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Tucson Weekly Rhythm & Views

JULY 6, 1998: 


Toga! Toga! Toga!

LITTLE CAESAR AND the Romans bridged the gap between late '50s doo wop groups and the emerging early '60s frat rock scene led by the Kingsmen, Sam The Sham and the Pharaohs, and the Swinging Medallions. From their signature vocal theme "Those Oldies But Goodies" to the balls-out New Orleans-style R&B of "Popeye One More Time," Little Caesar and the Romans catch a "Fever" that brings the "Ten Commandments Of Love" to a standstill with powerful, haunting four-part vocal harmonies. Dressed in the corny guise of togas and sandals (think Caligula and his entourage doin' the funky chicken at a weekend bacchanalian beer blast), Little Caesar and the Romans defined the dawning era of frat rock, back in 1961. With hip dance moves and loads of rockin', R&B-flavored tunes like "Hully Gully Again" and "Yoyo Yo Yoyo," all the uptight frat boys were seduced into shaking a tail feather--sucking down pitchers of cheap suds helped aid their awkward attempts at doing the Watusi and the Boo-ga-loo. Toga! Toga! Toga! is the ultimate Animal House-styled soundtrack to your next booze-soaked barbecue. Little Caesar and the Romans would make John Belushi belch with approval.

--Ron Bally


Global Warming

WE'VE PRETTY MUCH got two jazz legends left--Ornette Coleman and Sonny Rollins--and the latter flashes enough of his unmistakable, slightly raspy, driving tone in the first 60 seconds of this newest release to loosen the furrowed brows of jazzsters concerned that the aging Rollins is losing his touch. While the opening "Island Lady" is no "St. Thomas," it's certainly in keeping with the saxophonist's unabashed love for simplistic, even danceable, themes. While most players his age are churning out useless discs of standards, Rollins continues to write most of his fare--all of them here, with the exception of a single cut by Irving Berlin. The coupling of his melodic composing with his idiosyncratic improvisational personality continues to reel us in from both angles. This is no nostalgic album to be appreciated merely for the sake of what Rollins hath already wrought. He's hasn't lost the touch. While his previous exclamation-mark playing may no longer flash itself as frequently as we'd like, it's probably due more to Rollins' increasing penchant for understatement more than a loss of chops.

--Dave McElfresh


Many Moods of Moses
VP Records

DANCEHALL REGGAE'S PLACE on the fringes of mainland pop is a shame. Of all current music, the style can claim the strongest one-two punch--often hitting harder than its hip-hop cousin--of insistent party rhythms and melodic rhyming. But besides the disadvantages of not being a homegrown sound, dancehall's main stumbling block seems to be all those cheap drum machines and cheesy synths that turn Americans off. As Shabba Ranks proved a few years back, though, an artist who can apply hip-hop's indigenous flavors and production values to dancehall holds serious crossover potential on the pop charts. Meet Moses Davis--a.k.a. Beenie Man--and check the many moods he explores on his fourth and highest-profile U.S. release. True to its name, Many Moods dabbles in various styles, yet succeeds consistently at working new sounds into dancehall's framework. From the Zulu chant-sing of "Introlude" to the rudimentary drum 'n' bass of "Monster Look"--and from the new jack swing in his version of Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative" to the Nashville fiddle and pedal steel of "Ain't Gonna Figure It Yet"--Beenie Man expands dancehall's vocabulary far enough to leave stretch marks. And with the worldwide hit "Who Am I," where Beenie flaunts hip-hop swagger over Jeremy Harding's sophisticated production, the blueprint for an international dancehall sound is laid. At its most extreme swings, Many Moods can sounds like a multiple personality disorder. Beenie slips anti-Christian sentiments into "Heaven On Earth," then shouts gospel reggae to the top of Mount Zion on "Got To Be There." "Have You Ever" toasts the joys of menage à trois, while "Steve Biko" reprises Bob Marley melodies to inspire African consciousness. Does he contradict himself? Certainly. But give Beenie a break, the man contains multitudes.

--Roni Sarig

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