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  Listen Up! 9/9/02 Listen Up!

Monday, Sept. 9

Arthur Blythe, “Focus,” Savant. This is easily the finest alto sax, marimba, tuba, and drums ensemble I’ve ever heard. Which sounds like it’s damning with faint praise, but I swear to you, this is a great record. Blythe has long been one of my favorite saxophone players, but I haven’t heard a meaningful record from him in something like fifteen years. This one lives up to the promise of his brilliant early 80s albums on Columbia. He’s defined and refined his tone, he’s got a firm grasp of melody and the ability to expand upon it, and he’s got a keen sense of interaction with his collaborators. Really, once you hear how good this is, you’ll wonder why there aren’t more marimba and tuba combinations in jazz.

Rockhouse Ramblers, “Torch This Town” advance CD. This St. Louis band has put out a terrific follow-up to their debut album, “Bar Time” (or some such title along those lines; I don’t have it in front of me right now). Three strong songwriters/vocalists, two amazing country picking guitarists, and a swinging rhythm section makes for one very solid band. The contrasts between the three singers/writers make the record more interesting.

Doves, “The Last Broadcast,” Capitol Records. These guys have snuck up on me, and are easily my favorite new rock band this year. (Forgive me if it turns out they have half a dozen English albums out there somewhere; I never heard of them before a few months ago.) They write big, bold, brash rock songs, anthemic and exciting, with all the instruments contributing to the rhythmic vitality of each cut. “Words” is a monster, probably the best single song I’ve heard this year. Nothing else is quite that perfect, though “There Goes the Fear” is majestic enough to come close, but the whole record is a keeper.

Dixie Chicks, “Home,” Columbia Records. There are no upbeat irresistible feminist anthems like “Earl,” and there are no big production numbers. Just a whole bunch of solid country-flavored songs, some bare-bones instrumental backing, and a lot, I mean a lot of great vocals. These Chicks can sing, and the focus is entirely on proving that fact. Easily their most consistent album.

Wondermints, “Mind If We Make Love to You,” Smile Records. How polite! What a thoughtful question to ask. I don’t know much about these guys, but Scariano tells me they’ve backed up Brian Wilson on tour in the recent past. They definitely have a 70s Beach Boys vibe about them, that period when the band was inconsistent but striving for a pop beauty of a different sort from the one that made them so famous. I don’t know how good these songs are, but the sound is quite nice.

--Steve Pick



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