Eric Clapton: Blues (Polydor/UMG)This latest two-CD repackaging of Eric Clapton's back catalog is an enjoyable, if less than essential, collection of blues tunes recorded between 1970 and 1980. The first CD consists of studio outtakes, a few standout tracks from the otherwise disappointing There's One in Every Crowd, No Reason to Cry and Another Ticket, and a couple of more familiar songs; the second CD is essentially a condensed version of the exhaustive Crossroads 2: Live in the Seventies four-CD box set, plus two tracks from 1980's live-at-Budokan Just One Night and a hard-to-find version of "Further on Up the Road" with Freddie King. Four previously unreleased studio tracks might tempt the Clapton completist, but the chief attractions of this thoughtfully sequenced compilation are the choice of material and the exuberant guitar-slinging on the live cuts. Clapton's singing voice is still under development, and the laid-back "Tulsa shuffle" of his '70s bands now sounds a bit pedestrian-the inexplicably included live version of "Wonderful Tonight" is particularly soporific-but Clapton's fluid and sure-footed soloing is a constant marvel.
Compilation producer: Bill Levenson. Producers: Glyn Johns, Tom Dowd, The Dominos, Rob Fraboni (in association with Eric Clapton and Carl Dean Radle), Jon Astley, Jon Astley and Andy MacPherson, and Bill Oakes. Studios: Olympic (London), Criteria Studios (Miami), Dynamic Sounds Studio (Kingston, Jamaica), Shangri-la Studios (Malibu, CA) and Compass Point Studios (Bahamas). Live recordings: Ronnie Lane, The Rolling Stones, Wally Heider and Record Plant Mobile Units, and Showco Inc.
Guided By Voices: Do the Collapse (TVT Records)Guided By Voices is to '80s Album-Oriented Rock as Will Smith is to the federal government in Men in Black. They make it look good. The band's first TVT CD opens with a re-recording of an early single, "Teenage FBI," now slick and symphonic-complete with Cars-like keyboard flourishes courtesy of producer Ric Ocasek and engineer Brian Sperber. It's a far cry from the abbreviated, rough gems of British Invasion-style rock/psychedelia that got vocalist and songwriter Robert Pollard branded a savant in indie rock circles in the first place. So he's not so indie anymore. A former school teacher like Pollard knows his '70s mainstream/arena rock history, and, in the end, he can't be ashamed of wanting to be as radio-friendly and larger-than-life as his role models. So the band tries a power ballad with "Hold on Hope," incisive pop/rock in "Surgical Focus" and an off-kilter anthem with "Strumpet Eye." Ocasek even adds his own sleek signature sounds: effects-laden ethereal vocals mixed with crunchy guitar, and robotic rhythms that seem as deliciously inevitable as a classic pop song. A star-making vehicle worth taking for repeated spins.
Producer: Ric Ocasek. Engineer: Brian Sperber. Second engineer: Mike Tocci. Studio: Electric Lady Studios (NYC). Mastering: George Marino, Sterling Sound (NYC).
David Nelson Band: Visions Under the Moon (High Adventure)All of a sudden jam bands are everywhere, fueled by a new generation of fans weaned on The Grateful Dead, Phish and other leading proponents of improvisational rock. David Nelson's musical lineage goes back to Jerry Garcia's folk days and includes a stint as co-leader of the New Riders of the Purple Sage (which originally featured Garcia on pedal steel), and now he fronts a group that is possibly the closest in sound and spirit to The Grateful Dead of any of the current crop of jam bands. The DNB are masters of the simmering, slowly building, melodic jam, and on this disc, recorded on the stage of the Aladdin Theater in Portland, Ore., the band artfully explores the outer reaches of some of the group's fine original tunes, extending them well beyond conventional limits. In Barry Sless, the DNB has an extraordinary guitarist and steel player capable of eliciting many moods from his axes, and Nelson himself provides mean, Bakersfield-style guitar support. There's a wonderful cover of Dylan's "Absolutely Sweet Marie," but the real revelation is the strength of Nelson's country-flavored writing, alone and in collaboration with others (including the Dead's Robert Hunter). Nelson's voice is a somewhat limited instrument, but he writes well for it and everything that surrounds it on this disc is pure gold. An album that delivers more with each listening.
Producers: Aaron Hurwitz and the DNB. Engineers: Aaron Hurwitz and Steve Harris. Additional engineering: Jeff Gruber. Recorded at the Aladdin Theater (Portland, OR); additional recording at Knightstar (San Rafael, CA), Sheffield (Baltimore), and Blue House (Silver Spring, MD). Mastering: Michael Romanowski/Rocket Lab (San Francisco).
Anthony Hindson & Friends: It's a Curious Life (Wind in Hare)A British composer and guitarist who has spent much time in Northern California, Hindson has created a fascinating fusion of Eastern and Western sounds on this years-in-the-making CD, calling on an interesting group of "friends," including violinist Shankar, tabla master Zakir Hussain, the late drummer Tony Williams, former Zappa bassist Scott Thunes and singer/bassist Jack Bruce, among others. Heavily influenced by the raga form and, quite obviously, by sitar and sarod players, Hindson blends his own playing beautifully with that of his illustrious cohorts, and his flowing compositions manage to let all the musicians soar without calling excessive attention to their virtuosity. My favorite cuts are the most Indian-sounding ones. I'm less entranced by Jack Bruce's two lead vocals, which break the mood of the otherwise all-instrumental offering, though I must add he is in excellent voice on both tracks.
Producers: David Hentschel and Anthony Hindson. Engineers: Tom Luekens, Neil Douglas and Gordon Lyons. Mixed by David Hentschel, Anthony Hindson and Tom Luekens. Studios: Tarpan, The Plant, The Huge Shed, Tiki Town (all in Marin County, CA), and The Strongroom (London).
Orbital: The Middle of Nowhere (FFRR)Starting with the Spectorish chimes of "Way Out" and concluding with the disembodied synthesizer blips of "Style," this most recent CD release from electronica veterans Orbital takes the listener on an entertaining hour-long tour of techno's mild side. Sounding cool and sophisticated throughout, if not particularly innovative, The Middle of Nowhere blends the throbbing pulse of Kraftwerk's "Autobahn" and "Trans-Europe Express" with snappy soundscapes reminiscent of Thomas Dolby and Yello. Apart from guitars and bass on the Brian Eno/David Byrne-flavored "I Don't Know You People," the eight tunes are driven by simple and repetitive synthesizer sequences (real drums are credited but largely undetectable), occasionally enhanced by wordless female vocals and trumpets(!). Featuring a delightfully enigmatic sleeve design, this cleanly presented package places few demands on either listener or sound system, and should appeal to anyone in need of some upbeat but not too frenetic walk-in or environmental music (e.g. boutiques, galleries, architects' dance parties).
Producers: P & P Hartnoll. Mixing and additional production by Micky Mann. Live drums recorded at The Strongroom (London). Mastering: Kevin Metcalf/Sound Masters.
Slo Leak: When the Clock Strikes 12 (United Producers)Slo Leak isn't exactly a group-it's just singer/guitarist Charlie Karp and noted guitarist/producer/programmer Danny "Kootch" Kortchmar-but these two boys make a helluva racket on the first album to come from the new United Producers/TVT imprint. Karp sounds like the mutant love child of Howlin' Wolf and Cab Calloway, and Kootch provides alternately slinky and rasty guitar accompaniment and some bold programming moves. It's a crude and funky outing, where every "drum" hit sounds like a stick on a trash can, and you can practically see the cigarette smoke wafting around Karp's head as he growls down-and-dirty blues and upbeat jump jazz tunes. The disc as a whole sounds like a particularly hot night in the coolest dive you've ever been in. Karp and Kootch's new songs sound old, and they make the couple of old songs sound new in a sort of Tom Waits-ish, retro kind of way, where the effect is lo-tech but you know that it probably took the latest technology to make it sound that way. All that's left to do after listening to this is to wipe the sawdust and beer off the bottom of your shoes and pass out on the couch.
Producers and engineers: Danny Kortchmar and Charlie Karp. Mixed by Peter Denenberg. Studios: Hit Me! (Harrison, NY), Acme (mixing; Mamaroneck, NY). Mastering: Ted Jensen/Sterling Sound (NYC).