A Consumer Guide to the Trailing Edge: October, 2005

Recycled Goods (#24)

by Tom Hull

Something for everyone this month, even if the top rated albums hold no real surprises. Warren Zevon is down in the brief notes because the record is old to everyone but me, and also no surprise.

Billy Bang: Sweet Space/Untitled Gift (1979-82 [2005], 8th Harmonic Breakdown, 2CD). Bang, a nickname William Walker picked up as a teenager, played a little violin in school but didn't stick with it. He got drafted and shipped to Vietnam for a harrowing year in the jungles. When he returned he found that many of his friends back in the bronx had fared even worse. Confused, haunted, he found solace in avant-jazz -- Coltrane, the AACM. He picked up the violin again, moved downtown, dived into New York's emerging loft scene. He got pointers from pioneering avant-jazz violinist Leroy Jenkins and ideas from Ornette Coleman's own violin experiments, but mostly he's self-taught, with a sound all his own. This is a reissue of two of his early, self-released albums -- slapdash affairs where excitement and good cheer abound. The first is a septet with Frank Lowe leading a trio of horns in vamps and variations and Bang taking a few horn-like violin solos. The second album is a quartet with pocket trumpeter Don Cherry, who plays aggressively on a program with two Coleman compositions, while Bang rises to every challenge, and drummer Dennis Charles puts on a bravura performance. A-

Carter Sisters and Mother Maybelle With Chet Atkins (1950 [2005], Country Routes). Anita Carter played bass and Helen Carter accordion, but Joe Slattery claimed June Carter was fated to be a master of ceremonies from her childhood, because "all she can do is talk and never say anything." The second generation of the Carter Family briefly held down a radio show, with June's talking, the sisters and Mother Maybelle harmonizing, and Chet Atkins picking. This deftly filets eight shows, keeping June's corny hillbilly introductions, the silly songs with wondrous harmonies, and the loose jams. Atkins has never sounded better, perhaps because they don't let him sing anything more ponderous than "My Little Pup With the Patent Leather Nose (and the Wiggly-Waggly Tail)." A-

Johnny Cash: The Legend (1955-2002 [2005], Columbia/Legacy, 4CD). I don't know how many songs Cash recorded. A thousand? Maybe more. The booklet here pictures seventy album covers -- like the discs, that doesn't even touch the songs Cash recorded for Rick Rubin. His 1955-58 Sun records still astonish, as much for the Tennessee Two's rhythm as the most unmistakable voice in country music. His 1958-86 Columbias hit and miss as country albums are wont to do, but they include many signature songs. The 3-CD Essential box released in 1992 -- not to be confused with the 2-CD edition released in 2002 -- got the balance right, and remains canonical. But Cash recorded so much so distinctly that there are many ways to slice up his catalog besides just looking for the hits. This box cuts both ways. The first two discs hit the usual high points in two parallel tracks, each proceeding chronologicaly. The third collects his versions of old songs -- the prologue to Rubin's recordings. And the fourth gathers his collaborations and guest shots, a fad I generally find annoying. But even on this, the weakest disc, Cash's voice inevitably adds gravity and grace to less distinctive artists and saves you from having to buy albums by Rodney Crowell and U2 to get must-hear performances. With seven previously unreleased cuts, and many more that are new to me, this is neither an introduction nor an overview. Just another noble effort to size up a giant. A

Grant Green: The Original Jam Master, Volume One: Ain't It Funky Now (1969-72 [2005], Blue Note). Green's first stretch with Blue Note yielded twenty albums in a five year span, ending in 1965. Most featured Green's clean and vibrant guitar lines in simple groups -- often organ trios or with piano-bass-drums, some with a horn or two. Green's roots were in blues (Born to Be Blue) and spirituals (Feelin' the Spirit) where he exuded easy-going soulfulness, but he could also keep up with Blue Note's more avant artists like Joe Henderson and Bobby Hutcherson on Idle Moments. Blue Note's heyday coincided with Green's tenure, but following founder Alfred Lion's 1967 retirement the label struggled to stay afloat, turning more and more to commercial fusion. Green returned from 1969-72, cutting seven funk-fusion groove albums, with electric bass, electric piano or organ, and secondary roles for horns, vibes, and/or congas. This series reconceives the albums as three discs, each consisting of a song or two from five or six albums, sorted by temperature. This is the warmest, with tunes by James Brown, Smokey Robinson, the Isleys, and Kool & the Gang, and Claude Bartee's tenor sax smolders. But the key player here is the guitarist. B+

Budd Johnson: The Stanley Dance Sessions (1958-67 [2005], Lone Hill Jazz). Johnson is the link between Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster, and I mean that literally: Webster was a pianist before Johnson introduced him to Hawkins and the tenor sax. Johnson doesn't have much under his own name, but he shows up on dozens of recordings from the '30s until his death in 1984, especially in the employ of Earl Hines. He rarely dominates a record, but even when you don't notice him, he's the sort of player who just seems to make everyone around him better. Lone Hill is a Spanish label making heroic efforts to rescue lost '50s gems. Here they've taken Blues à la Mode, a mainstream swing album produced by critic Stanley Dance with Charlie Shavers and Vic Dickenson in major supporting roles, and tacked on four Hines cuts from 1967, including two ear openers with Johnson on soprano sax. It's hardly a stretch for anyone involved -- just a lovely little exercise in effortless swing. A-

Manic Street Preachers: The Holy Bible (10th Anniversary Edition) (1994 [2005], Epic/Legacy, 2CD+DVD). Ten years ago Epic shelved the U.S. release, fretting that the disappearance (probable suicide) of lyricist/rhythm guitarist Richey James left the album commercially unsupportable. Now the first U.S. release is a double with both the U.K. and U.S. mixes, extra tracks, and a DVD, in a package that folds out longer than a yardstick. After a hiatus, the band's remaining three members carried on, topping the U.K. charts with their later records, but never selling much in the U.S. Meanwhile, The Holy Bible achieved near-legendary status, appearing high on all-time great album lists in the U.K. The key is James' lyrics, a cauldron of working class struggle, obscure intellectual references, pain and loathing, only hinted at in titles like "Archives of Pain," "She Is Suffering," "On Walking Abortion," "The Intense Humming of Evil," or one on anorexia called "4st 7lb," or one bororwed from Lenny Bruce, "If White America Told the Truth for One Day It's World Would Fall Apart." The music doesn't quite match up with the lyrics: the division of labor was that James and Nicky Wire wrote lyrics, then James Dean Bradford and Sean Moore came up with the melodies. The latter favored post-Clash fury with extra bombast -- David Fricke described them as "Guns N' Roses with brains." They later toured Cuba, where critic Fidel Castro described them as "louder than war." A-

Gerry Mulligan: Jeru (1962 [2005], Columbia/Legacy). Before Mulligan, the baritone sax was almost exclusively a big band instrument -- the most famous practitioner was Harry Carney, who toiled for Duke Ellington from 1927 until their deaths in 1974. Mulligan, too, came out of the big bands, making a name for himself as an arranger for Gene Krupa while still in his teens. In 1948-50, he made a major contribution to Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool nonet. By 1951, the 24-year-old was secure enough as a writer and arranger that he titled his first album Mulligan Plays Mulligan. In 1952-53 his "piano-less" quartet with Chet Baker epitomized cool jazz -- retrospectively granting the Davis sessions their name. He established the baritone as a lead instrument, but even so he rarely recorded as the sole horn -- making this otherwise conventional sax-piano-bass-drums quartet the exception, and quite an exception! His partner here is Tommy Flanagan, one of the very few pianists who ever worked effectively with Sonny Rollins. There's nothing rushed here, nothing flamboyant -- just thoughtful, engaging improvisation. A lovely record, easily the best place to hear him play. A

Elvis Presley: Elvis Presley (1956 [2005], RCA). Having run out of ideas for new Elvis compilations -- hey guys, you still haven't done the official version of that infamous bootleg, Elvis' Greatest Shit -- RCA has finally resorted to reissuing his old albums. This is his first post-Sun effort, recorded in Jan. 1956 before he scored his first hit, and they've added six genuine bonus tracks -- including the two #1 singles they didn't have the confidence to include on the album. His Sun records have attained legendary status, but he's still hungry here: the major label stakes are much higher, and he rises to every challenge -- even when we're talking originals by Ray Charles and Little Richard. The hits you know, but even rarely heard filler like "One-Sided Love Affair" and "Trying to Get to You" earn slots on the desert isle pod. A+

Public Enemy: Power to the People and the Beats (1987-98 [2005], Def Jam). Like most vanguards, their fealty to the people is a principle that's hard to realize in practice, but one has to concede that "Fight the Power" is more than an anthem and "Don't Believe the Hype" is strong enough medicine to wash out even their own propaganda minstry. As for the beats, they're so hard and so powerful that it's unnecessary to even bring them up, but they do form the backbone that unifies what would otherwise be a redundant comp: 13 of 18 cuts come from their three earthshaking 1988-91 albums, and what missed the cut here falls little if any below the line. But lining them up like this lets you take them all in at once, and "He Got Game" is a sobering chilldown. Know what I mean? A

Rough Trade Shops: Post Punk Vol 01 (1977-2002 [2003], Mute, 2CD). Roughly speaking, punk was rock furiously reduced to its crude raw core. Think of it as a fire that scorches the earth, leaving nothing but cinders in its path. In that case, post-punk is what came next -- like ferns and weeds following a fire, post-punk is the first flowering of art following the ravages. Wire and the Gang of Four bracket the first disc with songs from 1977 and 1979 respectively -- songs wound as tight as punk but more complex and nuanced, but other variants are more disjointed or abstract. Three-fourths of these songs date from 1978-81, most from obscure singles. The later cuts fall in two clumps: five from 1984-85, like the Flying Lizards' bored stiff take on "Sex Machine," and eight from 1999-2002 -- bands like Erase Errata, the Futureheads, the Rapture and, for you Slits fans, Chicks on Speed. The new ones fit seemlessly with the old, but none stand out, which is perhaps why this underachieves. Having followed this scene first hand, I'm certain that a more imposing comp is possible. In fact, Rough Trade's long-out-of-print 1980 Wanna Buy a Bridge? is the obvious starting point, with four songs duplicated here, plus five more bands in common. B+

In Series

Universal Music Group is the largest of the four remaining majors, accounting for something like 23% of all records sold. It was formed out of the music divisions of Universal Pictures (MCA) and Phillips (PolyGram), then sold to Vivendi, which manages the conglomerate from France. Along the way it swept up dozens of labels, everything from Deutsche Grammophon to Def Jam. In the U.S., Universal's jazz label is Verve, which combines Norman Granz's pre-Pablo labels with Mercury, Impulse, GRP, and a few other catalogs. These days, Verve releases a handful of new jazz albums, a few more smooth/crossover albums, and rather more reissues. Universal France runs its own jazz division, based on older labels like Fontana, Phillips, and EmArcy, with new records released on the Gitanes label. Verve rarely reissues new jazz records from Universal France, but they have imported several important series of reissues, including a Jazz in Paris series back around 2000 and the Free America series early this year.

Their latest import is a set of four Jazz in Paris box sets, each in an oversized (10.25-inch square) box with an illustrated 60 page booklet of that size, three discs in slip covers, and a lot of air. The boxes trace the history of jazz in Paris, through visiting Americans, expatriates, and locals. The organization is a bit tough to follow: each box represents a neighborhood of Paris, so the story develops through the various clubs and venues where jazz made its mark, starting with Le Boeuf sur le Toit on the Champs-Élysées. The geographical orientation may make sense on paper, but it does little to sort the music. Confusingly, the box titles each come specify a date range, but the discography dates don't match up. Only a few of the discs make sense, but all of them have items of special interest. The Americans usually have a talent edge, but their work in Paris often reiterates familiar work done back home, so the locals end up more intriguing. Foremost among the latter is the Quintette de Hot Club de France, with Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli the first Europeans to really stand as peers with the top ranks of American players. But France quickly developed a broad range of jazz talent, especially in '50s bop-oriented styles, with players like Martial Solal and Barney Wilen making an impact. (Conversely, England was almost exclusively a land of trad jazz until around 1970 when free jazz took hold.) Notes on individual boxes follow.

  • Jazz in Paris, Vol. 1: Champs-Élysées 1917-1949 (1927-75 [2005], Gitanes/Universal, 3CD): first disc straddles cabaret and jazz, with Jean Cocteau, Josephine Baker, Benny Carter and Don Byas as highlights; two more discs move into the bebop era with occasional retro glances, and René Thomas supplanting Django Reinhardt; the early stuff most interesting, the picture of Duke Ellington admiring the brothers Reinhardt priceless. B+
  • Jazz in Paris, Vol. 2: Montmartre 1924-1939 (1933-62 [2005], Gitanes/Universal, 3CD): the golden age starts with five cuts from Louis Armstrong, poorly recorded but unmistakable, then works through little known players like Danny Polo; the second disc is the most concentrated set of Reinhardt and Grappelli in all the boxes, and possibly the finest single disc; the third is post-WWII, mostly local, including some players I'd like to hear more from, like Alix Combelle and André Ekyan. B+
  • Jazz in Paris, Vol. 3: Rive Gauche, Rive Droite 1956-1959 (1955-73 [2005], Gitanes/Universal, 3CD): here Paris re-centers on left bank bohemia, the jazz focus from prewar Cocteau to postwar Boris Vian; most prominent are the jazz soundtracks to films like À bout de souffle, Ascenseur pour l'échafaud, Un témoin dans la ville, Les liaisons dangereuses, with Barney Wilen emerging as a major voice on tenor sax. B+
  • Jazz in Paris, Vol. 4: Saint-Germain-Des-Pres 1946-1956 (1947-56 [2005], Gitanes/Universal, 3CD): the best organized of the boxes, with one disc of "Moldy Figs" (featuring Sidney Bechet), one of "Sour Grapes" (modernists in low spirits, including Clifford Brown and Chet Baker), and one disc with elements of both; tight chronology and careful attention to flow elevate all three discs, with the sour grape natives providing most of the surprises; Hubert Fol is one who merits further research. A-

Briefly Noted

  • Alabama: Ultimate Alabama: 20 #1 Hits (1981-93 [2004], RCA Nashville/BMG Heritage): a 1998 comp claimed 41 Number One Hits, so count this one as cherry-picked; still, even their better songs, like the opening "Born Country" and the closing "Southern Star" sound awfully generic, making me suspect that they picked Bob McDill's "Song of the South" for its title, certainly not as a tribute to FDR; at this level of distillation, they're solid pros, but never trust a band with a logo. B
  • Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: Drum Suite (1956-57 [2005], Columbia/Legacy): first third is the first of several African and/or Cuban multi-drummer experiments, and not much comes of it; second third is a Messengers group with Bill Hardman and Jackie McLean, and third (the bonus) is a slightly earlier lineup showcasing Donald Byrd; Blakey never made a bad record in his first decade at the helm of the Messengers, but it's the bonus cuts that save this one. B+
  • Bob Brookmeyer & Friends: Stan Getz, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Gary Burton, Elvin Jones (1964 [2005], Columbia/Legacy): the valve trombonist is, as always, an elegant arranger and a considerate host, but some friends are bigger help than others, and Getz gets top billing for good reason; uncredited on the cover, Tony Bennett sings one song. B+
  • June Carter Cash: Wildwood Flower (2003, Dualtone): cut with family and friends shortly before her death, filled out with souvenirs including snippets from as far back as the Carter Sisters and stories -- singalongs with her family, a tall one about Lee Marvin; her voice is shot, but that hardly matters; a fitting memorial, a remarkable meditation on our music's roots and routes. A-
  • June Carter Cash: Keep on the Sunny Side: Her Life in Music (1939-2003 [2005], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): you won't be impressed unless you already love her, for she wasn't any kind of auteur -- even her voice changed radically over time and context, her early hypertwang an artifice, her middle (and presumably natural) voice pleasant but nothing special; she grew up in country music's founding family, married two stars (the forgotten Carl Smith and the unforgettable Johnny Cash), with two more in the next generation (wreckless Carlene Carter and fastidious Rosanne Cash); she ties them all together, and her scraps bring them home. B+
  • Tyrone Davis: Give It Up (Turn It Loose): The Very Best of the Columbia Years (1976-81, Columbia/Legacy): the Chicago soulman's slow stuff convinces because he never goes soft or gets sloppy; uptempo is another story, his limits most obvious on the second-rate and superfluous "How Sweet It Is." B+
  • I Have Always Been Here Before: The Roky Erickson Anthology (1965-95 [2005], Shout! Factory, 2CD): a well-deserved career-spanning comp by the leader of the most overrated legendarily unheard band of the '60s, the 13th Floor Elevators, with a dozen vintage band cuts and much more later; the surprising thing is how consistent he sounds, the voice distinctive, the riffs repetitive, the evil metaphorical. B+
  • Big Guns: The Very Best of Rory Gallagher (1970-90 [2005], Capo, 2CD): the Irish blues-rock legend was a steadier rocker than any of his obvious, but more purist, brethren: Johnny Winter and Stevie Ray Vaughan in the U.S., or Eric Clapton in the U.K.; his blues mash makes for a very four-square, old-fashioned rock, all the better to cut loose with some stratospheric guitar. B+
  • Dexter Gordon: Manhattan Symphonie (1978 [2005], Columbia/Legacy): nothing fancy here, just a good solid quartet outing, with George Cables on piano, a couple of years after Gordon's triumphal homecoming; a little more subdued than his live recordings at the time -- Live at Carnegie Hall, Nights at the Keystone -- a fine stretch of records. B+
  • Al Green: Back Up Train (1967-68 [2005], Arista/Legacy): these early cuts appeared in 1972 to cash in on Green's sudden stardom, with two cuts cracking the r&b charts; the voice is unmistakable, the raw skills and dynamics in place; what's lacking is the coherent platform Willie Mitchell provided, so this lurches about in search of redemption; time 30:32. B
  • Grant Green: The Original Jam Master, Volume Two: For the Funk of It (1969-72 [2005], Blue Note): with all the real funk tunes on Volume One, this has softer beats and looser textures, but overall holds up about as well -- mainly because the guitarist gets more space for more licks, and he's the one who matters. B+
  • Grant Green: The Original Jam Master, Volume Three: Mellow Madness (1969-72 [2005], Blue Note): third helping, aren't you sated by now? the pieces are longer, slower, more aimless, except for Sgt. Pepper's "A Day in the Life," which grows in stature; they could have filled a Volume Four, but they were probably right to let the funk stop here. B
  • Hi-Flyers: 1937-41 (Krazy Kat): the banjo, fiddle, steel guitar, white faces all spell western swing, but the pianist would rather boogie woogie, and the singer sounds like a pop crooner from a decade prior; western swing is often jazzier than most people recognize, but the prime examples aimed more at Woody Herman than Frankie Trumbauer, so this is an interesting anomaly. B+
  • Ahmad Jamal: The Legendary Okeh & Epic Recordings (1951-55 [2005], Epic/Legacy): a treasure trove of early piano trios, with Ray Crawford's sweet guitar and Eddie Calhoun or Israel Crosby on bass; Jamal's exceptional commercial success was a tribute to his touch -- his sense of rhythm and use of space which let him freshen up familiar standards. A-
  • The Bunny Lee Rocksteady Years (1967-68 [2005], Moll-Selekta): transitional between ska and reggae, rocksteady's measured groove was meant for dancing, and even decades later hasn't lost its indefatigable utility; Bunny Lee was a producer of note, while Alton Ellis, Ken Parker, and Slim Smith were stars du jour, but in this retelling the producer wins out with consistency -- in the beats, of course, but also in the rising voices. A-
  • Everybody Plays the Fool: The Best of the Main Ingredient (1970-75 [2005], RCA/Legacy): two top ten hits wouldn't be out of place on a period soul comp, but wouldn't stand out either; "Black Seeds Keep on Growing" could fit into a black power comp, but wouldn't stand out either; more typically, they cover Stevie Wonder, four times. B
  • Barry Manilow: The Essential Barry Manilow (1974-97 [2005], Arista/Legacy, 2CD): never trusted him after I found out that the guy who wrote the song about writing the songs was Beach Boy sub Bruce Johnston; never took him seriously after the day I accidentally mispronounced his name as Barry Cantaloupe; never expect to play this again, even though I suspect that someone with ears who cared could whittle this down to a B; one thing they'd keep would be a Kid Creole mambo that couldn't crack the latter's top 100, but suggests that maybe Barry Pincus is smarter than you think. C+
  • Teena Marie: Robbery (1983 [2005], Epic/Legacy): she's customarily filed under r&b, a conflation that never made any aesthetic sense to me -- maybe it was that she started off with four albums on Motown? Chuck Eddy, not making sense either, touted one of her albums as among the all-time greats of heavy metal; more precisely, she was a singer-songwriter working a new wave groove too tightly wound for disco; except when she tried for a ballad, such as "Dear Lover" and "Casanova Brown" here, which are awful in almost every dimension. C+
  • MC Hawking: A Brief History of Rhyme: MC Hawking's Greatest Hits (1994-2002 [2004], Brash Music): he's the Kansas State Board of Education's worst nightmare: "But maybe there is hope for the young/if they reject the dung/being slung from the tongues/of the ignorant fools/who call themselves preachers/and listen instead to their science teachers/upon blind faith they place reliance/what we need more of is science"; but they're unlikely to get past his lesser tales -- bitchslapping TA's, plotting MIT drive-bys, extolling his big bizang. A-
  • Gerry Mulligan: The Age of Steam (1971 [2004], Artists House, DVD+CD): long out of print, this is one of Mulligan's more successful big band albums, with the intricate melodies and richly textured harmonies he is famous for; the CD is bundled in a DVD package with a DVD providing the sheet music, interviews, and a "master class" -- making this a textbook in the fine art of jazz arrangment. B+
  • Não Wave: Brazil Post Punk (1982-88 [2005], Man): this defies the prevalent, and by now ridiculous, notion that all Brazilian music sounds like bossa nova: Brazil's the second largest music market in the world, and they seem to have a little bit of everything; on the other hand, most of this loud and arty rock is pretty nondescript, lacking the wound-tight tension of most of what we know as post-punk/new wave. B
  • Dolly Parton: The Essential Dolly Parton (1967-2000 [2005], RCA/Legacy, 2CD): the mid-point for two discs is 1977; the first disc starts with 1967's "Dumb Blonde" and the songs are all Parton originals except the first one and a Jimmie Rodgers cover; the second disc is down to six Parton originals, about one every four years; this partly corrects the down trend in Parton comps by splitting her career into complementary hillbilly and Hollywood discs; the only surprise is that the latter isn't as bad as we feared, and that the former isn't as good as we remembered. B+
  • Ernest Ranglin: Surfin' (2005, Tropic/Telarc): there's a little surf twang to Ranglin's guitar, but mostly he goes with what made him one of Jamaica's all-time great session players; one vocal, for no good reason I can think of, otherwise a lightweight delight. B+
  • Terry Reid: The River (1973 [2002], Water): an obscure British rock legend, better known for turning down a job singing for Led Zeppelin than for his own recordings; after two early blues-rock albums for Mickie Most, this one is looser and rootsier, sharp early on but ambling toward the end; with David Lindley on the better half, and an extensive, admiring booklet. B+
  • Marty Robbins: The Essential Marty Robbins (1952-82 [2005], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): his early honky-tonk was competent enough, and two years' work with Ray Conniff for Mitch Miller isn't awful like you'd expect, but then came his breakthrough hit: "El Paso" is a Mexican-tinged gunfighter ballad that went #1 pop as well as #1 country; then came "Big Iron," "Don't Worry," "Devil Woman" -- the first disc here is an improbable triumph, but the sequels and retreads and excesses on the second run out of charm real fast. B-
  • Woody Shaw: Stepping Stones: Live at the Village Vanguard (1978 [2005], Columbia/Legacy): the last of the classic series of hard bop trumpeters plays cornet for boppish speed and flugelhorn as a change of pace; fast, hard-edged, conventional, the saving grace is ultimately in the leader's solos, but the rest of the group is less stellar, and their solos go on and on and on. B [Later: B+(*)]
  • The Horace Silver Quintet: Silver's Blue (1956 [2005], Epic/Legacy): the title blues is a prototype for many more to come, a good idea that Silver would eventually hone into a brilliant one; there are other bright spots, especially when Hank Mobley plays, but as a whole the album never quite clicks. B
  • Stuff Smith: Time and Again (1936-45 [2003], Proper, 2CD): first disc takes Smith and his Onyx Club Boys, including trumpeter Jonah Jones, through such jive classics as "I'se a Muggin'" and "You'se a Viper," with Smith singing like a hepped up Cab Calloway, and his violin playing second fiddle; second disc is mostly instrumentals, mostly trios with his pioneering violin in the lead. A-
  • Rick Springfield: Written in Rock: Anthology (1970-2004 [2005], RCA/Legacy, 2CD): I lost consciousness about eight songs in, by which point this settled into an overwrought arena-rock rut and stayed there through the second disc: slash guitar, multitracked vocals, keybs, pounding drums; best thing here is the song-by-song brain dump booklet. C+
  • Tease! The Beat of Burlesque (1952-61 [2005], Verve): ends (or should I say climaxes?) with David Rose's "The Stripper" -- you know that one, whether you realize it or not; for foreplay, compiler Joey Altruda scoured the back catalog for risqué blues -- the most respectable Charlie Parker's less than "Funky Blues," the oddest Roland Kirk on flute. B+
  • Third World: Black Gold Green (2005, Shanachie): this MOR reggae group was formed more than thirty years ago, never skid into the ditch, probably because they never drove fast enough; full of good intentions, faulty analysis, platitudes, homilies, and clichés; the title cut praises Jamaica's flag, and it gets yuckier from there. C+
  • Tiempo Libre: Arroz Con Mango (2005, Shanachie): Cuban timba group -- timba is more like salsa than son or the more Afro-rooted Cuban forms, but kicks the beats up a notch, and doesn't get swamped in horns; based in Miami, one wonders how they fit into the bigger picture, but the rush is undeniable -- so upbeat they're over-the-top, the nonstop lift wears me out just listening to it. B+
  • Luther Vandross: The Essential Luther Vandross (1981-96 [2003], Epic/Legacy, 2CD): as '80s hitmakers go, Vandross fell short of Lionel Richie and Billy Ocean, not to mention Michael Jackson and Prince, but he carved out the distinctly adult niche of "quiet storm" and affected such gravitas that I always figured he must be some kind of major force; but as the '80s progressed, I pretty much gave up on what used to be known as soul music and never connected with Vandross; looking back now, maybe crooning over smooth jazz wasn't such a great idea. B
  • Deniece Williams: Niecey (1976 [2005], Columbia/Legacy): the first of a dozen-plus albums for this articulate, polished, urbane soul chanteuse, produced by Maurice White with most of Earth, Wind and Fire on board; this spawned a hit, "Free" (reprised as a bonus), which barely stands out amid the craftsmanship. B+
  • X: Live in Los Angeles (2004 [2005], Shout! Factory): live dulls their sound, as it does for most rock groups, but they always struck me as overly compressed, so it doesn't hurt that live loosens them up a bit; also that their breakthrough songs are two decades old, repertoire rather than revelation. B+
  • Genius: The Best of Warren Zevon (1976-2002 [2002], Elektra/Rhino): he emerged at a time when singer-songwriter had become a synonym for lame, but distinguished himself for literary flair -- his most memorable songs were bigger-than-life stories -- and responded to punk by raising the energy level; two covers here ("A Certain Girl," "Raspberry Beret") waste space for his songs, but hold up musically; the title song appears as an epitaph, making me wonder what an alternate reconstruction guided by the missing "Ain't That Pretty At All" might reveal. A

Additional Consumer News

I haven't heard these recent reissues in their latest packaging, but I know them from previous editions. Some may have extra tracks, which usually don't help much, but don't hurt much either. Grades are from previous editions: caveat emptor.

  • Uri Caine: Toys (1995 [2005], JMT/Winter & Winter): the first real taste we had that Caine would be one of the most auspicious pianists of the following decade, able to deploy three horns without tripping up, while kicking in sharp chords in postbop profusion. A-
  • Sonny Sharrock: Black Woman (1969 [2005], Water): previously released as a Collectables twofer with an unrelated and inessential Wayne Henderson funk album; wife Linda shrieks and screams, but that's nothing compared to the Aylerian frenzy of Sonny's guitar; Dave Burrell and Milford Graves keep up and occasionally pull ahead. A-
  • Horace Silver: Horace Silver & the Jazz Messengers (1954-55 [2005], Blue Note): back when the hard bop grandpop was a sprout this is where he invented the east coast's answer to cool jazz; after the divorce, drummer Art Blakey got custody of the band, and the legend. A-


In an infinite universe, all the music you'll ever need already exists somewhere. We find more each month: Nashville legends (Carters and Cashes), rock royalty (Elvis Presley) and rap revolution (Public Enemy), jazz in lofts (Billy Bang) and in Paris (Gitanes' boxes), funky (Grant Green) and cool (Gerry Mulligan), much more (53 records).

Copyright © 2005 Tom Hull.