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  Listen Up! 1/15/02 Listen Up!

Tuesday, Jan. 15

Various Artists, "The North Carolina Banjo Collection," Rounder Records. This is the kind of record I enjoy when I hear it, but will never bother to play myself. Two CDs of field recordings of North Carolina banjo players, showing off dozens of individual styles, and revealing just how eloquent an instrument the banjo could be in the days before it became a virtuoso thing for bluegrass. A lot of these people can't really sing too well, but they can pick the banjo with aplomb.

Laito Jr. Laito Sr., "Siempre Juntos," Ahi-Nama Music. Both Jr. and Sr. seem older than I am. Two Cuban singers with great big voices, and snappy percussive arrangements to match. I love the Cuban music, but I have to say, nothing can make a crazy busy day seem more tense than to throw this stuff on in the middle of it all.

Keoki, "Misdirected Jealousy: The Remix Album," Moonshine Records. Remember aerobics records? Remember how they just kept the beat going, 1-2-3-4, thump thump thump thump? Remember how eventually any semblance of song form was dropped just to keep that never ending beat going? Remember how silly these records were? Remember how nowadays, people will buy not just an original recording of the thump, pretending it's art not aerobics, but will actually buy a remix of the same stuff, adding nothing musical to the mix?

Hefner, "Dead Media," Too Pure Records. I suppose there are those who find this sort of amateurism charming, especially the way they use what sounds like toy instruments combined with cheap synthesizers, and play the ironic card of taking their virtually tuneless vocals and treating them with some sort of megaphone effect (the most seriously overused and worthless trend of the last ten years). I suppose there are those who enjoy mulling over treatment of tooth decay, as well. I'm not in either camp.

Dave Edmunds, "A Pile of Rock Live," Castle Music. We played this the other day, and it sounds even better today. Edmunds is just so reliably in the pocket, so perfectly engaged with his material. He casually rips lightning fast guitar runs that would take a lot of guitarists weeks to figure out. But, even when the emphasis is on his virtuosity, as on his rock'n'roll take on "Sabre Dance" (first recorded something like 34 years ago), it's always in the service of providing a good time. Edmunds is a keeper of the rock'n' roll faith, a man who remembers when two guitars, bass, and drums and a whole lot of energy were pretty much the stock requirement of a good band. (He remembers this from the 50s, when he worshipped the likes of Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, and Eddie Cochran, and from the 70s, when Rockpile was a part of the whole New Wave/punk explosion.) Once you have those ingredients, the rest is just a matter of putting your own individual stamp on the music, of taking a few basic forms and making them seem as if they are all that's necessary to express pure joy.

The Langley Schools Music Project, "Iinnocence & Despair," Bar None Records. Hundreds of genuinely good records get released every year with not one single peep in the press. Then, along comes a reissue of schoolchildren in the 1970s singing really bad choral versions of pop songs, and suddenly we've got a cause celebre. Why is this? Why focus on an easy story rather than on quality? There's no reason for anybody who didn't actually sing on this record 25 years ago to even begin to want to hear this crap. It's not innocence, it's not despair, it's bullshit, the ultimate triumph of the lo-fi, anti-music aesthetic.

Badawi, "Soldier of Midian," ROIR Records. Hey, it's a dance music guy with a sampler making music that actually builds in intensity, ebbs and flows, introduces and develops themes, and generally manages to maintain interest with more than just a cool sound. Not that he doesn't have a cool sound, because he does, with a reliance on various and sundry Middle Eastern and Asian musical instruments (and samples of same). The sound is entrancing, the music intriguing.

--Steve Pick



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