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  Listen Up! 3/19/02 Listen Up!

Tuesday, Mar. 19

Bob Wills, "The Best of Bob Wills," MCA Nashville. Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys pretty much ruled the Western Swing nation back in the 30s and 40s. This 12-track introduction to the man's work gives us 8 cuts from his heyday, and four decent but lesser tracks from the 50s and 60s. The rhythmic vitality of the pedal steel and fiddles set against the smooth, yet jaunty vocals (from a succession of sound-alike guys), augmented by Wills' trademark "ah-ha's" and other interjections is an American delight. I wouldn 't recommend picking this up, since it will only leave you wanting more.

James Brown and His Famous Flames, "Please Please Please," Polydor Records. In 1959, "Please Please Please" had to sound revolutionary. While clearly modeled on the doowop tradition, Brown was testifying like a gospel singer, and sounding absolutely devastated by desire. There was nothing quite like it anywhere on the radio, and amazingly, it would take a couple years for Brown to do anything else to build on it. This reissue of his very first album finds Brown trying on doowop, jump blues, and rock'n'roll, all to fine effect, yet without any of the individuality that we think of with the man's next two decades. You can hear the Little Richard influence which would be subsumed, and a lot of Roy Brown, maybe a little Larry Williams. As a period piece, this certainly has a lot of fire; even without his original style yet developed, Brown never failed to deliver a satisfying performance. (I realized later this wasn't his first album, but his first greatest hits package, and that "Please Please Please" was actually from 1956. These facts don't change anything I say about the music, though.)

Bob Mould, "Modulate," Red Ink Records. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Hee hee hee hee.

Cassandra Wilson, "Belly of the Sun," Blue Note Records. Cassandra Wilson has the capacity to take your breath away. She has proven that it's possible to inhabit rock and acoustic blues songs with a jazz feel that invests her own personality into a new way of singing. She sounds this time like she's coasting, like she's singing songs like "Wichita Lineman" or "Shelter From the Storm" just to make it easy for critics to talk about her diversity. Maybe this will grow on me, but I'm not feeling it right now. The backing is a little too pat, as well, which may explain why she's not sounding completely committed to the material.

R. Kelly/Jay Z, "The Best of Both Worlds," Jive/Def Jam Records. No, more like the worst of both worlds. Neither one sounds half as flamboyant as they normally do on their own, preferring to hold in their excess in some sort of overwrought Alphonse/Gaston routine of music. Showing so much respect to each other you barely notice anybody is even making music. The beats are mundane, the tunes non-existent, the hooks recycled and far from memorable. One major exception is "Green Light," which features a guest rap from Beanie Sigel, and sounds like P-Funk updated (once again). It's got a darkly meandering guitar hook with beats that actually move, and a sense of challenge in the vocals.

--Steve Pick
   

 

 

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