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  Listen Up! 2/11/02 Listen Up!

Monday, Feb. 11

Zero 7, "Simple Things," Quango/Palm Records. This is interesting. It was nominated for England's coveted (and bizarre) Mercury Prize as one of last year's finest albums. I wouldn't go that far, but there's a nice lush quality to this mix of strings and lite electronic beats, this juxtaposition of pretty instrumentals with luxurious vocals. The melodies are slow and drawn-out, but not always obvious. Sometimes there's a guy singing, sometimes a woman, but neither has a particularly memorable voice. All the pleasure is in the arrangements, and in the interesting tension between the trip-hop backing and the more sophisticated tunes.

Various Artists, "The Rough Guide to the Music of Haiti," World Music Network. The Rough Guides are always excellent compilations, and this one is no exception. I've never heard anything from Haiti but the fascinating Boukman Eksperyans (represented here by a delicious slab of sliding funk called "Baron"). The island turns out to have quite a few interesting musical styles, with heavy African pop influences, as well as Latin (especially Cuban)-influenced horn charts. Lots of great grooves here, upbeat dance music with exciting cross rhythms and spiffy call and response interaction between vocals and horns. And, delightfully intricate little guitar filigrees running all over the place.

Norah Jones, "Come Away With Me," Blue Note Records. Jones is an intriguing new voice, with equal parts jazz and pop in her phrasing. I like her best when she drops in some blues turns as well. The liner notes describe her as having a honey-and-smoke voice, and that makes some sense. She picks songs from all these traditions, as well as country (she does a nice version of Hank Williams' "Cold Cold Heart"). I liked her better with her guest appearances on the last Charlie Hunter Quartet album, especially tackling Roxy Music's "More Than This." But, this is a pleasnt debut album, one that will probably get her some attention, and one that may lead to more interesting backing from musicians in the future.

Buffalo Daughter, "I," Emperor Norton Records. Little girl vocals, mildly interesting hypnotic dance stuff, pleasant melodies, no big deal at all.

Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin & Sammy Davis, Jr., "The Rat Pack Live at the Sands," Capitol Records. This is the Sinatra that turned him into a parody. One of the greatest vocalists ever was having a lot of fun hanging with his talented friends, but all of them goofed off, made fun of each other and themselves, and went for cheap laughs and sentiments at the expense of artistry. I don't need to hear this stuff.

--Steve Pick



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