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  Listen Up! 7/16/02 Listen Up!

Tuesday, July 16

Kristian Hoffman, “&,” eggBERT Records. I don’t know much about Hoffman, but he plays the keyboards and comes up with some terrific melodies, and he knows a lot of talented people. This record is all duets, with the likes of Russell Mael (of Sparks), Stew, Rufus Wainwright, El Vez, Van Dyke Parks, Michael Quercio (of Three O’Clock), Maria McKee, Steve McDonald (wasn’t he in Redd Kross?), and even Paul Reubens. The always reliable Earle Mankey produces, and achieves a nice low-budget lushness, with lots of vocal counterpoint, lots of rich keyboard flourishes, lots of dynamic arrangements. Very good record.

Charlie Parker, “Charlie Parker with Strings: The Master Takes,” Verve Records. Parker was playing at the top of his game on these sessions. His tone is as pure as it ever was, and his improvisational skills send these standards into ecstatic variations. Me, I’m not down with the strings, which are stodgy and clichéd by comparison. I’ve got no inherent problems with the concept, just the execution. But, you get a lot of unalloyed Parker, so it’s worth hearing this record.

Rasco, “The Birth,” Copasetik Recordings. Apparently this EP from 1999 is out of print already, which is a damn shame because this is some great hip-hop. The grooves swing and push hard, with lots of musical samples from pianos and the like driving things onward. Rasco’s vocals are rhythmically supple, though I haven’t a clue what he’s going on about. It all sounds so inviting, so pleasurable.

Aerosmith, “O, Yeah! Ultimate Aerosmith Hits,” Columbia Records. Unfortunately, any compilation, even a two-disc one, spanning the whole of Aerosmith’s career will show that they passed their peak years a long, long time ago. Not that later songs like “Love in an Elevator” or “Dude (Looks Like A Lady)” are unlistenable, just not nearly as infectious, effortless, inspired, or pure as “Sweet Emotion” or “Walk This Way” or “Same Old Song and Dance” or “Draw the Line.” It’s funny to think that these guys lasted to become grand old men of rock, featured on “Got Milk” ads. Their skills, while absolutely spot on for a few years there in the mid-70s, were always fairly limited, and you just never thought of them as careerists.

Bruce Springsteen, “The Rising,” Columbia Records. We have a CD-single of the new song from Springsteen. My first reaction is it’s not nearly as good as I had hoped, especially after the new songs he’d included on recent live recordings (including “Land of Hope and Dreams” on this single, from the “Live in New York City” album. At any rate, “The Rising” doesn’t rise and lift your spirits. It just sounds like Springsteen coasting, without any of the oomph provided normally by either the E Street Band, who don’t sound inspired, or by his own larger-than-normal heart, which doesn’t sound engaged with this song. I’ll listen some more, of course, and maybe my opinion will change. And, I remain optimistic about the upcoming full-length album.

The Kinks, “BBC Sessions 1964-1977,” BBC Records. I’m playing the second disc of this two-disc set today, and thoroughly digging the 70s Kinks material it contains. By this time, Ray Davies was writing epics with beautiful melodies and sad tales of life’s losers. This is a great asset to the collection of any Kinks fan.

--Steve Pick



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