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  Listen Up! 3/27/02 Listen Up!

Wednesday, Mar.27

Benny Green, "Kaleidoscope," Blue Note Records. Green is a powerful pianist, with a distinctive style that takes the punch and idiosyncracies of Monk and weds them to a more romantic sensibility. His piano trio records are generally the way to hear him. This brings on board saxophones and guitar, and while making for some interesting music, it's not an essential listen. My mind wanders more often on this, despite the level of talent involved; the saxophonists are Stanley Turrnetine and Antonio Hart, and the guitarist is Russell Malone.

Steve Wynn, "Here Come the Miracles," Blue Rose Records. Hey, didn't Smokey Robinson name a record something like this? Oh, that was "Hi, We're the Miracles." Close, though, huh? I like Steve Wynn. He plays lead guitar absolutely as poorly as I do, but doesn't let that stop him. He writes a whole lot better songs than I do (well, I do like two or three of the ones I wrote, but he's got something like 200 out there by now, so he's got me beat in quantity and quality, and "Tell Me When It's Over" is as good as anything anybody's ever done). See how I'm avoiding actually talking about this record much? It's not terrible, but two CDs is a lot of music, and there's not much that jumps out as being spectacular. There are a lot of strange effects on his voice, as if at this late date, 20 + years into his career, he's trying to apologize for his limited range. He sounded better doing some of these the other night when I saw him play with just an acoustic guitar.

Steve Earle, "Sidetracks," Artemis Records. This collects assorted rarities, outtakes, movie soundtrack cuts, and other detritus from Earle's career. As such, it's inconsistent, and not as powerful as his best albums. But, it's got its joys, nonetheless. Since kicking his bad habit, Earle's been able to coast quite well, making good music even when he knows its not his strongest material. And, when he does hit a good one, he invests a lot of heart into it.

Marshall Crenshaw, "I've Suffered For My Art . . . Now It's Your Turn," King Biscuit. Crenshaw remains one of the finest songwriters of the last 20 years, and his best records (all the ones on Warner Bros, and that brilliant one on MCA) remain essential listening. This live solo performance, however, is strictly for fans. If you don't already know his originals in their more exciting, fuller produced versions, you're only going to get a hint of how good they are here. That's partially because Crenshaw wavers on the high notes that his meandering melodies require him to hit, and it's partially because the arrangements of his rock band are integral to the enjoyment of these songs. I'm all in favor of the belief that good songs can be stripped down to essentials like this, but that doesn't mean they are always better this way.

--Steve Pick



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