Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Reissues

THE MUSIC FROM U.N.C.L.E. (THE ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK AFFAIR)

(Razor & Tie)

Capsule B was standard issue in the cache of tricks carried by agents of the United Network Command for Law & Enforcement (U.N.C.L.E.). It gave spys like the suave Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and dreamy Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) three days of amnesia, so that U.N.C.L.E. secrets would remain safe -- even under the spell of some busty enemy THRUSH agent. The Music From U.N.C.L.E. (The Original Soundtrack Affair), a compilation of 15 songs selected from the original two The Man From U.N.C.L.E. soundtracks, is a sure antidote to Capsule B, jogging the memory of even novice fans of the Sixties spy vs. spy show. This collection is a respectable offering, covering all the bases for first time U.N.C.-ites, but to U.N.C.-obsessives, it will be disappointing; the CD unearths nothing new -- no previously unreleased music, photos, or info. Fortunately, the original brilliance of Hugo Montenegro's arrangements is intact. Some of the hottest pop/TV theme composers of the time worked on the four-season show: Jerry Goldsmith (Our Man Flint) created the slippery, churning signature U.N.C.L.E. theme -- complete with bleating trombones, muted trumpets, slippery chicka-chicka strat riffs, penny whistle, and timpani rolls; Morton Stevens (Hawaii Five-0 and Police Woman); Lalo Schifrin (Mission: Impossible); and Robert Drasnin (Wild Wild West), are a few. Other well-known composers also worked on the series but are not represented on the CD: Nelson Riddle (Batman), Dave Grusin (It Takes a Thief), and Jack Marshall (The Munsters). This info would have been helpful in the liner notes, which again, are respectable, but no friend to completists. Compared to the original LP cover art, the CD pales in comparison, as well. The original soundtrack cover, like the original LP, was an overall more "buxom" affair.
2.5 Stars

-- Kate X Messer


THE BIRTHDAY PARTY

Junkyard (2-13-61)
Hee-Haw (2-13-61)
Mutiny/The Bad Seed EP (2-13-61)
Prayers On Fire (2-13-61)

During their too-brief lifespan, Australia's brutarian roots/noise terrorists the Birthday Party seemed like this secret you only dared whisper to your more open-minded friends -- dare to speak their name aloud and there's no telling what hideously dark forces of nature you might unleash. This illusion was likely sustained by the fact that their albums were as rare as elephant feathers in Corpus Christi, snuck around on murky homebrew cassettes passed from friend to friend. Even as singer Nick Cave's post-Birthday Party stature as a sort of combination Lee Hazlewood/Johnny Cash for the boho set rose over time, it was still damn near impossible to find his old band's albums at the local diskomat. Fortunately, noted master of pain and barbells Henry Rollins felt this was a situation that needed remedy and arranged for his label 2-13-61 to reissue the Birthday Party's complete catalogue, save for their Roxy Music/punk-informed debut as the Boys Next Door. That initial impulse was carried through on the band's early works as evidenced by Hee Haw, though you could tell something was warping and twisting beneath the arty aggro-rock surface. Upon relocating to London in the early Eighties, whatever was inhibiting them gave way. Their collective chest burst open, and the ugliest, most hideous beast to work within a rock framework was freed on Prayers on Fire. Rowland S. Howard attacked his guitar with utter abandon, bass and drums held down the only remotely conventional patterns, no-wave horn and organ noise was peppered throughout like some exotic seasoning, and Nick Cave screamed! His unhinged rantings would shock anyone used to the subdued morbidity of his recent croonings. Strains of blues, country, and other indigenous southern American musical forms abound, but they were never played like this! And so it went with increasingly less restraint, through Junkyard and its comical Big Daddy Roth airbrush sleeve. In 1983, the Birthday Party eventually fell victim to their own excesses: There's a price paid anytime someone lets loose the sounds of Hell, and none of these guys' paths ever strayed close to this turf again. Fortunately, some people were listening: Locally, the guys who eventually collided into the glorious mess known as Scratch Acid surely must've owned a couple of these albums -- maybe even on some of those murky homebrew cassettes -- and simply dumped a molten chunk of heavy metal into the mix to make it their own. Lord knows what young ears who stumble across these newly sprung secrets may make of the same material in a world considerably uglier than the one the Birthday Party inhabited.
(Junkyard) 4 Stars
(Hee-Haw) 3.5 Stars
(Mutiny/The Bad Seed EP) 3 Stars
(Prayers On Fire) 4 Stars

-- Tim Stegall


POPTOPIA!

Power Pop Classics of the 70s (Rhino)
Power Pop Classics of the 80s (Rhino)
Power Pop Classics of the 90s (Rhino)

Call it the Pete Townshend Rule: Never describe your band with a cute, off-the-cuff designation like "Power Pop" to an opportunistic rock writer. Although defining power pop is ultimately a hopeless proposition, its ever-vigilant pundits tend to rally around the idea of a return to the three-minute dose of in-your-face bombast. Power pop and punk frequently romp around in bed together, the former's harmony and hyped-up notions of teen romance act as therapy to the latter's intrinsically cathartic nature. Poptopia!'s history begins with the Raspberries' immortal "Go All the Way," a horny little number with bright blue expectations. Big Star's "September Gurls," Dwight Twilley Band's "I'm On Fire" and the Rubinoos' "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" are the other obvious inclusions on the 70s volume. The Beat's "Rock N Roll Girl" is an edgy, pleasant surprise, but many of the lesser-known songs here have already been showcased on the pop volumes of Rhino's earlier DIY series (now available cheap in the cut-out bins of many a mall record store). Predictably, the second volume of the series, the 80s, begins with the Romantics' "What I Like About You." Although I'm as nauseated as the next guy by that insipid beer commercial, drummer/vocalist Jimmy Marinos' violent delivery drives home the "power" element of this genre with a nail gun. The late Phil Seymour follows up with "Baby It's You," an airy paean that re-orients us to the pop end of the spectrum. Let's Active's "Every Word Means No" and The dB's "Love is for Lovers" are quirky, respectable entries, but as long as you're down south, why not include some lesser-knowns like the Connells or the Reivers? And what about some iconoclastic, slightly freaked out pop from the likes of Game Theory? Both the 70s and 80s volumes are chock full of vital selections, but unlike the DIY and the Just Can't Get Enough series, neither really succeeds in conveying the feeling of a distinct musical era. The 90s volume is even weaker. Aside from a few enlightening tracks by Ride, Redd Kross, and Velvet Crush, it sounds like the compilers were severely limited by what they could and could not license. The upstart L.A. festival from which this compilation got its name is just one example of power pop's renewed appeal in this pre-millennium age. From Supergrass to Elastica to the Hi-Fives, bands of all stripes are in search of that perfect-but-elusive mix of energy and hooks. Unfortunately, the 90s volume of Poptopia! bears no resemblance to that reality.
(70s) 3.5 Stars
(80s) 3 Stars
(90s) 2 Stars

-- Greg Beets


GLEN CAMPBELL

The Glen Campbell Collection 1962-1989
(Razor & Tie)

This August, Garth Brooks plans to put on a concert in Central Park expected to draw in the neighborhood of 100,000 people, and it wouldn't be possible without Glen Campbell. Five years before John Travolta strapped on the mechanical bull, Campbell brought country music to the city for good with his 1975 smash "Rhinestone Cowboy." More than any other, that song made urban sidewalks safe for cowboy boots. It also cemented the bond between country and pop, present since Bob Wills and Gene Autry sang their cowboy swing songs, but never more prevalent than in Campbell's era. Native of Clinton country (Southwest Arkansas) and child of the Depression, Campbell became a hot enough guitar player to land gigs with the Beach Boys and Rick Nelson, as well as the opportunity to lead the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra through an amped-up arrangement of the William Tell Overture. From the rollicking, fleet-fingered bluegrass of "Gentle on My Mind" to the straight-from-the-PTL-club gospel of "Oh Happy Day" and "I Knew Jesus (Before He Was a Star)," early Sixties pop chestnuts ("All I Have to Do Is Dream," Roy Orbison's "Dream Baby") to the swelling strings and crescendoing horns of the most lavish ElVega$ revue ("Bonaparte's Retreat" complete with bagpipes, the sultry disco bounce of "Southern Nights"), The Glen Campbell Collection touches all the major bases of this baseball fan's career. For those (and they are many) who believe Campbell is little more than a sum of all the more unfortunate qualities of Donovan, John Denver, and Porter Wagoner, this 2-CD collection should set them straight. No sense denying that Campbell can fall victim to schmaltz, but so can George Strait, and no other country singer of the day was singing about the birth of feminism ("Dreams of the Everyday Housewife"), subtly questioning the Vietnam War ("Galveston"), or giving props to single mothers ("Manhattan Kansas"). Plus, the quiet frustration and small-town ennui detailed so well in "Wichita Lineman" were "alternative" when Beck was still in diapers. And "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle" gave me a lump in my throat big as a grapefruit. (I love you, mom.) Much more than a rhinestone cowboy, Glen Campbell is one of the major interpreters of American song and scene. Not bad for a "Country boy with his feet in L.A."
3.5 Stars

-- Christopher Gray


THE SUGAR HILL RECORDS STORY

(Rhino)

Once upon a time, you could judge a book by its cover. Every single released between 1979 and 1983 by New Jersey's Sugar Hill Records featured a light-blue sleeve or album ring, identifying marks that meant buying said Sugar Hill Record was a no-risk proposition -- like Stax and Motown before them, and Def American and Sub-Pop after. If it was blue and said Sugar Hill, it had to be cool. A recent 5-CD collection of the label's hits, misses, and experiments also features a light-blue box, and guess what? It's still cool. To some degree, for all its big hits and amusing novelties, The Sugar Hill Records Story is ultimately the story of two franchise players: The Sugar Hill Gang and Grandmaster Flash & the Furious 5. Rhino has given both acts their single disc Greatest Hits treatment, but presented in chronological order, this box set's greatest asset is historical perspective. From the opening glory of the clashing studio breakbeats and live in-house studio funk of "Rapper's Delight" (the single that started it all, both for Sugar Hill and hip-hop's suburban invasion) to Grandmaster Melle Mel's "Jesse" (the forgotten but essential plea for Jesse Jackson's '84 election), this is clearly hip-hop's five-disc blueprint. You want influence? Check out "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel," the deejay-as-musician vehicle that everyone from Run DMC to DJ Shadow has driven to the bank. Want freestyle fun? How about the Funky 4 +1's "That's the Joint," or even the silly ventriloquist schtick of Wayne & Charlie (The Rapping Dummy). Plus, this story's got a nice plot twist as what started as a disco backlash somewhat ironically embraces New Wave with the Treacherous Three taking on Devo's "Whip It," and the Furious Five doing the Tom Tom Club's thang with "It's Nasty, Genius Of Love." But the real payoff here is watching the Furious Five engineer a three-sided foray into politics with "The Message," "New York New York," and "White Lines (Don't Do It)" -- the first evidence that rap could be both musical and meaningful. The Sugar Hill Records Story is the stuff of true legacy, one which Rhino has neatly packed into a risk-free, light-blue archive.
4.5 Stars

-- Andy Langer


AL GREEN ANTHOLOGY

(The Right Stuff)

The title of one his albums notwithstanding, Al Green is love. And if God is love, then Al Green is ... Praise be to God. Let us rejoice in His name. Please, open your hymn book, the pristine white one with the four CDs. Turn to the first disc, and let us sing a most lovely song of devotion, "Tired of Being Alone" (a song that came to Job-er Green in his sleep). Lord, we're all tired of being alone, but when Al sings, he eases our pain. He eases our burdens and lifts our spirits -- carries us in his arms, leaving one set of footprints in the sand. He's done it since he was a little boy, starting at nine years old when he sang your praises with his brothers under the direction of one of your most fierce and ardent followers, his father; young Al would sneak Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke albums into the house only to get a whooping. And when he was 21, he turned from his father and the Lord and began singing secular music, scoring his first hit in 1967 with "Back Up Train." But then there was darkness, until 1970 when Al met Willie Mitchell in Midland, Texas. Says Howard Grimes, who along with the Hodges brothers found an unholy/holy groove on much of the Seventies Hi Records' output that makes up most of this set, of his first encounter with Green: "He said, `All I want you to do is vamp [repeat the riff]. And he started humming, and I knew then from the voice. That's him. So when we played the tune, the house came down. And it happened from that. The rest is history." Amen. Praise be to God: "Let's Stay Together," "Love and Happiness," "Take Me to the River," "I'm Still in Love With You" -- all written by Al, as well as glories like "Guilty," "Judy," and of course "Simply Beautiful." Always, always, he was electrified when he sang live (nine minutes of "Let's Stay Together" and 10 of "Love and Happiness" testify to that). And brother could the boy could turn water into wine. Witness "Light My Fire" and "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart." One could easily be served by shorter, sharper testaments to soul brother extraordinaire (Al Green Gets Next to You, Let's Stay Together, I'm Still in Love With You, Greatest Hits), but this lesson is a sound one, full of love and happiness -- just like Al's decision in 1979 to devote his life to God at the age of 33.
3.5 Stars

-- Raoul Hernandez


KANSAS CITY BLUES: 1944-49 (Capitol)

JUMPIN' LIKE MAD: COOL CATS & HIP CHICKS NON-STOP DANCIN' (Capitol)

THE COCKTAIL COMBOS (Capitol)

CHICAGO BLUES MASTERS, VOL. 3 (Capitol)

LOUISIANA SWAMP BLUES (Capitol)

As the sound of popular music continues to become ever so homogenized, one can look back in wonder to the days when particular musical styles helped define a multitude of distinctive regional sounds. The new installment of the Capitol Blues Collection is a rip-roarin' celebration of post-WWII black popular music, most of which was recorded for small, independent labels that, over the years, landed under the aegis of the EMI-Capitol conglomerate (that's another story altogether). In its heyday of the Thirties, Kansas City was the jazz mecca and the hub for countless southwest "territorial" bands that barnstormed the region from the Great Plains down through Texas; the Rock & Roll of the Fifties had its roots deep in the blues and the riffing swing bands of Thirties K.C. The 3-CD set, Kansas City Blues, brings alive the transition between these two eras, the period of jump blues. Pianist Jay McShann, who led one of the truly great swing-era big bands, is the most important artist here leading various combos that put the blues `n' boogie feel of his big band into a smaller context. In addition to featuring vocalists Jimmy Witherspoon and Walter Brown, McShann's groups boast tenor sax legends Ben Webster and Texan Clifford Scott. The deliciously risque Julia Lee & Her Boyfriends add some spice along the way. That same spirit is alive and well on Jumpin' Like Mad, a 51-song hipster's delight that eschews regional and stylistic boundaries. Swing, bop, jump, jive, boogie, blues, R&B, and even some early rock & roll are all represented on this knock-out set of up-tempo tunes you might have heard on any nickle-a-pop jukebox in post-war urban America. Saxophones reign supreme on these sides, which feature everyone from T-Bone Walker and Louis Jordan to Louis Prima and even Peggy Lee. Have your dancin' shoes ready, as this one is great fun from first cut to last. Equally spry is The Cocktail Combos volume of the series, which brings alive a Los Angeles of old where intimate and urbane piano combos defined what we would consider today to be prototypically "lounge." Like most of what was heard in L.A. in those days, the sounds on this 3-CD collection have deep roots in Texas jazz and blues. The (Nat) King Cole Trio were undoubtedly the best and most influential of the lot with Chicagoan Cole's unforgettable voice and brilliant piano playing. An equal part of the mix, however, was Austin-born guitarist Oscar Moore, whose fleet, blues-drenched lines set the pace for jazz guitar of that period. Moore's brother, Johnny, led the Three Blazers from whose ranks came Texas song stylist/pianist Charles Brown. Less polished and more bluesy than Cole, Brown was tremendously popular as these sides will attest. Even more down-home was East Texas-born pianist Floyd Dixon, who employed the guitar services of both Moore brothers on several of these tracks. Switching gears to the harp, Chicago Blues Master, Vol. 3 finds Windy City-style harp players James Cotton, George "Harmonica" Smith, and Shakey Jake recording out in L.A. Unlike the previous sets which are collections of singles, this one is a reissue of three complete and rather obscure albums from the period 1968-71. I can't recall ever coming across Cotton's Todd Rundgren-produced Capitol LP, which, while ambitiously over-produced to these ears, is still nice as a missing piece to the Cotton blues puzzle. George Smith was L.A.'s master blues harpman and his tribute album to Little Walter was always a favorite of mine, while Shakey Jake Harris, whose colorful legacy as Magic Sam's uncle and as a hustler outweigh his talents as a bluesman, is represented by his lone LP, which is more of historical curiosity than a memorable blues album even with Luther Alison on guitar. Rounding out the series is Louisiana Swamp Blues, a raw and raucous affair with rough-cut gems from the likes of Clifton Chenier, Guitar Slim, Clarence "Bon Ton" Garlow, and Boozoo Chavis. I wouldn't necessarily recommend this set to novices, but collectors will have a field day with it.
(K.C. Blues) 4.5 Stars
(Jumpin' Like Mad:) 5 Stars
(Cocktail Combos) 4 Stars
(Chicago Blues) 3 Stars
(Louisiana) 3 Stars

-- Jay Trachtenberg


GENE AUTRY

Sing Cowboy Sing: The Gene Autry
Collection
(Rhino)

Gene Autry doesn't just belong to another time, he personifies another time: The era of the singing cowboy, when every Saturday afternoon thousands of American kids piled into matinees to watch the grinning Autry, his valiant horse Champion, and his cutup sidekick Smiley Burnette ride the spacious vistas and one-horse towns of the American West, rescuing ladies in trouble, fighting bad guys, cracking good-humored jokes, and occasionally stopping to sing a song about how big the sky was out there, how blue (or brown) a certain lady's eyes had been, or how nice it would be to sleep somewhere besides the hard, dusty ground. Between 1934 and 1953, minus the four years he flew a transport plane for Uncle Sam, Autry appeared in 94 movies, starring in 91. And between 1940 and 1956, his 30-minute Melody Ranch radio program brought Autry into the living room every Sunday evening, where his weather-beaten croon, laid-back geniality, and unwavering adherence to the cowboy code turned a former railroad telegrapher from Tioga, Texas into a true (and truly) American icon. Melody Ranch is the main source for the 4-CD Sing Cowboy Sing, with a few odds & ends including a Christmas duet with Rosemary Clooney thrown in for good measure. (No cowboy song of Autry's, even signature tunes like "Tumblin' Tumbleweeds," "Back in the Saddle Again," or Cole Porter's "Don't Fence Me In" ever sold near as many records as a bouncy little number about a certain red-nosed reindeer.) The songs alone show how much a part of lore Autry is: "Sing Me a Song of the Saddle," "The One Rose," "That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine," "Maria Elena," "The Yellow Rose of Texas" (sung with a different melody and dedicated to then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt), "Silver Spurs (On the Golden Stairs)," "Sioux City Sue," "I Tipped My Hat and Slowly Rode Away," "Mule Train," "(I've Got Spurs That) Jingle, Jangle, Jingle," "South of the Border," "You're the Only Star in My Blue Heaven," and many, many more. But Autry was never just about songs; with a voice that outshone Tommy Duncan and Jimmie Rodgers, that croon, in its own dusty, glowing way, is every bit as virtuosic and preternatural as Jimmie Dale Gilmore's. He was the total package, not only singing about the cowboy life but living it, first in movies and Melody Ranch, then later as a businessman maverick, owner of the California Angels, namesake for the Autry Museum of Western Heritage, and in an era where living legends are a dime a dozen, the real thing.
5 Stars

-- Christopher Gray


SONNY CLARK Dial "S" for Sonny (Blue Note)

CLIFFORD JORDAN Cliff Craft (Blue Note)

HORACE PARLAN Us Three (Blue Note)

HORACE SILVER QUINTET Further Explorations (Blue Note)

Three men spearheaded Blue Note Records in its heyday: German emigre Alfred Lion, whose passion drove him to record session after session, if only for himself; engineer Rudy Van Gelder, who turned his New Jersey home into a studio where some of the era's best albums would be made; and Francis Wolff, whose visionary photography gave the label a visual trademark. From 1939 until the late Sixties, Lion and company would issue simple, unadorned recordings that proved irresistible to jazz aficionados. Today, Blue Note is still one of the most collected labels in the world. To that end, the Connoisseur Series appeared a few years back. The series has done a good job of reissuing the famous and the obscure, and attention to detail has been excellent. While Blue Note seemed a godsend to jazz fans, their prolific recording schedule meant even more to the jazz musicians in New York: a steady paycheck. The earliest two CDs of this latest series, Sonny Clark's Dial "S" for Sonny and Clifford Jordan's Cliff Craft, were actually both recorded on the same day, and feature many of the same players. The sessions still sound dissimilar, as each leader relies heavily on originals. Clark, an effortless pianist/composer who died young, sounds tentative in one of his earliest sessions as a leader. His relaxed verve is present when the pressure's off, on Jordan's date, where Jordan's forceful tenor cuts through. Unlike Clark, Jordan already sounds fiery and assured, ready for the career that would have him exploring all regions of bop. Horace Parlan, despite a long career, has never become much of a household name. His piano is not flashy, but it is energetic and full of wonderful subtleties -- in an obvious Ahmad Jamal-influenced fashion. Us Three is the surprise of the bunch, a driving trio date delivered adroitly, though it's Horace Silver's Quintet who claims the must-have album here. The fivesome, featuring Jordan, lays down hard bop, Sliver's trademark genre-mixing swing providing just enough rough edges to keep things really interesting. Early in his almost 30-year career with Blue Note, Silver's is a first-rate outing, and like the Connoisseur Series itself, handled just the way Lion, Wolff, and Gelder always conducted themselves: With style.
(Sonny Clark)2.5 Stars
(Cliff Jordan) 3.5 Stars
(Horace Parlan) 3.5 Staars
(Horace Silver Quintet) 4 Stars

-- Jeff McCord


ETTA JAMES Her Best (MCA/Chess)

JIMMY ROGERS The Complete Chess Recordings (MCA/Chess)

HOWLIN' WOLF His Best (MCA/Chess)

BO DIDDLEY His Best (MCA/Chess)

MUDDY WATERS His Best 1947-1955 (MCA/Chess)

CHESS BLUES CLASSICS 1947-1956 (MCA/Chess)

CHESS BLUES CLASSICS 1957-1967 (MCA/Chess)

It's somehow fitting that the best white-boy musical tribute to the velvety blues of Chess Records is an instrumental tune: "2120 S. Michigan Avenue," the Chicago address of the venerable label, by the Rolling Stones, who were savvy enough not to try to put words where music spoke the language. And if words by the ream have been heaped on the blues of Chess Records, well, it's no wonder: Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Etta James, Chuck Berry, Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Elmore James were among the leading lights recorded by Chess during its heyday from 1947 through the late Sixties. Founded by two Polish Jews -- Leonard and Phil Chess -- the label had its ear acutely tuned to the sound of Chicago's postwar blues boom, and the mighty Muddy Waters was the chairman of this board's roster, which, for sheer talent, would never again be matched by any blues label. As part of the newly released 50th Anniversary Collection, Chess Blues Classics 1947-1956 illustrates that astonishing variety with muscle and panache. This particular disc features not only co-chairman Waters, Dixon, and Wolf, but also the vastly underappreciated J.B.Lenoir ("Eisenhower Blues"), a young and hungry Lowell Fulson ("Reconsider Baby," recorded in Dallas and featuring Fathead Newman), and Little Walter ("My Babe"), while leaving a wide berth for Chess Blues Classics 1957-67 where Howlin' Wolf dominates with "Sitting On Top of the World," "Spoonful," and "Red Rooster." Wolf is matched for badass attitude by Etta James' definitive, torchy "I'd Rather Go Blind" and John Lee Hooker's "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer," and Little Walter's scorching "Key to the Highway," the likes of which completely redefines "badass" when you look at his backing musicians: Luther Tucker, Willie Dixon, George Hunter, Muddy Waters, and Otis Spann. Jimmy Rogers: The Complete Chess Recordings and Bo Diddley: His Best live up to their titles; Rogers' is a 2-CD set impressively highlighting the one-time Waters' guitarist's Chess years and Bo Diddley, well... Bo knows one lick and he does it so goddamn well that George Thorogood oughtta spend the rest of his life on his knees kissing Bo's ass. Contrast that with Etta James: Her Best, which has its moments in songs like the silky sensuality of "At Last," but is weighted with a lot of syrupy string arrangements that often achieve the impossible by overshadowing James' bellowed vocals. Leave it to Howlin' Wolf: His Best to deliver the knockout punch. Even though Muddy Waters: His Best 1947-1955 offers 20 choice cuts, his spare but killer versions of "Rollin' Stone," "I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man," and "Trouble No More" are menaced into submission by the even more rabid Wolf's "Evil," "Smokestack Lightning,""Howlin' for My Darling," "Wang Dang Doodle," and "Killing Floor" -- as lethal in 1997 as they were when Chess recorded them 1951-64. These songs and these discs make the listener wanna just shut up and hear the music. Ain't that the blues?
(Etta James) 2.5 Stars
(Jimmy Rogers) 3.5 Stars
(Howlin' Wolf) 4.5 Stars
(Bo Diddley) 4.5 Stars
(Muddy Waters) 3.5 Stars
(Classics 1947-1956) 4 Stars
(Classics 1957-67) 4 Stars

-- Margaret Moser


IGGY AND THE STOOGES

Raw Power (Columbia/Legacy)

One of five albums that gave Seventies rock a rather brutal facelift, Raw Power might nevertheless be a puzzling headscratcher for anyone that doesn't already "get it." That's because, as the Ig himself snarled at the time, "That fuckin' carrot-top [David Bowie] ruined the mix." Sure, Raw Power sounded like Vietnam, but the mix was so muted that it sounded like Vietnam being fought inside a Kleenex box. Nearly 25 years after its initial release, Iggy took Raw Power to Columbia's remix-remaster lab and freed it from a quarter century of Bowie damage. Now the damned thing sounds like Nagasaki... and not inside a Kleenex box! The Ashton Brothers rhythm section is finally brought fully into the picture, no longer confined to some rinky-dink tapping noise somewhere at the back of the speakers. Now their brute slam drives Williamson's already insane, Wayne Kramer-in-Hell guitar past the limits of frenzy, all the way into derangement, where Iggy resided even inside the old Bowie/Kleenex mix. Newly discovered details emerge: Fade-outs excised in favor of full-blown, arranged endings, psychotic shouts sprinkled through Williamson's dogfight guitar break on "Search And Destroy," etc., etc. Then, as if the results weren't already cataclysmic enough, Iggy refused to see his baby remastered with normally sparkling digital sterility. The extensive liner notes paint a picture of Iggy riding the mastering engineer anytime needles came out of the red zone. Resultingly, where Raw Power once needed all the help your stereo's volume controls could give it, it now can't be played past 2 or 3 on your knob. Otherwise, your speakers begin begging, pleading for mercy. It's become a cliché to state that everything anyone loved about the Sex Pistols could be found here and on the two New York Dolls albums. With its sonic gonads now fully restored, it can be further stated Raw Power is the single most dangerous rock & roll album ever made. Before or since.
5 Stars

-- Tim Stegall







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