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  Listen Up! 10/7/02 Listen Up!

Monday, Oct. 7

Rolling Stones, “40 Licks,” Abkco, Rolling Stone, and Virgin Records. I don’t know how they negotiate the intricacies of three record labels working together, but this sounds great! It’s the first career-long retrospective of the Stones, and as such it’s absolutely useless to anybody who wants to get a real feel for them. Because over 40 years, the Rolling Stones have recorded a lot more than two CDs worth of brilliant, essential music. But, the remastering is great, there aren’t really any duds, and the songs from the last fifteen years (which have been almost universally panned by people wanting a nice tidy story about how rock’n’roll can’t survive growing old, even though it obviously has) get a new chance to impress old fans. The new songs are interspersed (the sequencing on this record is quite nice) throughout the whole thing. I’ll tell you this much. “Steal My Heart” is a wonderful rock song, with Jagger singing at the peak of his powers.

Kim Richey, “Rise,” Lost Highway. Richey has a lovely, husky alto voice, and I’m really digging the sound of this record. It’s very sparse, with her vocal up front, and mostly just acoustic guitar, bass, and percussion behind it. There are other interesting elements thrown in here and there, particularly a harmonium. I’m not really feeling any of the songs on first listen, though. She’s got a good feel for song structure, but the hooks aren’t hooking me, and the melodies aren’t as powerful as her voice.

The Chieftains, “Down the Old Plank Road,” RCA Records. The first time I heard this, I wasn’t at all impressed, but it sounds quite lovely today. I guess I was hoping the guest stars – John Hiatt, Bela Fleck, Buddy & Julie Miller, Earl Scruggs, Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, Alison Krauss, Lyle Lovett, Del McCoury, and more – would dominate rather than collaborate so much. Foolish thing to expect, I know. The Chieftains long ago abandoned playing traditional Irish music, for the most part, which is fine because, frankly, there are about a thousand better Irish bands in the world. But, when they collaborate, they bring their far-from-negligible skill at providing tonal color to a wide variety of other styles of music. This time, it’s country music, largely the old-timey songs of the sort that sold so many copies of “O Brother Where Art Thou.” The results achieve a stately, other-worldly quality that may not be the most powerful versions of these songs you’ve ever heard, but which neatly melds with their timeless nature.

--Steve Pick



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