Your Heart's in Good Hands
Even with his Seventies hits inspiring everyone from Dwight Yoakam to film directors such as Quentin Tarantino and the Hughes brothers (Allen and Albert, of Menace II Society fame), Al Green still has to compete with the likes of Michael Bolton and Amy Grant on pop radio these days. His first full-length secular disc since 1978's Truth 'n' Time retools the two-year-old import-only Don't Look Back by adding collaborations with Whitney Houston cohort Narada Michael Walden and Jodeci's DeVante to the mix.
Don't let the ultra-mainstream names scare you off, however. While Your Heart's in Good Hands lacks the idiosyncrasies of Green's best albums, the thought of its positivity and genuineness taking a place on the airwaves next to Bolton's drivel is welcome. The songs, mostly co-written by Green, aren't spectacular, although the hope of "Love Is a Beautiful Thing" and DeVante's "Could This Be the Love" is sweet. Green's commitment and playfulness, particularly on "Keep on Pushing Love," confirm that this is indeed the mighty Al. And just so you don't miss one of his levels of meaning, the Reverend name-checks the Lord at least once.
By Rickey Wright
The Funky Descendant
With all the gimmicks that have been used to sell hip-hop -- gangster rap, jazz rap, Irish rap, kung-fu rap -- it seems about the only thing we haven't heard is Beethoven rap. Ridiculous as it sounds, enter Hami -- "the funky descendant" of Ludwig van -- with a debut album that introduces the sonata and concerto into the mix of a heavy West Coast Seventies funk groove. But while Hami's classical chops are dubious at best, his tremendous musical ability is without question.
Hami's name may be new, but his sound is not. L.A.-born and -raised Marquis Andrews-Dair (Hami) plays a mess of instruments -- from flute and violin to guitar, bass, and drums -- and for years has helped lay down fat tracks (though uncredited) for acts such as N.W.A., Ice Cube, Too $hort, and Easy-E. The Funky Descendant, Hami's grand coming-out party, reveals a musician with Prince-like depth, one who can rap, scat, and croon -- sometimes all at once -- and who can lead us through elegant acid jazz, syrupy but convincing R&B, and bottom-heavy hardcore hip-hop (yes, some classical too) with the surety of an urban musical tour director.
Unfortunately, The Funky Descendant has fallen on deaf ears -- as Hami prophesies on the album's "I'm tha' One Ya' Slept On" A since its release early this summer. Meanwhile the young talent has taken on hackwork as the sidekick/one-man band on the floundering late-night talkfest The Stephanie Miller Show. He deserves much better. Alas, even great-great-great-great-granddaddy Beethoven went unappreciated in his time.
By Roni Sarig
Deep Listening Band
The members of the Deep Listening Band have gone to extremes to find exciting new sounds for their contemporary classical music. In the past, Stuart Dempster, one of the most lyrical trombonists you'll hear anywhere, has wandered through European abbeys in search of eternal reverberation, and he and Pauline Oliveros, earth mother of the avant-garde classical accordion, have literally gone down a well for notes that never die. On Sanctuary, they go no farther than Trinity Methodist Church in Kingston, New York, where they are joined by organist David Gamper, and the effects are equally "deep," emotionally speaking, and long-lasting.
This CD can be used for secular meditation or spiritual reflection, but only very casual listeners will find it truly sedating, since the music is so interesting. "Invocation" and "Processional" were recorded in January 1993 with Julie Lyon Balliet, whose vocal contributions include coldly ethereal melodies and sharp yips. For me, these pieces conjure up images of howling wolves and wintry quiet . . . on the planet Uranus. The dreamlike "Hi Bali, Hi" and "Sanctuary" use Gamper's "expanded instrument system," which allows the musicians to clone their real-time performances while playing them; these clones can then be modified and interact with each other, adding to the complexity of the music's texture. Finally, "Non Stop Flight" was recorded live in January of last year during a benefit concert. The twenty-minute excerpt released here features a number of guest artists engaging in "intercultural improvisation" within a classical framework.
That's really true of everything on this disc, which goes from African and Brazilian percussion to the Australian didgeridoo without skipping a beat. How it all adds up to such a compelling listening experience is a mystery to me, but I'm willing to leave that mystery unsolved. Sanctuary is a sanctuary for nontraditional classical music at its best.
By Raymond Tuttle
A Cab Driver's Blues
In the liner notes to Mem Shannon's Cab Driver's Blues, down there at the bottom where they tell you where the music was recorded, you'll read the following: "Additional recording: Passenger compartment, 1976 Oldsmobile Delta 88 custom 4-door sedan." It may sound gimmicky, interspersing bits of dialogue between a cabbie and his passengers with musical tracks, but the characters -- recorded by Shannon, who drives a cab in New Orleans and supplies the resonant, baritone parts of the conversations -- are so riveting that you don't mind their coming along for the ride.
And then there's the music. Guitarist-vocalist Shannon and his band the Membership purvey funky blues and bluesy funk, laying down groove-heavy New Orleans-flavored blues and R&B. Shannon's guitar playing is superb, and neither it nor his peculiar vocal style fall into cliche. The songs sound fresh and contemporary without kowtowing to streamlined production standards, and traditional without playing to the NPR crowd.
Shannon's original material is just plain hilarious, especially "My Baby's Been Watching TV" and "If This Ain't the Blues," the latter more or less an excellently played parody of a blues song ("If this ain't the blues / I don't know what in the hell else the blues might be"), or at least the content of a blues song A the poor schmo telling the woeful tale has five blind kids, and when they get their vision back, they run like hell at the sight of their homely old man. Some people might recognize "Boogie Man," the Seventies tune that includes the very definition of funk in a playful bit in which Mem affects a British accent and sniffs, "There seems to be a foul odor emanating from the very bowels of this al-bum," and then answers, as himself, "Shoot, man, don't you know funk when you smell it?/ You must not be from around here!"
The recorded dialogue between Shannon and his passengers -- gamblers, hookers, junkies, tourists (guess who comes across least sympathetically?) -- moves you through the record with telling vignettes, providing a glimpse of the huge heart and humanity of this great talent.
By Bob Weinberg
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The '80s: New Wave
Ah, the K-tel touch. Like funny typos on Chinese restaurant menus. Like garbled Japanese-into-English translations that show up on sundry made-in-Japan pop-cultural bric-a-brac destined for the U.S. market. Check out the following example of the latter, gleaned from some Yu-Yu-Hakusho superheroes stationery, reproduced here with all the grammatical fractures intact: "Shoot the 'REI-GAN' crush the enemy of dark side! YU-YU-HAKUSHO that's the memory of magical battle! We feel the soul burning in my body. heaven is here at top of my finger! Step into the darkness, chase away the evel spirits. follow vs. we,ll guard you against all disaster!" Of course.
With a similarly gnarled sensibility, K-tel attempts to trash-compact Eighties new wave on this ten-track disc, which, in terms of strict chronology, runs from the Flying Lizards' wondrously deadpan 1979 cover (Hello: Eighties, remember?) of Barrett Strong's "Money" to Real Life's 1989 dance-remix version of their '84 hit "Send Me an Angel" (the original, strangely, not good enough to make the cut). Not to put too fine a point on it, but didn't new wave pack it in by 1985? Before Scritti Politti's soulless Michael Jackson rip-off "Perfect Way" (included here)? Before the saccharine Mr. Mister's Top 40 powerless ballad "Broken Wings" (here, too)? Project compiler Gregor Reti chose wisely when he cadged Culture Club's Smokey Robinson-redux "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" and Soft Cell's synth-pop cover of Gloria Jones's "Tainted Love." But the Thompson Twins' gag-reflex-inducing "Doctor! Doctor!"? General Public's simpering post-wave "Tenderness"? Ugh. Apparently, heaven is not at the top of Reti's finger
By Michael Yockel