The Mix Staff Members Pick Their Current Favorites
Various Artists: Good Rockin' Tonight — The Legacy of Sun Records (Sire)
Drawn from an episode (which I have not seen) of PBS' excellent American Masters documentary series, this CD celebrates the incredible contributions of Memphis' pioneering Sun Records to the history of rock 'n' roll. Because there are already plenty of vintage Sun anthologies to choose from, this one goes the “tribute” route, with a very impressive cast of all-stars. Some tackle the big Sun hits faithfully — Paul McCartney, with Elvis backups Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana, doing “That's Alright”; Elton John banging through “Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On”; Johnny Hallyday (the “French Elvis”) with a great “Blue Suede Shoes”; Bryan Ferry sounding like the primal Sun Elvis on “Don't Be Cruel”; and Jeff Beck backing Chrissie Hynde on “Mystery Train.” Others offer new approaches to less-familiar material: Eric Clapton sings magnificently (and adds wicked slide) to “Just Walkin' in the Rain”; Bob Dylan and his band put down a sly version of “Red Cadillac and a Black Moustache”; Van Morrison and Sun original Carl Perkins romp through “Sittin' on Top of the World”; and Sheryl Crow offers an emotion-filled version of “Who Will the Next Fool Be.” There are two radical revisions; one works and the other doesn't — Live's “I Walk the Line” is a surprisingly effective rocked-up reworking; but Kid Rock's noisy, rapped “Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee” is a disaster. The closer is the one artist I'd never heard before — Mandy Barnett (backed by The Jordanaires) serves up an exquisite, Patsy Cline-ish version of “You Win Again.” One big complaint with this set: The liner notes offer no clues about who cut the Sun originals on all these tunes.
Producers: Ahmet Ertegun (project producer), Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Philippe Rault, Andy Paley, Rick Rubin, Tom Petty, Mike Campbell, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Simon Climie, Matt Serletic, George Drakoulias, Chris Isaak, Tim Palmer, Live, Kid Rock, Martin Gross, Johnny Evans. Engineers: Bobby Bradley, Mark Linnet, Steven Lee King, Tim Palmer, Mark Needham, Pete Cobbin, Frank Filipetti, Simon Climie, James Loughrey, Ron Warshow. Studios: Sear Sound (NYC), Angel Recording (London), Brittania Row (London), Bradley's Barn (Nashville), 54 Sound (Ferndale, MI), Arlyn Studios (Austin), O'Henry Studios (L.A.), Coast (San Francisco), Cornerstone (L.A.), Sunset Sound (L.A.), Oceanway (L.A.), Wool Hall (Bath, UK), Abbey Road (London), Olympic Studios (London), Your Place Or Mine (L.A.), The Townhouse (London). No overall mastering credit listed.
— Blair Jackson
Ralph Stanley & Friends: Clinch Mountain Sweethearts (Rebel Records)
When they were putting together the marvelous 1999 double-CD Clinch Mountain Country, it became clear to Ralph Stanley and his producer, Bil VornDick, that there were a good number more female artists with whom they would have liked to record. So, VornDick proposed a follow-up, pairing Stanley with just women singers, and this release has the same uncompromising beauty and authenticity as its predecessor. Stanley's voice remains the most powerful instrument in bluegrass, and he doesn't waste his time with pop-crossover; all of the duets here feature women with a sincere affinity for the genre (though not all are country singers). Dolly Parton never sounds sweeter than when she's singing in this vein; Iris Dement deservedly performs on two tracks; and the legendary Melba Montgomery guests on Hank Williams' “You Win Again.” Maria Muldaur, Joan Baez, Gillian Welch and Lucinda Williams also appear. As always, Stanley is supported by his talented road band, which includes his son Ralph Stanley II on rhythm guitar.
Producer/engineer: Bil VornDick. Recording/mixing studio: Masterlink Studios (Nashville). Additional recording at Quad Studios (Nashville) and Different Fur Studio (San Francisco). Mastering: Randy LeRoy/Final Stage (Nashville).
— Barbara Schultz
Jonathan Richman: Her Mystery Not of High Heels and Eye Shadow (Vapor Records)
Jonathan Richman is the anti-Lou Reed, a charming, child-like naif who “loves springtime in New York, I do” and sees the bright side of almost everything. I can't say he's progressed a helluva lot since his late '70s Beserkley Records days, when he sang about the Martian Martians, the rockin' leprechauns and the ice cream man, but it's still kind of nice and reassuring to have him around. The songs are all driven by his warm acoustic guitar strumming and his simple, direct vocals. He's a romantic through and through, and he's so endearing it's hard not to root for him in his romantic entanglements. The last four tracks are all in Spanish (I must've missed that turn in his career) and they, too, communicate his gentle spirit and affection for early rock and Latin pop styles. Eccentric, to say the least, but cool.
Producers: Niko Bolas and Jonathan Richman. Engineer: Niko Bolas. Studio: Mobius (San Francisco). Mastering: Dave Collins/Marcussen Mastering (L.A.).
— Blair Jackson
If you ever wondered where Butch Vig and Shirley Manson got the idea for Garbage, look no further than Curve. Toni Halliday and Dean Garcia have been doing the whole post-Siouxsie, sultry-goth-chick-fronting-an-industrial-band-thing for the better part of 15 years. And somehow they keep putting out consistently good records. Gift isn't a major departure from what the band has done in the past, but it still demands a listen. It's a pretty standard affair: Halliday's distorted croon is set against a well-crafted assemblage of Pro Tools fodder and fuzz box guitars. And, sure, there's nothing too shocking anymore about a couple of studio rats auditioning plug-in settings in time with a drum program. But the band's obvious talented songwriting would work in any situation. Some of the standout tracks are “Want More Need Less,” “My Tiled White Floor” and “Hell Above Water.” And just to keep it all within the greater Depeche Mode-NIN-My Bloody Valentine family, producer Alan Moulder (Halliday's husband), Flood and Alan Wilder (ex-Depeche Mode) make some guest appearances, adding a few blips and buzzes to the mix.
Producers/engineers: Ben Grosse and Curve. Mixing: Ben Grosse. Studios: Todal Studios and The Mix Room (L.A.). Mastering: Kevin Metcallfe at Soundmasters (London).
— Robert Hanson