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Music Reviews

Popular Music CDs - Part 19 - May, 1999

Graham Vine

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Ratings:
Extraordinary
Good
Acceptable
Mediocre
Poor

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"Tadpoles in a Jar"

Jimmy Nail

East West; 3984-27020-2

Performance: Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)
Audio: Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)

There's an excellent new album in the shops, and I will start with my recommendation: buy it! Jimmy Nail is probably best known as an actor, but singing has always been one of his great loves. Luckily for Jimmy - and us - these two strengths of his came together wonderfully in the recent film "Still Crazy". Hot on the heels of that release, his new album "Tadpoles In A Jar" is a great mixture of introspection and 'good-time' music.

Some of the songs tell a story. The first, and title track is a look back to his childhood; reminiscences about the local 'buses, the high-street shops and of course trips on the nature-trail field-trip. On track 7, "W.L.T.M.", there's a light-hearted look at the world of the personal ads, nicely bouncing the vocals back and forth with, I presume, Eddie Reader. That title? I suppose it stands for 'Wanted, litter-trained monkey'. Well I dunno! (Actually, it's 'Would Love To Meet. . . .' - I prefer my version).

On to the single taken from the album. It is "Blue Beyond The Grey," and it really is one of those good-time songs. Jeff Lynne, in his capacity as producer of the track, has brought with him the best of his Traveling Wilbury colleagues in the overall sound of the track. Now there's an idea - Jimmy as a fifth member of the band to replace the very greatly missed Roy Orbison.

Of the balads on the album, there are some emotionally-charged songs with the sort of sentiments that show a deep understanding for the kind of pain people go through with broken-down relationships. In "For Good", Jimmy sings about his longing to just see his lost love, the one he will always love. Such a telling line is, "Whoever said that it's better to have loved and lost has not loved and lost you." And ending on a minor chord is a master-stroke of illustrative production.

But we're bounced up again with some happy-go-lucky numbers in the form of "My Friend The Sun" and, later on, "Down By The Seaside." I could go on and on (even more) about the quality of Jimmy's album, but for now let's just leave it at 'ten-out-of-ten'.

For reference, full track-listing:

1. Tadpoles In A Jar
2. Call And Respond
3. For Good
4. My Friend The Sun
5. The Young Man Who Used To Be Me
6. Blue Beyond The Grey
7. W.L.T.M.
8. There Goes A Man
9. Where'd You Come From?
10. Down By The Seaside
11. Lost

- GV -

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"Prodigal Sista"

Beverley Knight

Parlophone; 7243 498283 2 2

Performance: Star (605 bytes)
Audio: Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)

They say that variety is the spice of life, and I try to sample as many different genres in these reviews as I can. But when that variety throws-up too many albums that take the form of a spread from 'good' to 'bad', then I am forced to comment the way I feel. I can see very little merit in "Prodigal Sista."

The album opens with a very clever close-harmony snippet called "Intro (Good Morning World)", and after that the trend is straight down. Where Beverley sticks to the melody (such as it is), it is clear that she can hold a note, and pitch-perfect at that. But she insists on warbling up and down some imaginary scale in the mistaken belief that it somehow makes the song 'soulful'. In reality, of course, these vocal tricks demonstrate quite the reverse. For real soul, get into the song and live the words.

There is a 'sameness' to the whole album that leaves the listener tired of the groove-beat after the first few songs. This is despite changes in tempo and, I regret to say, some simply awful rapping.

In trying to discover some strengths in the album, I have to return to that very first close-harmony section. In fact, the technique is employed on several tracks. Maybe we should hope that Beverley develops in this direction and leaves behind the vocalizing which hides and even destroys the melody. The quite unacceptable shouting in track 12 is not even in tune, in contrast to my earlier statements.

So, there is scope in the basic talent of Beverley Knight, but as far as this album is concerned, I found nothing to actually enjoy. I shall not be playing it again.

For reference, full track-listing:

1. Intro (Good Morning World)
2. Made It Back
3. Rewind (Find A Way)
4. Damn
5. A.W.O.L.
6. Sista, Sista
7. Strong Hand
8. Greatest Day
9. That's Alright
10. Tomorrow
11. Send Me, Move Me, Love Me
12. The Need Of You
13. Good Morning World
14. Made It Back 99 (Good Times Mix) feat Redman
15. A.W.O.L. (Jus Bounc Mix)
16. Greatest Day (Classic Mix)

- GV -

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"Surfacing"

Sarah McLachlan

Arista; 07822 - 18970 - 2

Performance: Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)
Audio: Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)Star (605 bytes)

Sometimes, recommendations come my way: 'How about reviewing such and such an album by Mr/Mrs/Ms X?'. Well, this was the case with Ms. McLachlan's "Surfacing" album, and I am pleased that the idea was passed on to me. She has a gorgeous voice, but interestingly, track 10 is an instrumental. She wrote or co-wrote all of the songs and plays guitar and piano throughout. Clearly a very talented lady.

Overall, the album is a rock-based small-combo assemblage of slowish-tempo tracks and most, like track 4 "Adia", have the strength to be released as singles. In fact, I could only really pick out track 8, "Black & White" as being at all weak. Unlike the bulk of the album, this track has more of a 'funk' style to it, which I feel does not fit well into Sarah's style.

A couple of the tracks are among the most beautiful songs I have heard in a long time. Track 2, "I Love You" is one. Sarah uses a close-miked technique which can be risky if not handled correctly. There are no pops, and the only breathiness is what's intended. The effect is, to put it mildly, very sexy!

The other track, "Witness", has a haunting, hollow guitar in there. It is held just into feedback, and the closing seconds of the track are a lesson in production subtlety, with that guitar just holding on, while the message of what we've just heard sinks in.

My copy of the album is an 'enhanced' CD, intended to be computer-readable. Unfortunately for me, these audio-visual elements would not run on either of the PCs available to me. The high-performance Windows NT PC seems to be incompatible, and my Windows 95 machine is too slow (Win 98 and NT5/Windows 2000 may address the problem). Clearly there are still some compatibility issues to be sorted out, but anyway it's the music we a really concerned with here.

So settle down for a relaxed session with the Hi-Fi, and slip "Surfacing" into the CD player. You will have a very, very enjoyable 40 minutes or so with Sarah.

For reference, full track-listing:

1. Building A Mystery
2. I Love You
3. Sweet Surrender
4. Adia
5. Do What You Have To Do
6. Witness
7. Angel
8. Black & White
9. Full Of Grace
10. Last Dance

- GV -



© Copyright 1999 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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