I'm not sure I can remember a year when so many albums full of great
songwriting were released.  Now, there are those who might say that has
something to do with my poor memory, and I'm not about to argue with
them, but any way you slice it 1994 was a year filled with great new
music. (As if the accelerating onslaught of reissues on compact disc,
and all the cheap vinyl that has turned up at the Szarka household as a
result, wasn't enough!)  This made the selection of just ten albums to
praise impossible, and still there were deserving albums I had to leave
off the list.  (See Andy Whitman's Top Ten for another man's opinion.)
Nor is the ranking below more than an approximation:  choosing between
The Bobs and Mary Chapin Carpenter is a lot like choosing between sex
and a really good backrub...

The albums below spent a lot of time in my CD player.  They aren't
guaranteed to be Historically Significant or even Great Art; they're
just the albums I enjoyed listening to last year.  I tried to keep the
list to CD's released in 1994, but a couple were released in late 1993;
I got them in 1994, and since this is the first year I've done this a
little leeway seemed in order.

The big winner on this year's list is T Bone Burnett, who produced the
albums by Bruce Cockburn, Sam Phillips, and Counting Crows, not to
mention playing some guitar or keyboards here and there.  Unfortunately,
Burnett must have been too busy to record anything of his own, so we'll
have to keep our fingers crossed for a new album in 1995.  (He's rumored
to be recording a country album with his wife, Sam Phillips.) Also,
Terry Taylor weighs in on our list with production, performance, and
songwriting credits on albums by Daniel Amos and The Swirling Eddies.
There's no such thing as too much Terry Taylor--just stay away from the
rap and you'll do fine, Terry!  Benmont Tench also makes frequent
appearances on the albums listed here; Tench is well known to those
crazy people that actually read liner notes as a crack keyboard player,
and Cockburn, Phillips, and Carpenter make wise use of his talents.

Bruce Cockburn          DART TO THE HEART

To say that DART TO THE HEART is a typical Bruce Cockburn album is
no small compliment.  For more than two dozen years, and nearly that
many albums, Cockburn has wandered through the world and its musics;
like a troubadour of old, he brings back not only songs, but also news
--of distant lands and people and of the human spirit.

Producer T Bone Burnett has been along on the journey since 1991's
BUT A BURNING LIGHT's promises. Burnett's production is flawed in
places (he should have talked Cockburn out of the horn section on
"Listen for the Laugh" or, better still, let them really cut loose), but
excellent overall; the musicians--Burnett, Tench, and guitarist Colin
Linden in particular--are in top form.  The main attraction, though, is
Cockburn's songwriting:  the lyrics and music in "All the Ways I Want
You," "Southland of the Heart," and "Someone I Used to Love" fit like
fine tongue-and-groove work.  Here Cockburn's country music lessons have
paid off in thoughtful but simple songs with just the right touch of
pedal steel, horns, or mandolin.

DART TO THE HEART serves as a sampler of Cockburn's eclectic style:
"Scanning These Crowds" is reminiscent of his powerful "Where the Death
Squad Lives," while "Tie Me at the Crossroads" provides a leavening of
his playful humor.  "Train in the Rain" and "Sunrise on the Mississippi"
are nimble instrumentals that demonstrate why Cockburn is as loved for
his guitar playing as for his songwriting.

"Closer to the Light" features some of the most melodic singing Cockburn
has done in a long time, and in the service of refreshingly personal
lyrics about the death of a friend:  "there you go/swimming deeper into
mystery/here I remain/only seeing where you used to be."  While
Cockburn's political commentary has always been rooted in his respect
for the human spirit--and contempt for human vanity--much of his recent
work has been more preachy than profound.  With the exception of
"Scanning These Crowds," however, DART TO THE HEART is about our common
feelings and experiences:  laughter, loss, love, regret, and wonder.
"Southland of the Heart" perhaps best sums up Cockburn's personal faith:
"when the nightmare's creeping closer/and your wheels are in the
mud/when everything's ambiguous/except the taste of blood/in the
southland of the heart/there's no question of degree/lie down/take your
rest with me."

After almost a year of listening to this album, I can add only, "Amen."

Vigilantes of Love      WELCOME TO STRUGGLEVILLE

When I saw VOL in Northampton this fall it was their second performance
that day...and they looked tired.  But though there were no more than
two dozen of us in the club, they played with energy and conviction.
The same professionalism and dedication is evident on WELCOME TO

Bill Mallonee has been writing great songs for a while now, and the
songs here may or may not be his best; but this is some of the best
music he's made.  With all due respect to the fine producers of VOL's
earlier albums, I hope he sticks with Jim Scott, who produced this one.
The band is also in fine form, with tight, crisp rock arrangements that
serve the lyrics well.

Those who haven't yet been exposed to Mallonee's intensely personal and
profound lyrics might as well start here as anywhere:  "I've been trying
to negotiate peace with my own existence/She's gotta stockpile full of
weaponry/she breaking every cease-fire agreement," he sings in the title
track, and that pretty much sums up his approach to songwriting. But
Mallonee's critical gaze isn't turned only inward: he also has a lot to
say about the decaying society around him.  Consider the observation in
"Aftermath," that "Palm readers and Politicians make promises
galore/Hollywood spreads her legs like a two bit whore..."  I couldn't
have said it better, and every time I sing along to one of these songs
I know it's the Truth.

Mary Chapin Carpenter   STONES IN THE ROAD

Carpenter is rightly praised for her songwriting; she first came to my
attention, in fact, because Lucinda Williams recorded one of her songs.
STONES IN THE ROAD, like her previous work, is full of well-crafted gems
lodged neatly in the interstices of country, rock, and pop--so smooth
that you might miss the nuggets of wisdom sliding by.  In "Jubilee," for
example, Carpenter sings:  "...I can tell by the way you're talking,
that the past isn't letting you go/There's only so long you can take it
all on, and then the wrong's gotta be on its own."  There's so much
meaning packed into the songs here, in fact, that it might even be
overwhelming without the joyful "Shut Up and Kiss Me."

But Carpenter is more than a songwriter:  she has one of the sweetest
voices this side of Suzanne Vega, and she's smart enough not to rush it
or overreach.  Coupled with flawless performances from some of the best
musicians around, it makes STONES IN THE ROAD not only worth listening
to, but fun to listen to.

The Swirling Eddies     ZOOM DADDY

The Swirling Eddies' first two albums (LET'S SPIN and OUTDOOR ELVIS) had
some great songs, but they didn't work well as albums.  This time
they've outdone themselves.  According to producer, lyricist, singer,
and guitarist Terry Taylor, the band started by recording the music with
working titles.  The titles were a little strange:  "I had a bad
experience with the c.i.a. and now i'm gonna show you my feminine side"
is probably the strangest.  Things got interesting when Taylor set
himself the task of writing lyrics to fit them...

The results were a bit mixed, but what emerged was a coherent
album--right down to the artwork on the CD insert.  The sound is not
unlike DARN FLOOR/BIG BITE-era DA, but there's a distinctly original
flavor.  (Two songs do remind me of other bands: "God went bowling"
would fit right in on They Might Be Giants' FLOOD, while the guitars on
"I had a bad experience..." are dead ringers for those on SECRET LIFE
OF PANTS by Connecticut band Starkweather.)

The lyrics are sometimes forced, but at other times we get something
like this, from "God went bowling":  "we want an infinite meddler/a
fix-it-quick man/but he gets off his high horse/gets dirt on his
hands/and he woos us like a lover/through each bloody cessation/and
hangs on the cross/with the rest of creation."  For that song alone,
I'm willing to forgive throwaways like "some friendly advice."


I probably shouldn't like this album.  Adam Duritz, Counting Crows'
singer/songwriter, is, well, whiny.  But he's convincing and,
after all, he does bear up nicely under the strain.

There's nothing revolutionary here.  The music is pretty conventional
and the lyrics are a variation on the familiar vague tortured
soul-searching.  But, doggone it, there's nothing wrong with this album,
either.  The arrangements are full without being overblown; the songs
can be longish, yes, but they're not repetitive; and every song says
something. I don't think we can ask for a lot more than that from
popular music, and if Duritz' whining hasn't gotten to me after so many
spins in the CD player, maybe it won't bother you either...

Liz Phair               WHIP SMART

EXILE IN GUYVILLE was one of those great first albums--like PSYCHOCANDY
or VIOLENT FEMMES--that, years after its release, will still probably
make me gush, "That album was really a classic, huh?"  Albums that good
can be tough to follow, but while WHIP SMART doesn't quite measure up to
Phair's first effort it's a nice piece of work all the same.

WHIP SMART is a little friendlier--both lyrically and musically--than
EXILE, but it's by no means a complete change of pace.  The production
is slicker and the instrumentation is a bit richer, but Phair's writing
still has that refreshing sparseness.  Phair has also mastered the leave
them wanting more principle used to such effect on EXILE ("Divorce
Song," for example, ended after the bridge):  the average song on WHIP
SMART is just three minutes.

I hope Phair's popularity doesn't do her in.  It seemed that everywhere
I looked in 1994, someone was dropping her name.  (OK, I'm glad the rest
of America has finally caught on, but could we cool it now?)  No doubt
some folks who enjoyed her first album are now claiming that they knew
she was a sell-out all along, or something along those lines.  Hordes of
disappointed frat boys (and sorority girls) are also probably wondering
why every other word isn't "fuck."

I can't help you with that last one, but if the upbeat "Supernova" isn't
enough to get you excited about WHIP SMART, consider the following lines
from "alice springs":

"See the sun rise so loud/this whole town/gets drowned out/skywriting
with the sweep of a flashlight/I'm driving over that way/some pot of
gold/it's just a carpeting store on opening day..."

If the lyrics were included in the artsy little booklet that accompanies
the CD, it might be easier to spot moments like that on WHIP SMART.  As
it stands, you'll just have to listen carefully for them.  They're there.

The Bobs                COVER THE SONGS OF...

Everything about this album--from Joe Bob's liner notes to the boring
cover and unflattering pictures of Janie Bob--screams, "We whipped this
thing off in 5 days!"  (Well, those weren't exactly Joe Bob's words, but
you get the idea...)  After waiting half a year for the U.S. distributer
to release The Bobs' second album of cover songs, I was a little
disappointed.  But I'm not about to throw my Charlie Parker recordings
in the dustbin just because he whipped them off, and I guess there's
room for this album, too.

For those that don't know, The Bobs are an acapella group with some fine
pipes and a singular sense of humor.  Their originals, like "Slow Down
Krishna," are wonderful, and their covers are equally charming:  the
first Bobs song I heard was their 2 minute deconstruction of "Helter
Skelter," and I've been hooked ever since.

Of course, if you're going to cover songs, you ought to chose them
wisely:  "Is That All There Is" is a boring song any way you look at it.
Yes, the male Bobs are doing some interesting work behind Janie Bob's
lead, but it's not as interesting the second or third time.  Still,
though I know you won't believe me until you hear them for yourself,
The Bobs manage to rescue both "Disco Inferno" and Donovan's mantra-like
"First There is a Mountain"--no small accomplishment!  The little
delights on the other songs are too many to list (the addition of a
mysterious cry of "Waiter!" in the midst of They Might Be Giants'
"Particle Man" is one example), but the incredible 90's groove grafted
onto The Coasters' "Searchin'" deserves special mention.

COVER THE SONGS OF... isn't The Bobs at their best, but it'll do.

Daniel Amos             BIBLELAND

With the exception of the cliched "She's Working Here" and the
annoyingly repetitive "Constance of the Universe," this album is a fine
piece of work, with thoughtful lyrics and a consistent, vibrant sound.
Few of the songs stand out, but they all seem to fit together.

There are some great moments, of course.  The chorus of "Low Crawls and
High Times," for example, with its shout of, "Love and understanding,
right now!" springs to mind.  "Theo's Logic," too, is a wonderfully
demented song that grows on me a little more each time I hear it.

As is only to be expected with Terry Taylor penning the lyrics, every
song gets you thinking, though only the aforementioned "She's Working
Here" has to hit you over the head to accomplish it.  If there's a theme
here it's the Incarnation--life's trials and failures as we climb
"broken ladders to glory."  "Bakersfield" reads like a chapter from
Dostoevsky's NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND:  "Wrinkled young men are
shuffling along like/dirty grey ghosts wearing fitted soiled sheets/on
a wet mirage street....Crusty skinned phantoms/pocked-marked and
drifting/like the shifting pallid sand here..."  Yet, BIBLELAND isn't
a cynical album.  Even the cheesy amusement park pictured in the title
track has "something beautiful, something clean" behind it.  As Taylor
writes in "I'll Get Over it":  "My complacence/I feel it breakin'
down/and my abasement/it nails me to the ground/But, I'll get
better/take my medicine/of things familiar/the things I understand."

Sam Phillips            MARTINIS AND BIKINIS

This is the year that a lot of folks finally heard about Sam Phillips.
It's true that her recent work is head and shoulders above her mostly
forgettable, though sometimes charming, early recordings.  I'm not sure
why this particular album--rather than the equally-worthy THE TURNING
(recorded as Leslie Phillips), THE INDESCRIBABLE WOW, or CRUEL
INVENTIONS--was the one that catapulted Phillips into the public eye,
but I'm happy for her all the same.

Part of the reason is that she's just a nice person.  As for the rest,
there's her unique voice (once a Dale Bozzio-like chirp, it has taken
on a full-bodied quality reminiscent of the young Lauren Bacall), her
charming, shy smile, and her complete lack of affectation.  When Sam
Phillips sings something, it would be rude not to listen.

What makes this one of the best albums this year is that there's
something worth listening to.  Phillips has left the cliches behind with
her CCM career, as "Love and Kisses" makes quite clear:  "...send us all
your love and kisses/come and join the dream that never ends/god will
grant us all our wishes/martinis and bikinis for our friends."

The music and production also avoids cliches, though even without the
cover of John Lennon's "Gimmie Some Truth" the word "Beatlesque" would
inevitably spring to reveiwers' minds.  My only wish is that the songs
were less repetitive:  instead of repeating the chorus ad nauseam,
Phillips and producer T Bone Burnett should have let the top rank
musicians that appeared on the album (including, notably, XTC's Colin
Moulding) have a go at creating something interesting.

Elvis Costello          BRUTAL YOUTH

He's back!  Sure, seeing your hero lose his hair and put on a few pounds
can be a disconcerting experience, but after this year's exhumation of
The Rolling Stones, nothing fazes me.  There's some crucial differences,
too:  first, Costello has always had talent to fall back on, and second,
he's still got fire.

This is classic Costello:  somehow simultaneously raw and polished, with
clever lyrics you can almost understand without a lyric sheet...

Bonnie Raitt            LONGING IN THEIR HEARTS

If you liked Raitt's other albums, you'll like this one; if you've never
heard her, just think toe-tappin' blues and tender ballads performed by
an elfin redhead with a sultry voice and a mean slide guitar.  Raitt
isn't the kind of star an ambitious record company executive could
create:  she's The Real Thing.

The songwriting is solid and the musicians are good, though in a couple
of spots I had to wonder who made the production decisions--is that
synth accordion Raitt's fault or do we get to blame co-producer Don Was?
And though the ballads are nice, I could have done with more
toe-tappin'.  Still, "Love Sneakin' Up on You" and "Hell to Pay" alone
are worth the price of admission.

Steve Taylor            SQUINT

Steve Taylor has been making interesting music since he shook up the CCM
scene with I WANT TO BE A CLONE a decade ago.  Unfortunately, most of
Taylor's early work didn't age well.  Then came Chagall Guevara, which
made one great album and...disappeared.  What has Taylor been up to
since?  If SQUINT is any evidence, he's been honing his songwriting
skills.  Like CHAGALL GUEVARA, this one will stand the test of time.

Sure, no one will want to listen to "Cash Cow (A Rock Opera in Three
Small Acts)" very often, but Taylor has mercifully put it at the end.
The first song isn't a thriller, either, but the eight in between are
keepers.  "Bannerman" (like DA's "Bibleland") celebrates a tacky hero
other Christians may want to disown; "Smug" features Phil Madeira as an
hilariously on-target minister of smugness; "The Moshing Floor" is 4:01
of classic caustic Taylor commentary.

In addition to these and other examples of Taylor's piercing wit there
are two gems that will bring any man to his knees.  "Jesus is for
Losers" is Taylor's CONFESSIONS: "...so caught up in the chase/I keep
forgetting my place/Just as I am/I am stiff-necked and proud/Jesus is
for losers/Why do I still play to the crowd?"  "The Finish Line,"
possibly the best song Taylor has ever written, is his PILGRIM'S
PROGRESS:  the continuing story, perhaps, of the lad we first met in
MELTDOWN's "Hero."  Like Bunyan's Christian, he loses his way for a
time--"We're locked in the washroom turning old tricks/deaf/and
joyless/and full of it"--but in the end he crosses "the finish line."
SQUINT is worth buying for those two songs alone.

Lest we forget to mention it, there's good music as well as great
lyrics.  Chagall Guevara's rhythm section, Wade Jaynes on bass and Mike
Mead on drums, holds things together; Jerry McPherson adds the bulk of
the unexceptional but tasteful guitars; Phil Madeira is competent on
keyboards; and Taylor's production is nearly flawless.

Soundgarden             SUPERUNKNOWN

For all I know, there were lots of other deserving metal albums released
this year, but I don't care:  Rez Band didn't release an album this
year, so SUPERUNKNOWN is it.  Soundgarden is one of the few metal bands
of recent vintage with lyrics that say anything to me; this isn't their
best, perhaps, but when you need some loud music it's sufficient.

Call them unoriginal if you like:  I don't know if that's true or not--I
tend to think they're as original as any other metal band, but it's
unimportant.  Charlie Christian got the guitar out of the rhythm
section, Chuck Berry made it rock, and Jimi Hendrix set it aflame; no
guitarist since has made a leap that great.

I don't know if Chris Cornell is profound or if he just writes songs
that way.  I'd like to think that a man who sees that "Whomsoever I've
cured/I've sickened now/...I'm a search light soul/They say but I
can't/See it in the night/I'm only fakin/When I get it right" is at
least halfway to wisdom.

Tribute Album of the Year:  STRONG HAND OF LOVE (Tribute to Mark Heard)

This album didn't knock my socks off, but it did stay in my cassette
player for a few weeks.  Few artists are as worthy of tribute as the
late Mark Heard, and STRONG HAND OF LOVE probably interested a lot of
people in Heard's music.  (See my review from this summer elsewhere in
this issue.)


Rhino Records has done it again:  two CD's packed with great music,
reproduced with as much fidelity as one could hope for, and tied
together with Dr. Demento's excellent liner notes.  Not every song is
a winner, but this collection is the best introduction to Spike's
career I've seen, and nearly all my favorites are included.

Soundtrack of the Year:  THE MASK

I saw this movie twice, and it was as much for the music as Jim Carrey's
zany humor and the special effects.  Worth buying for Carrey's
performance of "Cuban Pete" alone, it's also full of swinging tunes that
should enliven any party.

Honorable mentions also go out to the following:

           The 77's                Sarah McLachlan
           Laurie Anderson         The Brian Setzer Orchestra
           Barenaked Ladies        Pop Staples
           Glenn Kaiser            They Might Be Giants
           King's X                Yello
           REALITY BITES (Soundtrack)

- Rob Szarka

                -=[ ANDY WHITMAN'S FAVORITES OF 1994 ]=-

Okay, it's that time of year when everybody gets to play music critic
and compile *the* definitive list of the Best Music Released in 1994.
I have a fairly simple formula for determining the best music released
during the year.  I take a composite of the Billboard, MTV, CJM, and
John Peel charts, factor in the Midwest Cultural Bias Index, compute the
variables for Social Relevance, Best Hair, and Beats Per Minute, and
subtract one point for every Grammy or MTV award won or oblique or overt
reference to Seattle.  Then I throw it all out and just write down the
music that spent the most time in the CD player, the tape player, or on
the turntable.  Here are the albums that meant the most to me in 1994.
A lot of them were released prior to 1994.  I don't know what that
means, other than I'm hopelessly behind the times.

The Breeders            LAST SPLASH

Yeah, this album has been hyped to death, but it lives up to the hype.
This is the album The Pixies should have made but never did.  Kim Deal
writes great songs.  And Kelly Deal is the anti-Clapton and the most
amateurish guitarist I've ever heard.  That's a compliment.  Chords?
Who needs 'em.

Eric Clapton            FROM THE CRADLE

I never expected this.  Here we have the man who virtually defines "sell
out" singing and playing more passionately than at any time since his
"Layla" days (the original, *not* the flacid acoustic version).  Eric
picks sixteen blues classics, goes into howl mode, and lets the fingers
fly.  There *is* a Guitar God.

Bruce Cockburn          DART TO THE HEART

A continuation of the rediscovered acoustic sound of NOTHING BUT A
BURNING LIGHT and CHRISTMAS.  Bruce mostly dispenses with the polemics
and concentrates on grown-up love songs, full of ambiguity and
complexity, strikingly beautiful imagery, and some startlingly fresh
metaphors for the Christian life.  As a bonus, we get the welcome return
of the Bruce Cockburn acoustic guitar instrumental.  Just another album
in a string of musical treasures.

Elvis Costello          BRUTAL YOUTH

Costello is never less than interesting, but his last few albums have
left me yearning for a bit more musical ooomph to go with the biting
satire and the classical string quartet arrangements.  BRUTAL YOUTH
delivers the goods and conjures up memories of The Angry Young Man
before he turned into The Serious Composer.  In "Just About Glad" he
isn't.  "This is Hell" is a surreal descent into the madness of love.
And "Kinder Murder" is straight out of 1977, propelled by Steve Nieve's
circus tricks on the Hammond organ and Costello's venomous,
fit-to-be-tied vocal histrionics.  The man has unassumingly built
himself a body of work that, in a more just world, would be considered
legendary.  BRUTAL YOUTH does nothing to detract from the reputation.

Green Day               DOOKIE

Ah, alienated youth.  No doubt some will complain that these Bay Area
Brats aren't *real* punks and that Billy Joe's hair isn't naturally
blue.  Oh well.  Songs like "Longview" and "Basket Case" still do it for
me, turning a normally placid, peaceful Buckeye into a Pogoing Machine.
No wonder the kids riot.  I almost have a coronary myself.

Roy Hargrove            WITH THE TENORS OF OUR TIME

Wynton Marsalis and the buttoned-down players get all the press, but Roy
Hargrove has Marsalis' technique *and* something that Wynton will never
achieve:  soul.  This time out the young trumpeter is joined by a bunch
of old farts on saxophone--Johnny Griffin, Stanley Turrentine, Joe
Henderson--and they all have soul, too.  The end result is traditional
jazz that cooks like crazy.  Ellington said, "It don't mean a thing if
it ain't got that swing."  This one means a lot.

Wayne Horvitz/The President     MIRACLE MILE

Proof positive that the word "fusion" isn't synonymous with
"sleep-inducing."  Horvitz's Hammond organ is paired with tape loops,
samples from James Brown and Public Enemy, clarinet, and Bill Frisell's
shrieking electric guitar.  But this is no mere exercise in random
noisemaking.  Horvitz is a gifted composer, and yes, you really can hum
the tunes in the shower.  A surprisingly creative and approachable

Freedy Johnston         THIS PERFECT WORLD

Jangly guitar pop at its finest.  If you like bands/performers like Gin
Blossoms, Lemonheads, E, Matthew Sweet, Teenage Fanclub, Big Star, etc.,
then you'll like Freedy.  If you don't, then you won't.  But Freedy has
captured the sound better than anybody else I've heard this year. And
his lyrics are a notch above the usual boy meets girl/boy loses girl/boy
writes morose pop song about it.  The hummability factor here, of
course, is off the scale.

The Mavericks           THE MAVERICKS

All in all it was a dire year for country music, and the continued
ascendance of Barf Brooks and Robo McIntyre doesn't leave me much hope
for the future.  The Mavericks do, though.  These guys sing about broken
hearts with a catch in their voices and with the fiddles and pedal steel
turned way up in the mix.  Bonus points for the Truck Stop Playability
factor.  Best appreciated when wearing a John Deere cap.

Morphine                CURE FOR PAIN

Can you say bass heavy?  As in a trio consisting of bass, drums, and
bass clarinet.  This is raw, angry, despairing music, and that novel
instrumentation certainly gets your attention.  In spite of the spare
lineup, some of these songs startle in their intensity, and the DIY
approach is a nice reminder of why the best music usually comes out of
garages and seedy dives.

Sam Phillips            MARTINIS AND BIKINIS

Is she?  Isn't she?  Yes, she is.  The best John Lennon impersonator
ever.  And this is the best late-period Beatles album the Beatles never
made.  It's like, psychedelic, man.  Fortunately, all the sitars and
high weirdness is attached to great melodies and catchy choruses and
thought-provoking lyrics.  Is Sam still writing about her faith?  Open
your ears.

Emmitt Rhodes           EMMITT RHODES

Well, okay, I cheated.  I *really* cheated.  Because this album was
recorded in 1970 and has been out of print for a good fifteen years.
But I remember it from my jaded youth, and when I stumbled across an old
scratchy vinyl copy in a used record store I snatched it up. Glad I did,
too.  Yes, he is.  The best Paul McCartney impersonator ever.  Emmitt,
never heard from before or since, sings lead and harmony vocals and
plays guitar, piano, bass, and drums.  And he sounds and writes
uncannily like our boy Macca.  Derivative?  Sure.  Why not?  If you
liked "Abbey Road," you'll like this Rhodes, too.

Frank Sinatra           THE CAPITOL YEARS

Okay, I admit that my eighteen-year-old self wouldn't understand it.  I
mean, this is music that my *parents* listened to.  How do I defend it?
I suppose you eventually get to the point where you realize that your
parents weren't hopeless dolts and that their generation may have had
one or two things to teach to the radical, rockin' dudes of today.  If
so, surely Frank must be one of them.  Frank recorded for Capitol
Records from 1954 through 1959.  This 3-CD boxed set collects 75 of his
greatest recordings.  All the alienated youth used to riot when Frankie
sang back in the forties.  Imagine that.  Listen to the music, and
listen to the way that Sinatra's voice wraps around these timeless
melodies, and you begin to understand why.

Richard Thompson        MIRROR BLUE

How do you combine Dylanesque lyrics, Celtic instrumentation, Hendrix-
like guitar feedback, sweet folk fingerpicking, and jazz bass lines?
Ask Richard Thompson.  He does it all the time.  He does it again on
MIRROR BLUE, fourteen songs that show off state-of-the-art songwriting,
circa 1994.  It's neither better nor worse than his last ten albums or
so.  It's merely excellent.

Uncle Tupelo            NO DEPRESSION

Yee haw.  Three cowpunks from Missouri get together and make a big ol'
racket.  This one's billed as country punk, but really it reminds me of
all the garage bands I used to hear around my neighborhood when I was
growing up.  One guy plays loud guitar and howls at the top of his lungs
in a sort of Bob Dylan meets Dwight Yoakum kind of voice.  Another guy
plays bass and howls along, sometimes almost in harmony.  The third guy
just whacks on the drums.  They write songs about being stuck in
dead-end small towns, working at the factory, and gettin' drunk. "It's a
long, long way from happiness/In a three-hour away town/Whiskey bottle
over Jesus/Not forever, just for now."  I think this is a pretty great
album, maybe my favorite from this year.  Won't be forever, but it's
mighty fine for now.


I missed Northern Ireland's The Undertones the first time around in the
late seventies and early eighties, so this twenty-six song BEST OF
package lets me catch up in a hurry.  The Undertones were Green Day ten
years too soon, pseudo-punks who specialized in catchy melodies and
choruses powered along by three chords and amps turned up to 11.  They
wrote songs about Mars Bars, the perfect little cousin that you always
wanted to pound the #$%# out of, and girls (and variations thereof,
prominent titles being "Let's Talk About Girls," "Girls," and "Women").
No future Pulitzer prizes here, but a plethora of great two-and-a-half
and three-minute pop gems.

US3                     HAND ON THE TORCH

The first jazz/hip-hop fusion that's really worked for me.  The samples
are straight out of the massive Blue Note catalogue from the fifties and
sixties, and it's a real kick to hear three very verbal dudes from the
Bronx rappin' over the sounds of Thelonious Monk and Horace Silver.
I've never thought of rap as particularly catchy, but "Cantaloupe" and
"I Got It Goin' On" are straight-out funk confections.  Great stuff.

Vigilantes of Love      WELCOME TO STRUGGLEVILLE

This time Bill Mallonee takes a turn as the leader of a rock 'n roll
band.  The rock 'n roll is just fine, and Newt Carter's guitar work is
exemplary.  But, as usual, I'm in it for the songwriting.  No Christian
songwriter is doing it better these days.  I'm not sure that one has
ever done it better.  The guy hits me right where I live.

Victoria Williams       LOOSE

Some music just makes me smile.  Victoria Williams' music is like that.
At times it's whimsical, goofy, and downright weird.  But always it's
full of joy, full of hope, full of those finely realized little details
that make me see the world in a new and startling way.  Here is
Christian music that is blessedly free of cliches and blessedly full of
the grace of everyday life.  I'm really glad that Victoria is loose

Cassandra Wilson        BLUE LIGHT TILL DAWN

Cassandra Wilson is a jazz singer of such supple vocal power that she
moves across octaves as if they were single notes.  But unlike robodivas
like Whitney and Mariah, Wilson sings with idiosyncratic character,
stamping her songs with slurs and growls and purrs and whispers.  She
puts that stamp on Van Morrison's "Tupelo Honey" and Robert Johnson's
blues classic "Come On In My Kitchen" and about a dozen more songs.  She
may be the best pure jazz singer since Billie Holiday.  A prodigious

Honorable mentions go to new albums from Peter Himmelmann, Guru, A Tribe
Called Quest, Peter Case, Marvin Etzioni, DA, Mike Knott, James Carter,
John Austin, Maria McKee, Van Morrison, and Brian Setzer.

- Andy Whitman 

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Etext ©1995 Robert Szarka
Last Update: 03 Feb 1995