Dr. Bristol's Musical Prescription

by Bill Holmes

Bill Holmes is an avid music fan and music collector whose reviews and features are published on four continents. That's right, carved right into the beach with a wooden stick. Big deal, eh? Actually, he lives to widen his musical bandwidth, and hopefully by reading his column, so will you. Some things old, some things new; since you asked, I'll review! (Trust me, you don't want any more poetry from me...) Many, many great things flying through the Doc's office since last issue, so let's slap some of them on for a spin and see what they sound like...

Bill's Virtual Pet

LED ZEPPELIN, BBC Sessions (Atlantic) - If you don't know that Led Zeppelin was one of the most dynamic, forceful and influential rock bands in the world, there isn't much I can say in a paragraph that will convince you just how good they were, but this 2-disc set should do the trick. The first disc captures the early Zep, fresh from their first US tour. It's interesting to remember that initially the critics loathed the band, but their improvisational blues-based jams and startling presence mesmerized audiences and established the band as the act to beat. The group was evolving so quickly that you can even hear the difference in alternate takes of "Communication Breakdown", even though the three tracks were recorded within eleven days! Tracks from the supreme "One Night Stand" broadcast close out the side, catching the band on a hot night.

If you did not grow up with Zep and are too young to have them be anything more than historical artifacts, know this much - they changed the face of rock, they kicked everyone's ass...

The second disk, from 1971, was recorded months before their fourth album would become a rock and roll landmark, and contains tracks not originally broadcast. The band percolated, and Page was reaching his peak as a player - his work here is astounding. If you did not grow up with Zep and are too young to have them be anything more than historical artifacts, know this much - they changed the face of rock, they kicked everyone's ass, and when their amazing drummer died they walked away from the name rather than tarnish the band's reputation with a replacement. Finally, a live document worthy of their name.

VARIOUS ARTISTS, We Will Fall (Royalty) - Royalty Records has assembled a twenty-track, seventy three minute tour through Iggy Pop's career, the third such collection I've seen but easily the most high profile. Reading the artists and track listing on the back cover would be enough inspiration for even a fringe fan to grab the disc, but the contents may surprise you. While some big names turn in respectable takes, a couple of the brightest moments come from the most unlikely artists.

Nada Surf always struck me as a one-hit MTV band, but their great version of "Sick Of You" is reminiscent of Love It To Death era Alice Cooper! Sugar Ray, another band-of-the-moment, torches "Cold Metal" so thoroughly that not even the insipid turntable scratching during the solo can take it down. Pansy Division shows that they have balls after all with a great rip on "Loose". The Lunachicks make "Passenger" an aural treat all over again, and Extra Fancy's shuffle version of "Sell Your Love" is one of the two or three best cuts on the record. The Red Hot Chili Peppers do a credible version of "Search And Destroy", but it's licensed from seven years ago, not newly recorded. If they were going to rob the vaults, I would have much preferred the Dictators' classic flame-thrower interpretation.

Not everyone shines, however. An almost-unrecognizable Superdrag drones their way through "1970" and Blondie (here reformed as a four piece under the pseudonym Adolph's Dog) schmooze their way through "Ordinary Bummer" (what a waste of a Clem Burke sighting!). With tribute projects you take your chances, and the couple of clinkers aside the percentages are very good on this one.

MICHAEL PENN, Resigned, (Sony) - Brilliant Beatles-meet-Aimee Mann effort from Penn. I can't even decide which song is my favorite, which is a good thing. "Try", with double-tracked vocals and string sound, is a powerful opener and sets the tone for the entire record. "Out Of My Hands" is waltz-slow, focusing on Penn's heartfelt lyrics. "Figment" and "Comfort" build to a crescendo a la Neil Young, but more often than not it's the White Album era Beatles that's the biggest influence. Subdued in spots but never low-key; there's always something great going on. Brendan O'Brien has the golden touch as a producer and collaborator and shows it here in spades. The closer "I Can Tell", with its McCartney intro and Bowie "Rock And Roll Suicide" feel, is a sonic masterpiece.

THE VANDALIAS, Buzzbomb (Big Deal) - Man, these cartoon characters can rock! Incredible pop rock that hearkens back to Badfinger, Big Star and every "ooh-aah"band that took the lead from the Beatles and moved on. "Down", "No OneTold Him" and "the faux live "Funk Monkey Baby" rip it up with Cheap Trick energy and harmonies straight out of...The Mamas & Papas? You bet! Rock ballads too; "Say I'm Sorry" will melt the crustiest of hard hearts. Eleven great songs in thirty five minutes that will make you wonder why someone so talented shields himself behind the front of the "Vandalia brothers". I won't expose him directly, but if you want to pay this pop wizard some props, buy Mach V, the previous CD, and dismantle the packaging.THE HANG UPS, So We Go (Restless) Nice harmony vocals and a jangly guitar sound permeate this disk which echoes lighter bands like Toad The Wet Sprocket,Three O'Clock and even The Critters. Vocalist Brian Tighe (who wrote all but one of the tracks) floats melody lines above acoustic rhythms, which is a nice formula but could use a little more variety - except for "The Entry", most of the songs are in this range. But persevere, for the best 1-2 punch lies deep in the record with the sneaky "I'm In The Picture" and the handclap anthem "Cornerstone". A 1996 release that may not have made its way around the planet yet; I certainly didn't find mine until mid-97!

WHISKEYTOWN, Stranger's Almanac, (Geffen) - Ryan Adams is a hell of a songwriter for a guy in his early twenties, but I'd get the suicide watch started right now. Desperation set to music works both ways, and Adams mines the vein like the forefathers he so drunkenly pretends he isn't influenced by (perhaps his own line sums it up best - "I can't stand to be under your wing"). When he's more uptempo he wears his Westerberg on his sleeve ("Yesterday's News") and other times a Neil Young ghost will rear its head ("Turn Around"). But he's also savvy enough to diversify the instrumentation. Fiddle and horns alternately pick a song up ("Sixteen Days") and take it out at the knees (the pained and haunting "Everything I Do"). One of the most powerful and depressing records of 1997, and I mean those both as compliments.

VARIOUS ARTISTS, The Inner Flame (Atlantic) - Rainer Ptacek is arguably an acquired taste, but it's obvious that the music community valued his keen insight and marvelous introspective vision. Master of the steel guitar and dobro, his records with Das Combo are thrilling, and as a live performer he was both generous and unique. Sadly, Rainer could not overcome brain cancer and has left us, but this tribute (recorded before his recent death to help raise funds for his battle) is a great document. You would expect heartfelt versions from people like Vic Chestnutt and Victoria Williams, two fellow musicians who know about physical suffering, but the surprise of the disc has to be Lemonhead Evan Dando's "Rudy With A Flashlight", which might just be the best thing he has ever done. Robert Plant, Emmylou Harris and partner Howe Gelb are among the cross section of first rate contributors.

YOU AM I, Hourly Daily (Sire) - Australia's best bet continues to shape their sound in a more Kinks-ian direction with good results. Vocalist/songwriter Tim Rogers has a knack (no pun) for short pop songs that feature varied instrumentation without being overwhelmed by cleverness. Think Teenage Fanclub, XTC, maybe even Oasis (if they weren't so full of themselves). Better yet, buy this if you ever liked any sixties Britpop band and you will be very pleased. "Trike", "Good Mornin'", "Wally Raffles" and "Flag Fall $1.80" are just four of the standouts - the record is wall to wall good stuff. If there were a missing link between The Who and The Jam, You Am I might be it. So how come they keep putting out great records and no one plays them? WAKE UP AMERICA!

MIKE WATT - Contemplating The Engine Room (Columbia) - A self proclaimed "punk rock opera", Watt's newest is on the surface a concept album about three guys in a submarine but below deck is a diary of his life as a musician. With inventive guitarist Nels Cline and drummer Stephen Hodges, Watt creates a soundscape that fuses sound effects and driving music to bring the listener along from his early days in San Pedro through the rise and implosion of The Minutemen through his still-current mantra of "get in the van and go". A nice tribute to his late compadre D.Boon ("Boilerman") is a highlight, and the journey wraps up safely into port with "Shore Duty". Bonus multimedia for those who are enabled.

photo by Scott Wynn

VARIOUS ARTISTS, Live From 6A (Mercury) - Much like Letterman did to Carson when he was a mere groundling, Conan O'Brien gets beat on the "A" list for movie stars but makes up for it with breaking new acts (who will hopefully stay as loyal to him as the ones Letterman broke in). The tracks here span the last few years, ranging from full band versions (Matthew Sweet's reverential cover of "Do Ya") to stripped down gems like Elvis Costello and Steve Nieve as a twosome with "All This Useless Beauty". Like the show, there's something for everyone, and the gamble is that there's enough that you like so you can comfortably overlook what you couldn't care less about. Works for me - I'll never play Bjork or Jamiroquai again but couldn't be without Sweet, Bowie, Ani Di Franco and the always great Jonathan Richman. Wish there were more cuts (only 12) but I'm sure we'll see more if this sells. Conan's liner notes are hilarious, too.

VARIOUS ARTISTS, Pop On Top (Bomp) - Why is it that Australia has a thriving power pop scene and the USA doesn't? Well, they're probably too smart to have bought into electronica and/or let consultants rule the roost. Be that as it may, here's twenty reasons to wish you were there, thanks to a great Aussie label (Spinning Top) and a savvy American popmeister (Greg Shaw). If you've not heard DM3, the pop gods of Down Under, you're in for a real treat - Dom Mariani also fronted The Stems and The Some Loves, both of which are a connection to many of the acts here. Most wallow in that Beat-Who-Kinks formula, although you can hear Jellyfish (Ice Cream Hands) and The Replacements (Hub) as direct forefathers as well. My favorites are DM3's "1x2xDevestated" and Ice Cream Hands' "Bye" along with cuts from Rollercoaster, The Chevelles, Rosebuds and Jack And The Beanstalk. For those who prefer a harder sound, focus on Epstein and The Pyramidiacs. A great primer.

ICE CREAM HANDS, Memory Lane Traffic Jam (Not Lame) - Formerly The Mad Turks, these Aussie popsters call to mind all the usual suspects like Shoes and Badfinger, but on their slower tunes like "Embarassment Head" and "Early Morning Frost" they are also reminiscent of more commercial pop fare like Semisonic and the Gin Blossoms. I much prefer them when they showcase their harmonies on rocking songs like "Here We Go Round Now" and "Supermarket Scene" where their Posies-like energy can really catch fire. Those who have Bomp's Pop On Top collection will recognize "Bye", an excellent Jellyfish-Queen moment that is actually track thirteen but was inadvertently left off the liner notes (ironically it's the best song on the disc by a mile). Three "real" bonus tracks round out a solid effort.

VARIOUS ARTISTS, We Are Not Devo (Centipede) - What else could you call a Devo tribute? Lovingly assembled, this California collection includes some well known West Coast punk bands and serves up a mostly entertaining package that Mark and the boys would undoubtedly like. The Aquabats' Mexicali "Love Without Anger" and Possum Dixon's "El Mongoloido" toss salsa on the synth, and the Voodoo Glow Skulls' ska-laced "Time Out For Fun" is equal parts tango and Devo original. High points are One Hit Wonder's "Beautiful World", which somehow incorporates a very affected Richard Butler-like vocal but hits it out of the park, and Jughead's Revenge's electrifying "Jerking Back And Forth", which is what you should bedoingfothe length of this record. Great fun

DAVID BOWIE, Essential: Best Of 1969-1974 (EMI) - Another special edition package from EMI grabs several of Bowie's best moments, although there's little here a seasoned fan hasn't heard before or doesn't own. Still, the alternate version of "The Prettiest Star" and the mastered studio version of "All The Young Dudes" are excellent selections. Liner notes that are reverential without being gushing detail the stutter-start of Bowie's career through his glorious partnership with Mick Ronson up to the Diamond Dogs record. When you consider that this collection doesn't even touch his Eno era, his "Thin White Duke" persona and his other directons (Iggy, techno, Tin Machine) it makes you realize just what a dominant chameleon Mr. Bowie has been for thirty years.

VARIOUS ARTISTS - More Of Our Stupid Noise 98 (Nettwerk) - A collection of Canadian independent artists that may or may not warm your cockles, but with twenty five cuts it's an excellent overview for those unsatisfied by limited radio playlists. Thee Sudden will appeal to Black Sabbath fans, Scratching Post recalls The Breeders, Speedbuggy defies their moniker by being slow and pensive. Julie Doiron's Jewel-like breathy vocals should appeal to the Lilith crowd, and low-fi royalty Lou Barlow checks in with "Blown Pony". My three picks are Len's "Trillion Daze" (sneaky punk pop), Orange Glass ("Feel 500") and The New Grand's "Yours Truly". Certainly something for everyone's taste, and if you pick up a new band or two to follow, well, that's the point, isn't it?

LIQUOR GIANTS, Every Other Day At A Time (Matador) - Ward Dotson and company are at it again with perhaps their strongest Calling to mind The Byrds, The Plimsouls, Big Star, The Kinks and several other similar influences, their Replacements-like "sloppy but tight" sound worms its way into your heart very quickly. Although "What's The New Mofo" won't get airplay (thanks to the well-enunciated "long version" of "mofo"), ringing guitars and heartfelt harmonies songs like "Dearest Darling" "Kentucky Lounge" and "Caroline" deserve serious air time. The promo copy includes eleven covers as bonus tracks (to be released as a separate disc later this year) that is capped by a tremendous cover of Bowie's "Boys Keep Swinging".

VARIOUS ARTISTS, Instrumental Fire (MuSick) - Radio claims that there is no place for instrumental music. Radio, as usual, is dead wrong. MuSick , the Pennsylvania label that could, presents sixteen "told ya so's" for the naysayer on your dial. Hank Marvin and Dick Dale are riding the pipe through the 90's whether you prefer the twangin' guitar of Los Straitjackets or the Farfisa based sounds of bands like The Bomboras and The Omega Men. Genre king Eddie Angel and iconoclast Ben Vaughn are highlights, but when bands from Finland and Germany nail the surf'n'strum mood with style you realize that music really is the universal language. Twelve cuts deep, and Scratch Bongowax's punky "Surfin' Turd" even throws in a word or two for those who must get verbal.

VARIOUS ARTISTS, It's A Damned Damned Damned Damned World (Satellite) - Truly a world-wide tribute, this Damned curtsy features twenty-four bands from nine countries taking a whack at Damned tunes, and no one covers "Smash It Up"! Instead, songs from all over the musical map get their due, some well, some atonally. From the local shores, The Hates ("See Her Tonite") and Cheeseburger ("So Messed Up") are the standouts, but one listen to Punica Oasis taking on "Dozen Girls" in their native tongue and you'll be convinced that all punk songs should be sung in German. Sex Sex Sex and La Cry also warrant special mention. The Seattle tribute that featured The Posies and Young Fresh Fellows was a little too commercial; this one is definitely the antithesis. I won't spoil the hidden track for you except to warn you so you make sure you're still there when it hits. Excellent liner info and packaging, too.

VARIOUS ARTISTS, Patron Saints Of Pop (Undercover) - Considering that this came from the label that brought out a really good Bowie tribute a couple of years back, I was a little disappointed in the results. The song selections are mostly from the Buckingham/Nicks era, known for some amazing vocal harmonies. As with many smaller label tributes, expect interpretations rather than polish. Three that are head and shoulders above the rest are Varnaline, The Gourds and especially Jumbo ("Tusk" with a toy piano as the lead instrument is genius!). How much you enjoy the rest will depend on how tolerant you are for these things.

PLUMB, Plumb (Silvertone) - Reminds me a lot of GARBAGE, but I mean the band, not the smelly stuff on the curb. Atmospheric singer Tiffany Arbuckle (now THERE's a rock and roll name!) has a great voice that almost makes me forget that the drumbeat doesn't change much throughout the entire record. But if you like your techno laced with melody, you'll overlook that. For me, it's a rainy day record and not much moreBOBGOBLIN, The Twelve Point Master Plan (MCA) - Might have made the perfect soundtrack to the movie Starship Troopers as both share that Nazi-brainwash motif. The movie sucked, but this record is actually some pretty good hard guitar oriented rock with hooks galore. Bizarre sound bytes between songs only adds to the strangeness of the package. Can't imagine for the life of me how you follow up a debut like this!

DEL AMITRI, Some Other Sucker's Paradise (A&M) - Another solid effort from one of the most consistently solid bands around. Okay, so there's no "Roll To Me" or "Kiss This Thing Goodbye" here, but so what? It's not like those "hits" made anyone run out and buy their catalogue! If you've heard them compared to latter-day SQUEEZE that's not a mistake; both bands write unpretentious melodies, stress solid lead and harmony vocals and don't try to hit you over the head with a hammer.

STEVE EARLE, El Corazon (Warner Brothers) - In what has to rank among the all-time comebacks, Earle has returned from a self-inflicted death sentence to become one of the most prolific artists of the past few years. His third post-sobriety album features some songs he has been playing live over the past two years and spans the musical map from bluegrass to alt-country to out and out rave-up rock and roll.

GLADHANDS, la di da (Big Deal) - The killer cover of "Forget All About It" would be enough to make you race to the store and grab this, but the fact is that every song is bursting with ringing guitar chords, powerful harmonies and a sonic punch that blows you out of your seat. "Kill Em With Kindness" and "Gore Girls" will have you singing along in an instant. If you want to describe "power pop" to someone, play this record. Loud! Although the band is really two guys, I've heard they tour as a four piece (complete with BEACH BOYS style striped shirts!) and are amazing live.

RADIOHEAD, OK Computer (EMI/Capitol) - I thought last year's record was a bold statement but this one tops it. Call it a rock opera or a concept record or just an amazingly intense piece of music, but no one else is making records like this in 1997. Thom Yorke's vocals are mesmerizing, and the phenomenal guitar work takes each song into another dimension. Oddly, there probably isn't a fast paced song on the record, but you don't even realize it because you are so engrossed in the whole experience. Lights out, lights on, headphones, speaker stacks, it doesn't matter - let this one grow on you, and you will be richly rewarded.

photo: k. bernard

FLEETWOOD MAC, The Dance (Reprise) - So everyone is slamming the MAC for coming back for the bucks. Yeah, like Lollapalooza is about art! Before you succumb to the ill-informed opinions from all the sheep who probably haven't even heard it, try listening to this one yourself. Lindsey Buckingham is absolutely on fire, especially on cuts like "Big Love" and "The Chain". And although I really didn't need to hear "Gold Dust Woman"again - ever! - spinning diva Stevie Nicks has her finest moment on an emotional "Silver Spring" (Mac-heads have savored this B-side for years). Fleetwood and McVie are a dynamic rhythm section honed by being joined at the hip for thirty years, and Christine McVie writes sweet pop songs. The new songs like "Bleed To Love Her" and the ironic "Temporary One" are solid efforts, too. The marching band is back for "Tusk" and stays through "Don't Stop", a song no Americans want to ever hear again thanks to the Clintons. Still, when Lindsey, Stevie and Christine sing three-part harmony, there's magic going on. Hope they sell a ton, Űcause the press kit must have cost a small fortune!

SPLITSVILLE - Ultrasound (Big Deal) - Another band who stared down the sophomore slump jinx. Where U.S.A. was a truly slap-dash affair (however charming parts some parts were), this record is chock full of hits. The boys out-Fold Ben with "Ponce De Leon", rock out with "Mary Go Round" and the Ramones-ish "Let's Go" and even have their own post-prom anthem with "Yearbook". Yep, it's a concept album about High School and adolescent behavior, but don't let the goofy graphics and song titles throw you. This is a band overflowing with wit, chops and attitude. As they say in "The Misfits", "...let's make believe/there's nothing wrong with us". Featuring the good half of The Greenbury Woods, I'm still wondering how radio fucked up and missed out on this. Don't make the same mistake.

TUBETOP, Three Minute Hercules (Laundry Room) - Another out-of-nowhere surprise, this Seattle quartet first created a buzz by virtue of hosting an ex-POSIES rhythm section. Nice star turns from Peter Buck and Jon Auer don't hurt either. But it's the songs and vocals of Brian Naubert and especially Gavin Guss that separate this pop record from most of the rest. Lots of energy, great harmonies and a spirit that leaps out of the speakers and into your heart and mind.. "Passes For Love" is a song any pop writer would sell his soul for, and that's just one of many great songs from this excellent group. Rescue this band from obscurity!

THE JAYHAWKS, Sound Of Lies (American) - Some thought that the Olson/Louris split would destroy a great band. But like their former brethren UNCLE TUPELO, sometimes change brings greatness. Louris' pop sensibilities are free from competition with Olson's music, and the result is a beautiful, heartfelt collection of songs. THE JAYHAWKS take the natural country influence of THE BYRDS and Gram Parsons and then sweeten it with BEACH BOYS/BIG STAR harmonies. Wonderful!

JEN TRYNIN, Gun Shy Trigger Happy (WB) - A quantum leap between records, Trynin's second major label effort shows us a Riot Grrrl with a velvet heart. She can rock with the best of them ("Love Letter", "Go Ahead") but her real strength is her ability to bare her soul in slower tempo songs like "I Resign" and "February". Her vocals show incredible emotional range - sexual but not slutty, smart but not pretentious. Trynin is the premier female musician of the moment; she deserves every drop of ink that's been wasted on Jewel and then some.

VERUCA SALT, Eight Arms To Hold You (Geffen) -. Recorded in Hawaii (life's a bitch, huh?) where the state slogan is "hang loose", the second full length release from this foursome is anything but. Kim Gordon and Louise Post kick some serious ass as they alternate songs throughout. Both have bite, but Gordon writes with a little more commercial polish; "Awesome" and "With David Bowie" are a lot of fun as is the killer single "Volcano Girls". Frank songs about lust, orgasms, drug dependency and desperate affection cloaked in some of the hardest rock of the year. They even work in a cap tip to "Seether", their signature song, without missing a beat.

SLOAN, One Chord To Another (Capitol/EMI) - Like their economy, SLOAN packs more of a wallop on their home continent than they do here in the States. Still, Canada is blessed with a slew of melodic pop bands that draw upon the BEATLES for inspiration (THE NINES, THE ODDS and THE ROSWELLS, just to name three worth your immediate attention). SLOAN plays great 4/4 pop songs with lots of ringing guitar and hummable hooks. They're not really loud or forceful, ranging from the BIG STAR emulation of "Junior Partners" to more uptempo POSIES-on-fire stuff like "G Turns To D" or low-key T.REX/STONES numbers ("Take The Bench"). They'll toss in horns and other odd instruments, and their harmonies are good, but the lead vocals are always a little flat - maybe a reason why they're only cult-like here? Who knows. But if you're lucky, you'll find the two-CD set that includes the "party disc". It sounds staged, but still contains sloppy-fun cover songs like "I Can't Let Go" and "Over You". These guys can play in my house anytime!

CHRIS RUSH, There's No Bones in Ice Cream (Sundazed) - Yes, I know it's a comedy record, but Chris Rush deserves special mention. In the early 1970's,during the ....uh.... "altered states" era, his First Rush album was a landmark combination of drug humor and social observation that never received the kudos that its imitators got. I did a double take when I saw this on the release lists because I hadn't heard his name in over two decades. I'm glad to report that Chris' bizarre point of view hasn't aged a bit. The topics are less drug-oriented now, but Rush mines the usual topics of gender differences, sexuality and life's weirdness with fresh and funny results.

VARIOUS ARTISTS, VH-1: More Of The Big 80's (Rhino) - Hard to capture a decade in sixteen songs, but that's why these things are called "series", right? Regardless, the folks at Rhino have served up a platter full of bonafide hits ranging from the great but woefully overplayed ROMANTICS anthem "What I Like About You" (is there a compilation on Earth thatdoesn't contain this song?) to the great but woefully underplayed "Cry" (Godley/Creme, or 5cc if you prefer!). "Words" will remind you that MISSING PERSONS was a great band despite hiccup-bitch Dale Bozzio, and classics like "Whip It", "She's A Beauty" and "They Don't Know About Us" are welcome on my system anytime. But I never, ever want to hear A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS again as long as I live. Or afterwards.

GENEVA, Further (Nude) - A pleasant but ultimately non-descript disc. Good vocals, decent playing, but I kept hearing the vocalist evoke JAMES and U2 and RADIOHEAD's Thom Yorke and the music didn't have the depth to match it. I wouldn't get out of the chair to turn the dial, but I wouldn't sit still for the whole thing either. A try-before-you-buy CD for certain.

IAN HUNTER, The Artful Dodger (Polydor) - Someone explain to me why Springsteen, Mellencamp and even Jon Goddamn BonJovi is allowed to mature and show a mellower side, but when a rock and roll legend like Ian Hunter tries to release an "adult" album he has to go to Finland! Like 1995's Dirty Laundry, Ian proves his well is far from dry. "Now Is The Time" is a beautiful song, and "Resurrection Mary" is cut from the "Irene Wilde" cloth, a style he excels in. Of course the man can rock, too - "Walk On Water" and the title track pack a wallop. But the sentimental "Michael Picasso", his ode to the late great Mick Ronson, will hit home for anyone who has lost a partner ("...heal me, I'm the one who's left here"). To paraphrase the man himself, "Hunter Rocks"!

THE MUFFS - Happy Birthday To Me (Reprise) - How can you not like a girl who writes a song called "I'm A Dick"? Kim Shattuck is Joan Jett cool with her punky rasp vocals and fat, loud guitar riding herd over songs that range from 90 seconds to three minutes. I heard this blasting in a Toronto record store and before the third song ended I ran up to the counter to buy it. It's the RAMONES with more variety, a better vocalist and just as much attitude. Don't wait the ten minutes after "The Best Time Around" for the horrible noodling that passes for a bonus track, but enjoy the first thirty minutes as "Crush Me", Is It All Okay" and "That Awful Man" absolutely smoke your speakers. Fifteen songs brimming with hooks that will flat out kick your ass.

FASTBALL - All The Pain Money Can Buy (Hollywood) - Great leap between first and second records for this Austin-based trio; first one sounded much more Replacements meets Redd Kross while this one is a solid challenger to Wilco's y'alternative/Exile On Main Street sound. The kickoff track (and single) "The Way" has maybe the bestbarrelhouse piano sound you'll ever hear in a rock song along with a hook that you're singing before the song even ends. Add the Byrdsian "Fire Escape", the Seventies' horn section in "Good Old Days" and the Band-esque "Out Of My Head" and you have one hell of a record that will appeal to rockers and alt-country types alike. Hey, just like Wilco (but maybe better...)

BRYAN ADAMS - Unplugged (A&M) - Hard to believe that Bryan Adams is a "veteran rocker", but he's truly been pumping out the hits for a long time. Many unfairly write the guy off as a puss because he wrote a couple of ballads for movies, but he's always been a rocker at heart. Classics like "Summer Of '69" and new hits like "The Only Thing That Looks Good On Me Is You" sound fresh and vital thanks to a crack backing band, and "Back To You" might be the most infectious hook he's ever written. Kudos to Keith Scott's multi-instrumentalist textures and a string section that's subtle for a change. This one will surprise the cynics.

STARBELLY, (unreleased demos) - Rumor has it that this three-piece Baltimore band (what IS it in the water over there?) will release a very limited edition cd on Not Lame later this year. If so, better snap it up as soon as possible. If the Dr. Seuss reference wasn't enough to cinch the connection (how great would a double bill with The Sneetches be!!) the Big Star/Badfinger influence will. Songwriters Cliff Hills (guitar) and Dennis Schocket (bass) trade lead vocals, and together with drummer Greg Schroeder's background harmonies they create a full and vibrant sound. Unlike many power pop bands, Starbelly are not afraid to dabble in psychedelia ("Sunflower") or creatively rework a non-genre riff ("When Will You See" subtly weaves a nod to Jimi Hendrix's "Crosstown Traffic").

But the hands down killer is the opening cut "This Time"˝the vocal jumps the gun a half-step ahead of the first chord to give a sense of urgency, and by the time the "ooh-ahh" chorus hits you are hooked for good. Keep your eyes on these guys, they have "it" in spades.

TEENAGE FRAMES- More Songs, Less Music (Rock And Roll Records) - Mixing 60's garage and 70's punk together gives you....I dunno, but it sure is great when you play it loud! Despite the Dean Martin sounding title, "Who's Got The Action" sneers its way through your speakers and grabs you by the ears, and then the next twelve songs just keep kicking your ass. But the closer, "The Lemon Drop", grooves with the least complex organ part since "96 Tears". Reminds me of Eddie And The Hot Rods, The Boys and The Reducers, two bands who tossed trends aside , plugged in and rocked (and The Reducers still do, by the way!). Okay, if those three bands don't ring your bell (in other words, you're under 25), think Ramones with better song structure or New York Dolls with Iggy on vocals. Bonus cool points for the rear cover shot of a well-worn album collection with Ian Hunter and Muddy Waters covers in plain sight. Double bonus points for adding ex-Material Issue bass player Ted Ansani to the ranks last year.

VARIOUS ARTISTS - What The World Needs Now...Burt Bacharach (Big Deal) - I truncated the title because I wanted to have room for the review! Supposedly lounge music is making a comeback, but then again so are lava lamps - takes all kinds. Big Deal Records' 50th release is your typical tribute, some great, some lame, some just punching the clock. The height of the limbo bar is set by how much you like the feted artist in the first place. Here's the big question - when the novelty wears off, do you really want to listen to fourteen Burt Bacharach songs? If you do, it's a no brainer, buy it, but there's enough here to please even the anti-twee among us. The Gladhands and The Vandalias have great turns, but Splitsville's "I'll Never Fall In Love Again" is easily the best thing on the record. Great Jack Davis cover art too!

WORLD PARTY, Egyptology, (Capitol/EMI) - The Beatles songbook as sung by Mick Jagger. Once again Mr. Wizard dissects and reassembles The Fabs in a loving tribute. "She's The One" is a slow tempo ringer of a hit single, and although the tracks they pushed ("It Is Time" and "Vanity Fair") are good, there are much better cuts throughout. "Call Me Up" and "Beautiful Dream" are showcases for Karl Wallinger's virtuosity and genuine homage. A wealth of magic that reaches a dreamy apex with "This World", Egyptology is a loving tribute and a unique event at the same time.

JAMES IHA - Let It All Come Down (Virgin) - Feather-light pop from the "other" Smashing Pumpkin. This is serious Gilbert O'Sullivan and Steven Bishop territory - the acoustic guitar and puppy eyes music that made college girls swoon. Iha has a voice not unlike Mitch Easter and a knack for writing a decent hook ("Silver String", Be Strong Now") but only "Jealousy" has any kind of energetic tempo, and that only raises it to the level of Freedy Johnson Lite. When the music isn't powerful, the lyrics draw more focus, and there's nothing special happening here. Not a bad record, but not a great one either.

TORN AND FRAYED - Hysterical Flights Of Imagination (Heritage) - Mid period Stones sound, boozy bluesy guitar and snarling vocals abound. The band has had a few tracks featured on the NBC show Homicide, and after hearing "Save Me" I have to believe that alt-country fans would kneel at the T&F altar if only some radio station would give it a few spins when it mattered. Those in the hunt for something fiercer will lap up songs like "You've Got Nothing Down On Me, You Whore" (Tipper Gore alert - get those stickers moistened!) Mick's too old to rock like this anymore, so these guys will be happy to pick up the torch - and probably burn something to the ground while they're at it.

BLONDIE - Picture This Live (EMI) - Had this only come out at the time Blondie would never have had to go disco. Deborah Harry's voice was rarely better than here, the band cooks, and the song selection is very good. Of course, it's basically the first record live with T.Rex and Stooges covers for encores. This is one of EMI/Capitol's "Limited Edition" releases, and although the packaging is superb, these just might be the worst liner notes ever written. Why did EMI hire someone who admits they were "too young to have known Blondie in their heyday'? Was there that little left in the budget after packaging? Oh well, dig out old Creem magazines and just play it loud.

GIGOLO AUNTS - Learn To Play Guitar (Wicked Disc) - Six song CD that has to keep us warm as the band might not even be around anymore The lush orchestral power pop of Flippin' Out has been traded in for a more conventional rock sound. Although there are no "Mrs. Washington"s on the record, "Kinda Girl", co-written with Jules Shear, is pure hook rock, and "Sway" is a sweet slower tune. "Sloe" and "Rocking Chair" are nothing special, but four out of six ain't bad.

JOHAN - Johan (SpinArt) - Or REM does Big Star. Named after a Dutch soccer player (??) this one is a real grower. "Not Funny Anymore" is very much in the Teenage Fanclub/Velvet Crush vein, and "Easy" is Matthew Sweet through a Euro-filter. Although "Life On Mars" is not the Bowie cut, it is similar, and features some amazing vocals (this band's hallmark for certain). "Suffer Baby" drops many Badfinger references. Have I dropped enough power pop hints yet?

JACK AND THE BEANSTALK-And Other Stories (Spinning Top / Parasol) - Tucked within an absolutely horrendous cover there is a decent Aussie band (no, not DM3, but that's a good reference point for this)- The Ramones with cleaner sneakers, if you will. Joe Alegri ("Jack") and crew whip up some great rock and some greater lyrics ("My girls name is Angeline/ she's got the best friend I've ever seen/I-I-I-I-I'm mad about Sally..."). "Clueless" is classic 60's pop, and "Amnesia". "Star" (with strings yet!) and "I Don't Know" are strong cuts. Of course you won't hear it on the radio, it's good! For any melodic rock lover.

ZEN LUNATIC - Disco Insurance (Juggernaut) - Yeah, with a wino on the cover? Tongue in cheek title and cover may keep people from finding this gem. "I Am A Freak In A Deadhead's Body" mines your typical Weezer/Flipp/alt-whatever axis complete with annoying Beavis and Butthead attitude, but the rest of the EP is pretty damn great! "She's My Girl" and "Nothing Like Me" are big-vocal power pop tracks, "Feels Like September" is a strong closer, and for all y'alternative fans out there, dig "Angels Got Wings", where swelling organ and acoustic guitar set the pace. Hmm... maybe this is your "insurance" against the influx of disco after all.

WILLIE WISELY, Turbosherbert, (October) - Forget Beck, he's just another Hansen. You want a modern pop wizard? Check out Minneapolis' own Willie Wisely, who (with the aid of producer extraordinaire John Strawberry Fields) followed up last years She with this hip-pop groove of hooks, samples, psychedelia humor and loopy greatness. "Two Charcoal Hearts" is as eerie as anything by The Eels but has a sonic wallop instead of just an ambient weird vibe. "Home By Friday", "She Said Yeah" and "Bygones" are just great songs draped in unusual clothing. I usually abhor sampling, but Fields is a master of the genre and conjures up everything from The Beatles to ELO. Great vocals throughout and hook after unusual hook. A true treasure I wish I had gotten earlier; would have easily busted high onto my Top Twenty of 1997.

THE MOCKINGBIRDS, The Mockingbirds (Houston This Is Gemini) - A hauntingly beautiful pop and power-pop record from a San Francisco band that could be should be a lot bigger. Milking the Badfinger/Big Star mine for rich harmonies and huge hooks, this was one of those "thank God I found it" records. "Hey Tristessa" is a mouthful of a title, but it's pop bliss backed by nice horns. Mark Fuqua's vocals are a little affected, like a Twilley/Badfinger hybrid, but the man has got a voice. Matter of fact, these are some of the best harmony vocals I have ever heard - check out the chorus of "Angels And Helicopters" where the voices swell on the phrase "and fly-y-y..." and tell me you don't get chills up your spine. Horns, strings, keyboard, great production, occasionally obtuse lyrics and dripping with charm, these guys could sing the telephone book and make it sound like a hit record. Are you telling me no record company wants this?

RICK DERRINGER, King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents, (King Biscuit) - Back when rock radio was about the music and not about the demographics, weekly radio shows like this one brought an eclectic mix of artists into your home. For the thousands of us that taped them on inferior equipment and cheap tapes, commercials intact, the CD versions of the BBC and Biscuit series are a godsend. This 1983 benefit show (for Derringer and band, actually, as their equipment truck with everything on it had just been stolen!) features the Good Dirty Fun era Derringer band ripping through rockers like "Let Me In" and bonafide classics like classics "Rock And Roll Hoochie Koo" and "Hang On Sloopy" . In addition, enjoy several guest stars like Dr. John and Ian Hunter (a dynamic turn featuring "Just Another Night" , "All The Young Dudes", "Roll Away The Stone" and "Ships"). There's some serious guitar wanking of the first order going on here, but that comes with the territory. Derringer has been rocking incessantly for almost thirty five years and hasn't slowed a lick, so get out your air guitar and crank this mama up loud!

THE SHAME IDOLS, Rocket Cat (Frontier) - True muscle-pop, Cheap Trick meets the Shoes. (Yes, another band that shows what The Shoes could be if they ever put a little ENERGY into those great songs!) Reminds me a lot of Scruffy The Cat, a comparison that was reinforced when I finally got to see them live. This is a rock and roll band weaned on Chuck Berry and The Beatles filtered through a Southern strainer. "I Don't Love You" is a killer single, but "If I Fell In Love", "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" and the title track are right up there too, as is the Kiss-like guitar anthem "My Star". High energy pop rock that deserves a wider audience, those that have been lucky enough to hear it love it.

THE CAULFIELDS, L, (A&M) - Unfortunately their swan song as a band, although singer/song writer John Faye will most certainly resurface. Much fuller, richer, and dare I say "adult" than Whirligig, the music is as intense as the lyrics about relationships going sour are all too real to anyone who has been there. "Waiting To Cry" and "President Of Nothing" are more commercial sounding than most, yet my favorites are the rollicking "The Kitchen Debate" and the poignant and heartfelt "Once Upon A Time". A keeper that will get even better with age.

LOVE NUT, Baltimucho, (Big Deal) - Recorded almost a year ago with the wonderful Ed Stasium behind the knobs, Interscope somehow decided to pass on this. Whaaattt??? Maybe this won't be as monumental a goof as Decca passing on The Beatles, but it's an absolute steal for Big Deal. Besides being a first rate live act, the band has in Andy Bopp is a prolific tunesmith who has mastered the tightrope wire between hard rock and Beatleish pop. "Love Found You" is a mammoth hit waiting to happen, and midtempo gems like "If You Go Away" and "Foolish Game" should keep this record spinning all year. And if that's not enough, "Bob Pine" is The Sex Pistols playing The Ramones. Or vice versa.

MOE BERG, Summer's Over, (Iron Music) - The Pursuit Of Happiness (which, of course, unrequited Moe rarely attains) is one of the unsung great bands in rock and roll. But don't come looking for more of that sarcastic muscle pop here; for Moe has his Todd Rundgren helmet firmly screwed on. Starting the record with the cheesiest keyboard intro possible might scare you for a minute, but sonic depravity aside Moe's wit is as sharp as ever. Who else could sing lines like "I never thought I could feel so desperately sad/you are the worst love that I've ever had" ("She's So Shallow"). Some like "Pray For Heaven", "Bates Milk Bar" and "Butterknife Dull" are TPOH songs in different clothing but others are more sparse, almost demo-like. A nice peek into Moe's soul while we wait for the next great TPOH record.

LOLLIPOP FACTORY, Soon (BigRigg) - The cover immediately made me think of King Crimson, and although the music is that complex it's more the Queen/Jellyfish influence that erupts here. Leader David Tweed's songs are perhaps the next best thing; the quartet plays solidly and handles those four-part harmony gymnastics with ease. "Sunday Drive" is nothing short of awesome (though you'll never hear it on the radio). Sometimes they border commercial hard rock ("The Worm") and other times the esoteric may send the impatient screaming out of the room ("Bouncing Ball"). Certainly one of the more inventive and unique records you will ever own.

THE ACCELERATORS, (unreleased demos) - Gerald Duncan still heads the crew of Carolina-area roots rockers who might have had the worst run of major label luck since Dwight Twilley. Three separate records for three different labels who all either folded, were broke or were bought out and ignored immediately afterwards. Now these lost classics are only in the hands of those lucky enough to find them. But hooray at last! These five new lean and mean tracks show that Duncan is as sharp as ever, mixing the classic bar-band guitar wallop of a Georgia Satellites with the hook-laden approach of a Marshall Crenshaw. In other words, southern pop with balls!

SUPERGRASS, In It For The Money (Capitol) - Take the best elements of Oasis, The Smashing Pumpkins and U2 and throw them together and you'd have Supergrass. Starting with the overture-like title track, Money charges at you like a rhino. Using horns and woo-hoo background vocals that remind me of Ziggy era Bowie, they play every song like it's a concert closer. "Going Out' has a very psych-60's pump organ sound and "Hollow Little Region" even takes a Jerry Garcia-like guitar run and makes it work! "Cheapskate" is funky 70's rave up, "Sun Hits The Sky" is Bono/Who, and "G Song" simply kicks ass. The closer, "Sometimes I Make You Sad", can best be described as a ride through organ hell with Danny Elfman at the wheel. If you're lucky you'll get the double CD version that contains nine bonus tracks (unreleased or different versions of I Should Coco songs).

JONATHA BROOKE, 10 cent Wings (MCA) - If there was ever a record made for AAA radio, this is it. Brooke (formerly of The Story) is yet another female singer-songwriter who worships at the altar of Joni Mitchell and delivers the gospel in a more 90's environment. Like Sarah McLachlan, Shawn Colvin and Paula Cole (three who are riding the hot wave right now), Brooke writes about the joy and pain relationships and uses her tremendous voice to break your heart or light your fire. "Secrets And Lies" and "Last Innocent Year" are probably the standouts, but you could slap just about any track here onto the radio and it would fit like a glove. Lyrically strong, Brooke proves that sometimes going solo is the right thing to do after all.

REDD KROSS, Show World, (Mercury) - The best power pop band around when they put their mind to it. They completely make "Pretty Please Me" their own, "Mess Around"was one of the songs of the year, and there are almost as many hooks here as on Phaseshifter. Led by singer/guitarist Jeff McDonald echoes the great pop yelps of Lennon and Zander and can torch the place down with rawk like "Kiss The Goat" and "Teen Competition". They can also combine glam chords and great harmonies for power pop classics like "Stoned" and "Secret Life". So what happened - again? Criminally under-promoted wonderboys who apparently have been snubbed one too many times - rumor has it that the Kross has burned down.

COTTON MATHER, kontiki (Copper) - An amazing second step for this Texas band, part "Pet Sounds", part "#1 Record", solid song writing and great vocal harmonies aided and abetted by the wonderful Brad Jones twirling the knobs. Six hit singles you'll probably never hear. Some records lose their charm after a while; this is the opposite - it just keeps getting better. "She's Only Cool" is an amazing cut that has everything you'd ever want in a pop song, ditto "Spin My Wheels", "My Before And After" and "Password". Robert Harrison is a gifted songwriter, and the band took pop to a different level with this release. An absolute must-have record.

V/A, AN EVENING IN NIVRAM, (MuSick) - Far more than Cliff Richard's backing band, The Shadows crafted energetic instrumental rock that alternated between surf and swing. Led by Hank Marvin's signature tremolo Fender guitar tones, their sound was influential to British guitar gods of the 60's and later much like Eddie Cochran and Chuck Berry were in the States. Although never big on the charts in the US, here's proof that they at least have the respect of their juniors. Garage fans will recognize many names here like The Omega Men, Davie Allan and The Boss Martians (who tackle "Don't It Make You Feel Good" - the lone vocal track - with aplomb!) and even ex-Spark Jim Mankey. The perfect soundtrack to your own sci-fi or "Pulp Fiction" dreams. And yes, "Nivram" is "Marvin" spelled backwards.

SHAZAM, Shazam, (Copper) - The band that puts the "power" in "power pop", yet another Brad Jones production that is made for top-down-car-radio or air guitar festivals at your house. One clunker ("Cynic" is downright awful!) surrounded by many gems. Hans Rotenberry writes exuberant pop songs, and the three piece band kicks them into high gear. "Let's Away" explodes off the disc, and "Hooray For Me" and "Where Do We Go From Here" will have you singing along at the top of your lungs. The acoustic "Blew It" features some of the best group vocals since Badfinger offset by a "nervous" guitar solo. From Copper Records, who along with Cotton Mather and the Badfinger tribute are batting a solid one-thousand in my book!

THE RAVES, Past Perfect Tense (Hologramaphone) - My God, two of them even look like John and Paul! This collection of Beatle-esque pop from the 1980s proves that along with The Flashcubes and The Toms there were many other great bands that didn't get their due. Chuck, John and Jim Yoakum handled the guitar-bass-drums axis while Ken Kennedy added some flash lead guitar. Although the production immediately screams "local band", the songs don't - they're pure New Wave pop. "Any Way You Can", "Every Little Bit Hurts" and "Make Up Your Mind" are just three of the sixteen tracks that you can play in tandem with bands like Artful Dodger, The Jags and The Sinceros. "Tonight It's Going To Be Great" is The Records via Buddy Holly and you'll like the Elvis Costello nod on the intro to "Chastity". Four guys weaned on classic pop rock who decided to make some of their own.

THE POSIES, Success (Popllama) - Yes, it's ironic that their promising career started with Failure (also on Popllama) and ended with Success, but in many ways that's fitting for Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow. Born twenty years too late, the duo would have enjoyed the same fanfare as their forefathers like Badfinger and The Raspberries back when radio played well crafted pop songs. Instead, they're off to other projects and leave us with this closet-cleaning disc of nuggets. Some previously recorded but not released, some B-sides and some tweaked versions, all are familiar to Posies fanatics (who, of course, will be the only people to appreciate the record). As swan songs go, this is a fitting one - cleaning up loose ends and not really saying goodbye just in case. If you lean more towards Dear 23 than "Everybody Is A Fucking Liar", this one's for you.

THE TORIES, Wonderful Life (N2K) - Maybe the great pop hope? Based in Los Angeles, they look good, they sound great and they know how to put on a show. The record is overflowing with hooks reminiscent of Cheap Trick, Jellyfish and Badfinger, and at the recent Poptopia festival they strung together five killer tracks, all included here. "Flying Solo", "Gladys Kravitz" (yes, that Gladys Kravitz!) and the infectious "Spaceships In The Sky" are the kind of songs that make you stop and play them over and over again before you even get through the disc once. Few bands live up to their hype. The Tories do.

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1998 ©TransACTION Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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