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  Listen Up! 2/28/02 Listen Up!

Thursday, Feb. 28

Brothers Johnson, "Right ON Time," A&M Records. These guys were so good. One Johnson played bass, and the other guitar. That bass player was a monster, flopping that thumb all over the place like the wildest 70s funk and jazz fusion players, but with a never-ending commitment to harmonic interest and the groove. The guitar player was slick, too, using all sorts of sophisticated, complex chords to fashion tight little melodic comments as well as intricate rhythmic bits. They also sang, though without nearly as much personality as their musicianship. This album contains their big hit, "Strawberry Letter 23," originally done by Shuggie Otis. I kind of like the Brothers version better, it's sweeter, and has more funk at the same time. The rest of the album is a flurry of funk invention by a band at the top of its game.

Suzzy & Maggie Roche, "Zero Church," Red House Records. Do I have to say anything more than this is two members of the Roches singing gorgeous (and sometimes questioning) prayers? Hell, yeah, it's spiritual and beautiful, whether you believe or not in what they're singing about. Lots of guest stars appear, including Ysaya Marie Barnwell of Sweet Honey in the Rock. If you know anything about my taste, you know that I can only be transported to heaven by a combination of Roches and Sweet Honey.

Donna the Buffalo, "Live From the American Ballroom," Wildlife Music. This is my favorite jam band, because they actually seem interested in song form, and they actually have a rhythm section that propels their music no matter how long the songs go, and they play guitar soloes that build rhythmically right along with the bass and drums. Tara Nevins is a better singer than the guy is, but neither one is a master. Still, they achieve kind of a Grace Slick/Paul Kantner thing a lot of the time, and that's pleasant enough to hear. You could live a perfectly happy life without Donna the Buffalo in it, but the time you spend with them will not take anything away from your happiness.

Nina Nastasia, "The Blackened Air," Touch and Go Records. The melodies all go up and down the same few notes, without ever varying much in rhythm or emphasis, without ever offering a surprise, or gathering the energy to make themselves sound worth remembering. The effect is supposed to be mournful, and there's a whole lot of Americana signifyin' going on in the musical background, from the slow whines of a lap steel to the steely articulation of violins. I hate these alt-country types who think there's supposed to be nothing but sadness in country music.

A Tribe Called Quest, "The Anthology," Jive Records. Hit after hit after hit, all these songs running together makes me realize just how major a group Tribe was. Those jazzy basslines, those insistent raps over solid snare beats, the little touches of production that created completely enclosed sonic worlds. And it's all joyous, all thrilling, all filled with the exhilaration of communication.

--Steve Pick



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