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  Listen Up! 3/3/03 Listen Up!

Monday, Mar 3

Procul Harum, “The Well’s On Fire,” Eagle Records. Heck, yeah, old people can rock. Gary Brooker is still there on piano and vocals, and while the band isn’t exactly at its Robin Trower-level guitar height, the new guys certainly hold their own. These are solid songs, with more care given to the arrangements than we’re used to from rock bands these days. I’d be happy to hear this some more.

The Itals, “Early Recordings 1971-1979,” Nighthawk Records. These guys were so good back in the day. “In A Dis Time,” their very first record under the name Itals, remains a masterpiece of reggae beauty, and it was only a blueprint for perfection which lasted well into the 80s before they slowed down. Powerful grooves from some of the best session musicians in Jamaica, and vocal harmonies of exquisite perfection. And, of course, the lead vocals of Keith Porter, who may not have been quite as distinctive as Marley, Tosh, Burning Spear, or Joseph Hill, but who deserves to be held in the same esteem.

Various Artists, “The Stiff Generation: If It Ain’t Stiff It Ain’t Worth a Tribute,” Groove Disques. Talk about your hit or miss, this tribute to the little label that could (and did practically single-handedly inspire independent rock labels to do it themselves) has charm and occasional moments of magic. Big names don’t exactly abound – here’s Matthew Sweet, Amy Rigby, Bill Lloyd, Bobby Sutliff and Scott McCaughey – but great songs are in abundance. Alas, not enough songs get rethought thoroughly – Pat Buchanan and Thundermug, whoever they are, do a terrific version of “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass” to give us an idea of how good this record could have been – but the hearts are always in the right place. It’s an oddity worth adding to your Stiff Box Set.

--Steve Pick

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