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  Listen Up! 12/16/02 Listen Up!

Monday, Dec. 16

Various Artists, “Rollin’ Into Memphis: Songs of John Hiatt,” Telarc Blues. I had high hopes for this record. I love John Hiatt’s songwriting, I love G.E. Smith, who leads the band on all these tracks, and I like or love most of the artists contributing tracks, especially Irma Thomas and Chris Smither. While far from a bad record, it’s far from a great one, too. Everybody turns in a good job, but nobody pushes things beyond competency. Actually, on the negative side, Odetta’s version of “Listening to Old Voices” is so terrible it may remind you of Mrs. Miller.

Ramones, “Loud, Fast Ramones,” Sire/Rhino Records. The Ramones “best” cuts have been repackaged a few times, but I’ve come to have a newfound respect for the albums themselves as they’ve been reissued and remastered in the past year or so. That said, there’s no way you can’t enjoy this collection, which eliminates the ballads but not really the tenderness. The Ramones created the greatest records from the least amount of raw skill in pop history. They did it all with heart, and passion, and brains, and after 25 years, I’ve not begun to get tired of them.

Thee Michelle Gun Elephant, “Rodeo Tandem Beat Specter,” Alive Records. Japanese punk/garage stuff, sounds a little like the Dead Kennedys with a better vocalist, a little like Iggy circa “TV Eye” with an unintelligible vocalist (cause he sings in Japanese, see). It’s fun stuff, maybe not essential, but a good time for sure.

Billy Joe Shaver, “Freedom’s Child,” Compadre Records. His son died, and Shaver goes back to his less pop/rock oriented country roots. Too bad, cause I loved the last album. This one is good, but kinda generic. I miss the raucous jangly guitars (there are dogged attempts to replace him, but they don’t quite have the life-force), the swirling, giggling melodies. The lyrics, what I can make out when I pay attention, seem pretty good, as usual, though.

Walter Clevenger and the Dairy Kings, “Around the Corner . . .,” Brewery Records. Actually, this is a sampler from various releases by these guys, who sound like an old school 80s band that worshipped at the feet of Any Trouble’s first record. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’m getting a nostalgic feel from this. But, Clevenger isn’t quite as imaginative a writer as Clive Gregson, even if he does have the sound and the energy down. Pleasant, really.

--Steve Pick



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