Arguably the most popular film ever, Gone With the Wind was released theatrically in 1939, but it wasn't until 1954 that the first recording of its soundtrack was available. Its appearance even then was something of a miracle -- in 1939 (the year that also saw The Wizard of Oz), the scoring of soundtracks was less than a decade old and the notion of recording them unthinkable. As GWTW was an independent film distributed by MGM, there was even less concern that no masters for the music were kept; the 1954 versions were faithful orchestra reproductions and other masters weren't found until 1965. This 2-CD set of GWTW with its copiously detailed 48-page booklet, then, is this year's nod to Scarlett worshippers everywhere, as Max Steiner's lush orchestration brings the ever-popular story back to life. At a time when soundtracks have became mere compilation packages and much of GWTW might be considered politically incorrect, the sentimental soundtrack is a refreshing reminder of a time when tomorrow really was just another day.
4.0 stars -- Margaret Moser


(Blue Note)


Whims of Chambers (Blue Note)


Juju (Blue Note)

In the recent batch of Blue Note reissues, three of the major jazz tenor saxophonists emerging since 1950 appear. Hank Mobley belonged to the first permanently formed version of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and later replaced John Coltrane in Miles Davis' band. His major influences were Charlie Parker and Sonny Rollins, although after this album was cut he absorbed ideas from Coltrane. It's one of Mobley's best, containing four fifths of the 1957 Messengers: Hank, drummer Blakey, pianist Horace Silver, and bassist Doug Watkins. Vibes great Milt Jackson replaces Donald Byrd and everyone's in top form. Mobley displays the melodic inventiveness and sensitivity for which he's noted, and the dark, warm, medium-sized tone that prompted Dexter Gordon to label him "the middleweight champ of the tenors." Coltrane appears on fellow Davis sideman Paul Chambers' disc, along with drummer Philly Jo Jones, Silver, Byrd, and guitarist Kenny Burrell -- a post-bop all-star sextet. In 1956, when this disc was cut, Coltrane had already developed an original style that would soon be influential. It was derived mainly from Gordon, whose relatively staccato phrasing and use of wide interval leaps impressed him. Here, 'Trane plays infectiously, with a flood of ideas, excellent technique, and a narrow, penetrating tone. Byrd, Silver, and Burrell contribute imaginative, swinging spots, and Chambers, in addition to excellent rhythm section work, turns in fine arco and pizzicato solos. Sonny Rollins and Coltrane were Wayne Shorter's point of departure and could be heard in his playing with Blakey in the late Fifties and early Sixties. His 1964 quartet album, Juju, finds Shorter's style in transition, moving toward the airy, floating method of playing and composing he would display with Davis' great mid-Sixties quintet. Here, however, the overall sound is more reminiscent of Coltrane's quartet, which is not surprising since his group includes Trane's sidemen, pianist McCoy Tyner and drummer Elvin Jones, along with bassist Reggie Workman. Shorter contributed six provocative original compositions here, as well as strong tenor work. Tyner cops the solo honors, though, with his brilliant, emotional playing, and his comping lights a fire under everyone. Finally, note how many of the musicians here were involved with Davis, Blakey, and Coltrane. Their groups were responsible for an amazing amount of the new developments in jazz during the Fifties and Sixties.
(Hank Mobley...) 5.0 stars
(Whims...) 5.0 stars
(Juju) 4.0 stars -- Harvey Pekar


The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings

Anyone with even a passing interest in jazz is familiar with the music produced through the collaboration of Miles Davis and Gil Evans in the late Fifties and early Sixties. Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess, and Sketches of Spain are critically regarded as some the finest recordings the genre has produced. This package, finally released earlier this year following numerous setbacks, contains the entirety of each of those albums, the bulk of the less-successful album Quiet Nights, and take after take of alternate, unissued, and rare material. In 1955, following his stint at the Prestige label (and a bout with heroin addiction), Davis was signed to Columbia Records by George Avakian. Shortly thereafter, Avakian proposed to Davis a project based on an expansion of the sound he and Evans had pioneered with the The Birth of Cool sessions in 1947. Undertaken as an exercise in framing Davis' austere, elliptical, and lyrical horn against Evans' darkly polished orchestral backdrops, the resulting synthesis of European classical formality and American jazz improvisation was so well-realized that it made the joining of disparate traditions seem natural, and perhaps, even obvious. It revolutionized jazz possibilities in the process, and although often imitated, remains a singular and distinctive work of art. Davis' playing is nearly flawless throughout, defining where passion and rigor meet in a perfect embrace. Yet, despite its serious nature, this is not "difficult" music. Hardly. Miles Ahead doesn't swing (a complaint voiced by its detractors yet today), and you can't dance to it, but was welcomed on release in 1957 by wide popular acceptance (another point against it to critics), and has continued to entertain generation after generation of music fans ever since. The proceeding recordings, Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain are nearly as fine. Although there were slight modifications to the approach established on Miles Ahead, the basic pattern of Davis' improvisations filling the gaps between Evans' structured arrangements is retained. Quiet Nights was the last of the studio album collaborations between Evans and Davis, and though never fully realized (both men disavowed the work), it also has moments of high creative achievement and sublime beauty. While the rest of the collection doesn't unearth any undiscovered gems, the overall quality is of such a consistently high caliber that longtime fans will probably want this package to hear the music in its most attractive presentation yet (i.e. a true stereo mix of Miles Ahead), and newcomers can make this a cornerstone in any collection of 20th-century American music. Fans of acid-jazz and trip-hop eager to more fully understand the genesis of the music are especially encouraged to spend some time with this music. (And if the $90 price tag puts you off, you should be able to find used CDs of the individual albums in used bins all over town now.) The packaging of the set is awful. The box is constructed in a way that makes it almost impossible to read the very good notes enclosed. Worse, it looks like it will fall apart quickly. But further complaint is trivial: Listen.
4.5 stars -- Brent Grulke


Silver City -- A Celebration of 25 Years
on Milestone

Here's the rap on Sonny Rollins: He's absolutely incredible "live" but his albums suck. That's been the conventional wisdom for the past quarter century, anyway. There's virtually no argument that Rollins is, hands down, the greatest living jazz musician; but since signing on with Milestone Records back in 1972, his recorded output as a whole has been less than spectacular to say the least. Skewered by critics and largely ignored by fans, these albums seemed to alienate and/or anger Rollins purists with their use of electric instruments and decidedly commercial bent. This, despite Rollins' unrelenting ability to totally mezmerize his audiences in live performance with near superhuman feats of sheer blowing power and saxophone virtuosity. The fact that Rollins' 20 albums over this 25-year tenure with Milestone have yielded a mere 2-CD box whereas his classic Prestige material, covering maybe half as many years, was reissued as a 7-CD set, tends to speak for itself. Having said all that, I'm actually a bit surprised but happy to report that Silver City is a rather enjoyable collection of highlights from Rollins' long collaboration with Milestone. This is not Saxophone Colossus or Way Out West, landmarks in the Rollins oeuvre and pinnacles in recorded jazz annals, by any stretch of the imagination. Nonetheless, there is much to savor here with the Rollins M.O. clearly in evidence: his penchant for Afro-Caribbean rhythms, his love of American popular songs, his unfettered physical exuberance untouched by musicians even half his age, and his immediately recognizable, diamond-hard, large-toned tenor saxophone sound. Sure, there are electric keyboards and basses to muddy the waters, but Rollins seems to soar above it all on these selections. Not surprisingly, the live tracks tend to stand out in the crowd with "G-Man" being a prime example of Rollins' incomparable firepower. Absent, however, is any material from the Milestone Jazzstars live album with McCoy Tyner and Ron Carter, and the rollicking, crowd-pleasing title track from Don't Stop the Carnival. While there are numerous popular tunes included, I would have enjoyed Rollins' take on Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely," which garnered considerable airplay in its day. Maybe Rollins' entire Milestone output warrants only a 2-CD retrospective. Or maybe the 2-CD idea is governed purely by economic considerations. In either case, Silver City offers some of Sonny Rollins' best recordings of the past two-and-a-half decades at an affordable price. So, I ask, who can complain?
3.5 stars -- Jay Trachtenberg



Hard to believe, but 1994's The Doo Wop Box: 101 Vocal Group Gems From the Golden Age of Rock `N' Roll is the best-selling box set of Rhino's 19-year history. Given that sort of broad-based appeal among doo-wop enthusiasts and casual listeners alike, it only makes sense to release a sequel. Does it measure up to its predecessor? Well, if it's definitive hits you're looking for (i.e. "Crying in the Chapel," "Earth Angel," "Come Go With Me," and the like), this might seem like sloppy seconds. But if this set is playing clean-up, at least it's doing so in a filthy-rich neighborhood. The most refreshing aspect of The Doo Wop Box II is the overwhelming wealth of songs you'll never hear on a commercial oldies station. Unless you're an enthusiast, the majority of these songs are unlikely to ring a bell. Because they haven't been deeply embedded in our collective fabric of nostalgia, the lesser-known tunes also provide a relatively unobstructed sense of the Fifties vocal group style (the term "doo-wop" wasn't widely used until the early Seventies) and the culture that predicated it. Acting upon customer suggestion, Rhino broadened the definition of "doo-wop" for this set. Included this time around are duos like Robert & Johnny, who milk the possessive love ballad "We Belong Together" for every drop of sentiment without a hint of pretension. Also included are more female groups and non-New York groups. Of the former, the Bobbettes' "Mr. Lee" is a finger-snapping joy written about a high school teacher the girls didn't like. And how could you not love downright bizarre slices of inspiration like the Chips' "Rubber Biscuit," the Five Keys' "Ling Ting Tong," and, best of all, the Cellos' "Rang Tang Ding Dong (I Am the Japanese Sandman)." The latter part of the set focuses on the first "oldies revival" that took place between 1959 and 1963. The Fifties vocal group style had been dichotomously split by lightweight junior crooners like Fabian on one hand, and the emergence of a more gospel-tinged R&B sound. Songs like Little Caesar & the Romans' "Those Oldies but Goodies (Remind Me of You)" and the Penguins' "Memories of El Monte" were a response to such fragmentation. Frank Zappa co-wrote the latter and struck a genuine combination of novelty and affection that would surface later on Cruising With Ruben & The Jets. Also notable in the shape-of-things-to-come division are tracks by the Falcons (who sported both Eddie Floyd and Wilson Pickett as members) and the Miracles (before the "Smokey Robinson &" days). The Falcons' "I Found a Love" contains distinct echoes of the Stax/Volt heyday with a hyper-kinetic Pickett lead vocal and a slight proto-funk backbeat laid down by the future Ohio Players. Meanwhile, the Miracles' "Bad Girl" provides a stripped-down premonition of the future at Hitsville, U.S.A. By gently pulling you along from the outset of the big-band era to the cusp of the soul music explosion of the Sixties, The Doo Wop Box II provides a fascinating aural lesson in the evolution of American pop that can never be learned by hits alone.
4.0 stars -- Greg Beets


Läther (Rykodisc)

I was introduced to the music of Frank Zappa at a younger age than most, through used albums with strange-sounding titles found in the pawn shops of decrepit Victoria, Texas. For $1 apiece, I found myself enjoying all the classic Mothers of Invention albums on Verve (which I still have today, thank you) despite being cut off from much of the rest of civilization. Yet I remember knowing, when Live in New York, Studio Tan, Sleep Dirt, and Orchestral Favorites came out, that something was "wrong" with these albums; that Zappa didn't authorize them or didn't like them or... something. Somehow, I had heard some inkling of the long tale of Läther. To boil it down, Zappa recorded a 4-album, 8-sided whopper of an album in 1977 to tie up his contractual obligations with Warner Bros. and they didn't want it -- nor did they want anyone else to have it. So the ambitious, highly varied Läther project was looted instead, with its various jewels being spread out across the four albums mentioned above, separated neatly into a live album, an instrumental album, etc. (The latter was another reason these albums were "wrong" in my book -- at that age, I was yet unprepared for a Zappa album without plenty of funny/dirty lyrics). In 1996, following instructions from the late Zappa, Rykodisc finally has released the complete Läther (pronounced "Leather," not "Lather") and to say that it's greater than the sum of its unintended parts is an understatement. A handy sampler of Zappa's strengths, all the dichotomies are here; rock & roller and jazz master, silly lyricist and serious instrumentalist, blues & rock guitar whiz and classical composer, swimming around amongst each other with abandon. Even Zappa's fondness for doo-wop gets the occasional spotlight. Special points for Ryko's generous booklet, which tells the whole sordid Läther tale, and further, displays Billboard's Top 20 charts from 1974-77, just so the listener can reflect on what the country was listening to (Mac Davis, Starland Vocal Band) while this monster was being created. Overall, a broad, excellent introduction to Zappa's myriad talents.
4.0 stars -- Ken Lieck


Foundations of Funk: A Brand New Bag:
Funk Power 1970: A Brand New Thang (Polydor)
Make It Funk: The Big Payback 1971-1975 (Polydor)

He may be Soul Brother Number One, Mr. Dynamite, and The Original Brother Rapp, but these three separate sets (5 discs, 63 tracks) also make James Brown "Bandleader Number One" -- tugging, coaxing, and finessing brilliance of out three separate backing outfits. On Foundations..., Nat Jones and Pee Wee Ellis pass around the official "music director" torch, but it's undeniably Brown that makes 1964-1969 the Maceo Parker Years, in which the powerful Brown/Parker relationship churned out undeniable hits ("Cold Sweat), experimental misses (a live "Out of Sight/Bring It Up" medley), and wonderfully loose jams ("Get It Together"). And although Foundation... is a 2-CD set of well-preserved, complete performances, original mixes, and false starts that's never at a loss for momentum, it also never sounds nearly as rhythmically raw and dangerous as Funk Power..., a compact yet stunning year-in-the-life capsule of the original JBs. Here, Brown is not only shifting the horny influence of old over to young bassist Bootsy Collins, he's also working harder vocally and writing more succinctly -- all too briefly turning the Brown/Bootsy summit into the perfect hit machine ("Get Up, I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine," "Talkin' Loud and Sayin' Nothing," and "Super Bad"). So, while the first two volumes succeed because they offer so many rare live cuts, Make It Funky... instead concentrates on Brown's newfound studio interest, with previously unavailable and unedited mixes of definitive material including "Hot Pants," "Make It Funky," and "Funky President." And while the rest of this material from 1971-1975 is itself a bit funky (as in bad funky), witnessing Brown's relentless nurturing and showcasing of trombonist Fred Wesley is often worth the price of admission alone -- especially after Maceo rejoins the outfit for much of the second disc. After it comes full circle like that, and despite a glut of other box sets and single album reissues, the unique value of these three particular compilations becomes obvious: a chronological account of the rare superstar solo artist well aware he was only as good as his bands.
(Foundations...) 3.5 stars
(Funk Power...) 4.0 stars
(Make It Funky...) 3.0 stars -- Andy Langer



I remember in college stumbling across an academic journal one time which noted the turn-of-the-century division between "highbrow" and "lowbrow" culture. Highbrow was fine art, and musically, only classical could fit the bill. Lowbrow, according to the critics of the day, could be summed up in one word -- jazz. It's amusing, then, to realize that jazz is now considered an intellectual music. Once upon a time, it was something far different -- it was decidedly base, funky, juke-joint music. Listening to this spectacular 2-CD collection will easily demonstrate why: You immediately want to dance. That is, assuming you can keep up. There's no Marsalis exploring classical music here, no Davis elegantly improvising around moody modal concepts, not even Ellington's ballroom grandeur. This is before all that, when a night at a jazz club meant a speakeasy with liquor flowing, reefer smoking, and a wild, frenetic beat that surely challenged the stamina and kept everyone in a delirium. Jazz the World Forgot catches the music just as it was emerging, the unlikely marriage of string band blues with military marching band brass and ragtime syncopation, spitting forth raw hedonism. And best of all, this collection seems to capture everything; sure, it's not too hard to find cuts by legends like King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, or the golden-voiced Mamie Smith, but how many CDs contain regional obscurities like the Ross De Luxe Syncopaters or Taylor's Dixie Serenaders? If historical importance enhances your enjoyment of music, you'll be beside yourself with the discoveries here.
5.0 stars -- Lee Nichols


(Texas Rose)
It wasn't supposed to happen. What crazy idea compelled a bunch of Texas string musicians to ditch "Cotton Eyed Joe" and "Dill Pickle Rag" in favor of hotcha rhythms and hokum lyrics? Where did a native son of Stephenville get off sounding like Mr. Hi Dee Ho, Cab Calloway? In 1932, Milton Brown and his Musical Brownies concocted a new sound that would eventually be called "Western Swing," and one that West Texas locals found rather disconcerting at first. In fact, nearly everything about the Brownies seemed odd. For one thing, string bands didn't usually feature vocalists. Certainly not one like Brown, who favored Calloway or the swinging young Bing Crosby over Jimmy Rodgers, the preeminent country singer of the day. String bands didn't have piano players either. The Brownies' pianist Fred "Papa" Calhoun played with all the double-fisted energy of his idol, Earl "Fatha" Hines. But the weirdest of the bunch was steel guitarist Bob Dunn. Nobody in West Texas (or nearly anywhere else) had heard an electrified steel-guitar, let alone one that eschewed the conventional Hawaiian style for the exuberant, trombone-like sound that Dunn coaxed out of his jerry-rigged contraption. The source of all this crazy experimentation was hot jazz, then turning the country on its ear. Once the locals caught on, they couldn't get enough of the Brownies -- daily radio broadcasts, Saturday nights whooping it up at the Crystal Springs Dance Hall, and a whole mess of shellac. Now, finally, all 102 recordings of the Brownies are available in this 5-CD box. From uptown pop to down-home folk, the Brownies could play whatever their fans wanted to hear, though jazz and blues, of course, took precedence. Brown, Dunn, and Calhoun, as well a fiddlers Cecil Brower and Cliff Bruner were all inspired improvisers -- hear how they tear up "Sweet Georgia Brown," a pop tune that had already, by 1935, become a jazz standard. Or listen how they masterfully build the tempo on W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues," which they could groove on for up to 15 minutes at dances. The Brownies could be convincing in any genre, a distinction more complicated than is immediately apparent. On some sides, Milton boasts that he's going "down to Cowtown to get my hambone boiled" or that he's "got a black-haired gal make a tadpole hug a whale," while otherwise holding a torch for dear old Mammy, "My Precious Sonny Boy" and "The Yellow Rose of Texas." Mixing the salacious with the bathetic was no big deal, it just reveals the wide constituency that the Brownies served: home and hearth on the daily radio program, and a rough-and-tumble crowd at Crystal Springs where Bonnie and Clyde reportedly fit right in. By 1935, the Brownies were ready to take their brand of swing beyond state borders when Brown's car overturned on the Jacksboro Highway, killing him at age 32. The band carried on for awhile under brother Derwood's direction (14 tracks from a 1937 session are included here), but couldn't sustain themselves without Milton. Bob Wills, meanwhile, stood ready to assume the throne. So, aside from historical appeal, why should anybody care about the Brownies today? Because this music is about purely infectious joy, the rarest of all musical properties. If the Brownies could make the downcast farmers of the depression positively giddy, they can cheer us too. (Distributed by OJL, PO Box 85, Santa Monica, CA 90406)
5.0 stars -- Charles Hutchinson


The Roots Remain (Epic/Legacy)

After establishing himself with years of toiling in roadhouses and studio sessions, Charlie Daniels spent the hitmaking leg of his career with one foot squarely in the Nashville establishment and the other in the rebel camp of southern rock and outlaw country. Not surprisingly, Daniels was an Armadillo World Headquarters favorite during the Seventies. Songs like "Uneasy Rider" and "Long Haired Country Boy" struck a chord not only with the prevalent hippie ethos, but also with outcasts in general. However, as this 3-CD set proves in its later numbers, Daniels' philosophy was cut from the same cloth as Merle Haggard's. Growing your hair and smoking an occasional joint with your Falstaff is all right so long as you mind your own business, but flag-burning and bank-bombing are still anathemas. Although CDB rarely pushed the envelope of innovation, they often did a superb job of integrating country, rock, and blues in an uncommonly prolific manner. You don't hear Daniels mentioned in the same breath as the Allmans and Skynyrd, but there is some serious virtuosity going on in the guitar/fiddle interplay of songs like "Texas" and "In America." The open-ended jamming of "No Place to Go" isn't enough to make you turn off Live at Fillmore East, but it certainly establishes beyond a doubt that Daniels is more than just that guy who did "The Devil Went Down to Georgia." Daniels' music drifted more toward the country end of the spectrum during the Eighties and Nineties. While his output became more uneven and subject to the hat act production aesthetic, there were some bright spots; the lazy, bluesy "To Be With Joanna Again," though previously unreleased and out of step with its 1985 pedigree, may be the most resonant and evocative ballad on The Roots Remain. At the same time, Daniels' later output showcases his political about-face. While he once sang about the pleasures of the occasional toke, "Simple Man" finds Daniels singing about lynching dope dealers. If nothing else, this switch provides a sobering reminder of the extent to which the working class has systematically abandoned the left wing to out-of-touch intellectuals. Yet, the only thing truly abhorrent on The Roots Remain, is the obligatory set-starting encapsulation of a career that is "Then, Now and Until the End." Though Daniels' spoken-word explanation of his raison d'etre is valid, it comes off more like an outtake of John Wayne's America: Why I Love Her. The most convincing evidence of Daniels' vision of a utopian musical gumbo lies in the songs, and they can speak for themselves.
3.5 stars -- Greg Beets


Portraits (Reprise Archives)

A lot of things are amazing about Portraits: Emmylou Harris' 61-song catalog, her duet partners (Roy Orbison, Don Everly, The Band, Don Williams, Flaco Jimenez, and Willie Nelson, among others), the pitch-perfect production, the unreleased tracks (including the gently rollicking "You're Still on My Mind" and a dead-on reading of Dylan's "When I Paint My Masterpiece"), but what's most amazing is how little her voice and her vision have changed over the almost 20 years (1974-1992) represented here. Her commitment to the innate beauty of a song, her care in choosing her material, and her faith in the musical traditions she grew up on all waver as seldom as her otherworldly voice -- a voice that can only be described as angelic. And, clean as the production is, hot as her always-top-notch backing bands (including Rodney Crowell, Vince Gill, onetime husband Paul Kennerly, and the smokin' all-acoustic Nash Ramblers) are, it's her voice that sustains this box set. Not her singing voice, either, her personal voice. She has the rare ability to climb inside a song -- no matter if it's by Townes Van Zandt, James Taylor, the Beatles, or the Louvin Brothers -- and make it uniquely, totally her own. In doing so, she weaves together disparate strands of America's musical landscape, ending with a tapestry that includes the bluegrass of the Carter Family and Bill Monroe; country icons Loretta Lynn, Buck Owens, and Johnny Cash; the pure pop sensibilities of Paul Simon, Phil Spector, and Richard Thompson; rock & rollers Chuck Berry, Roy Orbison, and Bruce Springsteen; and modern-day folklorists Nanci Griffith, Butch Hancock, Kris Kristofferson, and John Hiatt. Harris herself is probably not any of them -- the primary source that rings through all but the poppiest cuts on Portraits is still her Grievous Angel, Gram Parsons -- because she is so transcendent. Underneath that majestic mane of gray hair lies a mind that combines the best of the Grand Ole Opry, the Brill Building, Sixties hippie California cowboys, and the Broken Spoke. Emmylou Harris' legacy -- far from over, as last year's Wrecking Ball attests -- is as rich and pure as her songbird voice, and Portraits paints quite a full, fetching picture.
4.0 stars -- Christopher Gray


El Paso Rock: Early Recordings, Vol. 1 (Norton)
Shakedown! The Texas Tapes Revisited (Del-Fi)
The Bobby Fuller Four (Del-Fi)

The success of El Paso's Bobby Fuller was as much of a fluke in the Sixties as Nirvana's was in 1991. Not that it wasn't deserved: There was a fire burning in the cat's music that singed all it touched. The thing is, that flame was hardly a contemporary one. The rock & roll Fuller crafted was more staunchly traditional than what was burning the airwaves at the moment of his commercial emergence; just as Eddie Cochran/Buddy Holly-damaged as the Beatles or the Stones, but more faithful to those precedents than either of them. This lent a granite toughness and a 1955 rocketfuel drive to the music of the Bobby Fuller Four, making them mavericks in their run in the sun, `65-'66, which was cut short by the sort of untimely death which rock & roll mythology feeds upon. (The mysterious circumstances surrounding Fuller's death, however, have also made it prime fodder for every conspiracy theory nut alive, as well as the plotline to a recent episode of Unsolved Mysteries.) Interesting, then, to see the virtually simultaneous appearance of not only a CD presenting the tracks comprising Fuller's two original Del-Fi releases of the day, but of two separate collections anthologizing the same set of pre-fame Fuller recordings cut prior to his relocation from El Paso to Los Angeles. Less polished than Fuller's commercial hits, these demos and early recordings vibrate with a primal urgency time has yet to diminish. They're also the object of an interesting round of litigation between Del-Fi, Fuller's original label, and archival kings Norton, who legally obtained the tapes from Fuller's brother and bandmate Randy and from the Bobby Fuller Estate some time back. The Norton package gets the edge in terms of sound quality, inclusion of some wild live stuff, and liner notes by Miriam Linna that are less annoying and factually inaccurate than the Dave Marsh-penned notes accompanying Shakedown! Still, for anyone only familiar with his hit intensification of the Crickets' "I Fought The Law" (the original, pre-fame recording of which graces both), either release would be a revelation: Bobby Fuller was a definitive rock & roller well before he was a rock & roll star.
(El Paso Rock) 4.0 stars
(Shakedown!) 3.0 stars
(The Bobby Fuller Four) 3.5 stars -- Tim Stegall



Tell me if this is an indication that TV plays too large a part in my life: Before seeing his name, I immediately recognized the style of this series' liner notes as being the work of Tim Brooks, co-author of the vapid Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows 1946-Present books. If my use of the word "vapid" didn't clue you in, let's just say that's a bad sign. The Television's Greatest Hits series has had its share of complaints from TV/music fans from the beginning; the first volume raised eyebrows when its claim that all tracks were the original themes, not re-recordings, proved false. There seems little question of the authenticity of the cuts that encompass Vols. 4-7 (Black and White Classics, In Living Color, Remote Control, and Cable Ready, respectively), as even the sound effects from Alien Nation's opening sequence can be heard on the theme, even though one assumes the music master tapes sans FX are still around somewhere. The reproduction is largely excellent, especially on the Black and White set, where those who think we never should've made the jump to stereo in the first place can revel in bold, crisp mono tunes from Captain Midnight all the way down to Bourbon Street Beat. A TV theme is made with one goal in mind, of course: to drag the viewer into the show kicking and screaming. As such, the greatest composers and talents in music can be heard in these collections. Composers range from Ennio Morricone (The Man From Shiloh) to Dave Brubeck (Mr. Broadway) to Chuck "Palisades Park" Barris (the relentlessly catchy Dating Game and Newlywed Game themes), and bands run the gamut from the Beach Boys (the previously unreleased Karen) to the Grateful Dead (The New Twilight Zone and Vietnam: A Television History), all given roughly a minute to create something people will want to hear week in, week out. If the liner notes offered more clues to the sounds on the albums and the names behind them (Peter Matz, Barry Gray, Vic Mizzy to name a few additional worthies) instead of presenting mostly tired anecdotes about the shows themselves, these four volumes would be true wonders. As it is, we can listen with nostalgia to those we recognize, and with puzzled fascination to those we don't.
3.0 stars -- Ken Lieck


In My Lifetime (Columbia/Legacy)

In his liner notes to In My Lifetime, David Wild makes the argument that Neil Diamond, if you think about it, was one of the first alternative rock stars. While this may make sense in a marketing department trying to earn mileage off of Urge Overkill's rendition of "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon," to someone who was forced to listen to their parents' favorite adult contemporary station blast out "Song Sung Blue" ad infinitum on the car radio, that notion seems positively spurious. If you really think about it, Diamond has always aimed squarely for the middle of the road, and he's always managed to tap into a willing audience there. However, just as being tagged "alternative" doesn't make an artist worthwhile, being tagged "centrist" shouldn't diminish Diamond's considerable achievements as a songwriter. In My Lifetime marks the first time Diamond's work for Bang, MCA, and Columbia has been collected in one set. We start out with some truly self-effacing rarities from Diamond's teeth-cutting days. It's hard to fathom Neil Diamond sounding like anyone other than Neil Diamond, but there he is, vainly attempting to be the next Everly Brothers (Neil & Jack's "What Will I Do?") and Neil Sedaka ("Clown Town"). From there, we enter the golden age with punchy hits like "Cherry Cherry," "You Got to Me," and "Thank the Lord for the Night Time." Diamond's Bang Records sides have a well-crafted simplicity that makes them universally adaptable, which may be why so many bands have covered him. When Diamond moved to MCA in 1968, his songs became more introspective and less ebullient. "Cracklin' Rosie" and "Crunchy Granola Suite" were about as light as it got. As the Seventies ushered in an age of self-awareness and social relevance, Diamond hit ("I Am... I Said") and sometimes missed ("Done Too Soon"). Compared to the period between 1968 and 1972, Diamond's growth as an artist at Columbia came at a snail's pace. After starting with the ambitious-but-overblown soundtrack to Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and the Robbie Robertson-produced Beautiful Noise, Diamond settled into a complacency of romantic ballads with weighty arrangements. A lot of this music makes your teeth hurt since dentist offices seem to have a penchant for the stuff. Still, one noteworthy departure is 1977's "Desirée," a fallow-yet-strangely-enjoyable take on disco that details a youngster becoming a man with a woman twice his age. The songs from The Jazz Singer hold up quite well. "Love on the Rocks" packs the wallop of 20 power ballads, which makes it all the more hilarious to hear "Scotch on the Rocks," the reggae-tinged original version that sounds more like a sequel to Rupert Holmes' "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)" than anything resembling angst. On the other hand, it's ironic how popular "America" has remained in the era of Proposition 187. Since the inspired-if-not-insipid Heartlight, Diamond's albums haven't struck the universal chord they once did. A good example of this man-in-search-of-a-formula mode is "I'm Alive," David Foster's vain attempt to infuse synth-pop into Diamond's music without alienating his adult contempo base. However, Diamond has retained viability with consistently solid live performances that come complete with plenty of energetic hip-shaking and an everyman demeanor that appeals to everyone from grandmothers to six-year-olds. There will always be room in the middle of the road. As a result, In My Lifetime is a good bet even for the most casual of Diamondheads.
4.0 stars -- Greg Beets


The Mel Torme Collection: 1944-1985 (Rhino)

Ah, the Velvet Fog. The single most influential band the Lower East Side produced, this most quintessentially "New York" of rock & roll bands did some serious door-kicking with their unprecedented wrapping of dark literary themes inside gorgeous pop melodicism and John Cale's knack for classical dissonance. From their Andy Warhol-"produced" first LP in `67 through their untimely death in... Waitaminit! You mean we're dealing with Harry Anderson's fave crooner here? Oops! (Heh-heh!) Sorry 'bout that! Actually, the accompanying literature makes all manner of claims on Torme's behalf for the possibility that he could out-sing Sinatra. The booklet might not be off-base. Indeed, the earliest recordings with Torme's close-harmony aggregate, the Mel-Tones, display a throat as Crosby-damaged as any of his generation. This evidence is rendered all the more ironic three tracks in, when the Mel-Tones back up Der Bingle hisself on the 1945 Decca release, "Day By Day." And though it would be Torme's smoother-than-smooth delivery and tone as well as his ability to scat anything (he's Ella's only peer in this department) that would cement his reputation, this 4-CD box set proves that niching Torme within the currently hip "Lounge" turf is insulting: Mel Torme's no mere pop crooner -- he's a jazz singer. Scratch that: Mel Torme is a jazz musician. He has arranging/orchestration talents without peer amongst his colleagues, a deft touch on several instruments, and is equally adept at interpreting standards. He can write 'em, too: You can partially blame Torme for "The Christmas Song," better known (erroneously) as "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire," and for pulling off projects as ambitious as "The California Suite," an early self-penned concept album cut first in 1950 then overhauled afresh seven years later. As his artistic path gets mapped across these four discs, we hear Torme gaining in confidence, flying fearless in front of several live audiences in improvisational mode, contrasting melody against countermelody, creating music of ever-increasing sophistication -- music that swings hard and true. Along the way, a powerful argument is made for the man's place in jazz pioneer circles. By the time last disc's final notes decay, derived from his own definitive 1962 take on "The Christmas Song," the only conclusion one can reach hearing this argument is: "Amen." Inevitably and irrefutably, "Amen."
5.0 stars -- Tim Stegall


The Complete Capitol Singles Collection

As lyricist Sammy Cahn tells the story, "One time [co-writer Jule Styne] and I were on the beach when a guy from Fox came up to us and asked us if we could write a song called `Three Coins in the Fountain.' I told him we could write a song called `Eh.'" It's precisely that quality of chutzpah that informs the pop singles that Frank Sinatra (with a little help from Cahn and others in his creative cabal) recorded for Capitol Records in the Fifties. Brashly confident and occasionally over-the-top, these 45s, recorded at Sinatra's creative height, engender the illusion that even with the barest of materials the man could work miracles. The years that Sinatra spent at Capitol are justly celebrated as revivifying and triumphant. His eight-year association with the label began in the spring of 1953 when his career seemed in irreversible decline. Yet within months he was on the rebound, thanks to both his affecting performance in From Here to Eternity and to the first handful of Capitol singles. In marked contrast to the caprices of his previous label, where such indignities as "Momma Will Bark" were forced upon him, at Capitol, Sinatra was in nearly total control. That freedom inspired him to create a glorious succession of albums that linked standards by Porter, Gershwin, and others into song cycles evoking complex moods and themes. These concept albums like Songs for Swinging Lovers and Only the Lonely have attained the status of classics over the years. Still, the majority of singles from the same period have been largely overlooked. For one thing, they're an essentially different listening experience. As an analogy, imagine the albums as feature-length entertainment and the singles as coming-attraction previews. With three scant minutes to put across their message, these records are all about grand gestures and concentrated energy. There are also categorical differences about repertoire between the two formats. Saving the classic pop for albums, Sinatra sought out fresh material for his 45s, often written specifically for him. This was an advantageous approach in an era when performers recorded competing versions of the day's hits. Sinatra got these songs first (and, not-so-incidentally, helped himself to a piece of the action by retaining publishing rights). That many of these singles succeed, that they make us willingly suspend our disbelief about anything mattering but the marketplace, speaks volumes about Sinatra's gifts -- as well as those of several other names below the title: arranger Nelson Riddle, songwriters Cahn, Styne, Jimmy Van Heusen and Lew Spence, a crack squad of studio pros, and to some extent, the various sharpies, pluggers and hustlers that made themselves at home in the offices of Sinatra's publishing company. Occasionally, they produced the song of "Eh" -- the musical equivalent of mere shrugging -- but given the stature of Sinatra and company, it ended up sounding like the kind of shrug that might have come from Atlas.
4.0 stars -- Charles Hutchinson


(Rhino Word Beat)

Deep inside the pages of the hardcover booklet accompanying this 4-CD set, there's an almost apologetic note reading: "T.S. Eliot was unavailable for inclusion due to licensing restrictions." That in itself speaks more to the completeness of this collection than any list of names could, for Eliot is about the only significant name in 20th-century American poetry that the folks at Rhino failed to procure. This collection had to be some poetry proponent's labor of love, clocking in at a expansive 247 minutes, showcasing everyone from the obvious (Whitman, Pound, Yeats, William Carlos Williams, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and the list goes on) to the most obvious Beats to current, emerging luminaries (UH professor Edward Hirsch, Li-Young Lee). The pedigrees alone are enough to draw people sold on poetry toward the collection. But for those of you not in that camp? The booklet attempts to address that in an Erica Jong essay, which states, "People think they can do without poetry. And they can. At least until they fall in love, lose a friend, lose a child, or a parent, or lose themselves in the dark woods of life." Still skeptical? Think of it this way: In Their Own Voices... is a great way to satisfy any curiosity you've ever had about any of the 80 featured poets. Some of the poet's speaking voices are surprising departures from what you'd expect, and some of the poets give startling insights, judging from their inflections and emphasis, on which lines seem to matter most to the pieces. Because of the strong performance background of the Beats, their readings hold up well in this type of package. Certainly, Ginsberg's "America," despite its shaky sound quality, has the most satisfying, fun audience in the collection -- their interjections and laughter actually build on the strength and humor of the original. And it's hard to imagine hearing pieces like Ferlinghetti's "Underwear" without audience response. Yet some of the collection's best gems come from more obscure poets, such as Joy Harjo, Lucille Clifton, and Lisel Mueller, showing that Rhino did their homework, going beyond the literary canon and finding work that has loosened the transitory borders of what poetry is in this day and age. As a singular listening experience, this set is too long and disparate to be enjoyable to all but the most attentive listeners, but as an anthology or even encyclopedia, it's a treasure. If we Americans are going to get serious about poetry, then every home should have one of these.
4.0 stars -- Phil West



Yeah, I know: The fact that this lushly packaged, coffin-shaped collation of the varying non-Walk Among Us pieces of these Jersey horror-punk kings' oeuvre was released in the spring and is only now being assigned for review is further grist for the lynching of my editors and their better-late-than-never policy towards underground rock & roll coverage. Still, you can't fault them for knowing a good band when they see one, even if it's a good 12 years past the Misfits' expiration date. True, it's hard to remember the merits of these citizens of Lodi in light of both their ungodly sloppy live sets, and the fact that leader Glenn Danzig ended up such a steroid-damaged doofus who took years to fork over monies due any of the former Misfits. And yes, thanks partially to Metallica, the Misfits have also become the T-shirt band of choice for the mouth-breathers of the world, be they spare-changers on the Drag or habitues of the Back Room. But any of these four discs should prove there was meat on them bones. Glenn Danzig knew a good tune when he met one, and his tireless pillaging of Grade-Z horror shows for lyric matter also displayed surprising wit, intelligence, and craftsmanship. On record at least, the Misfits collaborated with muscle and efficiency, providing an economical blitz of tight, viciously downstroked fuzz guitar, pressure-drop rhythm section work, and hoarse, goon-squad choruses. They may've been that meeting of Kiss, the Ramones, New York Dolls, and Manner Films you never realized you'd been eagerly awaiting. Here's the evidence, sheathed in elegant, black jewel boxes (including a limited release of the long-lost, unissued '78 Static Age LP in a case that will take you three hours to figure out how to open), nestled inside a red velvet-lined home and accompanied by an expensive-looking Misfits Fiend Club pin. Worth the $66.66 list price? Sure, why not.
4.0 stars -- Tim Stegall


The Complete Sixties Blue Note Sessions
(Blue Note)

By the time Dexter Gordon was signed to Blue Note Records, he had long before distinguished himself as the first jazz musician to forge an original bebop style on the tenor saxophone. Despite a dishearteningly fallow period during the Fifties, Dexter returned with a vengeance to record nine albums (seven of which were issued at the time) during his 1961-65 stint with Blue Note. All of this music, an unissued track from a Sonny Stitt date, and portions of an interview done for Danish radio are included in this handsomely packaged, completely annotated, 6-CD box set that represents some of the very finest music the label ever produced. During this time, the Blue Note roster was awash with "young turks" who were creating new directions in jazz. Likewise, the two other tenor titans of the time, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, both of whom were greatly influenced by Gordon, were also exploring new avenues of expression. Gordon, by contrast, was the personification of the hip, urbane, unadulterated mainstream. His large, robust tenor, impeccable sense of style and keen ability to swing soulfully practically defined the quintessential "Blue Note Sound" of that era. Albums such as Go, A Swingin' Affair, and One Flight Up are absolute gems in the Blue Note motherlode. While many of the label's more adventurous releases would feature multi-horn frontlines and augmented rhythmic configurations, these sides never find Gordon working in more than a standard quintet; indeed, his best work was done within a simple quartet setting. He had so much to say on his horn, such enticing tales to tell, it would have been superfluous to constrain him in a crowded session. The success of these dates can also be attributed to the knack of aligning Gordon with a handful of simpatico and first-rate pianists to support him. Sonny Clark proved to be the near-perfect match, but other standouts include the legendary Bud Powell, Kenny Drew, Barry Harris, and Horace Parlan. Powell, along with French bassist Pierre Michelot and pioneering drummer Kenny Clarke, comprised Europe's premier trio of the time. They team with Gordon, also an expatriate by this time, to dust off a set of warhorses on the wonderfully swinging Our Man In Paris, a personal favorite of mine. Gordon would eventually make a triumphant return to the USA in 1976, go on to record some excellent albums for Columbia and earn an Oscar nomination for his role as an expatriate jazzman living in Paris in the film Round Midnight. He will be best remembered, however, for this extraordinary body of recordings for Blue Note.
5.0 stars -- Jay Trachtenberg


Young in Heart/Wise in Time (Delmark)


Sound (Delmark)


Forces and Feelings (Delmark)


As If It Were the Seasons (Delmark)

Many of the initial free jazzmen were rough and ready, interested in playing gutty, visceral music. Whatever their merits, pacing and subtle arrangements were not their main priorities. During the late Sixties though, the new generation of free players strove to infuse their music with more variety and restraint. Prominent among them were members of Chicago's AACM, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Fortunately the area's Delmark records took a keen interest in them and recorded a series of their albums, which are now being reissued. Their latest batch includes one by AACM prime mover Muhal Richard Abrams. Unlike many free jazzmen, Abrams was conversant with a number of styles within and outside jazz, and enriched his work by drawing from them. At times his percussive, dissonant playing was reminiscent of the Cecil Taylor/Thelonious Monk school, as well as modern classical music. On Roscoe Mitchell's Sound, the leader, on alto saxophone, clarinet and recorder, is joined by trumpeter Lester Bowie, tenorman Maurice McIntyre, bassist Malachi Favors, drummer Alvin Fielder, and Lester Lashley, who adds a sonic dimension by doubling on cello and trombone. There's more unusual instrumentation on McIntyre's Forces and Feelings, on which he appears with a guitarist, bassist, drummer, and vocalist, and, on Joseph Jarman's As if it Were the Seasons, which features Charles Clark on bass, cello, and koto, and singer Sherri Scott. The improvisation on these recordings may not be based on pre-set chord progressions, but the groups' performances are tight and coherent; members pay attention to collective interplay and textural and dynamic subtleties. All are full of the kind of color, life, and humor one associates with Sun Ra, who anticipated their work, by the way. Add Anthony Braxton and the Art Ensemble of Chicago to Sun Ra and the cats appearing on these discs and maybe you'll agree that Windy City musicians had more of an impact on jazz during the Sixties than at any time since the Prohibition era.
(All) 4.0 stars -- Harvey Pekar



Oh, Space Rock. We're tired of that phrase already, say the musicians; throw it on the heap of discarded genre classifications -- there on top of "grunge." Okay, guys, but tell the union no more names like Luna, Mazzy Star, and Comet. Or Galaxie 500. No, what we're really dealing with here anyway is Velvet Underground and Joy Division -- forget progressive kraütrock, and pay no attention to Galaxie's dreamy proximity to American Analog Set. There may be lots of unchartered territory between pop and progressive jazz -- lots of gray areas and light years of space -- but this universe has been thoroughly mapped. Starting as three high school friends who later ended up at Harvard together, Damon Krukowski, Naomi Yang, and Dean Wareham did what any cooperative of bored college students with aspirations for fun are wont to do: They started a band. Not that they knew how to play... but when did that ever stop anyone? And yet by the time it was over -- five years ('87-'91) and three albums later -- they'd go belly-up with their label Rough Trade and down into the annals of indie-rock history together. Until now, those albums, a couple of EPs, and assorted singles and their respective B-sides have all been long out-of-print and much in demand. In fact, even after Rykodisc released this 4-CD set, which gathers all three albums and throws in a fourth disc worth of rarities, Galaxie 500 was still highly sought after as the first humble printing of this box set sold out so quickly that it panicked a small but expectant fan base. Back on the shelves, Galaxie 500 traces the arc of a group whose debut cassette reveals a love of simple, early Eighties synth/goth Britpop that had doublebacked by their final album, This Is Our Music, at which point students became musicians. In between, there's Kramer, Kramer, and more Kramer, the legendary DIY producer who pitted the band's obvious pop sensibilities against musician-friendly, two-chord V.U. drone and Wareham's wall-of-reverb wail. Each album is better than the last as the band and its producer got progressively more Stereolab as time wore on. "What had started out as a strong friendship and minimal musical commitment for me ended up as a deep commitment to music and a lost friendship," writes Yang in her well-designed booklet. And even though all three band members have realized their potential in other projects -- Yang and Krukowski in Sub Pop's Damon & Naomi, and Wareham in Luna -- the bassist's description of what many fans feel is the band's apex, album number two, On Fire, may also be the best assessment of the Galaxie 500 and its recorded output: That place "between musical naïveté and experience."
4.0 stars -- Raoul Hernandez

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