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JUNE 28, 1999: 

Various Artists Bleecker Street: Greenwich Village In The '60s (Astor Place Recordings)

What a brilliant idea: to dedicate a tribute album not to a specific artist (per usual), but to a particular time and place, in this case '60s-era Greenwich Village. Bleecker Street was at the heart of this happening, a low-rent haven filled with folk clubs and free thinkers of all denominations. "There was music in the cafes at night, and revolution in the air," as Dylan sang later.

It would have been an easy task indeed for the producers of this album to have simply chosen sociopolitical music to evoke the era. Instead they cast their net a little further, selecting songs that simultaneously have a wider appeal as well as being intensely personal. And what a dazzling array of contemporary troubadours: some folkies, some not, performing songs from the cutting edge of that time.

The producers have wisely avoided the mismatching of song to artist which often plagues such projects, though some unlikely pairings work surprisingly well. Thus we have the primo female rocker Chrissie Hynde putting her classy twist on Tim Buckley's enigmatic "Morning Glory." Likewise, pensive Irish stylist Paul Brady offers a surprisingly rousing version of Dino Valenti's anthem of optimism, "Let's Get Together." Two of my favorite tracks are truly dream collaborations. Loudon Wainwright III and Iris DeMent cover Richard and Mimi Farina's "Pack Up Your Sorrows" in a rollicking duet with a jug-band feel. And in what I consider the ultimate Gothic package, John Cale sings with Suzanne Vega on Leonard Cohen's classic, "So Long, Marianne," featuring Cale's unmistakably sinuous, brooding signature. The Jackson Browne of the '90s, Ron Sexsmith, does a touching but querulous rendering of Tim Hardin's "Reason To Believe."

The only two overtly political tunes here are also excellent. John Gorka's take on Eric Anderson's "Thirsty Boots," written about the brave souls who went down South for Freedom Summer, still possesses its original stirring intensity today as a metaphor for those who dare to go beyond the norm. And the cover of Phil Och's "I Ain't Marchin' Anymore," performed by Larry Kirwan & Black 47, is an absolute delight, a mixture of punk and reel that the rebel Ochs himself would have applauded.

Marshall Crenshaw sums it all up with Dylan's anthem of the time, "My Back Pages," a narcissistic comment on the whole shebang. Crenshaw borrows the Byrds' arrangement initially, but explodes into a Byzantine barrage of guitar noise that effectively crowns the ending of the tune.

Bleecker Street: Greenwich Village In The '60s is a superbly executed, thoughtful project that truly brings back a flavor of the time, down to the tiniest detail, while also connecting it with the coming millennium. Even the packaging of the CD itself is panoramic, as are the photos of the artists within. I especially like John Cale's silhouette; he looks for all the world like some punk version of Ratso Rizzo. How appropriate. -- Lisa Lumb


Various Artists Where Is My Mind? A Tribute To The Pixies, (Glue Factory/Oglio)

Tribute albums have become the de rigueur musical anthrax of the '90s (and no, I don't mean that thrash-metal group, Anthrax, although there's probably a tribute album to them out there somewhere). It seems like any band that was ever mentioned in the press at least once warrants a bunch of less-talented musicians gathering to commemorate their supposed legacy. About the only exception to this sad situation is producer extraordinaire Hal Willner, who has the good taste to illuminate an artist's catalog (Stay Awake [Disney]; Lost In The Stars [Kurt Weill]; Weird Nightmare [Charles Mingus], among others) instead of just brushing it off to make a few quick bucks.

If any recently defunct band is deserving of a tribute album, it's the Pixies. Over the course of five releases from 1987 through 1993, the Pixies blazed a trail of raucous, clever, off-kilter music that established the blueprint for what became "alternative rock." So if your tastes lean to such recent popular practitioners of the craft as Eve 6, Weezer, Superdrag, and Nada Surf (as well as 11 other lesser entities ranging from the Get-Up Kids to Sense Field), then Where Is My Mind? is the one for you. Notably missing in action is Letters To Cleo's version of "Debaser," previously announced but not included.

Although all involved parties acquit themselves admirably (i.e., nobody stinks up the joint), this is still a matter of burying the Pixies instead of praising them. The ultimate effect of tribute albums is to send the listener scurrying to locate the originals, which I gladly did. Save your money on this one, and buy any Pixies album instead. That's what I call paying proper tribute. -- David D. Duncan


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