Boston Phoenix CD Reviews
JANUARY 17, 2000:
**1/2 Missing Persons REMIXED HITS (Cleopatra)
Terry Bozzio and Dale Bozzio, the core of Missing Persons, might not have changed the direction of pop music with their Euro-like comedic disco, but 15 years after their prime this remixed collection of their best-known songs feels a whole lot like useful club fun. Edgy and cute at the same time, and remixed by 13 different acid-house and trance DJs, Missing Persons' songs sound embarrassingly catchy and at the same time are hard to pin down. Delight and surprise find their way in among the techno clichés and trancy commonplaces, but the magic here isn't all in the remix. The music itself, in marvelous ear candies like "Walking In LA" (three versions), "I Like Boys," "Destination Unknown" (two remixes), and "Words" (also in two takes), changes shape just when you think you have it figured out, and Dale's cute and smily vocals distract your attention from these transformations. What else would you expect a disco dolly to do? How otherwise to tickle your erogenous zones without tempting your moral conscience? "Mental Hopscotch," especially, is recommended to the tongues and lips of all dance nations.
-- Michael Freedberg
Lurrie Bell's blues aren't in his head. They're in his genes and in his fingers and in the days he's spent torn between being one crazy son of a bitch and being perhaps the most talented blues guitarist of his generation. On Blues Had a Baby, the 41-year-old Bell's playing is as intense, propulsive, and original as the well-worn paths of the Chicago blues allow. The son of harmonica legend Carey Bell, Lurrie has some of that same eclectic, accidental genius. Set opener "Give Me a Hard Time" and several other band cuts are marked by fluid and soulful playing that is deep instead of flashy; the stark final cuts capture Bell alone in the studio. His singing ranges from serviceable to strong, with some of the best moments coming -- oddly enough -- on "If I Had a Hammer." Producer Scott Dirks's liner notes capture the Bell allure I witnessed 15 years ago at the defunct Nightstage in Cambridge and find again here: "Using a $100 copy of a copy of a piece of shit guitar, he left every blues fan in the club slack jawed and stunned with one of his effortless displays of off-hand virtuosity, and the question on their lips: 'Who is that guy?' "
-- Bill Kisliuk
Although June Tabor is not as well known as her friend Sandy Denny, she's been at the forefront of England's folk scene since the mid '70s. Silly Sisters, a duet album with Steeleye Span's Maddy Prior, introduced her to an international audience, and though subsequent releases made her one of England's best-known singers, they did little to further her international reputation. Tabor has a husky, soulful contralto and a dramatically understated delivery that's well suited to the downbeat material she favors, mostly lesser-known British folk tunes that she's rescued from undeserved obscurity. A Quiet Eye is a slight departure; Tabor and long-time pianist and arranger Huw Warren have collaborated with London's Creative Jazz Orchestra to produce charts that mix jazz, blues, and British-music-hall pop into a lushly melancholic package. Subliminal washes of brass and woodwind are perfect complements to Tabor's distressed vocals on "The Gardener," a bitter tale of unrequited love, and the band's Arabic groove adds a dimension of jaunty grace to "Pharaoh," an anti-capitalist romp from the pen of Richard Thompson. Tabor closes with Ewan MacColl's "First Time" and the folk chestnut "The Water Is Wide," both given stark, almost a cappella readings that showcase the singer's subtle power.
-- J. Poet
They Might Be Giants principal John Linnell isn't the first songwriter to pen his own odes to America's individual states -- Boston's Dambuilders pledged to complete one song for each of the 50 states in the early '90s, and they managed to deliver around a dozen of them before breaking up. But it's no surprise to find a member of TMBG, who made a shtick out of being prolific, surpassing that mark in one fell swoop with State Songs, a 16-track collection of tunes named after and/or dedicated to various American states, including a catchy theme song for the project titled "The Songs of the 50 States." In fact, it's hard to think of anyone better suited to such a task than Linnell except perhaps his TMBG partner John Flansburgh, who spends his spare time these days with his own solo project, Mono Puff.
State Songs sticks mainly to the kind of short, sweet, wry, quirky drums-bass-guitar-accordion/keyboard compositions that defined TMBG's early work, though at the risk of piling gimmick atop gimmick, Linnell did get his hands on a couple of old self-playing Wurlitzer Band Organs, a 103 and a 165 (like a player piano, they're "programmed" using specially cut paper rolls) for a few instrumental tracks ("Illinois," "New Hampshire," and "Utah"). The consistently solid results would seem to suggest that Linnell works well under pressure, even if it's self-imposed. That's 15 down, 35 more to go.
-- Matt Ashare
This live concert of piano and trumpet improvisations triumphs by imaginatively expressing the spirit of film noir. Inspired by the Alfred Hitchcock centennial, and galvanized by the ghosts of Miles and Monk, Rava and Blake have an unerring way of rethinking the harmonic possibilities of standard fare like "Nature Boy," which refracted through their dark psyches ends up sounding like an elegy for nature. "Tea for Two" seems almost conventional until the wildly dissonant finale. And Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" is transfigured by Blake into a wistful, lyrical question about whether anyone should bother with romantic union. Best of all is a tribute to Hitchcock's Vertigo, where music from the film dreamily floats into the old ballad "Laura." An air of unresolved mystery is sustained through a dryly acerbic trumpet sound blended with piano filigree of disquieting lyricism. There's a deep spiritual and musical empathy between these two artists, who seem thrilled at the chance to bring a sense of cinematic suspense to well-worn jazz chestnuts.
-- Norman Weinstein
Jon Faddis, Dizzy Gillespie's most prominent living acolyte, leads this amiable session reflecting the late master's love of Afro-Latin jazz fusions -- from bossa nova to clavé-inflected Cuban. If the material sometimes seems all too familiar, it's worth remembering that the pioneering Gillespie introduced several of the pieces here to the jazz audience before they became crossover hits. A heavy crew of versatile Dizzy-ites deliver the goods: Mulgrew Miller's piano brings the right mix of bop, blues, and montuno; Slide Hampton lends heft and Latin timbres to "Guarachi Guaro"; Don Braden serves as Faddis's Sonny-like rhythm-tenor foil; and drummer Ignacio Berroa negotiates the varied beats with his typical aplomb. As for Faddis, at this late date you'll either love the uncanny Dizzyness of his sound or make a dash for to your favorite Gillespie recordings. But you can't fault Faddis's perfectly chiseled ornaments on "Tin Tin Deo," or the delicacy of his mute set against James Moody's flute on "Africana," or the rocketing trumpet/alto breaks these two trade on "Pan Americana." (The last couple are part of the "Gillespiana Suite" that Lalo Schifrin penned for Dizzy.) The only thing missing on this set is the man himself.
-- Jon Garelick
The great German Romantic writer E.T.A. Hoffmann composed music as well as the short stories and novels for which he's famous -- in his own time, in fact, he was also famous as a music critic, one esteemed by no less than Beethoven. Now, almost two centuries later, German record labels are finally beginning to take up his case. For all his devotion to Mozart (he changed his third given name, Wilhelm, to Amadeus), you won't do him any favors by playing his Das Kreuz an der Ostsee ("The Cross on the Baltic") Overture immediately after, say, the Overture to Don Giovanni -- an undiscovered genius he's not. But like his literary alter ego, the conductor Johannes Kreisler, he's just quirky and original enough to be worth a listen.
This new release offers music from four stage works: the opera Das Kreuz an der Ostsee, the ballet Arlequin, the opera Der Trank der Unsterblichkeit ("The Drink of Immortality"), and the singspiel Liebe und Eifersucht ("Love and Jealousy"). Mostly Hoffmann looks back to the likes of Gluck, Haydn, and Mozart, but there are anticipations of Bruckner in the wind chorale of Das Kreuz's sinfonia and Wagner in the "March of the Teutonic Knights," and the 20 short, picturesque selections that make up the Arlequin ballet look ahead to Schumann's Papillons and Carnaval. The more spontaneous writing in the overtures from Der Trank der Unsterblichkeit and Liebe und Eifersucht even conjures briefly Mozart's comic operas.
Hoffmann is also represented on disc by recordings of his piano sonatas (cpo), his Miserere and Symphony in E-flat (Koch/Schwann), and his operas Aurora (Bayer Records) and Undine (Bayer Records, Koch/Schwann, and Living Stage). This cpo release is generously annotated, but the back cover gives it a different title ("Music for the Stage") and provides inaccurate track information, and though Caspar David Friedrich is a fine choice for any Hoffmann CD booklet, you'd think cpo would have selected Friedrich's The Cross on the Baltic rather than the unrelated Mountain Landscape with Rainbow.
-- Jeffrey Gantz
Bob Log III's Trike is like a boombox-quality tape of randy inner ramblings from the neighborhood pervert's basement. "I'll tell you when to go," a twangy voice echoes. "Hmmm?" a giddy girlish voice asks. "Go Woo-hoo!", Daddy-twang responds on "Claps," and that's followed each time by 10-to-20-second snips of heavy breathing, creepy giggling, and the warm sounds from lumps of flesh smacking -- at one point in double time, which may have something to do with the title of one of the album's earlier tracks, "Clap Your Tits." So in a way this is a naughty Jerky Boys-like novelty disc, the kind you'd slap on for a puerile chuckle. In addition to the sound of two breasts clapping, the raunchy album features lots of tape hiss, a bass drum beating, foot stomping, tape loops, a scratchy holler, a drum machine, handclaps, and guitars whipped up into primal vamps with frantic slide-guitar squiggles filling the between-groove spaces. "Bacon" is a one-chord John Lee Hooker rave-up. But Log gets most of his mojo from reworking Howlin' Wolf's "Smokestack Lightin' " riff, plucking the eerie musical figure from what sounds like a rusted wire slung loose over a branch. And, hey, the ladies seem to be applauding.
-- Lorne Behrman
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