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  Listen Up! 3/8/02 Listen Up!

Friday, Mar. 8

Blue Oyster Cult, "Blue Oyster Cult," Columbia/Legacy. The debut of BOC, from back in 1972, holds up quite nicely. Though they refined their approach considerably by the second album, adding a power and clarity only hinted at here, the first record contains much of what made them so special. The astounding invention of their guitar riffs, the ability to shift easily through quite divergent sections of complicated song structures, the melodies and harmonies of the vocals, the propulsive commentary of the rhythm section, all these things were there in place from the git-go. This contains the cut "I'm On the Lamb But I Ain't No Sheep," which they reworked for their second album into the transcendent "Red and the Black." You also get four strong previously unreleased demos from 1969 which show a much greater West Coast psych influence than you would have imagined, not to mention a bit of Eric Burdon vocal influence in Eric Bloom.

Nikka Costa, "Everybody Got Their Something," Virgin Records. This record has insidiously crept into my consciousness. I can't even hear the clear homages (formerly known as rip-offs) to Chaka Khan that used to bother me, because I've heard these songs enough times in new contexts. The grooves are so sultry, so hot and hard and sweaty, and she projects so much passion into her vocals. The songs are catchy, and there's a lot of pleasure to be had in this record.

Idris Muhammad, "Power of Soul," Epic Legacy. Oh, Lord, they're dipping into the CTI catalogue now. Not my favorite jazz, not by a longshot. While there are things to like on this record - Muhammad is a drummer who knows how to work a soulful groove while simultaneously being inventive enough to make it sound like jazz; the musicianship is accomplished, and some of the solos are actually quite fluid - there are plenty of things to not like. Things take a mellow turn into fusion slumber here and there. This is probably the best record I've ever heard with Grover Washington, Jr. or Bob James on it, so I guess I should give it some props. But, it's far from essential listening.

Cher, "Living Proof," Warner Bros. Records. Scariano and I ran into sometime music critic Pat Weiss the other night, and she insisted we needed to give this record another chance, because she thought there were some really good songs hidden in this carbon copy of the "Believe" smash. I will acknowledge that the songs are somewhat more interesting than I had perceived them to be at first. But, that's as far as I will go. It's interesting that dance floors nowadays are so morally opposed to song structure that this record is automatically labeled a mainstream attempt to coopt rhythms. Back in the glory days of disco, songs were almost always more melodically inventive than this, though. Not to mention more rhythmically interesting. And, let's face it, Cher's alto profundo wears thin really fast when the vocoder isn't on.

The Anniversary, "Your Majesty," Vagrant Records. I'm not sure what it means to call yourself indie rock anymore, in the sense that the brand name no longer inherently means incompetent, sloppy, amateurish, aggressive music. This band is just a songwriting breakthrough away from being really good. Of course, it could be just a lot of hours of practice away from turning into Jethro Tull or Kansas or something. Right now, the songs aspire to majesty, but fall just a hair on the wrong side of it. I really like the attempts to broaden the structure beyond conventional rock approaches, to include lots of differently imagined chords, several distinctive sections, and invention in the vocal harmonies. It will be interesting to see if bands like this can hold on to the love of expression that they so obviously have, while continuing to experiment with the actual process of creating music, and not fall into the virtuosic traps of bad 70s prog (or even becoming carbon copies of good 70s prog).

John Scofield Band, "Uberjam," Verve Records. I wish some of the forced syncopation of the modern-day jam band ethos was held back, but what Scofield brings to the table, that thickly wavering guitar tone, that constant stream of improvising invention, makes it all worthwhile. The good cuts are really, really good; the bad ones are still worth hearing.

--Steve Pick
   

 

 

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