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  Listen Up! 2/19/02 Listen Up!

Tuesday, Feb. 19

Ozomatli, "Embrace the Chaos," Interscope Records. At first, I didn't like this record as much as the first album. It just was less immediate, less over the top exhilarating. But, it's growing on me. The rhythmic vitality is still present, with some more variety, a lot more hip-hop influence working into the mix. The political concerns are more front and center this time around. These guys want to make a better world, and they realize that part of that better world will be about making great music that gets the body moving and the soul uplifted. If you ever get the chance to see them in concert, and for some reason you don't go, I highly recommend you kick yourself in the ass really hard for making such a huge mistake.

Michael Nesmith, "And the Hits Just Keep On Comin'," Awareness Records. This reissue of Nesmith's 1972 solo album reveals his strengths and weaknesses pretty well. I quite like his forays into country music; he pretty much just adapted the kind of pop songs he liked to write in the Monkees into a progressive country style fueled by the incandescent pedal steel guitar of O.J. "Red" Rhodes. The song "Tomorrow and Me" sounds like a great lost classic, and "Different Drum" (which I never knew was his; of course you're familiar with the Linda Ronstadt Stone Ponys hit version) is great. Nesmith was never content to write obvious melodies; he liked to twist around rhythm and harmony to create neatly oblique and frequently catchy tunes. Lyrics aren't always that strong; "Lady Love" is the worst kind of patronizing late hippy love song bullshit. And, while his voice recalls that of Stephen Stills, he wavers a bit on some of the higher notes, which can be kind of annoying. Still, there are far worse records in the world, and as a document of a path into country rock that wasn't followed (unlike his contemporary Gram Parsons, who wound up influencing everybody), this is invaluable.

Paul Kelly, ". . . Nothing But A Dream," Cooking Vinyl/Spin Art Records. I haven't checked in with Kelly in something like ten years. Apparently, he's still been churning out albums like clockwork, filled with his usual allotment of at least fifteen songs apiece. This one, like most of his older records, has some great stuff and some moderately okay stuff. But that great stuff is mighty fine pop music, with glorious hooks, catchy melodies, invigorating arrangements, and pretty much everything one could want except great singing. I'm fond of Kelly's voice, which by now is like that of an old friend, but it's a little reedy for the average listener to really grab on to.

Superchunk, "Here's to Shutting Up," Merge Records. Pleasant little straight-forward pop/rock record, with songs that may or may not grow on me if I gave them more of a chance. There's a vocalist who sounds a little like Kirsty MacColl, though the songs are nothing like hers. Melodies don't leap out at me. They seem to follow the chord changes too closely. The changes are kind of interesting, but I'd like to hear more dynamic tunes.

Red House Painters, "Old Ramon," Sub Pop Records. Sometimes I'm entranced by Red House Painters, other times I'm just sick of the overwrought use of discordant harmonies that slide off-kilter around the bass notes. Mark Kozelek has a voice that can command attention, but he's fairly limited in his range, and that means he adds more dischord when there should be a note outside of what he can reach. This particular record doesn't do as much for me as that one about the blue guitar.

--Steve Pick



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