In the summer of 1987 I converted to Rolling Stone for album reviews—I was living out of state, Dad probably stopped his Stereo Review subscription around then as a result, etc. Soon after he and I had become roommates, John suggested we go in on a subscription to RS, which I probably kept for most of the rest of the time I was in Illinois. It’s interesting (to me, anyway) to look at a Stereo Review issue from the period when I was all about RS and note that SR was highlighting some of the same records (both Best of the Month selections and two others given featured treatment below have long been in my collection).
The New Jazz by Chris Albertson
Albertson takes us on a whirlwind history of the twists and turns jazz had undergone over the previous thirty years, from free jazz through fusion to new age (failing to write approvingly of much of it). He sees hope, though in a new wave (so to speak) of practitioners, including Branford and Wynton Marsalis, Harry Connick, Jr., Terence Blanchard, and Donald Harrison.
This month’s reviewers are Chris Albertson, Phyl Garland, Ron Givens, Roy Hemming, Alanna Nash, Parke Puterbaugh, and Steve Simels. Mark Peel, a stalwart for much of the decade, had departed the scene; Puterbaugh had come over recently from, wouldn’t you know, Rolling Stone.
Best of the Month
–Michelle Shocked, Short Sharp Shocked (AN) “…a writer and performer of sizzling personality and power…(t)he instrumental framework shimmers with ingenuity and intrigue, mirroring the lyrics, and Shocked’s somewhat subversive view of life, in superb little unexpected turns and trills…” It’s indeed a fabulous and fascinating record—I’m just sorry there aren’t any clips available on YouTube to share.
–Lucinda Williams, S/T (SS) “She has the kind of voice that suggests the rise and fall of empires as witnessed through the bottom of a shot glass. It’s an instrument worthy of the Bonnie Raitt comparisons it most often draws, but there’s an edge to Williams’s singing, a raw, wounded, and utterly soulful quality, that also suggests a male honky-tonker like Gram Parsons.”
–Anita Baker, Giving You the Best That I Got (PG) “Anita Baker’s much anticipated new album…has everything—superbly lustrous and passionate singing, polished arrangements that include occasional flashes of fine jazz piano, and a high-quality production—everything, that is, except songs that immediately knock you off your feet.”
–Gary Burton, Times Like These (RG) “Gary Burton is a smart man, and he’s made a smart record, but he can burn a little, too, when he wants to.”
–Fairground Attraction, The First of a Million Kisses (RG) “An utterly contemporary throwback, the quartet plays a glorious fusion of swing jazz and heartthrob pop. Their new album sounds as fresh today as it would have thirty years ago.” I adore this record and it’s now become next in the queue for the Forgotten Albums series.
–They Might Be Giants, Lincoln (SS) “…repeated listening…reveals a clever, quirky, often brilliantly arranged and produced piece of postmodern art (yes, art) that just might be the Pet Sounds of the Eighties.”
Other Disks Reviewed
–Steve Earle, Copperhead Road (AN) “But as ambitious as this project is, the album comes off more like a country singer’s Led Zeppelin fantasy than a legitimate rock effort.”
–Sheena Easton, The Lover in Me (RG) “The treatment may have achieved the desired result, dance hits, but (this album) has all the individuality and flavor of processed cheese.”
–Nanci Griffith, One Fair Summer Evening (AN) “While Griffith here presents much of her best-loved material, she diminishes its beauty and impact by rushing through most of the performances in a manner surprisingly devoid of feeling.”
–The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Radio One (SS) “These are performances (they) did for British radio in 1967, fairly early in the band’s career, when they were still young and hungry and relatively unscathed by drug abuse…(w)onderful stuff, and not just for Hendrix completists, either.”
–Etta James, Seven Year Itch (PG) “(This album) offers anyone too young to have been around…when Etta James was one of the ruling queens of rhythm-and-blues, a new opportunity to savor the gritty reality, strutting spirit, and downright infectiousness of her music.”
–James P. Johnson, Carolina Shout (CA) “…Johnson was the first black artist to cut piano rolls of his own compositions. Starting in 1916, before the first jazz phonograph recording was made (he) cut one or two rolls a month…some of which have been assembled by the Biograph label for (this disc)…”
–Cleo Laine, Cleo Sings Sondheim (RH) “And if there’s anything that will destroy a Sondheim song, it’s not sticking to his lyrics and his music as written. But this time Laine sings all sixteen songs as straight as she’s ever sung anything, but with passion, bite, compelling dramatic insights, and (where appropriate) a wonderful sense of fun.”
–Pet Shop Boys, Introspective (PP) “(They) make danceable pop that is not without charm, but between the lines their real gift is for intimating the void in the life of the modern urban ‘party animal.’”
–Pink Floyd, Delicate Sound of Thunder (PP) “Why would anyone who has the superior studio versions need this?”
–Pretty Poison, Catch Me I’m Falling (RG) “Dancers may like what they hear, but more stationary folks needn’t bother.”
–Lee Ritenour, Festival (PG) “He hasn’t done a Brazilian album in ten years, so perhaps that’s why he sounds so fresh here…(t)his is a musical travelogue bound to lift late-winter spirits.”
–Luther Vandross, Any Love (PG) “The songs seem catchier and more imaginatively shaped than earlier efforts…(s)weet, soulful singing doesn’t get any better than this.”