Saturday, December 27, 2008

What Are You Listening to Lately (Part 7)?

OK, I know I promised I'd get things back on track quickly and clearly I've failed in that, but at least it's because I've been too busy to make it happen in a timely fashion. See below for proof:

I've thrown in a couple extra reviews to make up for it. Sorry. See you in the new year, where I will most assuredly be very regular with my reviews.

Squeeze - East Side Story
Probably their finest hour, giving them the most room stylistically to test Difford and Tilbrook's songwriting skills in pop-soul, pop-rockabilly, or pop-country modes (oh yeah, and plain ol' pop music mode, too). Partly this is thanks to producer Elvis Costello, who's playing the overseer role here and probably encouraged D&T to work outside of their comfort zones. They're rewarded with a bunch of sparkling touches that light up the record in a way they never quite managed before or after - weird keyboards on "Heaven," Paul Carrack's famed white-soul vocal on "Tempted," backwards effects on "There's No Tomorrow," the entire menacing and relentless drive of "F-Hole," all of which serve to make this one really stand out. Add in the sequencing that Costello may or may not have pushed for, the fine melodic sense that D&T always had and their way with the small personal details that make their songs felt and you've pretty much pieced together the finest collection of Squeeze music that you could hope for. It's not just good songs, it's the album as a sum greater than its constituent pieces.

(Note: since writing this, I found out that the album is out of print on CD. We almost always have the vinyl in stock used though, and I recommend that experience over the CD, anyway.)

Al Green - Lay It Down
A good one. Individual tracks don't jump quite as much as even on I Can't Stop, but it's a palpable rebound from the perfectly-titled Everything's OK. Production by ?uestlove's (of The Roots) and his choices of players/guests is pretty choice too, - though someone so steeped in the mode of laid-back 70's groove that Al pioneered damn well better be able to replicate it well. So if it's not as perfect as the best Al Green/Willie Mitchell collaborations it'd be good to remember that they weren't infallible themselves and that even without Mitchell alongside him, Green's done some brilliant stuff on his own. So think of it less as ?uestlove's move to lead Green than Green's move to find a simpatico partner after his rekindled relationship with Mitchell stalled again and realize that he's put together a fine record backed by a cache of musicians who owe their careers to the style of R&B that he and Mitchell made a reality. And that with a few more songs that stood out as well as the title cut, this album could really be something that makes me hot to go find it when it's on the shelf instead of just enjoying it when it happens to find its way on around me. I hope this signifies the beginning of a good working relationship and, more importantly, a great songwriting team.

John Coltrane - Transition
Right out of the gate the title track lets you know it means business – things start intense and build from there over the track’s 15 ½ minutes into the screechy end of the tenor’s range, which I love but I understand turns some people off to this music. As with everything of this era of Trane’s classic quartet, these guys are totally in synch with each other – they’ve got a perfect understanding of where they – collectively – are moving with each piece. So if they come right out with “Transition” and knock you into a daze, “Welcome” will be a nice relief. They’re still taking things seriously, but they’re also taking them a little more slowly, giving some breathing room. Next up is the 21+ minute “Suite,” which moves through five segments that to me just sound like five solo sections, but then I’m not in charge of naming these things. I think it’s a fine slice of late quartet-dom, but not as programmatically strong as the suites he’d begin organizing later on this year of their development, even if the interplay is top-notch. But things get brighter in the close-out with “Vigil,” a superb duet between Trane and the mighty Elvin Jones that for close to 10 minutes simply burns – here is where the roles McCoy Tyner and Jimmy Garrison play in the band start to become undermined; probably not a conscious move on Trane’s part, simply a piece of the transition he speaks of as he moves from one thing to the next in his development.

(Please note that this review treats the CD as though it were how the album was originally released and/or intended, though I am well aware that it consists of tracks added to and/or omitted from the original posthumous issue. But the recording sessions are close enough to each other that they can be considered very closely related and the sequencing of the CD is extremely well-done, creating perhaps more substance than was meant with the music, though obviously it does not fully obscure its somewhat fragmentary nature.)

Husker Du - Flip Your Wig
Bob Mould kills on the A-side of this while Grant Hart keeps a solidly lower profile throughout. Title track takes on both writers' views of impending stardom (that sadly never really came their way), then Grant's "Every Everything" sets the stage for Bob to introduce the greatest drum fill of the 80's, surrounded by one of his all-time best tunes and lyrics in "Makes No Sense At All" (which even to this day I think would adapt remarkably well to a twangy country reading, but never mind...). Up next - Bob's quick and catchy "Hate Paper Doll." Grant follows with his fine love song "Green Eyes" and Bob kicks out one of his best power riffs in "Divide and Conquer," which also offers up the unique trick of holding out on delivering its chorus until the very end. Bob's "Games" closes the side out with something more generic, offering a glimpse of what's to come on the second side, where the tables turn and Grant gets to showcase his best stuff while Bob flounders a bit. There Bob gives us "Find Me" and "Private Plane" while Grant steps it up with "Flexible Flyer" and the heartfelt "Keep Hanging On." They both throw out a goof in "The Baby Song" and close the record on two solid if unspectacular instrumentals that leave authorship uncertain. Grant is concerned mainly with relationships throughout - and maybe Bob is too sometimes, though he makes his words ambiguous enough that even when they're clearly directed at another person his meanings are still opaque. On the first side where he's as catchy and riff-happy as any point in his career the opacity doesn't bother me; on the flip where structure, noise and forward motion take the place of melody, I balk a little. Grant, on the other hand, starts out slow and makes gains with each song on the album, ending things on a high with his vocal performance in "Keep Hanging On." The instrumentals provide enough auditory damage and guitar madness to keep fans on their earlier work happy, but I think that their tune sense was improving around this time and that they put all the pieces - noise, tune, vocals, words - together better on their next one, even if it doesn't sport a "Makes No Sense At All" to anchor it. A solid record that's about 50% great, 50% good, but they did melody better next time out and noise better last time out.

Bill Evans - Alone
No multi-tracking, no band, just Evans solo, playing four across the A-side and one extended slice of genius over the B. The CD offers up alternate versions of all five tracks plus another two solos from the same sessions - a standards medley and the lone Evans original of the set. The original album though remains the focus. The shorter songs are lovely - nothing is terrifically fast here (it is, after all, Bill Evans), but they're not languorous either, just thoughtful, introspective, lovely. But when the 14:34 of "Never Let Me Go" kicks off, you know you're in for a ride. Evans states the song's melancholy melody and begins to spin off his improvisations, alighting regularly to restate the melody only to fly off again. If anything, it's too short for me at 14 1/2 minutes. I could listen to him work it over for 20 minutes easily. I guess that's where the bonus tracks come in again, offering up 10 1/2 more minutes of the song (and of course, the other alternates). There's not a lot of solo Bill out there, so it's good that this particular record is a pretty damn fine one.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Alf's Best of 2008

I ain't gonna lie - this year was rough. In real life AND in music. Luckily, a down year for music doesn't mean there wasn't anything good. It just means you have to dig a bit deeper to find the good stuff. And I did quite a bit of digging this year. Usually, when I compile my best-of list, I can think of eight CDs right off the bat. This time, I think I thought of only two. After that, it was going back through the collection and saying "Oh, right. THIS came out this year. Yeah, this one's good." Here's hoping for a better 2009.

M83 - Saturdays=Youth
Passion Pit - Chunk of Change
Sloan - Parallel Play
Monkey - Journey to the West
Black Kids - Partie Traumatic
Heloise & the Savoir Faire - Trash Rats & Microphones
InnerPartySystem - InnerPartySystem
Roe - Letters & Lights
Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
We Are Scientists - Brain Thrust Mastery

Jason's Best of 2008

It's hard to say why I chose Hank III for my number one pick for 2008... Actually it's more of a three way tie with Madlib & Raphael Saadiq, but all of these albums are super strong, and in my opinion, can be listened to repeatedly the same day. Don't think that the other albums on my list are any less good, it is just that I've devoted more time at work or at home to listen to these three.
On another note, if I had more time and didn't restrict myself to ten items, I would have added Erykah Badu's New Amerykah, Femi Kuti's Day by Day, The Clash's Live at Shea Stadium, The Secret Chiefs 3 Xaphan, and Extra Kool's Creature from the Whack Lagoon. I'm also looking forward to a couple of releases scheduled for next year: P.O.S. - Never Better, MF Doom - Born Into This, and Mastodon - Crack the Skye

Hank Williams III - Damn Right Rebel Proud
Madlib - WLIB AM
Raphael Saadiq - The Way I See it
Flying Lotus - Los Angeles
Atmosphere - When Life Gives You Lemons…
Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 - Seun Kuti & Egypt 80
Jean Grae & 9th Wonder - Jeanious
Portishead - Third
This Runs on Blood - This Runs on Blood
Rudimentari Peni - No More Pain

Natasha's Best of 2008

My favorite band from the west coast is the virtually unknown group called Loquat. Their latest album called Secrets of the Sea was so indie that I didn't even know about it for my top 10 list! But now that I have a copy I listen to it daily. Check out this sweet band from San Francisco!

Sigur Ros - Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust
Santogold - Santogold
Roots Manuva - Slime & Reason
Deerhoof - Offend Maggie
Nick Cave - Dig Lazarus Dig
TV on the Radio - Dear Science
Beck - Modern Guilt
Dungen - 4
Dub Trio - Another Sound Is Dying
Porlolo - Meadows
Brazilian Girls - New York City
Woven Hand - Ten Stones
Erykah Badu - New Amerykah Part One
Calexico - Carried to Dust
Bug - London Zoo
Radiohead - In Rainbows
Rose Hill Drive - Moon Is The New Earth
Aimee Mann - Smilers
Portishead - Third
Stereolab - Chemical Chords
MGMT - Oracular Spectacular
Kasai All Stars - Congotronics 3: In The 7th Moon the Chief Turned Into
A Swimming Fish...

Goldfrapp - Seventh Tree
Hanne Hukkelberg - Little Things

Persepolis (Drama)
Sarah Silverman Program (TV Show)
Control (Drama)
There Will Be Blood (Drama)
Buddha Of Suburbia (TV Show)
Curb Your Enthusiasm (TV Show)
Who Killed the Electric Car? (Documentary)
Pelican - After the Ceiling Cracked (Rock DVD)
Radiohead - Best of Videos (Rock DVD)
Electric Apricot (Comedy)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Mojiferous' (Joe Flores) Best of 2008

After a few rather depressing years of almost losing interest in hip-hop, 2008 redeemed itself completely. By the end of the year I was actually faced with some tough decisions to pare my list down to a manageable
number. Yet it was the amazing Evil Urges by My Morning Jacket that finally captured my top spot, edging out all other competitors, if only because I couldn't stop listening to it!

My Morning Jacket - Evil Urges

Patrick Brown's Best of 2008

The official top ten are albums I stand by in their entirety, with special mention for the top four, all spectacular and wonderful records that gave me something I was not expecting from their respective artists and got the most spins from me this whole year. Honorable mentions are close to great, certainly enjoyable. Anyone who likes the artists in question will probably enjoy them as much as I did. Those who don't know or like them may not be convinced. Reissues are all things I'll endorse in their entirety as well, noting especially that the Ornette reissue has never been available in the States in a good-sounding non-bootleg - Paul Bley still isn't served well by the recording (ironic that it was originally released under his name), but the rest of the band - especially Ornette and Don Cherry - sound good here. Oh yeah, Steinski too - another thing never officially available because of his sample-heavy construction, but this is the groundwork for a ton of hip-hop, and if you think a DJ and some records can't form meaning, check out his take on the Kennedy assassination, or his 9/11 piece.

Paul's Best of 2008

A tough year to be sure, but some relief was to be found in the music. Mudcrutch took me back to a very sweet time when Rock music was a lot easier to understand. Somehow I forgot about Portishead, and I hadn’t heard the Byrne/Eno album yet, both of which would have probably made my list. If there is one CD I would say you HAVE to have this year it would probably be the Los Cenzontles album Songs of Wood & Steel. It is at once new and old, modern and traditional, fun and serious. For fans of Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo, this is essential. Also, both the new Dylan Bootleg Series volume 8 and the Neil Young Sugar Mountain live made me feel really good in really bad times. Thanks guys.

Mudcrutch - Mudcrutch
Ryan Adams - Cardinology
Los Cenzontles - Songs of Wood and Steel
Hayes Carll - Trouble In Mind
Spiritualized - Songs In A&E
David Gilmour - Live In Gdansk
Black Keys - Attack and Release
Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
John Zorn - The Dreamers
Lucinda Williams - Little Honey
Dungen - 4
Paper Bird - Anything Nameless and Joymaking
Jason Isbell - Live at Twist and Shout
Calexico - Carried To Dust
The Devil Makes Three - The Devil Makes Three
Mercury Rev - Snowflake Midnight
Joseph Arthur - Temporary People
Dr. Dog - Fate
Raconteurs - Consolers Of The Lonely
Otis Taylor - Recapturing The Banjo


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

What Are You Listening to Lately (part 6)?

Sorry I've slacked folks. Holidays, film festival, and other stuff (including laziness) conspired to keep me down. I promise I'll get back on track. I swear it.

FrancoAfrican Classics
First disc is a chronological mess, while the second runs more or less in order (with a couple jumps). But the music makes it across the board, and it’s nice for me to pick up my third Franco “Best of” collection with minimal overlap with the other two. And what’s that? Liner notes that not only tell you a little about each piece, but tell you which CD the track is on, should you choose to follow through on some favorites? The amateur ethnomusicologist/collector nerd in me is in heaven! Only drawback for me is that not every track is as killer as on competing best ofs – the great-but-out-of-print The Very Best of Franco or the equally great and still in print The Rough Guide to Franco (or the brand-new Francophonic, just released last week to right the wrong Stern's made when they took Very Best of out of print). But for two in-print, domestically available discs studded with greatness and always delivering joy at a single disc price, it seems foolish if not downright stupid of me to even mention that it’s less consistent. It’s pretty great throughout, and if my taste favors the dancy, guitar-heavy 70’s and 80’s material while this even-handedly represents the rumba-leaning 50’s and 60’s, that’s my problem. Get it if you have the slightest inkling that you’d enjoy it.

Run DMCRaising Hell
More consistent than the debut, though nothing here is as startlingly brilliant as “Rock Box” or “Sucker MC’s.” Even so, it’s brimming with a confidence and verve their sophomore effort lacks and from first beat to last they rarely step wrong. As a crossover move, “Walk This Way” was (and still is) a stroke of genius – or at least it was a stroke to get Tyler and Perry on board for the ride. The song slays – great original turned into great cover, and Tyler sounds as comfortable in this setting as the guys from Hollis (a great shot in the arm for his commercial potential of the day, too). What used to be the A-side is a great sequence – perfect opener in “Peter Piper” to the back-to-back anthems of "It’s Tricky” and “My Adidas” to the aforementioned “Walk This Way” to a slight cooldown with the short, funky hit of “Is It Live” and the totally live-in-the-studio feel of “Perfection.” The former B kicks almost as hard, dipping in quality only on “Dumb Girl” (it’s still funky tho) and letting up the intensity only for the jokey humor of “You Be Illin’,” but making up for any flaws with one of the best and most out-there pieces of music they ever essayed – “Proud to Be Black.” In a way, that song is the statement of purpose of both album and career for these guys, summing up in a few succinct phrases and wild scratches what the braggadocio of not even just their own career, but all of this era of rap had as its unspoken subtext – unspoken until now, of course. Shoulda been a single, though songs with “motherfucker” in them don’t get on the radio often. And the singles here signified plenty on their own. Backed by the deeper album cuts, it makes for a damn near flawless listening experience and what may in the long run prove to be their finest album.

StereolabMars Audiac Quintet
My second most favorite by Stereolab though I’d point out that I’m not really to be trusted since A) I pretty much stopped picking up new albums by them somewhere around the turn of the millennium and B) I think that all their albums except the divine Emperor Tomato Ketchup are of more or less equal quality (high). But some – this one, for example – are slightly more equal and find their way into my listening more regularly than others. This fact is helped along by little strokes like the terrific lyrics of “Wow and Flutter,” the Krautrock influence that puts a fine, artsy, electro-acoustic sheen on things, and the brilliance of “Des Etoiles Electroniques,” a little slice of heaven which just floats above and beyond the rest of the record. A shame it comes in so early – would’ve made a nice linchpin in the middle of the record. But it’s pretty great throughout – more rock-heavy than later albums would prove to be, yet infused with the breathy melodiousness that makes it seem lighter than air, a fact punctured by the seriousness of the lyrics: usually political, always leftist, often in French. It’s one of the best spoonfuls of sugar they’ve created to make their socialist medicine go down.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Twist & Shout's employee faves of 2008

Our Number One winner for 2008, with 11 votes:

Our Number Two placer for 2008, with 9 votes:

Our Number Three shower for 2008, with 6 votes:
TV on the RadioDear Science

Our Number Four mentions for 2008, tied with 5 votes each:
Fleet FoxesFleet Foxes
Flying LotusLos Angeles
Raphael SaadiqThe Way I See It

Our Number Five mentions for 2008, tied with 4 votes each:
Black MountainIn the Future
Eagles of Death MetalHeart On
MGMTOracular Spectacular
Silver JewsLookout Mountain, Lookout Sea

Our Number Six mentions for 2008, tied with 3 votes each:
Erykah BaduNew Amerykah Vol. 1
BeckModern Guilt
Black KeysAttack & Release
CalexicoCarried to Dust
The ClashLive at Shea Stadium
DevotchkaA Mad & Faithful Telling
Dub TrioAnother Sound Is Dying
Bob DylanTell Tale Signs: Bootleg Series Vol. 8
Gaslamp KillerObey Mixtape

Stephen Malkmus & the JicksReal Emotional Trash
Paper BirdAnything Nameless & Joymaking
RadioheadIn Rainbows
Sigur RosMed Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust
SpiritualizedSongs in A&E
WovenhandTen Stones

Our Number Seven mentions for 2008, with 2 votes each:
BengaDiary of an Afro Warrior
Mary J. BligeGrowing Pains
Bonnie ‘Prince’ BillyLie Down in the Light
Nick Cave & the Bad SeedsDig Lazarus, Dig!
Crystal CastlesCrystal Castles
Deerhoof Offend Maggie
Dengue FeverVenus on Earth
Dr. DogFate
Dr. John & the Lower 911City That Care Forgot
Drive-By TruckersBrighter Than Creation’s Dark
Flaming LipsChristmas on Mars
GoldfrappSeventh Tree
Jean Grae & 9th WonderJeanius
JesuWhy Are We Not Perfect?
Kid CreoleGoing Places
Jeffrey Lewis12 Crass Songs
Los CenzontlesSongs of Wood & Steel
Magnetic FieldsDistortion
M83Saturdays = Youth
Mountain GoatsHeretic Pride
My Morning JacketEvil Urges
Rose Hill DriveMoon Is the New Earth
Andre Williams & the New Orleans HellhoundsCan You Deal With It?
Hank Williams IIIDamn Right Rebel Proud
Dennis WilsonPacific Ocean Blue (reissue)
Neil YoungSugar Mountain: Live at Canterbury House 1968

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Who At Kilburn 1977

Because there has been so much substandard Who material put on the market, it might be easy to overlook a new DVD release from the band. Do not miss this release though, it is the best thing they have put out since the Isle of Wight video. The first disc is the show recorded by Jeff Stein for his film The Kids Are Alright in 1977. The rap on it has always been that they were unsatisfied with the performances, and shot one more show at Shepperton Studios for the film. Thus, this film sat on a shelf for over thirty years. It has been worth the wait because the passage of time has done nothing but make the footage look more exciting than ever. Beautifully shot and recorded, the concert finds the band at an emotional crossroads of their career. Keith Moon is clearly starting to fall apart, although you will be amazed at how much BETTER he looks than a few months later at the Shepperton gig. The band had just finished recording Who Are You and Townshend was struggling with issues around aging, substance abuse, and his place in rock history. He is visibly agitated during the performance, which actually adds to the overall intensity of the concert. He is an absolute ball of energy, windmilling and jumping on every song. Moon’s playing is sporadic. He comes out of the gate very strong and rallies throughout, but you can see him flag at points. All the years of looning have caught up, and he struggles at moments to keep the beat. Entwistle and Daltrey are exactly as they always were - perfect in their roles. No more original bassist exists in rock and no singer more perfectly fits the bill of beautiful front man than these two. For the most part they seem happy to be playing, and trying to stay out of the way of Townshend’s tantrums. The highlights are the opening “Can’t Explain” and “Substitute” and the closing medley of “My Generation,” a very early and raw “Who Are You” and the final “Won’t Get Fooled Again” which is similar in tone to the one in The Kids Are Alright - in other words a powerhouse. Even though they are suffering the ravages of age and excess they remain - in 1977 - one of the most energetic and powerful bands imaginable.

But wait, there’s more. Disc two contains an entire show from London in 1969. They had just started playing Tommy in its entirety, and this show contains the entire rock opera as well as a full show of hits and rockers. This show was recorded just a few months after Woodstock and a few months before Live At Leeds and it contains all the fire and balls of those great shows. The Tommy portion is absolutely stunning, as a band in full control of their abilities and at the height of their iconic physical appearance just tear through about an hour of material that is almost completely new to the audience. Today, it just wouldn’t happen that way. One can’t help but be awed by the creativity and love for the music conveyed by the band. This concert was filmed by the band’s original managers and, when they were summarily dismissed in the early 70’s, they apparently pitched a king’s ransom of Who-a-bilia into an empty lot. Somehow retrieved, this film has also languished on the shelf for almost forty years and now makes its debut. The quality is so-so, but when the camera is close-up, the images of the band are priceless. It is a magical concert of vintage Who that no fan of the band should miss. Skip the modern recordings of the band in recent years reliving past glory and instead go straight to this superb DVD for a hit of REAL ‘OO. (Note: Also available on Blu-Ray)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What's in the Bin? - November 17th, 2008

One of the sheer joys of being in an indie record store is browsing the bins. Just starting somewhere, flipping through things, pulling out items that catch your eye, giving a few of them a test spin. So in the fourth of a hypothetical series, I've browsed the "New Arrivals" bins here at Twist & Shout, picked out a few things, and gave them a listen. The nature of used record stores being what it is, I can't promise these items will still be in the bin by the time you get here. But hey, browse the bin anyway. You might find something else of worth.

CD - Gary Wright - Dream Weaver and Other Hits

If I was a stickler for truth in advertising, this CD probably should be called Dream Weaver, That Other Hit You Know That You Probably Didn't Know Was By The Same Guy Who Did Dream Weaver, His Only Other Charting Hit Which Is Actually Pretty Cool, And Seven Songs Which Never Were Hits At All. But try fitting that on the spine of a CD.

This brief ten-song disc is anchored by the one song Gary Wright will be forever tied to - "Dream Weaver." Five minutes or so of trippy vocals and spacey keyboards from a time when "Nobody played synthesizer" was something bands liked to boast about on the back of their LPs. The song tripped me out when it was on the radio back in 1976 (I was six), and while it doesn't quite have that effect anymore, it still manages to move me a bit. "Love Is Alive," also included, was Gary's other big hit, although one that has pretty much utterly vanished from the public's memory. Probably that's due to it being rather normal by comparison. The melody is simpler, the guitars louder, and the lyrics are rather 70s-lazily-cosmic: "It's all clear to me now/My heart is on fire/My soul's like a wheel that's turning." (Not a stationary wheel, mind you - a turning wheel.) But like most mid-70s chart smashes, I like it anyway, and would probably throw it on after "The Things We Do for Love" by 10cc fades out.

Then there's Gary's third (and final) chart hit "Really Wanna Know You." It doesn't have the cosmic lyrics of his other hits - instead, we get a love song more boring than anything in the Air Supply canon (who were close to ruling the world around the time this song made the charts). "I really wanna know you/I really wanna show you the way I feel/I really wanna know, know, know you/I really wanna show, show, show you." But these third-grade lyrics are propped up with oddball keyboard licks and washes that make the ones in "Dream Weaver" sound tame by comparison. Then there was the music video. Gary, decked out in his white shirt and pants, makes his way through a very red post-apocolyptic (or just really messy) cityscape. He chases after the elusive woman in the black hat holding a white letter Y. I'm sure it was artsy and fraught with meaning, but even when I saw it on MTV back in the early 80s, it looked more like a fever dream brought on from eating too many Skittles. Because of all this, "Really Wanna Know You" ends up being more memorable (and more fun) than most other pop hits from 1981.

And then there's those other seven songs. No, there's no hidden classic buried here, but actually, most of the other songs hold up quite well. Most have the same trippy lyrics and vaguely anthemic quality that are hallmarks of Gary's two big hits, and a few of the songs ("Water Sign", "Phantom Writer") sound great placed next to the big hits. I doubt you'll be skipping over the hits to get to them, but then again, I doubt you'll be skipping over them to get to the hits, either. At least, not if you give them a fair shake.

LP - Soup Dragons - Hang-Ten!

I worked at my college radio station back in the early 90s, and it seemed every LP in the bin looked a lot like this one. The cover art conveying equal measures of both "whimsical" and "art" - hell, they actually spell that second part out for you. But given that, the music inside is somewhat surprising. It's even more so if you happen to remember the band's two minor hits ("I'm Free" and "Divine Thing"). Both those songs were deliberate, measured, and "knowing." But this whole album sounds downright giddy. Like the band has these songs bubbling up out of them, and they just GOTTA let them out. The songs sound a bit rushed, and the production isn't very good (at least until Pat Collier takes over for the band halfway through side two). It's as if the band skimped on both the recording budget and setting up the mics, beacuse darnit, they wanted to get to the part where they play their songs for you! This feeling is rather infectuous, and makes overlooking the album's faults fairly easy to do. "Man About Town With Chairs" ("based on the original short story" - duly noted) isn't a very successful attempt at making A-R-T, but it's easy enough to like. And they do much better (helped by Pat Collier's clearer production) on the final track, "So Sad (I Feel)," a long slow number that picks up speed as it goes along. Not exactly a deathless album, but it's fun to hear people having fun making what they think is art.

7" - Three Belles - "(My Baby Don't Love Me) No More/Sincerely"

Most people who know something about the history of popular music are aware that whitebread cover versions of R&B hits were the order of the day in the mid 1950s. But did you know there was a market for whitebread cover versions of songs by white artists, including whitebread cover versions of whitebread cover versions of R&B hits? Apparently, that's the story behind the Bell music label from the 1950s. (No relation to the 60s/70s label of the same name.) The label featured mainly unknown acts recording versions of other songs that were popular at the time. Have you ever seen those clearly-not-Disney DVDs featuring "The Lion Monarch" and "The Small Mermaid" for $1 at the discount store? It's pretty much the same idea - redo the hit, and sell it cheaper. So perhaps it's not surprising that the Three Belles are no match for the Moonglows, or even the McGuire Sisters, on "Sincerely." And I don't know the original "No More" (by the DeJohn Sisters), but the Three Belles's performance there is only adequate. That said, the musical accompaniment (by Larry Clinton and Orchestra) is actually really good. I don't know if this is something I'd pull out and listen to on a daily basis, but it's a good listen, and an interesting footnote to musical history.

- mondo gecko