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  Listen Up! 1/29/02 Listen Up!

Tuesday, Jan. 29

Phantom Planet, "The Guest," Epic Records. Who are these guys? They're a pop/rock band that writes melodies reminiscent of Any Trouble, that arranges songs in ways that remind me of Elvis Costello, and that calls to mind a whole lot more range of influences and interests than virtually any other band to come out in the last ten years. I came in near the end of this, but I'm very excited by this record.

Soulive, "Next," Blue Note Records. Stop! Please stop these drummers who only have the barest understandings of syncopation, who think that just playing that same kick snare pattern all album long is enough to make music funky. Funk requires far more invention, far more movement in the drums and bass and all the instruments than this record gives. It's like Funk 101, where the texts are old Love Boat background musics. Please, make this stop.

The Ohio Players, "Best of Ohio Players: The Millenium Collection," Mercury Records. Ah, these guys know what funk is. They also know their way around smooth, sultry 70s soul balladry. Great songs, start to finish, a perfect compilation.

Johnny Winter, "The Best of Johnny Winter," Columbia Legacy Records. The guy couldn't sing, and his guitar playing was never exceptional, but Winter always did have spirit going for him. His version of "Rock And Roll, Hoochie Koo" is slower and in some ways sexier than Rick Derringer's better-known hit. I said his guitar playing wasn't exceptional, but that doesn't mean it' s bad. It's just that he never struck me as being more than a decent blues player, a journeyman who came along at the right cultural moment for a white albino to sell some records to rock fans by playing mostly hopped-up arrangements of blues standards. He did it all so flamboyantly that in some respect, his blues really was rock.

Elliott Smith, "Figure 8," Dreamworks Records. I like any given Elliott Smith track, with those dreamy John Lennonesque melodies and that somewhat lush, if lo-fi instrumentation. But, despite a temporary infatuation (or more likely experimentation) with this record and its Oscar-nominated predecessor, I have to admit listening to a whole album at a time runs pretty dry pretty fast. All the tunes sound alike, and I can't really get worked up about his sorrowful takes on romance and life. A decidedly minor figure in the annals of pop, Smith has his place. Just don't expect me to visit it very often.

Sparklehorse, "It's a Wonderful Life," Capitol Records. Like Elliott Smith with better production and fewer hooks. Mope rock.

--Steve Pick



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