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  Listen Up! 1/16/04 Listen Up!

Friday, Jan. 16

The Flatlanders, “Wheels of Fortune,” New West Records. This comes out in two weeks, and it’s another delight for long-time fans of either the group or the individual members – Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Butch Hancock. This is my second time hearing this, and already all the songs sound like old friends. Which makes sense, since I’ve been listening to these guys for two decades now, and it’s not like they’re pushing any stylistic envelopes when they get together. You get great songwriting, intelligent lyrics, and singing that ranges from gorgeous (Gilmore) to expressive (Ely) to gee, he’s really improved (Hancock). All this, and the musical saw.

Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, “The Ultimate Collection,” Motown Records. So many options with the Motown catalogue, how do you decide which one to buy? Well, first of all, put that thing right back in the bins if the compilation you’re picking up doesn’t say copyright 1998 or later. These past few years, they’ve restored the original luster to the mix, and these old records leap out the same way they did on AM radio back in the 60s. After that, it’s a matter of personal preference. Here, for instance, you get 25 songs on one disc, including most of Smokey’s biggest songs, and enough less familiar cuts to give you a flavor of what it must have sounded like to hear the great ones for the first time. Know what I mean? All the hits are so familiar to us we can’t even begin to remember how we learned them. You can still be blown away by “I Second That Emotion” or “The Tracks of My Tears,” but you have to force yourself to listen past what you already think you know. Songs like “What’s So Good About Goodbye” may not be quite as good, but you’re too busy being surprised by them to notice.

--Steve Pick


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