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The Moog Cookbook
Plays the Classic Rock Hits
Restless

If you're of the opinion that some of the best moments in rock were created in jest, then the latest slab of irreverence from semi-mythic synth-age troopers the Moog Cookbook ought to fall somewhere between brilliant and hilarious in your pop-satire lexicon. In fact, if Plays the Classic Rock Hits weren't so funny, it would be a travesty. As it is, though, this sophomore effort from keyboard junkies Roger Manning (formerly of Jellyfish and Imperial Drag) and Brian Kehew is as inspired and historically invasive in its treatment of AOR chestnuts as it is dead serious about the hardware it uses to do so.

Simply by being even more shameless in its exploration of vintage cheese, Plays does the Moog Cookbook's 1996 debut -- an eponymous collection of synthed-up renditions of '90s modern rock hits -- a few laughs better. Polymoogs, Minimoogs, Steiner Synthacons, Korgs, Linndrums, Roland rigs of all shapes and sizes: Nothing is ruled out in the pursuit of the kitchiest conceptual epiphany possible. When it comes to technology, Manning and Kehew are strictly old-school, subjecting FM staples such as "Sweet Home Alabama," "Ziggy Stardust," "More Than a Feeling" and "Hotel California" to rigorous instrumental workouts seeped in '70s and, occasionally, '80s karma.

The Moog Cookbook like to claim that they're achieving some kind of insane reconciliation between electronica's past and its present -- though, attempting such with "Cat Scratch Fever" virtually guarantees a minute window of respectability. Truth be told, most of Plays sounds like what you might hear wafting out of the ceiling speakers of a cyborg supermarket, or perhaps spewing out of the translucent pipes of some organlike contraption at an alien carnival on Mars.

Yet almost in spite of themselves, the Moog Cookbook's gadgety nonsense is immensely entertaining. And as odd as this might sound, it's got heart. One has to hope that the originators of these tattered standbys (excluding, perhaps, Don Henley) take a bit of nasty pleasure in hearing their much-abused work suffer the ultimate abuse. Consumer alert: To insure the sanctity of future listening experiences, remember to allow a significant recovery period before taking on anything sincere in nature. (***)

-- Hobart Rowland

Flying Burrito Brothers
California Jukebox
Ether/American Harvest

It's been nearly 30 years since Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman fled the Byrds to form, with Sneaky Pete Kleinow and Chris Ethridge, the legendary country rock band the Flying Burrito Brothers. The Burritos' debut release, 1969's The Gilded Palace of Sin, is a seminal part of musical history, and both it and its follow-up, Burrito Deluxe, continue to influence anyone and everyone who realizes how thin the line really is between true country and true rock and roll.

The band featured on California Jukebox, though, has at best a tenuous link to the original Burritos. Of the originals, only Kleinow is still involved, while fiddler/vocalist Gib Gilbeau joined up in 1973, long after both Parsons and Hillman had left, and none of the others can claim a connection before 1980. That said, this is a surprisingly listenable collection of what is now being called alt-country (further proof, if it's needed, that the circle just keeps on turning). The disc is highlighted by an amazing cast of guest artists, among them Waylon Jennings, who joins bassist Larry Patton for a high-energy run-though of "Ain't Living Long Like This"; Charlie Louvin, who adds his well-worn, yet spirited, voice to a honky-tonk take on the Louvin Brothers' classic "My Baby's Gone"; and Buck Owens, who adds a guitar part to a cover of his well-known instrumental "Buckaroo."

Other guests adding their brand of solid musicianship include former Burrito Al Perkins on lap slide and a couple of Louisiana's finest -- accordion player Jo-El Sonnier and slide guitarist Sonny Landreth. Even though the covers fly fast and furious (less successful are attempts at Son Volt's "Windfall," the Jayhawks' "Two Hearts" and Lowell George's "Willin' "), the original material holds its own. The title track is an engaging piece of country pop with chiming, Byrds-like guitars, while "San Fernando Road" is a distinctive tip of the hat to another set of influential birds from California -- the Eagles. With an eclectic mix of classic country, Cajun and country rock, California Jukebox shows that this edition of the Burritos isn't a nostalgia act cashing in on a name, but a real band capable of making real music. (*** 1/2) -- Jim Caligiuri

The Verve
Urban Hymns
Virgin

The problem dogging most survivors of the British shoe-gazer movement has never been one of chops or intelligence, but one of substance. For a sound so heavily embroidered with motivational grooves and poetic smarts, and so intent on maintaining the grandest, most sweepingly cinematic vibe, classic memories haven't exactly been easy to come by. Among that early-'90s crew, the Verve (though more talented than most) was no exception -- until now.

Perhaps it was frustration over the shoe-gazers' half-realized vision that sparked the Verve's temporary dissolution in 1995. Or maybe the quintet's subordinate members simply got tired of being jerked around by the creative whims of leader Richard Ashcroft. Whatever the case, the two-year hiatus has served the band well: Urban Hymns is, without a doubt, the Verve's most magnificent offering to date. Hymns marries Ashcroft's finest moments as a singer and a composer (the enthralling ballads "Sonnet" and "The Drugs Don't Work") with soaring performances that capture the band on a semi-telepathic tear (the pulsing romanticism of "Catching the Butterfly," the impressionistic beat-style lyricism and rambling sonic instincts of "Neon Wilderness"). Unlike on earlier Verve releases, nearly every melody holds up admirably under their layers of lofty atmospherics and heady intentions.

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