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  Listen Up! 3/17/04 Listen Up!

Wednesday, Mar. 17

Various Artists, “Edge of the World,” Global Rhythm Records. It says here on the cover, “Cross-cultural vibes, where roots, rock and dance music connect.” Nothing ever sounds more banal to me than the attempt to make western synthesized dance music out of “exotic” international sounds. It waters down all the rhythmic vitality that fuels so much of the source material, and reveals the emptiness at the center of the western style. Not that I mind that emptiness if I’m looking to fill it with the transcendent excitement of drugs or sex or alcohol or dancing or just driving around with the top down and the volume up or whatever else I think about when I’m in the mood for some boom boom boom music. But, the mixture makes me concentrate on the emptiness, and that’s never a good idea. Meanwhile, some of the cuts on this album don’t spend so much effort trying to fuse things as they do just having a party. Mostly, I’m talking about the splendiferous Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, and the pretty damn groovy Los De Abajo. If you want some Afrobeat a la Fela, go for the former; if you want some lilting Latin dance music, pick the latter. Otherwise, there’s not a whole lot more than pleasant, and some less than that, contained in this hour-long package.

Graham Parker, “Your Country,” Bloodshot Records. It’s not like Parker has been making bad records all these years, but the last three or four weren’t the kind of things likely to convince people they had to come back to him. For 28 years, Parker has been one of rock’s most passionate, and most hook-filled songwriters. Well, the passion congealed into bitter sniping more often than it needed to, and the hooks were based on a couple of mannerisms he kept lapsing into. You could still enjoy it if you were a fan, but you weren’t likely to play these albums over and over like you did his best work back in the day. (Want to know the best work? Try “Squeezing Out Sparks,” “Howlin’ Wind,” and “Heat Treatment” to start, three of the finest albums in the rock’n’roll history book, and then go to “The Mona Lisa’s Sister,” “Struck By Lightning,” and “Another Grey Area.” Pick up any of the live albums floating around, except for “The Parkerilla,” and you’ll also be pleased.) Anyway, we’re listening to this new album, and while it’s not entirely devoid of the ticks and mannerisms he’s relied on in recent years, it’s got way more spirit and a few more catchy choruses. Not to mention a fun little country-ish take on his classic “Crawling From the Wreckage,” which he wrote and Dave Edmunds recorded way back in 1979. In a brilliant marketing move, he’s thrown a couple of fiddles and steel guitars into the mix and run over to Bloodshot Records, where they can pitch him as making an alt-country record. Not really, but heck, if any crowd could appreciate these kinds of songs, it’s the people who read No Depression. As a life-long Graham Parker fan (well, adult life, anyway), I’m plenty pleased with this one. For those of you who have dabbled and not kept up, come on back to the fold, you’ll be happy, too. And, if you haven’t ever encountered Parker before, well, you’ve got a whole lot of treats ahead of you, including this album.

Rolling Stones, “Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out,” Abkco Records. At the age of 11, walking into the record department of Korvette’s for the first time with desire to own, I was entranced by the cover of this album. Now, mind you, I didn’t buy it or anything. I had to work too hard to convince my parents to get me the first Partridge Family album. But there was this guy leaping in mid-air, wearing all white and an Uncle Sam hat, holding guitars in each hand. It just looked very cool. Somewhere around that time, I found a copy of “Get Off My Cloud” sitting in a baseball field, and I was ready to love the Stones. I still didn’t buy this record. I heard it once in the 70s, and I don’t think I was prepared for the live sound, a little more raggedy than I was used to hearing. Long story short, as I’m now 45, I’m ready to own this record, which simply documents the Rolling Stones playing rock’n’roll about as well as it can be played. I love the Mick Taylor vying with Keith Richards guitar playing. And Jagger sings at the top of his game. I may not always be quick on the draw, but I get there eventually.

--Steve Pick


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