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  Listen Up! 4/16/04 Listen Up!

Friday, Aug. 16

The Platters, “All-Time Greatest Hits,” Mercury Chronicles. Last week, my wife Cat, who hosts an excellent radio show called “Emotional Rescue” on FM 88, KDHX (www.kdhx.org) asked me if we had anything by the Platters that she could play on the air. Well, I knew I didn’t have a full-length album by them, but I figured surely on one of the 150 or 200 compilation albums or box sets in the house, there would be something by the Platters. But, guess what? There wasn’t a single cut by this group which once was among the most popular in rock’n’roll. Of course, when I was a kid – and remember, though I’m old, I’m not old enough to have experienced the Platters when they were actually big – I felt cheated when I heard these guys on rock’n’roll compilations. They were just a little too close to the middle of the road for my taste. That lead singer had as much Johnny Ray in him as he did doo-wop, but I do enjoy that little crack in his voice (best heard in “Only You (And You Alone)”, as close to majestic as these guys ever got). I wish I could say I’m thrilled to hear the Platters again after all these years, but I’m merely pleased. On the other hand, I’m delighted to hear “He’s Mine,” the only song I’ve encountered that features that woman who wore the really cool dresses. It’s kind of like a Laverne Baker lite, but that’s cool enough for me.

Cal Tjader, “Several Shades of Jade,” Verve Records. Two Lps on one CD, and that means 22 cuts of mind-numbingly uninteresting jazz. Oh, it’s cute on the “Breeze From the East” record when he goes all pentatonic on us, but the level of invention there doesn’t get much fancier than the kind of stuff you used to hear in Bob Hope movies set in China or Japan or wherever they were set in. All the songs are short, which I guess is good, but that means the improvisations are next to nothing. Tjader isn’t a half-bad vibes player, but you wouldn’t necessarily know it from this.

Toots and the Maytals, “True Love,” V2 Records. Well, it’s not an embarrassment. Toots Hibbert, one of the world’s greatest soulful vocalists (who happened to make his mark in Jamaica, thus helping to originate reggae back in the late 60s) does the re-record your old songs with tons of famous guest stars bit that did so much to rejuvenate the careers of John Lee Hooker and Santana in the past. Some of the guest stars are off-center but strangely fascinating – Willie Nelson or Jeff Beck doing reggae? – while others are pretty much useless – Eric Clapton, Ben Harper, Ryan Adams. The best are peers of sorts – Shaggy, Bunny Wailer, Ken Boothe, the Skatalites and U-Roy – and the oddest brings in Bootsy Collins and the Roots. The fact is, there’s not a single cut here that even comes close to being as brilliant as the original versions of these songs. Part of the problem is Toots doesn’t have quite the power in his voice that he did 35 or even 25 years ago. Another problem is that the rhythm tracks, while generally quite good, aren’t as vibrant as the old ones. Still, if Toots gets half the attention Hooker or Santana got for their star-packed moves, it will be a rewarding late-life career for a guy who should have been a worldwide household word for a long, long time.

Various Artists, “The Third Unheard: Connecticut Hip Hop 1979-1983,” Stones Trhow Records. You’ve heard it all before, and yet it’s all different. In the immediate wake of Kurtis Blow and the Sugarhill Gang, hundreds of young hopefuls began imitating while throwing on their unique spin on what seemed to be a novelty. Nobody thought they were gonna get rich doing this rap stuff, but they knew they could get girls, and that was enough for now. There is an innocence that has long been lost on this collection of completely unknown early hip hop tracks. The beats are almost all variants on the “Good Times” pattern that propelled “Rapper’s Delight,” and the cadences of the rappers are almost all based on that record, too. What is interesting is to note the immediate interface of personality with received style; while everything is basically the same, most of these kids – for they were all very young – were dropping in their own slick little variants as often as possible. For the hip hop fan who thought he or she had everything.

--Steve Pick

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