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Music Reviews

Popular Music - Part 34 - May, 2000

Graham Vine

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Ratings:
Extraordinary
Good
Acceptable
Mediocre
Poor

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"Hoop Dreams" (The Movie Soundtrack)

Shock G and Others

MCA; GRLD-19305

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

The highly regarded movie "Hoop Dreams" has spawned this Original Soundtrack album. Highly regarded or not, I am here to review the album on its own merits. It's good in parts. The instrumentals work best (though I have some reservations), and the rap tracks are probably the worst on the album. Fortunately, only 3 tracks (1, 3 and 8) fall into this latter category. In the absence of a warning to that effect on the album, take these notes as notice of what to expect.

Some of the instrumentals are heavily saxophone-based, erring on a jazz treatment. "Traveling Music" starts promisingly in that vein with a soulful sax treading its own path through an upbeat set of alternating chords. But where I take issue with the player, Bob Malach, is the tendency to wander way too far off the declared harmonies of the piece, as if the strongly-shaped background which develops over 32 bars just needn't have bothered. Most of the instrumentals, though, are very easy on the ear. The final track, "Sweet Dreams" is one which, even before looking at the titles, I was thinking of as 'midnight music'. Even the synthesized strings are a pleasure. Night-night!

My favorite track is one I play over and over. It's a little piece of country-blues called "Junior Moved". There isn't much  more to it than a harmonica (boy, can Jerry Alexander bend those notes) and an acoustic guitar. The very simplicity of the track shows that complication isn't necessary to catch the soul.

As a soundtrack to the film, there must be many people attracted to the "Hoop Dreams" album. But, as an album in its own right, there is probably too much counting against it to give it a very strong recommendation.

For reference, complete track listing:

1. Hoop Dreams

2. Traveling Music

3. The Original Lesson

4. The Float

5. The Tide (Keeps Lifting Me)

6. Above The Rim

7. Low Post

8. Fast Break

9. Under The Knife

10. Junior Moved

11. Walking The Walk

12. Face

13. Sweet Dreams

- GV -

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"The Very Best of Neil Sedaka"

Neil Sedaka

Camden; 74321-446812

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

Neil Sedaka and his songs were seminal in the formation of the pop music scene in the late 'fifties and early 'sixties. His songs are quoted in some music theory texts; he was one of the first singer-songwriters. He even had hits right through to the nineteen-seventies. So it is timely to review the current "Best Of" selection, now available on Camden.

Firstly, a word on the ordering of tracks. All the hits (except "Beautiful You") between 1959 and 1973 are in here, and the album is compiled to have a definite flow, rather than merely take them in date order. On the one hand, this means that there is a variation in pace and mood, so positive marks for that. On the other hand, the earlier tracks quite clearly suffer from the inadequacies of the recording techniques of the time and the storage of masters since. The earliest of the tracks, prior to about 1960, have some evidence of distortion, but I was pleasantly surprised at how many are in stereo. The impact of these differences on the flow of the album is that the listener is jolted back from, say, 1973's ultra-clear "That's When The Music Takes Me" to the rather muddier "You Mean Everything To Me" from 1960. That's a small price to pay for such a good mix of tracks, though.

Most of the songs are upbeat, but there is a fair smattering of ballads. Try to keep an ear open for the 'harmony-under' pioneered by Neil. There are some highly evocative styles created on these tracks. Take "One Way Ticket" for instance, with more than a hint of the private detective about it. And how else could "I Go Ape" be treated than as an all-out rocker? It's enough to put the wind up Roddy McDowall! With the current interest in the early days of pop music, I am pleased to see due recognition for the talents of Neil. Anyone with any interest at all in that period could do a lot worse than to get hold of a copy of "The Very Best Of Neil Sedaka".

For reference, complete track listing:

1 Oh! Carol

2 Calendar Girl

3 King Of Clowns

4 Next Door To An Angel

5 One Way Ticket

6 Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

7 Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen

8 Little Devil

9 I Go Ape

10 Stairway To Heaven

11 The Diary

12 That's When The Music Takes Me

13 You Mean Everything To Me

14 The Girl For Me

15 I Must Be Dreaming

16 Let's Go Steady Again

- GV -

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"Robin Trower

Robin Trower

Disky; CR-862-682

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

'Champions Of Rock' the label proclaims, and Robin Trower sits comfortably in that categorization. Since his early days with Procol Harum, Robin has mixed in the headiest of company - Frankie Miller, Jack Bruce, Bill Lordan. His growling vocals and chunky-sounding customized 'Strat' impress his totally distinctive character on every song he goes near.

To be perfectly fair, nearly all these songs are his own, give or take the contributions from James Dewar and Co. The only song that we could call a 'cover' is "Sailing", written and originally performed by The Sutherland Brothers and probably best known as one of Rod Stewart's biggest hits. Since those two versions are totally different from each other, you might think that that squeezes out much scope for finding another take on it. But not so - the Trower version brings us a gutsy Cockeresque rendition that's all the better for being yet another variant on the theme.

A few of the songs are ballads, and these are the ones that worked best for me. They have more shades and textures in the music, leaving me feeling that the others were too easy to group into a certain sameness. The net result was that after listening to the 16 tracks on this album, I restricted myself to sessions of 8 songs at a time. It's rather like having a double album and choosing to play each disc separately. As a highlight, I pick track 3, the gorgeous ballad "Long Misty Days". This really does bring out Robin's slow, feedback-laden fuzz guitar and just the right amount of vibrato on the voice to add that sense of feeling to the lyric, of living the emotion. There really isn't a bad track on this album, and some are very good indeed. Just a little more by way of style-changing would have bumped my scoring up to 4 or even 5 stars.

For reference, complete track listing:

1. Twice Removed From Yesterday

2. Caledonia

3. Long Misty Days

4. Same Rain Falls

5. Fool

6. For Earth Below

7. My Love (Burning Love)

8. I'm Out To Get You

9. In City Dreams

10. In This Place

11. Back It Up

12. River

13. Settling The Score

14. Into Money

15. What It Is

16. Sailing

 - GV -

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Copyright 2000 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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