The American public has been largely monogamous -- if serially so -- when it comes to its relationship with '90s Brit-pop, saving its affection for just the right combination of hooks and hubris, distended ego and nostalgia-laden esoterica. Last year, the object of adoration was Oasis, who elbowed their way into our hearts. But already, America's feelings for the Gallaghers have cooled considerably. These days, the Verve show every indication of becoming the next English suitors to win over our masses. Still, if I were the Verve's leader, Richard Ashcroft, I wouldn't be buying any expensive California real estate just yet.
Fact is, there simply isn't room on the U.S. airwaves for more than one pretentious U.K. sensation at a time. As a result, few people on this side of the pond batted an eyelash when Brit-pop underdogs Ride, commercially frustrated and interpersonally fried, closed up shop in 1996, terminating the fruitful six-year partnership between chief songwriters Andy Bell and Mark Gardener. The band's parting shot, Tarantula, was a melody-ridden wonder, but it was also one of a handful of great English exports victimized by Oasis's runaway success.
Sad to say, it's reasonable to predict that Bell's post-Ride project, Hurricane #1 -- and its mostly splendid debut CD of the same name -- will succumb to a similarly unfortunate fate in the States. All chiming, layered guitars, towering choruses, brazenly Beatlesque interludes and heady, unchecked ambition, Hurricane #1 gracefully traverses familiar territory. True, there isn't much here you haven't heard already, but rarely have the various British Invasion, psychedelic and glam-rock vaults been raided with such unabashed sincerity.
Bell's self-indulgent, neo-hippie splendor manifests itself most convincingly on the Hurricane #1 tracks "Faces in a Dream," "Mother Superior" and "Step into My World," all of which are replete with Moog washes, Hammond organ fills, wah-wah effects, backward tape effects, bloated arrangements, soupy orchestration and even soupier lyrical imagery. Another standout is the moving ballad "Let Go of the Dream." Striking a reflective, autobiographical note not unlike Ian Hunter's "The Ballad of Mott the Hoople" some 25 years ago, Bell seems to be addressing not only his former Ride cohort Gardener, but all of those potential fans on whom he failed to make an impression: "When you're walking home, will you remember who I was? / And when you get back home, will you remember that it was only rock and roll?" The impact is as gorgeous as it is devastating.
The rare glitches in Bell's heartfelt formula come when Hurricane #1 gets sidetracked with trying to beat its contemporaries at their own game -- as on "Just Another Illusion," "Chain Reaction" and "Touchdown," which sound for all the world like Oasis B-sides. But such transgressions are few and far between. And, indeed, they're understandable. For in order for Hurricane #1 to push its way into America's heart -- and push all its rivals out -- they do have to be heard. (*** 1/2)
-- Hobart Rowland
South Saturn Delta
For an all-too-brief period in the 1960s, hearing a new Jimi Hendrix release was an event. But since his death in 1970, listeners have been beaten down by half-baked collections, poor bootlegs and legitimate releases that exhumed parts of the legendary guitarist's history that should have been left buried. South Saturn Delta, however, is a glowing exception. It's a smart, highly listenable compendium of previously unreleased songs, alternate mixes and tracks off posthumous Hendrix efforts that make their CD debut here.
South Saturn Delta -- assembled by alleged Hendrix authority John McDermott, original Hendrix engineer Eddie Kramer and a Hendrix family representative -- may not make all Hendrix fans delirious with glee, but a good chunk of the late-'60s psychedelic electric-blues represented here does carry a dimension of excitement rarely heard in rock these days.
Perhaps the best track on South Saturn Delta is "Here He Comes" (a.k.a. "Lover Man"), a fusion of studio takes recorded soon after Hendrix finished Electric Ladyland. The song expands on B.B. King's "Rock Me Baby" with stunning fret work that could have spiraled off into the stratosphere if it weren't for the plodding, earthbound grooves of the Experience rhythm section, drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding. The version of "All Along the Watchtower" unveiled here was ultimately rejected by Hendrix for use on Electric Ladyland, yet it makes a favorable impression, thanks to assured vocals and the preternatural eloquence of Hendrix's guitar. The blistering licks that carry 1969's "Midnight" sear like lava. "Midnight Lightning," an unfinished, slowish blues number with only the slightest amplification, features an assertiveness that suggests a young Muddy Waters. Meanwhile, the 1970 studio jam "Pali Gap," with bassist Billy Cox, drummer Mitchell and percussionist Juma Sultan, shows just how easily Hendrix could conjure up the pained majesty of his blues-inflected playing.
Not everything on South Saturn Delta merits revisiting: "Sweet Angel" is delivered in a disconcertingly embryonic form, marred by electronic keyboard clicks, while another work-in-progress, "Drifter's Escape," features sub-par lead vocals. Still, the hitherto unreleased alternate mix of 1968's "South Saturn Delta," with its awkward jazz horn section, makes an odd curio. And for the most part, South Saturn Delta properly celebrates the eloquence of Hendrix's genius. (****)
-- Frank-John Hadley
The First Recordings
This is where it all began: in the living room of Fred McDowell's farm house in Como, Mississippi. On four warm, late-September nights in 1959 in front of family, friends and the microphones of Alan Lomax, McDowell offered the world a glimpse of his magic. It was word of mouth that had brought Lomax to McDowell. The roots-music historian had been recording the Young Brothers' Fife and Drum Band as part of one of his jaunts through the South when he was introduced to McDowell by fife player Ed Young, Fred's neighbor.
Soon thereafter, Lomax was struck by the most compelling and vital blues he had ever encountered. Pulling off a little magic of his own, he managed to capture McDowell's energy and complex, highly personal style. The First Recordings is part of Rounder Records' continuing attempt to release every bit of the music chronicled by Lomax. It marks the first time an entire collection of McDowell's recordings for Lomax has been compiled on a single disc. Eight of the 14 tracks have never been issued before, and a couple of them McDowell would never record again. Some of his best-known songs make appearances: "61 Highway," "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl," "Shake 'Em On Down" and Blind Willie Johnson's "Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning" are all brought forth with simple, yet powerful beauty. A few feature Fanny Davis on comb and tissue paper, an instrument that brings a tremendous amount of unearthliness to the proceedings. Much more than a historical footnote, The First Recordings is nothing short of fascinating in its melancholy and joy. (*****)
-- Jim Caligiuri
A sticker on The Hangover reads: "A rock 'n' roll record from former Guns N' Roses guitarist Gilby Clarke." But anyone expecting to hear a striking resemblance to, say, Use Your Illusion or even Slash's Snakepit (of which Clarke was also a member) would be best advised to steer themselves away from Clarke's second solo outing.
At least Clarke, who took over rhythm guitar chores from Izzy Stradlin for one Guns N' Roses release (The Spaghetti Incident?) and tour, has made constructive use of his time away from the group. On The Hangover, he flashes numerous '70s influences like so many bumper stickers on his guitar case, whether it's by naming them in his lyrics (the Rolling Stones, the Clash, the New York Dolls), covering their tunes (the Beatles' "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," Bowie's "Hang On to Yourself") or by talking up their debauched lifestyles. And therein lies the problem: In so lovingly embracing the musical past, Clarke loses his own identity.
Maybe Clarke should take a hint from his Gunner predecessor, Stradlin, whose own solo outing, Izzy Stradlin & the JuJu Hounds, effectively channeled the whiskey-basted spirit of Keith Richards circa 1972, but did so in a way that was far less derivative. (** 1/2)
-- Bob Ruggiero
Putumayo World Music
Hoping to broaden your south-of-the-border musical knowledge beyond Brazilian and conjunto? Not sure you want to buy an entire CD of salsa music by a band you're not familiar with? Then you might want to pick up a copy of ALatino! ALatino!, a lively collection of cha-chas, salsa, rumbas, Latin jazz and son, with a touch of flamenco and cumbia thrown in for good measure.
The CD showcases a variety of performers and instruments -- male and female vocalists, flutes and horns, guitars -- and above all, the Afro-Latin drums, percussion and rhythms that make the genre so infectious. The quality of the performances and recordings is generally high, though production on a few tunes veers toward the synthetic. Especially memorable are Ricardo Lemvo's soukous-flavored salsa track "Yiri Yiri Bon," Poncho Sanchez's version of the familiar "Besame Mama" and Sierra Maestra's take on "No Me Llores."
Overall, ALatino! ALatino! is a nice party companion, if not as impressive as the recent Latin compilations Cachao: Master Sessions, Vols. I and II and Cumbia Cumbia, Vols. I and II. Given that, you may want to skip ALatino! ALatino! and go straight for the gusto with any CD from the latter two series. (***)
-- Julie Carter
CDs rated on a one to five star scale.