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  Listen Up! 4/23/02 Listen Up!

Tuesday, Mar. 23

Various Artists, "Attack of the New Killer Surf Guitars," Shanachie Records. The new killer surf guitars are now at least five years old, since this came out in 1997. How can you dislike a compilation where you can't tell the differences between the bands without listening really closely? It's all surf instrumentals, with some darker edges than you heard in the 60s, but with the same basic twangin' guitar licks, in-the-pocket bass lines, and propulsive drums.

Jackson 5, "The Ultimate Collection," Motown Records. The early J5 hits, you know like the back of your hand. They've always been there, and they always be. The later 70s stuff, right near the end of the Motown reign, when Michael's voice changed, is less often heard (except for the venerable "Dancing Machine"), and it's propulsive as all hell. Great funk/disco rhythm sections, chatty horn charts, and those Jacksons harmonizing and spitting out rhythmic vocals.

Jay Bennett & Edward Burch, "The Palace at 4am (Part 1)," Undertow Records. At present, I have yet to hear the entirety of Wilco's new "Yankee Foxtrot Hotel" album, but comparing the songs I've heard on that one to the songs on this new album by the latest ex-Wilco member, the score comes way out in favor of Bennett. Bennett writes some strong melodies, and displays an obvious love for Elvis Costello (particularly "Imperial Bedroom") in the arrangements. These are pop songs, while Wilco is apparently going for timeless art (to judge from their lack of interest in tunes on the new album), so maybe it's not fair to compare them. It's equally unfair that the quality of Wilco's work is almost inversely proportional to the presence or absence of Bennett from the creation of it, yet this record will undoubtedly only sell to a teeny tiny cult audience.

Dolly Varden, "Forgiven Now," Undertow Records. This band has a nice way with a tune, and an effective way of holding back the emotional payoff, releasing their full feelings on choruses in between tense build-ups of ideas. This record is full of memorable songs, great male-female harmonies, clever arrangements, and genuine beauty.

--Steve Pick



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