Alan Sheckter)
It's hard to believe that Mellencamp's first album, Chestnut Street Incident, sold only 20,000 copies in 1976. He has been a mainstay as a rock singer/ songwriter/ producer since 1979 with his first biggie (and its oh-so-long intro) "I Need A Lover." His straight-ahead American rock songs, his concerns about Middle America's plights (and long-time involvement with Farm Aid), his always tight band, and positive energy have kept the Seymour, IN musician popular as well as credible. He also acted and directed in Falling From Grace.
Dance Naked is nine tracks: passionate, twangy and rocked out in celebratory danceable fashion, accompanied with a basic, but completely ample guitar, bass and drums. Highlights are rockers like "The Big Jake," "Brothers" and his duet with Me'Shell NdegéOcello on the 1971 classic "Wild Night."
I was ready to give my heartfelt recommendation for this CD, but - as I hit 'stop,' the clock read a mere 29:12 for total playing time. Though putting out two new albums within a year is commendable, (1993's Human Wheels), charging a list price of $16.98 for this EP-length CD is not(Alan Sheckter)
Here's a pleasant 13 song CD of modern jangle from a band that is three-fifths a girl group. Reneé LoBue is the most prevalent, providing clear and direct vocals as well as writing most of the lyrics and music. And the songs are filled with twentysomething girlish observations. Most songs deal with relationships. In "Gondola" a couple tries to agree on anything. "Pulling An Allnighter On Myself" describes a guy who broke a date, now sits at home, and an allnighter isn't the only thing he's pulling. Gentle, acoustic "Hanging" is a lovely song about a guy LoBue sees at a club, but can't have. Recommended. (Alan Sheckter)
Here are 11 songs of dramatic hard rock from the grungy threesome. The lyrics growl, the guitars are mean and the drums kind of get you right in the chest. The Melvins were Nirvana's mentors, headlining several shows that included Nirvana on the bill from the late 1980s through 1990. That included a September 22, 1990 Seattle gig that drew 1500 and was marred by radical stage diving, microphone knockdowns and musician bumping. Dale Crover and Buzz "King Buzzo" Osborne have been there from the beginning, and even though Mark Deutrom may seem the latest in a revolving door of bassists, Buzz says that Deutron has contributed more in a year than all the past bassists combined.
Co-produced by The Melvins and GGGarth Richardson (Chili Peppers, Rage, L7), this CD totally kicks ass, whether lyrics are serious or about things like a lunch date with royalty ("Queen"), or Tom Slick's nemesis from the George of the Jungle cartoon series. Some neat spacey feedback passages ("Magic Pig Detective," "Lividity") accompany the excellent power/grunge-rock. (Alan Sheckter)
THE MOON COINS OF SONTO LORE
Ruby Four, the galactic gumshoe is the star here on this two CD audio mystery (along with friends Kapoor, And/Or, and Teru). Partially funded by the National Endowment For The Arts, The Ruby series has been the most popular for the ZBS Foundation. Her shrewd, unshockable personality and smooth, calm voice keeps you interested as she travels worlds past, present and future, meets aliens and through suspense and danger tries to solve the myth of Sonto Lore. Great for kids and adults. (Alan Sheckter)
As the former Hüsker Dü standout's band Sugar is riding unprecedented success on Rykodisc, Virgin has released Bob Mould solo material, much of which comes from his previous Workbook and Black Sheets Of Rain CDs. The last few previously unreleased tracks on this 71 minute album are live, recorded May 14, 1989 in Chicago and are excellent, including "Poison Years" and Richard Thompson's "Shoot Out The Lights." Sure Virgin's trying to enjoy the residuals coming from Sugar's success. But since they're dealing with the high quality passionate grunge of Bob Mould, we'll let 'em slide. (Alan Sheckter)
(EVA Records, France)
What a find! This is the perfect CD to make a joke to a fellow Dead Head. Get your copy (it is a import record, sorry!), then invite a fellow Dead Head to listen to some outtakes of the Dead from the early seventies and put this CD in the player. You'll rave about that song "Rosalie", why on earth the boys didn't put it on American Beauty?, or the new arrangement of "I Know You Rider", slower, almost hypnotic with a feeling that is no more in modern music. What to say about the masterpiece of the album "Hexahedron", over 6 minutes of pure music, no vocals this time. After all this, explain simply to your friend that the group is not the Dead but a Chicago based group called Mountain Bus that in the early seventies (the album had been recorded for the Record Label Good Music, but it was really hard to find, and the vinyl used was not so good, my copy is almost worn by the use) and he will find subtle differences, like the vocals, or in the interplay of the guitar, or in the way the two drummers keep the time, of the bass player, opening a new way to listen to this record, starting like listening to a Dead clone band, and luckily finding that they are different and very enjoyable too. My favorite reissue for 1994. (Gianluigi Blasi)
TALES OF THE TRUE CRIME
The thick and creepy moods, and cemetery-friendly qualities of Wendy Van Dusen's recitations are enough to send chills down your spine. But couple that with the twisted idea of dedicating each song to a different world famous psycho (Son of Sam, Gacy, Manson, Dahmer, etc.), and you've a haunting and mysterious musical effort. Van Dusen is fascinated by these famous crazies, and the young San Franciscan certainly sets a grim and gruesome mood in each surreal song. Included is a small fold-out poster featuring the art of six mass murderers. There's even one song, "Hence The Night," that is "dedicated to the killer yet to come!" (Alan Sheckter)
John Oswald/Grateful Dead
GRAYFOLDED: Transitive Axis (Swell/Artifact)
Imagine a dream, or something as colorful and elusive like that, but still wonderful. Imagine that you are walking through a luminescent rainbow between nothingness and eternity and all around you a myriad of flying things reflecting yourself and all the surroundings. Or imagine flying in outer space with only the help of an aural guide showing you the path through the stars and all you are and where you can go.
This is what I got from listening to Grayfolded: Transitive Axis, but as usual, everyone of us will get some different sensation from it. This is the first attempt of Swell/Artifact record label and it is a very pleasurable one. John Oswald picked (with the full collaboration of the Dead themselves) the definitive live versions of "Dark Star," featuring the Dead jamming onstage with themselves of 25 years ago and every stop in between. You can listen to the typical Jerry sound of the 70s and 80s jamming with the organ of PigPen and Tom Constanten, or the Wonderful Phil shine through the set (expecially on "The Phil zone"). From opening the shrinkwrap and reading the liner notes to the tracks titles (worthing mentioning them "Novature (formless nights fall)", "Pouring Velvet", "In Revolving Ash Light", "Clouds Cast", "Through", "Fault Forces", "The Phil Zone", "La Estrella Oscura", "Recedes (While We Can)", all written by Skjellyfetti/Oswald, so the boys again used their collective pseudonym) to the final listening of the CD everything had been crafted perfectly and the result is the definitive "Dark Star" of all time. Swell/Artifact will release the second volume of the set called Mirrors Ashes in 1995 which will be a must buy for all of us that have listened to Transitive Axis. A perfect CD. (Gianluigi Blasi)
Jimmy Page & Robert Plant
Sure, hearing the same worn-out versions of "Stairway To Heaven" and "Black Dog" on the FM for 20 years has become total overkill. No Quarter though, is fresh as a daisy. The Page and Plant partnership is almost as legendary in rock as Jagger/Richards and Lennon/McCartney, and the two have never totally split, though their supergroup essentially did in 1980. Two new songs are here, both recorded in Marrakech, Morocco. That Moroccan visit influenced the tone of many former Zep songs. There are many from an acoustic London performance for MTV that we all know as UnLedded. Plant's voice is still excellent, Page's legendary guitar status has waned a bit, but Jimmy Page at 90% is way better than dozens of other guitarists put together at 100%. He delivers an excellent blues jam on "Since I've Been Loving You." Always known for dabbling a bit in British folk, it is certainly a quality present here along with Arab, Indian, reggae, blues and rockabilly traditions. Happily listen to "Thank You," "The Battle Of Evermore," " Gallows Pole," "Kashmir" and "Nobody's Fault But Mine." You'll fall in love with these songs all over again. (Alan Sheckter)
Palm Fabric Orchestra
VAGUE GROUPINGS IN THE SLIPSTREAM
Lush, pretty, laid-back, quirky but not harsh, this largely instrumental album of many stringed instruments and others is pleasant music that is somewhat new-agey mother earthy, but not overbearingly so (just excuse the twee poem in the liner notes). I'm not quite sure of the connection to the band Poi Dog Pondering but they're mentioned in the notes. I liked the violin lilt of "Angelika Suspended" and the final song "Coda: Lover's Reprise" was sweet and gentle. This collection might be good to meditate to, get massages to, get laid to (after bathing with fruit-scented gels), and so on. (Ellen Levitt)
The album title and inspiration for the CD booklet come from the 1927 Dr. E. H. Ruddick textbook of the same name. It's (the booklet) full of Eddie Vedder's hand-written lyrics as well as Ruddick's wacky advice and secrets of "Vitalogy," the science of attaining a longer and healthier life. I took to the CD right away, though some say it takes several listens. "Last Exit" and "Spin The Black Circle" open the album in a fast-paced almost punkish fashion. "Nothingman" and "Immortality" are excellent mellow numbers. "Better Man" is probably my favorite, ("She lies and says she's in love with him, can't find a better man"), although "Corduroy" is trademark Pearl Jam, with a rock sound like no other band. There are also some strange ones. "Aye Davanita" is a 2½ minute tribal jam, "Pry, To" is a 40 second ditty and the accordion-filled "Bugs" is weird, but a lot of fun. Vitalogy is certainly not a disappointment and lives up to the giant hype that currently surrounds Pearl Jam, and that's no small feat. (Alan Sheckter)
Liz Phair is remarkable. In fact, the top-rated radio station here, an all news station is switching to an "All Liz, All The Time" format. Just jesting, but her minimalist, dissonant approach to rock, along with her breath-heavy raspy voice is just the perfect blend for me today. She knows just when to fuzz-out the bass and distort the guitars, and though it's a fairly soft record, everything rocks (except the opening track where Liz monotones to a subdued "Chopsticks" in the background). Rockers "Cinco De Mayo" and "Supernova" have caused a buzz bigger than her first release, Exile In Guyville.
and you fu-- like a volcano, and you're everything to me.
With a great grasp of contemporary human behavior and uncanny ability to write about it , Phair comes off as a friend that it's okay to tell secrets to. Other outstanding tracks include "Go West," "Whip-Smart," "Shane"... Oh, what the hell. They're all great! Liz takes the traditional female singer/songwriter tree and has built on it, a whole new branch. (Alan Sheckter)
AMONG THE STARS
(One Step Records)
Pinder is now and probably will always be known to the masses as original keyboardist/ singer/songwriter and driving force of one of progressive rock's most progressive bands, The Moody Blues. Thirty years of experiences in and out of the limelight have brought him to this point. Among The Stars offers ten tracks of optimism by means of an easy-rock pace spiced with mellotron (The Moody Blues trademark keyboard), contemporary jazz and sophistication. Whether singing about personal enlightenment or a lullabye for a child, Mike Pinder still has that spirit that changed America 30 years ago. (Alan Sheckter)
TV EYE: 1977 Live
A live album, originally released in 1978, TV Eye is the only official U.S. album of live music from the outrageous Iggy. Recommended for historical and retro value, the 36 minute, eight song CD has 1977 performances from Cleveland's Agora, Chicago's Aragon and Kansas City's Uptown. Four of the tracks feature old pal David Bowie on piano. All tracks feature Tony and Hunt sales on bass and drums. Songs run the gamut from radical heavy noise ("I Got A Right"), to an Eric Burden & The Animals sound of "Sixteen," to the carefree punk of the Iggy/Bowie-written "Fun Time." Check it out. (Alan Sheckter)
HIS 'N' HERS
Remember the early 80s English romantic pop sound? The Human League? ABC? Spandau? Well, don't think that I'm about to cast off this pretty Sheffield quintet as mindless and lacking in substance. Singer and lyricist Jarvis Cocker wrote some fine songs here of relationships, love, hope and anguish including "She's A Lady" with super-nice layers of synthesizers and keyboards a la New Order. "Happy Endings" is an emotional ballad that Cocker sings with conviction. So yes, Pulp has a guitarist, bass player and drummer, but what makes their sound are Candida Doyle's keyboards. To be specific, her: Farfisa Professional II organ, Stylophone 350S, Steinway and Wurlitzer pianos and a Hohner clavinette. Audio layers of cool keyboards accompany and envelop the sound of each song very well. Not for heavy rock fans, His 'N' Hers is 11 tracks (and one bonus) of British pop, some peppy, some tranquil. Very praiseworthy. (Alan Sheckter)
Robbie Robertson & The Red Road Ensemble
MUSIC FOR THE NATIVE AMERICANS
Still most famous for his 16 years with The Hawks and The Band, he kept to his word in 1976. He's moved on, and though The Band has played on, in a less successful capacity to this day, Robertson hasn't turned back. He has a successful career in film as well as writing and performing original musical material. Robbie was born in 1993 and raised on the Six Nations Reservation in Canada. His mother was of Mohawk descent. This album is based on the Robertson-scored soundtrack to the TBS television documentary on the history of Native Americans, and allowed Robbie to explore his heritage. The Red Rose Ensemble is great, presenting mystical and certainly contemporary instrumentation, showing that Native American musicians aren't stuck in the past. (Alan Sheckter)
I'm not sure why I find this Irish band's music so catchy, intriguing, and memorable. They have a strange sound, a lightly psychedelic, swirling pool of guitars and keyboards, tenor and falsetto voices, songs which veer from gentle rock to crashing noise. But I like it a lot. The lead track "Miss Leader" is one of my fave songs of 1994, so far. It's weird but not too off-putting. "Violence to Violence" and "Lunasa" are also cool. At times the band reminds me ever-so-slightly of early Pink Floyd, a bit of Lush too. But they certainly have a different sound, so let's see how time and the music business shape the Skinny sound. (Ellen Levitt)
Hey, The Stones can change with time. Their old logo now has a spiked tongue. Seriously, they don't need to change. The current Stones album, an instant classic garnered praise not only in the traditional AOR world, but also saw lots of airplay and chart activity in the Stone Temple Pilots/Cranberries-saturated world of modern rock.
The main foursome, Mick, Keith, Ronnie and Charlie, along with Chuck Leavell and bassist Darryl Jones did a splendid job on this, The Stones 22nd studio album, (their first since 1989's Steel Wheels). It's raw, it's rock, full of bold, ballsy guitar, perfect drums and the entity that is Mick. Along with the rockers are ballads. One is Mick's harpsichord-filled "New Faces" and the wonderful Keith ballad (Ronnie on pedal-steel), "The Worst." A weathered Keith sings "I've said from the first, that I am the worst kind of guy you can be around." Maybe so, but Voodoo Lounge is a great place to be. (Alan Sheckter)
When you think of mainstream rock, do you think of unexciting, stale rock? Of stolid, unadventurous rock with melodic hooks? As I've grown older and both more jaded yet also more willing to not knock the mainstream so quickly (believe it or not), I've been more accepting of music that I would have previously scoffed at for its lack of weirdness. Why do I preamble thusly? Because Rob Rule to me sounds quite mainstream, not terribly adventurous, aware of trends and past winning sounds, yet their album has won me over because it's full of well-crafted songs, clean, catchy playing, pleasant vocals, and a good enough variety of styles. They remind me of many other bands, from the Spin Doctors to REM to Beatlesque noodlings. But not everyone can reinvent the musical wheel, so I sat back and enjoyed "Around Again," "Wayside" and the other songs. Be on the lookout for Robbie Allen's very nice piano work. (Ellen Levitt)
(Guts & Grace Music/Island)
For Carlos Santana, this marks his 29th album since his self-titled 1969 debut. It is however, the first time he has recorded with other members of his family. The three main ingredients here are Carlos, brother Jorge Santana who was former leader of early 1970s Latin-rock band Malo ("Suavecito"), and their nephew Carlos Hernandez. The album is almost entirely instrumental and is excellent for any fan of the distinctive guitar excellence of Carlos Santana. Jorge and Hernandez complement that guitar and keep it from getting to cosmically free-form, while still providing a loose and improvisational structure. Nice rock beats abound as in "Brujo" and "La Danza." The six minute opener "Transmutation/Industrial" is a wonder of many moods. "Luz Amor Y Vida" is my favorite, with classic Santana emotional guitar work, and the final cut, "Morning In Marin" is a Jorge Santana solo that stands on its own quite nicely. The music here is "a celebration of brotherhood and the human spirit." And that should be no surprise with legend Carlos Santana in the mix. (Alan Sheckter)
Veteran musician Boz Scaggs is certainly a man of longevity, probably quite longer than you might think. His early career can be traced back to work with Steve Miller and The Marksmen in 1959 in Dallas! Perhaps most famous for "Lowdown" and "Lido Shuffle" in the mid-70s, Scaggs was musically inactive for some time in the 80s. Some Changes is only his second album in 15 years, but it's good. It's mature, easy-going stuff, with Boz's rich clear voice being the most distinctive element. Lotsa guitars and lotsa styles (rockabilly, tex-mex for example) keep the songs fresh, and as nice as it was to see Boz out with Donald Fagan's 1991 New York Rock and Soul Revue, it's nicer to see him make fine music on his own again. (Alan Sheckter)
NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH
Connected with Alligator Records for over 20 years, this is the blues giant's seventh album for the label. Originally from Arkansas, but a settler in Chicago, Seals used some of his own bandmembers and also chose some of Chicago's top sidemen for this album. His distinctive, passionate playing and singing are inspiring and easy to enjoy. There are several Seals originals as well as classic blues numbers like "Frankie and Johnnie" and "I Can't Hear Nothing But The Blues," which is dedicated to Albert King. A traditional sounding bluesman still making vital wailing and pickin' music in the nineties. (Alan Sheckter)
Bang-up songwriting and fine, but not overdone production highlight Shear's Healing Bones. With Rod Argent on keyboards (and a co-producer), Elliot Easton on guitars, Tony Levin on bass and Jerry Marotta on drums, the band is skilled and versatile. In some places, as on the title track, Shear produces a Jackson Browne-sounding essence. Others, like "Listen To What She Says" are pop genius. You get the idea that this team could easily write formula hits. But that wouldn't give them, nor us the listener as much pleasure as these heartfelt tracks. They also do a truly inspiring version of a song that L.A. trio The Walker Brothers had a Top 20 hit with, "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Anymore). Oh, and also, two of the pages in the lyric-filled CD booklet are out of order, but I believe Island has corrected the problem. (Alan Sheckter)
ON THE KORNER
This superb CD of classy, live cocktail jazz and swing was recorded live at Keystone Korner in San Francisco on March 20, 1983. Sims, who gained notoriety in 1953 with his "Zoot Swings The Blues" track, generates wonderful melodies and improvisational jams on the tenor and soprano saxophones. He's backed on piano, stand-up bass and drums by the Shelly Manne trio. The digital re-mastered sound is absolutely incredible. You can hear the most subtle of notes as clearly as if you were in the room. Instrumental selections include "Pennies From Heaven," Cole Porter's "Dream Dancing" and Duke Ellington's "Tonight I Shall Sleep." Sadly, Zoot Sims passed away in 1985, but as is so many times the case, the music lives on. (Alan Sheckter)
55 years after his first record with The Harry James orchestra, Sinatra offers 14 classics on this second CD of Sinatra duets (the first, his first studio album in ten years, sold 5 million copies). The 79 year-old Chairman sings with big names in the world of music, all on top of Frank's traditional orchestral arrangements. Even for rock fans, it's hard not to be captivated by this CD, which remains fresh as it changes from duet to duet. Some of Frank's singing partners are foregone conclusions, "Frank Jr., Lena Horne, Steve and Eydie Gorme) and others that are kind of surprising (Jimmy Buffett- "Mack The Knife," Chrissie Hynde- "Luck Be A Lady," Willie Nelson- "A Foggy Day). Certainly a record that closes the generation gap, even if the duet vocals were "mailed in" on tape, rather than actually singing in the studio with Frank. (Alan Sheckter)
Pisces Iscariot is a nice collection of stuff to chew on until someday, when we have a new studio Pumpkins album. Made up mostly of U.K. b-sides to previous singles and a few Siamese Dream outtakes, there are some great inclusions here that make me glad Virgin released this. The CD opens with a beautiful acoustic ":Soothe" and then slams you with the quickness of "Frail and Bedazzled," which is then followed by the slow fuzz-bass-filled, power-rock of "Plume." Three songs, three tempos, three styles. And the thing is, the band does well with all three. Other ballads include "Blew Away," "Whir" and Stevie Nick's "Landslide." Other full, rocked-out tunes include "Hello Kitty Kat," "Pissant" and Eric Burdon's "Girl Named Sandoz" (recorded at the BBC's John Peel sessions that Billy Corgan says is "probably #1 on our all-time worst experience list"). Dynamic band with lotsa moods. Explore them all. And together we can wait for the next stage... (Alan Sheckter)
EXPERIMENTAL JET SET, TRASH AND NO STAR
After the hard-rocking Goo and Dirty you pick up the latest Sonic Youth album, and you find it a somewhat quieter affair, but also a much more eerie, haunting, troubling set. I took to the album quickly, yet I find it hard to listen to over and over, except for a few of the lighter cuts such as "Screaming Skull" and the loopy nod to Carole King which starts off "Winner's Blues." "Bone" and "Bull In the Heather" get under your skin and remind you that Sonic Youth are not the easiest band on your ears. But they are worth the effort. (Ellen Levitt)
Stone Temple Pilots
No sophomore jinx here! Weiland and company have proved that the popularity of the amplified and deliberately-paced rock sound of their first album Core was no fluke. Reaching #1 on the Billboard album chart, Purple contains a few monster tracks. "Vasoline" and "Interstate Love Song" were #1 and #2 simultaneously on the Album Rock Tracks chart, and the mellow "Big Empty" was very popular, both for its inclusion here as well as on the soundtrack to the movie The Crow. The guys stretch out and experiment a bit too. "Lounge Fly" is a bit Chili Pepper-ish and "Pretty Penny" is an interesting acoustic number that reminded me of The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood." Solid and impressive second effort. (Alan Sheckter)
MATTER OF TIME
(Clear View Records)
If the Counting Crows had more balls and more creativity, they would be Syn. I did hear some similarities between the two bands; there's that mixture of sort-of hard rock with the folksy thing going on. But where Counting Crows wears on me (mostly because the lead singer is too adenoidal for my ears), Syn sounds pretty good. At times they start to tread on new-agey waters, but for the most part this is a solid rock and soft-rock album. The very pretty, Bread-like angst of "Please Be There" won me over, even though I would've found it hokey when I was younger. "Emily" is a solid rocker to check out too. The one sort-of embarrassing song is "Hey John," addressed to John Lennon, and which drops some of his lyrics. It wasn't terrible, but it did make me cringe a bit. Otherwise, a good album which could be marketed to the older folks, the alternative crowd, and the album rockers (from different angles). (Ellen Levitt)
They Might Be Giants
I don't know what happened to these guys since the last time I heard them. I used to love their music, but I don't have much to say about this new CD. Nothing on it really grabbed me. I was honestly very bored by it. Sorry, I wouldn't rush out and buy it, but if you're a fan you should at least check it out. (Jeff Wampler)
Happy & Artie Traum
THE TEST OF TIME
(Roaring Stream Records)
Ah, yes; the brothers Traum. It's their first duet album in 15 years. Splendid record. Easy-going, bluesy folk offerings that are bathed in traditional American sound. Six are original. Others include renditions of "Betty And Dupree" and Dylan's "It Takes A Lot To Laugh...". Oh, and they have some help. Bela Fleck on banjo, John Sebastian and Howard Levy on harmonicas and Rick Danko on backing vocals. Perfect music for that down-home feeling you'd get at a small acoustic club with no cover, plenty of room, friendly folks and an old creaky wooden floor. (Alan Sheckter)
Trout Fishing In America
WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE / MINE!
Ezra and Isaac are TFIA, with some percussion, keyboard and horn help. It's easy to tell the Arkansas duo apart. Ezra is 6'9". They've been together since 1979 and constantly tour the country doing shows for adults and shows for children. And here we have one CD for adults and one CD for children.
On Who Are These People, the duo offer 12 tracks where they showcase their fine vocal harmony and guitar/bass talents. "Count On Me" sounds like a mellow Rick Danko tune, and some others remind me of Gordon Lightfoot. Mixed into the mostly serious album, are small doses of TFIA's irreverent lyrics,
And you can count on your toes,
Count the freckles on your freckledy face,
Or the hair's on your daddy's nose,
But you can count on me 'cause I'll always be your friend
from "Count On Me"
Mine! is a children's album and TFIA is most well known for their witty kids songs and on-stage gags. The title track, "Mine!" is an often hard to teach lesson in sharing. Other crazy and creative numbers are "Boiled Okra And Spinach," "Five Little Ducks" and "Eighteen Wheels On A Big Rig."
Wonderful stuff. A delightful, G-rated assortment of kid-tested songs. (Alan Sheckter)
EARTH SONGS: 12 Original Songs Honoring The Earth
(Narada Collection Series)
Let's see... How do I explain this variety of contemporary instrumentals? I'll let 20th century poetry and jazz history expert Michael Ullman explain. "This collection revolves around that idea that poetry can inspire music, and that both poet and musician find some of their greatest inspiration in the natural world... The poets who are represented here (ed. note: Herman Hesse, E.E. Cummings, Lama Govinda) have tried to reproduce the sounds of the earth that they know. They in turn have inspired the music on this disc..." Some proceeds from Earth Songs go to The Land Institute and The Trust For Public Land. Very worthwhile and greatly inspiring. (Alan Sheckter)
DEAFENING DIVINITIES WITH AURAL AFFINITIES: The Beggars Banquet Collection
A solid collection of songs by 16 once and present bands/solo artists signed to this label which began in London in 1977. The first nine songs are new tunes, all good, some excellent. I absolutely adored "Dark Side of Town" by British singer-songwriter G. W. McClennan, a poignant tale of love lost and regretted, sung to shimmering acoustic guitar. I especially was struck by this song because I'd heard some of his work before and hadn't been too impressed by his talents. Now I'm a fan! There's also a tasty live Charlatans UK cut ("Subterranean"). Of the older tunes, I enjoyed re-hearing Tones on Tail's "Go" especially because I'd always liked that snotty, mechanical sounding tune but hadn't known who'd performed it. And Gary Numan/Tubeway Army's "Are 'Friends' Electric?" is still a fun, humorous yet creepy new-wave number. (Ellen Levitt)
EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT 60'S MIND EXPANSIVE PUNKADELIC GARAGE ROCK INSTRUMENTALS BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK
(Arf! Arf! Middleborough, MA)
A long title, a long album (27 cuts, totaling 77:30 minutes) and a seemingly simple premise: to give praise to obscure rock instrumentals of the mid to late 1960s. I won this album from WFMU in East Orange, NJ, and I'm glad they gave me this as a prize, because I probably wouldn't have given it a second glance in a music shop. This is wigged out, sometimes laughable, certainly dated music, but it's loads of fun. Listen to the album for extended periods of time, and you'll think you're watching a cheesy old flick. Personal faves include the fuzzed out and organ riddled "Make Love Not War" by the Mussies; the Captain Beefheart's jazz meets raga-raggy rock of "Ceyladd Beyta" by the Ceyleib People; the freaky "Mind Destruction" by Oxford Circle; and many others. I didn't fast-forward the CD player once. So if you like reverb, fuzz, eerie organs, wacked-out guitars, and have a sense of humor, grab this disk. And it has entertaining, devoted liner notes to boot. (Ellen Levitt)
JABBERJAW COMPILATION: Good To The Last Drop
What do you do when you live in Southern California and you're sick of the usual apathetic rock clubs? Do what Gary Dent and Michelle Carr did; start your own! On September 30, 1989, Jabberjaw 3711 was born. Fueled on exotic coffee guaranteed to "put the get up in your go go, rev you up like a hot rod in hell," attendees can enjoy the club's art gallery, a video game or TV. But most of all, they get hot punk acts in the house. And that's what this CD offers. No less than 19 of Jabberjaw's performers contributed to this compilation.
The first track, "Magattraction" by Girls Against Boys jumps into high gear quickly with the sting of electric guitar and the kick of the drum and one can easily imagine being in the overcrowded, under-air conditioned, undulating dance floor of the Jabberjaw coffee house. Some of the tracks, like a live version of Helmet's "Turned Out" and Slug doing "Borax" are hardcore. Others, like the infamous Beck using, sitar, banjo and rap on "Cold Ass Fashion" (with lyrics like "smoke a pack of whiskey with Jesus Christ" and "took out my eyeballs and put 'em in a condom"), and Teenage Fanclub's "Total Weirdness" are a bit more sedate. Other major players appear too, like Surgery, Jawbox, and that underrated band with the blonde guitar player, Hole, doing an irresistibly screaming alternate version of "Rock Star." Nineteen songs, live photos of each band in the CD booklet and the knowledge that proceeds from this collection benefit Jabberjaw add to the attraction of this not to be missed release. (Alan Sheckter)
KISS MY ASS: Classic Kiss Regrooved
Finally, a Kiss tribute album! We've already had tributes to Hendrix, Neil Young, Beatles, Elton John, REM and lawd knows who else, so it's fitting. Some of the covers here are killer, such as Lenny Kravitz's heavy, slightly funky "Deuce," Dinosaur Jr's murky take of "Goin' Blind," the loud and proud version of "Strutter" by Extreme. There are a couple of tasty surprises here too, such as the gentle Garth Brooks version of "Hard Luck Woman," which he casts in his mold yet it DOES work; and "Christine Sixteen" by the Gin Blossoms is fortunately not wimpy (or not too much). But "Rock and Roll All Nite" by Toad the Wet Sprocket is absolute crap and worse. This quartet has become quite annoying in general, and this takes the cake. And what the hell did Japanese star Yoshiki do to "Black Diamond"? It sounds like bad Liberace. If you like Kiss I recommend this album, just skip the cuts that make you want to barf. (Ellen Levitt)
L.A. HARDCORE VOL 1
(VRG Records/Drive Entertainment)
Beware! These 15 non-stop rave/acid house techno specimens will try to invade your brain. Only the strongest among you will be able to refuse their charisma. Impossibly quick tempos are the backbone of this machine music. Throw in computer-perfect, stimulating, riveting keyboards and electronically altered weird vocal bits like in the track "Panties" by Xpando and you're ready to jump in and dance. Other contributions include "Anthem" by D.J. Spinn and Brian G. which "is for the headbangers out there," "Beat Mixer" by Vitamin D, "Acid Core" by R.D. 2000, "Dominate the Remix" by Beatmistress and wired opening track, "Juice Dawg" by Smashing Atoms. If they ever made an aerobics video to this music, a five minute workout would be all ya needed! Good sound quality, good collection. (Alan Sheckter)
REGGAE FOR KIDS
(Rush Associated Labels)
"A collection of music for kids of all ages," Reggae For Kids is great. It's a baker's dozen of children's classics, recorded in a splendid, upbeat Jamaican style. Hear Jamaica's most popular female singer J.C. Lodge perform a gorgeous "(Somewhere) Over The Rainbow" and Eek-A-Mouse does a nutty, funny reggae interpretation of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," called "Safari." Veteran Gregory Isaacs contributes "Puff The Magic Dragon." King Yellowman does the most awesome "This Old Man" I've ever heard and Bunny Wailer is here to do a hip-hoppy reggae kids song "Back To School." Excellent, fun and certainly recommended too. Good stuff! (Alan Sheckter)
(Triloka Records/Worldly Music)
The CD cover contains this definition for the word "trance": 1. A condition intermediate between sleep and wakefulness. 2. A dreamlike state. 3. A state of deep abstraction. Thus the stage is set for how this 14 song conglomeration will stir and influence you. The opening track is a stunning, uplifting song by musicians from Mozambique. Zakir Hussain is here with his playful, precise bongos in "Balinese Fantasy," as is Pakistan's Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan with an artistic piece called "The Game." There's a track by The Tahitian Choir, who are from a remote island in the South Pacific (more remote than Tahiti), a song from the Siberia/Mongolia border area, as well as one by Rossy, Madagascar's biggest pop star. His song "Valiha Tromba" is actually an unreleased outtake for Henry Kaiser & David Lindley's A World Out Of Time. Enchanting, mystical collection. (Alan Sheckter)
REGULATE... G FUNK ERA
As I write this review, Warren G.'s debut album is in the Top 10 on the Billboard Top R&B Album and the overall Top 200 Album charts. He's got two singles in the Hot 100. "Regulate," from the film Above The Rim is one. It opens the album and sets the Dr. Dre-like easy goin' gansta mood. Of course, Warren G's close friend and musical sidekick here is pal "Nate" (Snoop's brother) Dogg. "Regulate" plays overtop a sample layer that seems to come from Michael McDonald's "I Keep Forgettin'." The other gold single on the strong 12 track CD, "This D.J.," a mellow convertible crusin' and chillin' slow rapper that shows off a constant booming bass:
Pioneer speakers bumpin' as I smoke on a pound,
I got the sound for your ass and it's easy to see,
That this DJ be Warren G!
Smooth, infectious and catchy. (Alan Sheckter)
I had mixed feelings about this latest offering by Crystal Waters, who gave us the left-field hit "Gypsy Woman (She's Homeless)" (ya know, "ladda di, laddi da"). Most of this album, when cranked up way way, is very good for the dance floor. But the dance beats get somewhat repetitive; she (or her producer) is using certain patterns too often! The softer, ballady songs actually shine through more. Waters pens songs which reflect typical topics as well as modern urban life in a fairly on-target way, especially with "Listen For My Beep," which should be a message for some of you out there ... (Ellen Levitt)
Victoria Williams music is irresistible. Famous for being a multiple Sclerosis sufferer, her friends (including Pearl Jam, Lou Reed, Michelle Shocked and Soul Asylum) contributed on the highly acclaimed recent benefit album for her, Sweet Relief.
Feeling better now, Williams comes through with a stellar collection of homespun tunes. The music ranges from Appalachian-type porch songs ("When We Sing Together"), to the uplifting vibe of single "You R Loved," to a splendid version of a song Louie Armstrong made famous, "What A Wonderful World," and even a welcome version of her "Crazy Mary" that Pearl Jam had covered. With one of the sweetest voices around (she also contributed a poignant "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" on Atlantic Records' So This Is Christmas promo CD), Williams is also a fine songwriter. Like the woman herself, Loose is easy-going, but plays out with a lot of heart. (Alan Sheckter)
Sonny Boy Williamson
GOIN' IN YOUR DIRECTION
Thanks to today's CD audio quality, thanks to Alligator Records' dedication to traditional American blues, and most of all, thanks to the most celebrated of the blues harmonica players, Sonny Boy Williamson. All 15 tracks have Sonny Boy on harmonica and he sings most of the songs as well. They were recorded from 1951 to 1954, mostly in Jackson, MS, home of The Diamond Record Company (who gave Sonny Boy a $10 signing bonus in December, 1950). Some of these songs were R&B hits at the time for Diamond's Trumpet label: Goin" In Your Direction," "Cat Hop," "Gettin' Out Of Town" and "From The Bottom" (with BB King on guitar). Classic, simple blues with a lot of heart. Great liner notes, too! (Alan Sheckter)
X-Ray Spex were one of the snotty-teen bands of the first, golden days of British punk rock. They were best known for their chubby-cheeked singer Poly Styrene, who wrote really perceptive lyrics which humorously critiqued various aspects of modern life, and for their constant use of the sax. Sax in punk rock? YEAH. Anyway, this album has lots of their oldies but goodies; these still sound great today. True, there is a much musical similarity between several of the songs, but this was punk, and not prog rock, babes. I especially enjoy "Warrior In Woolworths," "Oh Bondage Up Yours!" (their Brit hit), the very catchy "Identity," the honesty of "I Am A Poseur," and practically all the others. They were just kids, and they made some really good stuff. Aww, I'm getting nostalgic for high school.... (Ellen Levitt)
Jah Wobble's Invaders Of The Heart
TAKE ME TO GOD
Bassist/keyboardist/vocalist/songwriter Jah Wobble has further developed his dazzling troupe of world musicians to create a beautiful, one-of-a-kind album of spiritual, musical art. A follow-up to 1992's Rising Above Bedlam (which included Sinead O'Connor singing "Visions Of You"), Take Me To God includes The Cranberries' Delores O'Riordan singing a beautifully buoyant "The Sun Does Rise." Wobble, an influential veteran of the British music scene, worked with John Lydon way back in the 1970s to start Public Image Limited. The world and Wobble have come a long way, as evidenced by the elegance, heart and sentiment of his latest work. There are some Spanish, French and African lyrics and influences here (the majority are in English) on an album that in Jah Wobble's words, is "a supersonic jet where the other albums were more like prop planes." Very crafty and enjoyable. (Alan Sheckter)
FIVE CARD STUD
Stanley "Buckwheat" Dural, Jr.'s brand of cajun squeezebox boogie has been evolving for a long, long time. Though from Louisiana, Buckwheat played funk and R&B, backing Joe Tex on keyboards and forming his own band, The Hitchhikers. In the late 1970s, he joined famed king of Zydeco, the late Clifton Chenier and his band. There, Buckwheat developed his love for accordion, taking the traditional bayou sound and adding a contemporary rock presence to it. Today, he is still the only zydeco artist with a major label contract.
Let's namedrop a little to further spark your interest. The whole album is produced by Los Lobos' Steve Berlin. Lobos frontman David Hidalgo lends guitar and vocals to fine opening track, "Hey Baby." (That one was actually a #1 hit for Bruce Channel in 1962). Legendary Mavis Staples does a rousing vocal duet with Buckwheat on the traditional "This Train." The oddest contribution is the guitar and vocals of Willie Nelson on a song that Willie wrote, "Man With The Blues." There's also a never-before-released Van Morrison song and six other Buckwheat Zydeco originals. Not a bad one in the bunch. (Alan Sheckter)