Blood, Sweat & Tears
The Best of Blood, Sweat & Tears: What Goes Up!

First, the history. When New York City-based avant-rockers the Blues Project broke up in 1967, the band's guitarist, Steve Katz, hooked up with jazz drummer Bobby Colomby, and the pair set about welding jazzy big-band horns to pop melodies in a fashion then being explored by producer James Guercio with Top 40 vocal group the Buckinghams (check out the Bucks' 1967 hits "Don't You Care" and "Back in Love Again"). Katz and Colomby corralled Blues Project keyboardist Al Kooper, and the trio signed up a posse of horn players with spiffy resumes (including trumpet man Randy Brecker) -- voila! Blood, Sweat & Tears. The group released its debut album, Child Is Father to the Man (written and sung by Kooper), in early 1968, a startlingly listenable hybrid of rock, pop, jazz, gospel, blues, and R&B. No hit singles. Lots of rave writeups. Kooper split following "artistic differences" with Katz and Colomby, who recruited gruff-throated Canadian vet David Clayton-Thomas to replace him. BS&T promptly turned into the universe's most wildly successful prom band, churning out hit after hit of precisely played, passionless MOR swill ("You've Made Me So Very Happy," "Spinning Wheel," "God Bless the Child," a cover of Laura Nyro's "And When I Die," "Hi-De-Ho," and the unspeakably loathsome "Lucretia Mac Evil") while justifiably being pilloried by an appalled music press. They rode the Top 40 gravy train until 1972, when Clayton-Thomas quit to go solo; the band endured three faceless lead singers -- and a series of faceless albums -- before he rejoined in 1975. By then nobody cared.

Second, the music: 32 tracks spread over two CDs, most of it lifted from BS&T's chart-topping days with the blustery Clayton-Thomas. All the above-named hits pop up here, along with about a dozen same-era throwaways A almost everything either sappy or showboaty or both. Also included: four tracks from Child Is Father to the Man, notably Kooper's brilliant blues vamp "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know" and his zippy, Mothers of Invention-like "House in the Country"; plus some between-Clayton-Thomas-stints drivel that Tower of Power sold to BS&T for a nickel. Advice: Blow off this package and buy Child Is Father to the Man.

-- Michael Yockel

Boss Hog
Boss Hog

Big Apple scuzz-blues quartet makes its major-label bow with an infuriating bomb of an album, wherein Jon Spencer squanders some tasty guitar riffs on his infinitely attractive girlfriend, Cristina Martinez, a talentless hack who has elevated the arts of God-awful singing and wretched poetry to new, unexplored heights. And if Lydia Lunch were a hot babe, she'd probably be on a big-shot label, too.

-- John Floyd

Choir of the Benedictine Nuns of Sainte Marie de Maumont
Cantate Domino

One of the strangest ideas to come from the end of this millennium is that one group's religious rites and prayers are another group's entertainment. Look at the Gyuto Monks of Tibet, who had a hit on Windham Hill (produced by Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart) and toured the U.S. Look also at the recent success of the more reluctant monks of Santo Domingo de Silos, their Chant CD, and its many offshoots; "chilling to the chant" has become a cool thing to do among the Brie and microbrewery set. But you might ask what this trend signifies. Are people really getting in touch with their spiritual roots, or are they just having a nice cultural snooze, their prescriptions for Xanax having lapsed?

The French nuns on this new Milan CD are from the same Benedictine order as the monks of Santo Domingo de Silos. For listeners who are serious about authentic Gregorian chant and sensitive to its true spiritual function, the sisters' disc is the better of the two, and it's also better recorded. Unlike most of its predecessors, Cantate Domino comes with English translations of the Latin chants, and the chants themselves have been carefully selected to tell a coherent allegorical story of the "marriage" between the "bride" (the soul) and the "bridegroom" (God). Although you can listen to this album as a succession of pretty and restful sounds, the nuns of Sainte Marie de Maumont are not performers. If you don't invest energy in hearing their prayers, will your deity invest energy in hearing yours? Will this Girl Chant be just another sister act to you?

-- Raymond Tuttle

Various Artists
Def Jam Music Group Inc. 10th Year Anniversary
(Def Jam)

Def Jam opened shop in the mid-Eighties to mine a booming rap market that the major labels were too blind to see. Ten years later the company is revered as one of rap's greatest labels and one of its most successful, with crossover hits by the likes of new-jack soulman Montell Jordan. Label cofounders Russell Simmons, who built an entertainment empire on the fat beats of hip-hop, and Rick Rubin, whose rock-based production style attracted numerous white fans, deserve much of the credit for taking rap from the urban underground into the corporate offices of the big-league labels. To commemorate its first decade, Def Jam has assembled 57 tracks for this four-disc collection, rap's first boxed set. The focus, naturally, is on the now-classic hip-hop icons introduced by the label: L.L. Cool J (rap's first sex symbol); the beer-swilling Beastie Boys; the politically charged Public Enemy; and the wily, story-telling jester Slick Rick. On tracks such as "I'm the Type of Guy," "Hold It Now, Hit It," "Rebel Without a Pause," and "Children's Story," we rediscover what made early hip-hop so irresistible.

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