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  Listen Up! 8/4/03 Listen Up!

Monday, Aug. 4

The Undisputed Truth, “Smiling Faces: The Best of Undisputed Truth,” Motown Chronicles. I have to admit, though I’ve loved “Smiling Faces” since I first saw this group appear on American Bandstand (when I was 13, I think), I’ve never heard any of their other material. Amazingly, there were Undisputed Truth records coming out all through the seventies, all produced by the amazing Norman Whitfield. In fact, his more popular records for the Temptations often got test runs from the Undisputed Truth, as these guys did “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” first. There were essentially two completely different versions of the group, but despite the excellent vocals in each, the unifying factor is Whitfield. It sounds like he had a lot of Sly and the Family Stone and Funkadelic records on the turntable when he plotted these things out. Check out the frenetic, psychedelic freak-out on the cover of “Ball of Confusion.” It goes on for ten minutes, and you wish it was twice as long. My favorite cut is “UFO’s,” an insane little number that would fit easily on any decent Funkadelic record. Whitfield was a master of pop experimentation, and this collection is an ear-opening blast of his genius.

Rufus Wainwright, “Want,” Dreamworks Records. I always notice the flaws first when I hear Rufus Wainwright’s albums. Then, after two or three listens, they open themselves up, and I can’t hear much besides glory. So, flaws? Well, he has a certain melodic glitch that keeps coming up again and again when he’s singing verses. And, he slurs his words something terrible. Glory? It’s already starting on this one, an even more ambitious set of arrangements than he’s given us before. Horns, strings, backing vocals, the whole nine yards. Wainwright is ambitious, and he’s full of ideas, almost all of which he’s able to realize. Check back with me in September, after this record comes out, and I’ve heard it a few times. I’ll probably be calling it one of the best records of the year.

--Steve Pick

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