Rolling Stones: No Security (Virgin)Why give ink to a megaband like the Stones when there are a zillion lesser-known groups worth writing about? Because no one takes Stones live albums seriously, and this one really is worth picking up. On the surface, it seems like this CD shouldn't work-where are the big hits, the knock-'em-dead show stoppers? Been there, done that. What we have here is a selection of wonderfully performed, mostly second-tier Stones songs that we haven't heard them play a million times: "The Last Time," "Gimme Shelter," "Live With Me," the haunting "Sister Morphine," the little-heard "Memory Motel" (how many of you still own Black & Blue?), "Respectable" (from Some Girls), "Waiting on a Friend" (with Josh Redman on sax), and a handful of '90s tunes, all of which are surprisingly good. Taj Mahal and Dave Matthews appear on one track each, but it's Mick, Keith, Woody and the still incredible Charlie Watts who rule this roost. Every time I get cynical about the Stones Machine, listening to them play is all it takes to remind me how great they still are.
Producers: Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Engineer: Ed Cherney. Live Recordings: Remote Recording Services; Eurosound; Hilton Sound/Dreamhire; Effanel Music. Additional Engineers: Dave Hewitt, Ulli Poesselt, Peter Brandt, John Harris. Mastering: Tony Cousins/Metropolis Mastering (London). -Blair Jackson
Hugh Cornwell: Black Hair, Black Eyes, Black Suit (Velvel)
It was more than 20 years ago that Cornwell's former band, The Stranglers, first burst onto the British music scene with their darkly compelling rock that was at once reminiscent of The Doors and clearly part of what would become known as the New Wave. The band managed to stay together up until 1990. Along the way they built a sizable following and had a whopping 30 chart hits in England. This is Cornwell's second solo outing. Although it doesn't exactly break new musical ground, it's a powerful work through and through. The tunes are mostly straight-ahead rock, with strong, tuneful hooks offsetting Cornwell's typically dry, sung-spoken delivery. Of course, Cornwell actually can sing, but often he prefers a sort of Lou Reed-like narrative voice, which he uses very effectively. The band sound is attractively retro, but producer Laurie Latham has done an excellent job of making a record that sounds modern, too. A nice find.
Producer/Engineer: Laurie Latham. Studios: Soundlab UK, Helicon, The Workhouse (all in England). Mastering: Tim Young and Crispin Murray/Metropolis Mastering (London). -Blair Jackson
Miles Davis: The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions (August 1969-February 1970) (Columbia Legacy)
One of the most influential records of its day, Bitches Brew was Miles' great fusion of rock, funk and jazz ideas, blending electric and acoustic instruments on a series of mostly long, unpredictable open-ended tunes/jams. The jazz purists cried "sell-out," but rock fans bought it in huge numbers-it became Miles' best-selling effort. And in its wake came the impressive fusion careers of some of the record's amazing lineup of players, including Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter (Weather Report), John McLaughlin and Billy Cobham (Mahavishnu Orchestra), Chick Corea and Lenny White (Return to Forever) and Bennie Maupin (Headhunters). Listening to it with late-'90s ears, it doesn't sound remotely commercial to me, but then the early '70s was a more adventurous time. This four-CD set presents the remastered original album, two of the standout cuts from Big Fun- the Indian-flavored "Lonely Fire" and David Crosby's haunting "Guinnevere"-and nine previously unreleased tracks, my favorites of which are Shorter's "Feio," Zawinul's epic ballad "Recollections," and Miles' "Yaphet." Certainly not for every taste, but the patient and adventurous listener will be rewarded.
Producer of original recordings: Teo Macero. Engineers: Frank Laico; Stan Tonkel. Studios: Columbia Studios B and E. Reissue produced by Bob Belden. Remix and Mastering engineer: Mark Wilder. -Blair Jackson
The Lapse: Betrayal (Gern Blandsten)This smart, mercurial New York-based trio-Chris Leo, guitar and vocals; Toko Yasuda, bass and vocals; Dave Leto, visiting drummer-play an energetic "emo-core" dominated by Leo's and Yasuda's wordy, philosophical ravings, which are both personal and icily academic. The Lapse offers tight, angry grooves, then switches to damaged spoken-word set to music, then moves to purist-rock rave-ups, introspective slow-burners and even techno-pop. A nice balance is set up on the disc-Yasuda's pieces bring a warm and mysterious counterpoint to the fist-shaking/handwringing blasts from Leo. It's as if they took some of the best aspects of '80s' underground originators (Minutemen, Big Black, Sonic Youth, et al.), threw it all into a punk blender and shot it into the next century. Plus, how can you not love song titles like "This is Not the Pure Aesthetic" and "We Must Move Backwards to Progess"? It's righteous and ambitious enough that I didn't even mind being lectured.
Producers: The Lapse. Engineer: Nicholas Vernhes. Additional engineering: Alap Momim. Studio: The Rare Book Room. Mastering: Alan Douches/West WestSide. -Anne Eickelberg
Badi Assad: Chameleon (i.e. Music)Assad is talented Brazilian singer and nylon-string guitarist whose lovely album offers a panoply of airy styles and textures that range from jazzy, spare balladry in the tradition of fellow Brazilian Milton Nascimento, to what she terms a "Brazilian tango version" of George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (which she dedicates to the late Michael Hedges). There are moody pieces that float along like a canoe on the Amazon and others that sound like deep soul explorations. Assad's often hypnotic vocals and fluid guitar work dominate the proceedings, but she also has help from a few well-known players, including guitarist Lee Ritenour, bassist Abe Laboriel, percussionist Alex Acuna and didgeridoo master Steven Kent. Jeff Scott Young is the other force here: He co-produced, co-arranged and co-wrote most of the record. Assad sounds more comfortable singing in Portugese than in English, but in either tongue she communicates a dreamy tranquility that is positively intoxicating.
Producers: Jeff Scott Young, Don Murray, Badi Assad. Engineer: Don Murray. Mixers: Don Murray, Jeff Scott Young, Michael Wagener (one cut). Tracking Studio: Starlight (L.A.). Mixing Studios: Sound Image (L.A.); O'Henry (L.A., one song); Wire World (Nashville, one song). Mastering: Bob Ludwig/Gateway Mastering (Portland, ME). -Blair Jackson
New Radicals: Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too (MCA)
The New Radicals' first CD on a major label is the effusive creation of writer/guitarist/singer Gregg Alexander. It offers a tight program of Alexander's catchy songs and clever lyrics, supported by equally slick producing and arranging skills. Backed by a small pool of steadily competent musicians (no two songs feature the same lineup), Alexander consistently draws sumptuous sounds from stock ingredients, eschewing instrumental virtuosity in favor of dense and detailed backgrounds. Alexander's voice is light and flexible, reminiscent of Prince, Todd Rundgren and Mick Jagger, and fans of powerpop artists Toy Matinee, Jellyfish and World Party will appreciate the frequent references to the post-Beatles production canon. Whether or not this release is a commercial success, Alexander is a talent to watch.
Produced and arranged by Gregg Alexander. Recording engineers: Bob Wartinbee, Bill Cooper, Andre Berryman, Michael James, Curt Kroeger, Michael Blum and Mike Bradford. Mixing engineers: Michael James, Bob Wartinbee, Michael Brauer, Andre Berryman, Curt Kroeger, Bill Cooper and Chris Lord-Alge. Recorded "All over the place." Mastering: Stephen Marcussen and Don Tyler/Precision Mastering (L.A.). -Chris Michie