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April 12, 1995 - Image 9

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1995-04-12

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RECORDS
Continued from page 8
tures just as many guest artists as their
fine debut, "More Songs" does away
some of the jazz and classical lean-
ings, trading them for a rootsier feel
though still leaving a door open for
new musical possibilities and the in-
fluence of other styles.
Mandolinist Jim Ryan, who also
works with the Blood Oranges, deliv-
ers his original songs in a lonesome,
*plaintive voice that suits their subject
matter perfectly. His playing is as
good as it gets, able to blend the best
of tradition with his own ideas. John
McGann, a master flatpicker, is rock-
solid on guitar and dobro but his occa-
sionally incredible guitarwork seems
buried in themix. BassistJim Whitney
not only anchors the trio with his
swinging bass but he steps out to lead
with a handful of amazing solos.
*"More Songs of Love and Murder"
shows that there is still room for inno-

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0

vation within traditional bluegrass and
that playing with the form just a bit
can bring incredible results.
- Dirk Schulze
Various Artists
Encomium - A Tribute to Led
Zeppelin
Atlantic Records
No matter how big a Led Zeppelin
fan you are, you have to admit that
they only reason "Encomium - A
Tribute to Led Zeppelin" exists is to
make money. Zeppelin certainly isn't
an unknown band - their records
have never stopped selling - and
they are not underappreciated. Nev-
ertheless, with Robert Plant and
Jimmy Page out on the road to sup-
port an artistically fruitful but com-
mercially disappointing reunion, "En-
comium" arrives at a perfect time.
Audiences are aware that Plant and
Page have returned, so they'll buy the
record and radio will welcome it with
open arms, since they can be hip and

traditional at the same time.
When all is said and done, "Enco-
mium" is really a cash cow for Atlan-
tic Records. Atlantic owns the rights
to the Zep albums, the Page/Plant
record, "Encomium" and a signifi-
cant portion of the tribute's featured
artists (4 Non Blondes, Hootie & the
Blowfish, Stone Temple Pilots, Blind
Melon, Never the Bride and Tori
Amos are all on Atlantic proper, and
Helmet and Rollins Band are on At-
lantic subsidiaries, for a grand total of
eight out of 12 artists). "Encomium"
pushes both Zep and the artists pay-
ing tribute, so Atlantic keeps making
ridiculous profits. The record com-
pany realized this when assembling
the album; if they-didn't, there is no
plausible reason for the horrible new
Atlantic signing Never the Bride to be
included.
Even with all the blatant commer-
cial engineering, "Encomium" could
have been an enjoyable album. How-
ever, the unimaginative assembly of
the album has been replicated in most
of the performances on the record.
Stone Temple Pilots move "Dancing
Days" to an acoustic and it works.
Cracker plays "Good Times Bad
Times" like they were a punk band
from '66 or '67, and it rocks. Shery
Crow slows down "D'yer Mak'er,"
makes it bohemian and it almost
works. Then again, Robert Plant and
Tori Amos make "Down By the Sea-
side" a bloodless funeral dirge and it
is appallingly misguided.
Every other artist plays it straight.
Hootie & the Blowfish's "Hey Hey
What Can I Do," Blind Melon's "Out
on the Tiles," Big Head Todd's "Tan-
gerine" and 4 Non Blondes' "Misty
Mountain Hop" are virtually indistin-
guishable from the orginal. Henry
Rollins' bone-headed take on "Four
Sticks" accentuates his inherent lack
of funk, as does Helmet and David
Yow's "Custard Pie." At least Hel-
met had the sense to recast the song as
proto-typical grind-metal, making the
riff hit with all the precision of a drill
press.
Still, there's no erasing that there
are only two solid tracks among 10
xeroxes. Profiteering this shameless
and music this bland gives tribute
albums a bad name. There's simply
no reason for an album this character-
less to exist.
- Toni Erlewine
Guided By Voices
Alien Lanes
Matador
Let us sing the praises of four- and
eight-tracks and various living rooms
and basements in the Dayton, Ohio
metro area. Sing of a 38-year old
fourth-grade teacher with a head full

of as many song ideas as gray hairs.
Sing of faux British accents, simple
chord progressions, crappy recording
equipment and the most obscure song
titles on the planet. But sing loudly;
you'll have to shout over the crowd of
critics who have been praising Guided
By Voices hissing, hummable lo-fi re-
cordings all along.
The band's tenth album "Alien
Lanes" shows Robert Pollard and crew
at their batty best. Typically bizarre
lyrics like "I want to start a new life /
with my valuable hunting knife"
abound on this LP's 28 tracks. And
while the sheer number of songs on
"Alien Lanes" amazes, even more
incredible is the fact that GBV man-
age to make every single track matter.
Their most recent effort "Bee Thou-
sand" featured beautiful, tightly struc-
tured pop gems like "I Am a Scien-
tist," "Echos Myron" and "The
Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Di-
rectory," but left several ideas and
songs undeveloped. Finding the dia-
monds amid many tracks worth of
roughness was one of the most frus-
trating elements of listening to GBV's
earlier work.
"Alien Lanes" breaks new ground
by retaining all of the dissonance, all of
the excitement of experimentation cap-
tured on past albums while remaining
virtually filler-free. Featuring some of
Pollard's most fully realized songcraft
to date, "Alien Lanes" overflows with
delicious pop hooks and sweet vocal
harmonies soaring above the fuzzy, dis-
torted guitars. New bassist and former
Spin editor and critic Jim Greer shines
on the album's opening track, "A Salty
Salute." Pollard's thin, careening vo-
cals perfectly complete his songs of
insecurity, alienation and life's stranger
moments. His and multi-intrumentalist
Tobin Sprout's vocal harmonies lend a
sweet, Beatlesque feel to "A Good Fly-
ing Bird" (written by Sprout) and
"Watch Me Jumpstart."
Other standout tunes on "Alien
Lanes" include "As We Go Up We
Go Down," with it's REM-like jangle
wonderfully fetching down to the rat-
tling keys at the song's end, and the
spooky acoustic "The Ugly Vision."
The breezy "Motor Away" and
"Blimps Go 90" approach (dare we
say) radio-friendliness with their
lovely melodies.
The jump from itty bitty indie Scat
to the much larger, richer Matador cer-
tainly hasn't suppressed Pollard's cre-
ative spirit, as many feared. Ifanything,
Guided By Voices have improved on
the formula they nearly perfected with
"Bee Thousand."
"The club is open," sings Pollard in
"A Salty Salute." "Alien Lanes" throws
open the doors.
- Jennifer Buckley

Guided By Voices new album 'Allen Lanes' is a great collection of songs.

Vanessa Williams
The Sweetest Days
Mercury Records
Vanessa Williams sure has
changed; just look at the cover of her
newest LP "The Sweetest Days." No
longer is she the sultry, seductive
young vixen who once posed nude.
She's still very beautiful, but in a
more down-to-earth way.
Williams' music has undergone a
similar, yet not as dramatic, change.
She performs more "fluffy" stuff, as
songs like the title track and "Higher
Ground" will show. No longer will
we be welcomed into the "Comfort
Zone," and no longer is she "Saving
the Best for Last."
Sadly, "The Sweetest Days" is not
as sensational a CD as we would

hope; in fact it is somewhat of a let-
down. Surely Williams could have
done better. This isn't to say the songs
in this CD are entirely bad; in fact,
they sound pretty good - for a fresh-
man performer. But, Vanessa is no
newcomer. She must know that the
reason so many of her previous songs
topped charts was because they had a
certain flair to them. "The Sweetest
Days" lacks this spark; there's no
tingle.
Vanessa still has a rich voice, and
she doesn't hesitate to use it full
throttle. I can't explain what went
wrong with this production, but it
better be corrected if she hopes for her
next release to gain the popularity of
her previous ones.
- Eugene Bowen

Lois: Playing the 'Strumpet'
Here's Lois (above right), the leader of the lo-fl love-rock revolution.
Formerly a rock critic and a deejay on an all-girl punk rock radio show,
Lois formed the cool but all-too shortiived group Courtney Love. Although
the actual widow of Kurt Cobain was not In the band, Courtney Love put
out three great singles (including 'Don't Mix The Colors' on the 'Kill Rock
Stars' compilation) before breaking up. Lois has been doing her own solo
acoustic thing since, releasing her debut 'Butterfly Kiss' in '93, and
'Strumpet' in '94, both on the legendary K record label. Her latest, 'Bet
The Sky,' follows in the vein of her previous records: emotionally charged,
( usically honest punk-folk. All of her songs, like 'Press Play and Record'
nd Wet Eyes' deal with bittersweet emotions and stories, in a matter-of-
fact way. Lois is playing tomorrow night at the Blind Pig, opening for the
leader of the Red House Painters, Mark Kozelek. Also playing at this folk-
a-rama is local singer-songwriter Stephen Budd. Tickets for this show are
a measly $5; doors are at 9:30 p.m. Call 996-8555 for more information.

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