Twelve Deadly Cyns...and Then Some
Both tumbled somewhat improbably out of early-Eighties new wave. Both flashed brightly through their respective homeland's cosmos, flared, and burned out. Both relied heavily on other writers' songs. Both left behind one truly transcendent single. Both have new retrospective CDs.
Alison Moyet first came to attention as one half of Brit synth-pop champs Yazoo (with Vince Clarke -- after his stint in Depeche Mode, before he formed Erasure). Her clear, precise, and emotional vocals -- heard here on their Brit hits "Only You," the somber "Winter Kills," and the great "Nobody's Diary" A defined Yaz as much as Clarke's plonky synth and depressive piano. Solo, post-Yaz, Moyet turned to likable, connect-the-dots material -- Top 40 pop slathered with keyboards, songs often saved only by her soulful voice ("Love Resurrection," "Is This Love?" and "Weak in the Presence of Beauty," the latter a shave and a haircut of John Waite's "Missing You"). But the same period also yielded her sole U.S. hit, the remarkable "Invisible," a synthy Lamont Dozier power ballad set to a slow, railroad-hammer beat, with Moyet shifting into diva-victim overdrive (its extended version, not included here, came off even better). With the exception of a satisfying, previously unreleased reading of Ewan MacColl's "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" (yes, the Roberta Flack hit), the rest of this package will sate only the most rabid fans.
As for Cyndi Lauper, for a while there -- 1984, to be exact -- she owned the U.S. charts, surfing the infant MTV network with winsome videos that exploited her perky persona, squeaky voice, and glamorous bag-girl shtick. Her solo debut, She's So Unusual, unfurled a peck of hits: the frothy, anthemic "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," the wiggy "She Bop," the torchy "Time After Time," and a cover of the Brains' decade-defining "Money Changes Everything," which Lauper, backed by her chums Eric Bazilian and Rob Hyman of the Hooters, belted into the cheap seats ("We think we know what we're doin'/We don't know a thing"). It still rattles the rafters eleven years later. Her following albums, filled with lesser material, paled in comparison, although they coughed up a few fine singles ("True Colors," "I Drove All Night"). By 1989, she'd virtually vanished. This greatest-hits CD also includes an okey-dokey, newly recorded version of "I'm Gonna Be Strong," a wonderfully over-the-top smash for Gene Pitney in 1964 and an on-stage Lauper staple since her pre-solo days with the band Blue Angel.
By Michael Yockel
For those not familiar with Guy Clark, a few disclaimers about Dublin Blues: 1) This is not traditional Irish music; and 2) This is not traditional blues music. The record is, however, an outstanding, intelligently written rootsy affair that unfolds its riches with each play.
Teamed again with the amazing Sam Bush (New Grass Revival) on mandolin, and everyone from Nanci Griffith to Emmylou Harris to Rodney Crowell lending harmony support, Clark crafts elegant bluegrass vignettes that feel as comfortable as the old blue work shirt he sings about on the gorgeous "Stuff That Works." But as beautiful as the melodies are, and as accomplished as the musicianship proves, it's Clark's masterly songwriting that lifts Dublin Blues to classic status. Chasing shots of poignancy with tall draughts of humor on the title track, he lists the places he's been, the wonders he's seen: "I have seen the David/I've seen the Mona Lisa, too/I have heard Doc Watson play the Columbus Stockade Blues," but how he just wants to get back to his loved one. On "The Cape," he sings of the wonder of childhood imagination, how important it is never to lose touch with the kid who once jumped off the roof of the garage with a flour sack for a cape: "All these years the people said/He's actin' like a kid/He did not know he could not fly/So he did."
Magnificent and mature acoustic music with a great sense of fun. Stuff that works, indeed.
By Bob Weinberg
I asked a pal of mine if he'd ever heard of Roy Ayers, the legendary vibes player and bandleader who released something like 250,000 records during the Seventies.
"You mean the guy who helped McCarthy terrorize all those communists?" my pal asked. "Or the guy who starred in Jaws?"
Okay, so maybe semi-legendary would be more accurate.
But there's at least a gasping chance that Ayers will earn renewed name recognition with this bodacious 31-song anthology. His riffs already are familiar to anyone who listens to A Tribe Called Quest, or a host of other hip-hoppers who have been mooching off Ayers for years.
This collection presents Ayers in all his spacy, vibed-out glory. What does his music sound like? Depends on what track you listen to. "Pretty Brown Skin" or "Get On Up, Get On Down" are the highest quality funk. "Red Black and Green" is one of the man's many rhythmically inclined jazz jams. "We Live in Brooklyn, Baby" falls more into the troubadour mold.
Taken together, at a total running time of well over two hours, these two discs are way too much vibes for your standard Nineties person. But if listened to in moderation, and administered while lying down -- preferably not alone -- Ayers is right on the money.
By Steven Almond
On their 1993 debut, world musicologists and ambient-techno Gumps Michel Sanchez and Eric Mouquet -- the creative duo that is Deep Forest -- expounded the rhythmic virtues of pygmies and rain forests using tribal music from Zaire, Cameroon, and the Central African Republic. Now, two years and a gold record later, and after bounding from Transylvania to Bulgaria to Japan, Sanchez and Mouquet have created Boheme, a stirring amalgam of fragile melodies and pulsating grooves that they call their own "Bohemian Rhapsody." Culling a musical library from different cultures and regions, these Foresters have sliced, diced, and sequenced an eclectic array of multinational incantations and voices into a singular global soundtrack. Riding these exotic samples, the album becomes an ocean of undulating riffs, ranging from Hungarian Gypsies (the tranquil "Anasthasia") to traditional Mongolian chants (the airy "Lament"). And while world-music vocalist Marta Sebestyen elevates the dance hit "Marta's Song," the only track that slides off course is the title cut, which sounds as though Yoko Ono crept into the studio and sabotaged the session. Still, an otherwise sparkling collection.
By George Pelletier
Assuming former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl dreads the thought of forever being known as "the guy from Kurt Cobain's band," the last thing he'd want to hear is that the debut album from his new band, Foo Fighters, sounds much like the deceased duke of grunge. Unfortunately for Grohl, Nirvana comparisons are not only inevitable, they're bound to entirely consume the dialogue surrounding the quartet.
Perhaps it was unavoidable osmosis: Grohl, Foo Fighters' singer-guitarist, wrote most of these tunes during breaks from beat-keeping for his former bandleader. It's natural that Cobain's knack for balancing hard and fast with musical and melodic would wear off on Grohl, as well as his bandmates -- Pat Smear (who also played with Nirvana), William Goldsmith, and Nate Mendel (the latter two from Seattle's Sunny Day Real Estate). Grohl even unveils vocal cords that tread lightly on Cobain's gorgeous growl.
Of course, many Nirvana-be's have tried to capture Kurt and company's teen spirit, and all failed. That Foo Fighters succeed in creating a powerful heavy rock album that's neither noisy nor stale is a measured accomplishment in its own right. So bask in the familiar neo-garage punk (a.k.a. grunge) of "I'll Stick Around," "Oh, George," and "Good Grief," because we certainly won't hear anything from the style's originator in the near future. And who knows, you even might be surprised by Grohl's own pop chops on the mellow, Byrds-ish folk rock of "Big Me" and the catchy raveup "This Is a Call." Foo Fighters prove that even if you can't go home again, it sure is comfortable hanging out next door.
BY Roni Sarig
Nix Nought Nothing
Wait a minute. Nobody told me about a Stiff Little Fingers reunion album. Or is it Sham 69?
By Michael Yockel