Record Reviews


Anthology 3 (Capitol/Apple)

Now that the third and final anthology has rolled around, it longer feels as if we're spying on something precious and undiscovered like we did in the first two, which revealed periods when the Beatles image was more controlled, the studio time less documented, and the individual contributions less obvious. Granted there are moments here: It is amusing to hear Paul use the same vaudevillian intro to "Hey Jude" in the studio that he did on his first solo tour in 1990, and one does cringe when John happily works Yoko's divorce into McCartney's "Oh Darling." Okay, so it is brilliant hearing side two of Abbey Road germinating, and to finally have "The Long and Winding Road" before Phil Spector pissed all over it. Fine, it's all really cool. But, it's just... well, it's the last release, which means no more alternate versions, no more revelatory interviews, no more new thingies to buy. It's like getting back together with an ex, just to have them dump you when you've fallen in love all over again. And who wants to subject themselves to that?
(4.0 stars) -- Mindy LaBernz


Rock and Roll Circus (Abkco)

Any Smithstonesian scholar worth his "Cocksucker Blues" bootleg could write a dissertation on the mythical rock & roll icon known as Rock and Roll Circus. Filmed for television in a time before Austin City Limits, pay-per-view HBO specials, and MTV, Rock and Roll Circus was the revolution in your living room. The crown princes of the new rock royalty were, of course, the Rolling Stones, and in 1968 they were riding the wave of a song that brought rock & roll into the modern era -- "Jumping Jack Flash." They were in their prime, and on the eve of Beggar's Banquet 's release, they set out to prove it. Thus, "Sympathy for the Devil," "No Expectations," and "Salt of the Earth" find the Rolling Stones at their peak. Keith Richards' little curl-back riff on "Jumping Jack Flash" could probably fuel some panel at a Stones symposium. Six songs and 29 minutes of relative brilliance. The rest, performances by Jethro Tull, The Who, Taj Mahal, Marianne Faithfull, John & Yoko, Eric Clapton -- totally superfluous, which makes Rock and Roll Circus a lot like an old ACL rerun (or one of their recent from-the-vaults video/CD releases); better suited to the tele than the hi-fi. So what else is in the time capsule?
(2.5 stars) -- Raoul Hernandez


Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970

Since your biggest worry in 1970 was whether or not Josh Reynolds was gonna beat you up and take your milk money, it's hard to grasp codgerish wheezings to the effect that the Who were at the peak of their live powers at that instant. You just have to trust the documentary evidence, which, 'til now, consisted of select moments from The Kids Are Alright and the Live at Leeds album (which presented an incomplete picture due to heavy editing). Thankfully, the latter was restored to its unedited glory by MCA last year. Now we get this, long rumored to be the finest show of mid-period Who. And yeah, it does rival Live at Leeds in the picture it presents of the Who as a diamond-hard rock & roll machine, kicking out molten guitar/drum fury like they had to face a lifetime of staring at Abbie Hoffman's ass. But while the crashing bore that was Tommy hogs much of this 2-CD set, windmill-armed classics like "Heaven and Hell," "I Can't Explain," "Young Man Blues," "Summertime Blues," "Substitute," and "My Generation" are enough to make one seek out a Gibson SG and a white boiler suit -- and that ain't bad.
(4.0 stars) -- Tim Stegall


Justus (Rhino)

"Eeew!," said my teenage boyfriend, holding up the Monkees' "Listen to the Band" single with disgust. "No, that was a good song," I insisted, and naïve as I was then, I was right; that Nesmith-penned song is now considered a turning point in the group's music. In a very appropriate yet bizarre way, the made-for-TV quartet's reunion album, Justus, actually picks up where that era left off. Unfortunately, that still leaves The Monkees sounding distressingly out of place but then, didn't they always? They were a totally contrived band, cast in 1966 by TV execs as antiseptic Beatles for pubescent American girls, and virtually defining the term bubblegum with well-crafted pop songs. In 1996, Michael (The Smart One) Nesmith's "Circle Sky" opens with its own cheery refrain reminiscent of "Theme From The Monkees," "...Cause it looks like we made it once again...," but the majority of this largely unremarkable album was composed by Mickey (The Funny One) Dolenz and Davy (The English One) Jones, with a few by Peter (The Eccentric One) Tork. There's the catchy "Regional Girl" with some good old pop snap to it, but the rest of Justus comes off like, well, a Monkees' album. Hey, hey.
(2.0 stars) -- Margaret Moser


The Fun Never Stops (SD)

Shoulders' French amis have been listening to The Fun Never Stops since 1993, but only now is the album's decadence and fin de siecle wisdom available here at home. And is it dated? Hell, no. Quite the contrary, in the last three years, each and every one of us has had at least one reason to stop and wonder exactly what the hell is going on: Oklahoma City, Selena, TWA Flight 800, and Dick Morris, to name but a few. The Fun Never Stops just seems three years more ominous, like the clown on the cover who's been hanged but keeps on smiling. The same currents that cause Michael Slattery to spew -- like Tom Waits helming the HMS Pinafore -- that life is "Just a harvest of folly for Farmer Melancholy" ebb and flow in the musical content. Sometimes it's ominously grand piano minor chords, sometimes bravely sorrowful cello lines (especially on "Old Anxieties"), and sometimes the guitars wail like the whole shootin' match is coming apart at the seams. And it may be. Why is Shoulders big in France? Because the French know better than anyone how to laugh in the face of disaster, how to keep celebrating when the real fun stopped a long time ago.
(3.5 stars) -- Christopher Gray


Miracle of Science (Razor & Tie)

Marshall Crenshaw has always been rooted in the earnest romance of the clean-cut male troubadours of the late Fifties/early Sixties -- he's our end-of-the-century Ricky Nelson. Still, his last few releases have found him tinkering with his trademark sound, roughing up arrangements here and there, adding some lyrical tension, giving his old-school sweetness a bit of up-to-date bite. His efforts were not without success, but on Miracle of Science he seems intent on casting them aside and reclaiming his original sound. The songs he's penned are vintage Crenshaw: dreamy meditations on a lover's mystery and effervescent paeans to romance's rush, all propelled by crisp hooks, tangy guitars, and infectious percussion. There are even a few nods to the Sixties: the sound of a needle crackling on a 45 as "Starless Summer Sky" opens; a laid-back but sensual cover of "The In Crowd"; and a Crenshaw-penned instrumental called "Theme From Flaregun" that summons some Elvis/beach/spy flick of old. Crenshaw has been here before, but Miracle of Science is fun enough that I'm happy to return with him. (Marshall Crenshaw plays the Cactus Cafe, November 20.)
(3.0 stars) -- Robert Faires


Sutras (American)

Thirty years ago today (or thereabouts), a flowered folkie from Glasgow named Donovan Leitch was riding the top of the charts with butterfly ditties like "Sunshine Superman," "Mellow Yellow," "Jennifer Juniper," "Hurdy Gurdy Man," and my personal favorite, "Epistle to Dippy." Yet despite enough comparisons to Bob Dylan to annoy Woody Guthrie's heir, Donovan's paisley-powered pop vanished into the wind like so many dandelions. Of course, this didn't happen on AOR radio until well into the Seventies, which is probably when baby boom echoite Rick Rubin caught a scent of the dippy Donovan and had his mind blown. Jump forward another 20 years, and low and behold, who's become the modern resurrectionist of dinosaurs? Rick Rubin (Don Was would have been acceptable, as well). And since Rubin was able to revive Johnny Cash's career with a largely acoustic album culled from hundreds of songs, why not do the same for the Sixties version of Beck? -- especially since both men share a love of leftover psychedelic Indian spiritualism (hence the title, Sutras). The results? A lullaby beauty for those who prefer flowers and Cat Stevens to rings of fire.
(3.0 stars) -- Raoul Hernandez


K (Columbia)

Don't be conned by Kula Shaker's first U.K. hit, "Grateful When You're Dead/Jerry Was There." It does not, as crusaders against drippy, hippie jam music might hope, celebrate the demise of a certain beaded deity. Written long before the Dead died -- with only a few gentle jabs at Jerry worshippers -- the song was probably inspired by Kula Shaker's own sense of spiritual superiority. See, they're into mystics and mantras, tablas and tambouras, Krishna and the like. Lucky for them it doesn't muck up their music. They may try to frighten you with familiar Hendrix riffery of Sanskrit lyrics lifted from bhjans (Indian devotional hymns), but they're good British lads at heart, and as such, drop a hook into everything. These kids make George Harrison look like the Maharaja himself, so Westernized are their "Indian" songs. Since I'm too young to know better, I think their biggest crime is sounding more like the Stone Roses and the Charlatans (no surprise there, British überproducer John Leckie did the record), than Cream or Deep Purple, although they occasionally sound like The Monkees during their real trippy and heavy period. Shut up, they had one.
(3.5 stars) -- Mindy LaBernz


Not in My Airforce (Matador)


Carnival Boy (Matador)

As if Guided by Voices didn't release enough material while living up to their Need More Songs credo, the waiting world now receives solo flights from their pilot and navigator. Captain Robert Pollard, the drunken basement sage who sings like he arrived in the last British invasion, says Not in My Airforce, coughing up a predictably lo-fi collection reminiscent of Vampire on Titus or Bee Thousand -- only not as good. And Tobin Sprout, the dreadlocked Angus Young wannabe, says lo-fi-ho-hum in giving us what we never expected by pointing a sharply fashioned studio record at the Jolly Green Giant of home recording. Expectations for Sprout were decidedly low, and excepting a few choice cuts off the stalk like "Gas Daddy Gas," the only real value here is for die-hards to understand who contributes what to GBV; in particular Sprout's notated guitar stylings, which are completely absent from Pollard's solo canon. The sad moral of this folktale is that both of these records are certainly better than the group's latest, Under the Bushes, Under the Stars, which has no comment.
(Not in My Airforce ) (3.5 stars)
(Carnival Boy ) (2.5 stars) -- Taylor Holland


Music From the Unrealized Film Script Dusk at Cubist Castle (Flydaddy)

These days, British music isn't cool, but American indie music that sounds British is okay. So here's Olivia Tremor Control, possibly the hippest band (obscurist's division) of the year. Peers and collaborators with Chocolate U.S.A., Apples in Stereo, and Neutral Milk Hotel, OTC are unrepentant Blunstone-Barrett-Beatles disciples who never met a bell, horn, whistle, calliope sound or any other lush, semi-orchestral trapping they didn't like (just to reiterate, they aren't English -- try Athens, Georgia). These guys have the goods: intricate, gorgeous songs with four-and eight-track arrangements that are never lo-fi (neither was Sgt. Pepper... after all). And then, because OTC are an American indie band at heart, there's tracks 12-21, a suite called "Green Typewriters" that's mostly random bursts and transient noise. Go ahead, program it out -- you've still got an embarrassment of pop riches, a mildly psychedelic, lavishly melodic quasi-masterpiece.
(4.0 stars) -- Jason Cohen


Moseley Shoals (MCA)

It took three singles being rammed down the maw of modern rock radio before anyone realized that Bush were English. By then, they'd made their fortune and skipped the country, depriving good ol' Yank bands like Everclear and Sponge their due of another million albums sold. Well, that's not gonna happen here. Ocean Colour Scene are from Birmingham. That's England, not Alabama, which means, of course, the Small Faces and Humble Pie -- not, uh, the Black Crowes (okay, that's Atlanta not Alabama, but who's counting?). Now, wait... The Black Crowes are the Small Faces and Humble Pie, who are, in turn, playing a water-down, amped-up version of Southern blues. Hmm. Seems we've got one of those chicken and the egg deals here, making Ocean Colour Scene some sort of tame Southern boogie band without the prerequisite Lynyrd Skynyrd influence. Brother Cane, maybe? How 'bout Cry of Love? Either way, ya gotta wonder how this stuff goes over in England? Great, according to Ray Davies. In Alabama, though, I'm thinking not so good.
(2.0 stars) -- Raoul Hernandez

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