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  Listen Up! 2/27/02 Listen Up!

Wednesday, Feb. 27

Various Artists, "Caught in the Webb: A Tribute to the Legendary Webb Pierce," no label that I can see. I don't know much of anything about Webb Pierce, except he was a honky-tonk singer back in the 40s and 50s, when honky tonk singers were masters of pain, heartache, and beauty. I like this tribute, though, because it collects singers from most of the strains of contemporary country music. You've got your aging superstars ( George Jones, Willie Nelson), your Texas troubadours (Guy Clark), your bluegrass giants (Del McCoury), your neo-traditionalists (Dwight Yoakam), your original country-rock crowd (Emmylou Harris), and your young whippersnappers of alt (Robbie Fulks, BR549). Song for song, this is solid stuff, and while I suspect it doesn't crackle with quite the edge Pierce undoubtedly gave the originals, it has enough delights to keep me entertained.

Res, "How I Do," MCA Records. Res provides an interesting cross between adult alternative rock and contemporary slammin' r'n'b. The beats are cool, the tunes are often more drawn from rock. There's also a heavy reggae influence, particularly on the rhythm tracks of a few songs. Maybe she sounds like a young, hep Joan Armatrading might sound. I'm really fond of the first cut, "Golden Boys," but I want to hear the whole record some more to see if it grows on me. I suspect it will.

Dead Kennedys, "Frankenchrist," Alternative Tentacles Records. Okay, I admit it, I never listened to this record. By the time it came out, I'd gotten tired of the schtick, and found hardcore punk bands I liked much better. But right now, this sounds pretty good. The rock is bare-bones and basic, and there's that nasty all treble guitar tone, and Jello Biafra is giving it all his operatic waver. It's fun, much more so than I would ever have admitted 17 years ago when this was new.

Various Artists, "Mojo Rock Steady: Best of Studio 1," Heartbeat Records. One rule of thumb you can use when you're browsing the reggae section. If it 's from Studio 1, buy it. (An equally good measure would be, if it's a collection on Heartbeat, buy it.) This compilation is one of many you can get collecting a mish-mash of ska and rock steady treasures from the 60s. There was so much rhythmic vitality happening in Jamaica in those days. The musicians loved to improvise, the singers sounded sublime, the beats locked in place and moved. Before it all turned into reggae (to glorious results, I might add), influences were all over the place, lots of jazz and soul from America in particular. I love all these dimly recorded but magical sounds of cultures not exactly clashing so much as coalescing. You don't believe me? Listen to the rock steady version of "Whistle While You Work."

The Records, "Paying For the Summer of Love," Skyclad Records. Here we have demos of many of the songs that made it on the Records classic album back in 1979 (I think it was self-titled here in the U.S., but I really can't remember without seeing it). There's nothing revelatory about them, except that it's always nice to hear these songs. The arrangements are basically exactly the same, without the punch provided by the much better production of the originally issued album. There are a couple of songs I don't recognize, which are pretty close to being as good as the ones I do remember. These guys actually had hits in the U.S. with "Teenarama" and "Starry Eyes." I never understood why they couldn't follow those up and be as big as they should have been.

AC/DC, "Stiff Upper Lip," Elektra Records. Consistency, thy name is AC/DC. Well, actually, that's not true. Because while this record maintains the four-to-the-bar power crunch of all classic blues-inflected raunchy AC/DC, the fact is, some of their stuff hasn't always achieved the quality of their finest work. This latest album, now approaching two years of age, is holding up just fine, though. Angus has some solid riffs, the rhythm section grinds and gallops, and Brian Johnson remains the only guy in the world who sings like Brian Johnson. The songs are catchy, and it's quite possible that several of these could stay in the band's live set for years.

--Steve Pick
   

 

 

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