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  Listen Up! 8/12/02 Listen Up!

Monday, Aug. 12

Ryukyu Underground, “Ryukyu Underground,” Riverboat Records. Jon Taylor used to work here at Vintage Vinyl. He was, in fact, the man who coined one of our favorite catch phrases: “There are too many people in the world, and too many of them make music.” Now, he lives in Okinawa, and has teamed with an English ex-patriate club DJ to put together this delightful mix of all things dance influenced with the Okinawan pop and traditional styles. Because Okinawan music uses the sanshin, a sturdy banjo-like sound that we Westerners can’t help but hear as exotic, there’s an overlying thematic unity as the beats and synthesizers move through a wide variety of styles. A lot of this is downright beautiful, dance music you can sit and listen to if you don’t feel like shaking your butt.

Chi-Lites, “Give It Away/I Like Your Lovin’/Give More Power to the People,” Edsel Records. The record industry was a strange game back in 1969-71. The Chi-Lites had been kicking around for a few years, doing good but not necessarily great Chicago-styled soul before they signed to Brunswick (a label whose 45 labels are among my favorite memories of early adolescence). Their debut album, “Give It Away,” was a solid effort, though not necessarily memorable. The next year, 1970, the band got funkier, and a new album was rushed out to include singles like “I Like Your Lovin’ (Do You Like Mine?).” It included seven tracks from the album before it, which I guess nobody noticed since the first one didn’t sell much, anyway. Then came 1971, and masterpieces all over the place. “Have You Seen Her?” “We Are Neighbors.” And the magnificent “(For God’s Sake) Give More Power to the People.” The Chi-Lites kept going after that, but never again achieved such a magnificent combination of progressive production, expansive melodies, and exquisite vocal harmonies. This CD has all the original music released on these three albums.

Carla Olson, “The Ring of Truth,” Smile Records. Olson pretty much does what she does, and that’s rock amiably along with bands that always sound like they could kick up quite a ruckus live. This time around, she’s got Mick Taylor on about half the cuts, and he sounds great. In fact, the record is worth owning just for the guitar school he teaches every time he solos. I’ll even go so far as to rank the 9:28 of “Great Black Hole” with anything he ever played with the Stones. Only a couple songs sound like keepers, but none of them sound annoying. There’s a cool cover of Dylan’s semi-obscurity “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window.” She’s got her formula down, and she’s not at all interested in changing it. Fortunately, it’s a formula I’m geared to dig.

Four Tops, “Anthology,” Motown Records. While the quality of the songs went up and down – for some reason, the Four Tops were more likely to try kitschy material than anybody else at Motown, with the possible exception of the Supremes – the quality of Levi Stubbs’ voice never wavered. He always sounds 100% committed to delivering the emotional punch at the heart of each song. And the backing musicianship seemed to thrive on the Four Tops records, which could get more experimental and wilder than the other Motown artists. Yep, this is classic stuff right here.

--Steve Pick



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