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NOVEMBER 3, 1997: 

**** Various Artists



This may be the first tribute album that doubles as a parody album, but it's true to the spirit of the band being saluted. Who wants to hear reverent versions of songs that were meant to be dumb fun? Even though nobody covers "Runnin' with the Devil" (which everybody knows is the best VH song, right?), these twisted covers wind up proving how much the bands love and understand Van Halen, whether they want to admit it or not.

Talking to Animals' bossa nova "Everybody Wants Some," Jayuya's mambo-ized "Janie's Crying," and Cherry 2000's "Could This Be Magic" (done in Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks style) come out as funny and hedonistic as the originals. And Gigolo Aunts improve "Why Can't This Be Love" by throwing in all the Beatles moves they know, which is plenty. For a change of pace there are achingly sensitive renditions of "Jump" and "Dance the Night Away" by Mary Lou Lord and Tom Leach. The real VH will be home free if their forthcoming album with Gary Cherone is this entertaining.

-- Brett Milano

**1/2 The James Taylor Quartet


(Acid Jazz/Hollywood)

Acid jazz is something of a misnomer when it comes to the James Taylor Quartet: this 13-song set isn't very trippy and has only a passing acquaintance with any improvisationally based tunes. But the British group's material is pretty easy to take overall; they have an ear for the catchy riff and satisfying arrangement, putting the organ -- played by the band's namesake and leader -- way up on top and deftly using the wah-wah pedal to lacquer even the most wart-pocked surface. The tunes themselves -- including interpretations of the themes from Starsky and Hutch and Dirty Harry and originals of that sort -- evoke crime shows, skin flicks, blaxploitation films. Which is a tidy fit in the camp/kitsch niche staked out by Austin Powers, a film for which the JTQ happen to have composed the theme music.

-- Jonathan Dixon

**1/2 Various Artists


(Ark 21)

The Police didn't play reggae so much as play with reggae, a point that Regatta Mondatta helps to illustrate. Steel Pulse's "Can't Stand Losing You," with its prominent bass and horns, female back-up singers, and new-age keyboards, casts the Police's melody amid a more authentic reggae than the British trio's standard regatta de blanc ("white reggae"). And Shinehead snazzes up Sting's "Englishman in New York" with hip-hop beats, record scratches, and authentic patois; he fittingly retitles it "Jamaican in New York."

The Police's split from pure reggae becomes most evident when Sting duets with Ziggy Marley on "One World (Not Three)." With a gruff voice and faux Jamaican accent, Sting adds the very pop-rock elements Regatta Mondatta is otherwise careful to avoid. The rest of the album is spotty -- Los Pericos boldly set "Darkness" to a jungle beat, but Jazz Jamaica turns "Wrapped Around Your Finger" into Caribbean muzak. Still, in wake of Puff Daddy's plundering of "Every Breath You Take," this Police tribute seems especially respectful.

-- Dan Tobin

*** Various Artists


(Glue Factory)

For a band who released just one LP and one EP's worth of music before calling it quits in 1989, Berkeley's Operation Ivy made a lasting impact as modern-day ska-punk originators. Now the quartet's torch is being carried by seeming legions of second-generation American groups. But can the humbly influenced fill the shoes of the masters? Wrong question, of course, as the 13 groups on Take Warning are concerned less with faithful covers than with incorporating the Op Ivy sound into their own style -- including horns, which though Op Ivy never used 'em are integral to many current ska-punk combos. Oregon's Cherry Poppin' Daddies give the hyper-anthemic "Sound System" a robust swing-jazz twist; the hornless Teen Heroes punctuate "Smiling" with Stereolab-ish keyboard bleeps; Marshall Arts turns "Bad Town" into a trip-hop/dub/go-go triumph; and the relentlessly goofy Aquabats play the sacred "Knowledge" as a camp(y) sing-along. Granted that this tribute offers its share of idol worship, Take Warning is of all things true to itself.

-- Mark Woodlief

*** Madredeus


(Metro Blue; two CDs)

Fado is a style of Portuguese music that's been likened to a cross between opera and the blues, and its uncanny blend comes through clearly on this live concert recording by the exploratory chamber ensemble Madredeus. They use accordion, cello, acoustic guitar, electric keyboards, and the ethereal singing of Teresa Salgueiro to translate this moody folk music into a contemporary pop idiom influenced by everyone from João Gilberto to Bob Marley.

This double-CD set captures the contemplative serenity and delicate musicianship that has won the group immense popularity throughout Europe. (Their spacious, haunting soundscapes are featured in Wim Wenders's latest film, Lisbon Story.) It offers an alternative to the super-slick, ultra-groovy dance music that dominates the world-music scene. Indeed, founder and leader Pedro Ayres Magalhâes has said that in concert Madredeus "wants to be peace itself" -- and that's precisely what songs like "O ladrão" and "Cuidado" achieve.

-- Alan Waters

**** John Coltrane


(Impulse!; four CDs)

Beginners can test the waters with the old single-disc volume with the original, and best, version of the seminal "Chasin' the Trane." Everyone else will want this deluxe edition, with its multiple versions of nine songs, Coltrane and Eric Dolphy forming a mutual-education society, and an otherwise continually changing ensemble that includes McCoy Tyner, bassists Reggie Workman and Jimmy Garrison (playing together and separately), drummers Elvin Jones and Roy Haynes, and occasional oud and bassoon. Often working over a static harmonic foundation, and driven by Jones, Coltrane is intense, yes, but also ebullient, and it's surprising how in those dense rushes of notes at ultra-fast tempos he creates a sense of calm spaciousness. The still center of the swirling universe, indeed.

-- Jon Garelick

* Various Artists



Devo weren't just new-wave tunesmiths, they were weird and a little nasty -- in short, actively uncool, which is why their records have stayed surprising over time. So it's a bummer to see the 13 punk bands here doing such literal-minded, cheerful, normal versions of their songs, rocking up the arrangements a little (or, in the Voodoo Glow Skulls' case, turning "Time Out for Fun" into ineffectual ska) and mostly trying to imitate Mark Mothersbaugh's inimitable yelp. Possum Dixon's woozy translation of "Mongoloid" into "El Mongoloido" is on the right track, and "Snowball" is durable enough to survive being made boppy by Don Knotts Overdrive. But if you've heard another Devo tribute -- and there have been a few -- you've heard a better one.

-- Douglas Wolk

**1/2 Bruce Katz Band



Keyboard wiz Bruce Katz's third CD ricochets between the soulful and the merely facile. Mostly the soul wins out. And not only when vocalist Mighty Sam McClain shows up to sermonize the blues, as he does on "Hangin' on the Cross" and the lighter "I'm Gonna Love You." Boston-based Katz has a knack for writing instrumentals with deep historical and emotional roots. He also has an easy command of the piano and the B-3 organ. So he captures the classic barrelhouse joy of piano legend Pete Johnson's pioneering pounding on "Norton's Boogie" and makes the black-and-whites sing sweet gospel on "In the Garden (Traditional) for Lee." Backing McClain, Katz's B-3 becomes a choir of angels; at the start of "Elmore's Glue," he plays it more like that old devil Jimmy Smith. But "Night of Joy" comes off as jazz-lite with a twist of blues. And too many compositions like the title track strive for a fusion of blues and jazz that doesn't have the heart or flair of either.

-- Ted Drozdowski

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