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  Listen Up! 4/30/02 Listen Up!

Tuesday, Apr. 30

Bryan Ferry, "Frantic," Virgin Records. It's not like I check in on every record Bryan Ferry makes, but this one strikes me as one of his more interesting solo efforts in a long time. For one thing, it rocks (for him, anyway). For another, there are some nice originals on here (or at least songs I don't know: whoever wrote "Cruel" had something on the ball). Further, Chris Spedding is playing guitar, though that's not always immediately obvious. Finally, the version of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" is absolutely magnificent, a jaunt through a song which you'd think would be so over-familiar by now there'd be nothing new left to do with it. (Evidence of a song which really is in that state would be Ferry's inexplicable rendition of "Goodnight Irene.") Ferry is a stylist, a crooner who pretty much attacks whatever he's doing with the same basic approach, depending on the invention of his arrangements to create the real interest in his music. This time around, the arrangements are diverse, imaginative, and complementary to his vocals. Let's play it again, Bryan.

Zuco 103, "Tales of High Fever," Six Degrees Records. Far from the genre-busting exercise trumpeted on the liner notes of this promo copy, this is basically Brazilian pop music with drum machines (and, okay, maybe a little bit of r'n'b/hip-hop influence now and again). The rhythms are bouncy and vibrant, the vocals carry some catchy tunes, and the instrumentation brings electric piano and flutes to the forefront. It's all very pleasant, very disposable.

James Brown, "The CD of JB (Sex Machine & Other Soul Classics," Polydor Records. This collection of Jaems Brown classics has been superceded a time or three by other compilations, but has never been bettered. Since it's plausible that virtually any random mix of 15 or more James Brown cuts from his days on labels owned by Polygram (now Universal) would make for a pretty solid album, you can't argue with song selection. This one does, however, have a lot of the rarer early cuts, when JB was still modeling himself after the likes of Little Willie John, crooning soul ballads and just beginning to realize that he could become the most rhythmically creative artist of his generation. Oh, those cuts are here, too, and they are stunning. Once he decided to abandon chord changes and just go for grooves, James Brown was unstoppable. The nice thing about this compilation is that it mixes all these songs in to each other, without trying to tell a chronological story, and allows us to see that he was always a great vocalist, even after the rhythmic interjections became more important, and he was always a great master of the groove, even when he was trying to deliver actual songs.

--Steve Pick



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