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  Listen Up! 7/29/03 Listen Up!

Tuesday, July 29

Burning Spear, “Man In the Hills & Dry and Heavy,” Island Chronicles. Burning Spear’s first album, “Marcus Garvey” is probably his masterpiece, but these next two, here collected on one impeccably remastered single disc, come pretty darn close to matching it. Deep, percussive grooves over which Winston Rodney chants and the backing vocalists harmonize. Rodney sang – still does, really – like nobody before or since. His vocals are full of elastic words, stretched past the point of comprehension, with clipped endings to emphasize the rhythm. It’s a uniquely affecting approach, one that can’t be duplicated, but which can be listened to indefinitely. “Man In the Hills” is probably a little darker than “Dry & Heavy,” but the brighter horn sections and increased hookiness of the latter is a perfect follow-up to the thicker, more intense first half of this CD.

The Brothers Johnson, “Strawberry Letter 23: The Very Best of the Brothers Johnson,” A&M Chronicles. Three of the biggest and most enduring pop/funk hits of the 70s, and a whole lot of delightful filler. Things got a little off track in the 80s, when the synth requirements of the time caused them to forgo their instrumental strengths, but when things were going well, the Brothers Johnson were a perfect fusion of lite jazz and radio-ready pop. Occasionally even better than that, as on “I’ll Be Good to You,” a spectacular mess of vocal hooks flying in several directions, or their cover of Shuggie Otis’ “Strawberry Letter 23,” which sounds like the funky follow-up to “Strawberry Fields Forever” or their masterpiece, “Stomp,” a brilliant practically symphonic mixture of gurgling bass, pulsating guitars, and swirling vocals. Fun facts I learned from the liner notes: Alex Weir (not the Vintage Vinyl employee of the same name), who played guitar with Talking Heads and the Tom Tom Club, is the cousin of the Brothers Johnson, and the Brothers started their career playing with Billy Preston when he was having hits in the early 70s.

--Steve Pick


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