Ignore Tom Jones's "What's New Pussycat?" past; the guy is modern and still a great performer. The title of Reload, a hit in England but currently not scheduled for domestic release in the U.S., may not play well in these post-Columbine times, but it's on par with his latest work, both in presentation and in power. If he calls his next album Re-reload, he's got a right.
Like his last stateside release, 1994's underrated The Lead and How to Swing It, Reload finds Jones in collaborative mode. Where The Lead stressed original tunes and production chops (everyone from Teddy Riley to Flood to Trevor Horn weighed in), Reload focuses on contemporary artists and cover songs. The artists are a motley and very talented crew indeed. Jones more than holds his own, turning the tunes into unusually personal and expressive vehicles.
Leave it to Jones to launch a disc with "Burning Down the House," the song that broke Talking Heads through to pop. Jones works it brisk and funky with the Cardigans, lending Byrne's opaque lyrics a fresh vigor. Then, with the Stereophonics, he resurrects Randy Newman's "Mama Told Me not to Come," refreshing the Three Dog Night chestnut with unexpected lasciviousness. The selections, peculiar as they are successful, include "Sometimes We Cry" (a sparsely arranged duet with Van Morrison), a sharp interpretation of Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life" with Chrissie Hynde's Pretenders, and a fruity, truly bizarre take on the George Baker Selection's "Little Green Bag" with Barenaked Ladies.
Jones is in the uncomfortable position of being retro and being novelty -- kind of a white analog to James Brown. But unlike the badly dated Godfather of Soul, Jones never had to rely on patriotism and passé Americana (okay, okay, that wouldn't seem that authentic coming from a Welshman) to reinvigorate his career. I doubt Jones does knee drops, but he sure as hell does vocal swoops; check out "Ain't That a Lot of Love" with Simply Red's Mick Hucknall or his resurrection of Fine Young Cannibals' "She Drives Me Crazy" with Zucchero for throat acrobatics.
Jones may not ignite the U.S. charts anymore (his last "hit" here was his great collaboration with the Art of Noise on the Prince tune "Kiss," in 1988), but his music is as contemporary and kick-ass as ever. If V2 doesn't release his latest here, it's the label's, and U.S. radio's, loss. -- Carlo Wolff
Tom Jones performs on December 10 at the State Theatre.
Methods of Mayhem
Methods of Mayhem
Hey, Tommy Lee! You've just been released from prison, split from your longtime band Mötley Crüe, and reconciled with your mammary-modified wife, Pam Anderson: What you gonna do now? Create your own personal Disneyland in the form of Methods of Mayhem, a rock-rap summit with unknown hip-hopper Ti-Lo, you say? Good move! Because it's just what we need: another rap metal outfit bitching about how unfair the world is and how you just wanna bust things up, all the while stuck in a state of perpetual adolescence. Yeah, sweet move.
And with song titles like "Who the Hell Cares," "Anger Management," "Proposition Fuck You," and "Mr. Onsomeothershits" gracing the eponymous debut from Methods of Mayhem, you can pretty much tell where this baby is going without hearing a note. With help from a new motley crew consisting of Snoop Dogg, Lil' Kim, Fred Durst, and Kid Rock, you can bet Lee's rabble-rousers know of what they scream. This is hard stuff, an unoriginal -- and somewhat uninspired -- project designed to cash in on one of '99s biggest musical success stories. But where Korn, Limp Bizkit, and, to some extent, Kid Rock thrash and pound with an authoritative menace (or at least with some honest-to-God commitment), Methods of Mayhem sounds like Lee's new flavor of the month, a quick trip to the bank before he decides what the hell he's going to do with the rest of his life. And checking in at a meager 36 minutes (a sign that this was an in-and-out affair) certainly doesn't help his case.
Neither does the clunky, almost textbook presentation of the songs themselves. Spin a sample here, toss in a couple "fucks" there, and mix in some turntable scratching among the raging guitars, and you've got yourself a half-assed album that's either going to sell a ton or a bomb bigger than that last Mötley Crüe album. Lee gets some credit, however, for channeling his frustrations into his music (rather than taking it out on his wife again). "Who the Hell Cares" pounds relentlessly into your skull, while the all-star party of Lil' Kim, George Clinton, Mixmaster Mike, and Fred Durst isn't any worse than the throwaways that the Korn/Bizkit gang generates. Just don't expect a Methods of Mayhem II, unless, of course, this whole rap metal thing still matters. -- Michael Gallucci
Live at Slim's Y-Ki-Ki
In 1998 Keith Frank won the Clifton Chenier Music Award as Entertainer of the Year from the National Zydeco Society. Frank's a short-haired fat guy in his mid-twenties who plays in bars and dancehalls. His motto is "the better I feel, the more I sweat, and the harder I'm gonna work."
Frank works plenty hard on this disc. He gives the audience its money's worth and then some. He's not flashy, but he sings in tune, keeps good time, and comes on strong with his voice and accordion, charging and grunting and hollering "Good God" like Wilson Pickett and ending phrases and sentences with "y'all." Frank's a salt-of-the-earth kinda guy. He titles one of his tunes "Ca Joue Ma Musique de Tuer les Herbes," which means "When I Play My Music, I Want You to Kill the Grass." Another of his songs contains the lines "Hey, pretty baby with your teeth so white/I wanna take you home with me tonight/I wonder what you use; is it Crest or Colgate? Maybe Aquafresh -- well, that's just great."
Not all of his lyrics are this clever, though. On one tune, he just keeps repeating "You're breaking my heart/You're tearin' me all apart." The repetitiveness and banality of some of the lyrics actually have an upside. It's a further indication of Frank's lack of awareness or interest in slickness. Frank does know what his audience wants, though -- they have come to dance, and he offers them dance music (which accounts, to some extent, for the similarity of rhythms and tempos on this CD). Note also the reggae influence in Frank's work: it's not like he's unaware of what's going on in the rest of the world. Frank is the real thing -- a contemporary folk artist keeping his music alive. Long may he sweat. -- Harvey Pekar
Knitting on the Roof
Most tribute albums have the advantage of a built-in audience. Fans of the tributees or contributors will flock to hear the interpretations of the material in question. Occasionally, a tribute crops up that defies one convention or the other -- a well-known subject feted by unknown acolytes or vice versa -- but rarely does a tribute manage to ignore conventions and still succeed.
This doesn't mean that Knitting on the Roof, a bizarre and beautiful homage to Fiddler on the Roof, is working from a position of complete obscurity. On the contrary, Fiddler is one of the most widely recognized and revered musicals in the history of theater, but it's most assuredly not the sort of fare that makes for a standard-issue tribute album. Yet in the hands of producer Michael Dorf, the artists that shred and reassemble Fiddler set the Jewish cultural storytelling tradition to a soundtrack that is equal parts Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix, and Raymond Scott.
On the quasitraditional front, the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars and the Paradox Trio bookend Knitting with ethnic authenticity and compelling pop/jazz invention, playing "Tradition" and "Anatevka" respectively. Naftule's Dream transforms "To Life" into a Loony Tunes song with feedback, while Eugene Chadbourne infuses "Miracle of Miracles" with his gently unique banjo screed. Downtown jazz purist David S. Ware gives a Coltranesque color to "Far From the Home I Love," and sonic deconstructivism finds fertile ground with the Residents ("Matchmaker") and Negativland (on the original "Tevye's Dream"). The pinnacle comes with Fiddler's most recognized songs, the joyous "If I Were a Rich Man," given a dolorous treatment by Magnetic Fields' Stephin Merritt, and Jill Sobule's straight reading of "Sunrise, Sunset."
While Knitting on the Roof will not inspire Diana charity sales figures or even obsessively repeated listenings, it is an inventive and fresh look at a familiar work. Its thematic success should launch at least a few imitators in the coming year. -- Brian Baker
(Eighteenth Street Lounge Music)
Being into the easy listening thing themselves, loungemen Thievery Corporation are die-hard fans of Easy Tempo, a record series of late '60s and early '70s Italian soundtrack music. Evidently, the duo thought the hard-to-find records should be more accessible and, hoping to spread the Italian soundtrack gospel, have collected their favorite tracks on Easy Tempo, a compilation on their Eighteenth Street Lounge label.
With this music, it's nearly impossible not to imagine the visuals that spawned it -- namely martinis, turtlenecks, and high-speed scooter chases through Rome. If wild scooter chases are your thing and you want nothing more than to feel like you're on one, look no further. But if you're actually planning on closely listening to this compilation, take note. Much of it steps into the land of the lukewarm oatmeal groove. Some tracks make like nasty, mid-'60s super-soul Blue Note B-3 rejects. Others sound like the background music that would play if Oliver Nelson, Herbie Mann, and João Gilberto all filled in for Jack, Chrissy, and Janet on an episode of Three's Company. The organ work on "Un Detective," wants to sound funky-spooky, but just plain stinks -- it's music to save for the tail end of your drinkin' nights. The tail, tail end.
This compilation, however, is still well worth it for the quirky tracks -- the odd little numbers that may be steeped in kitsch, but do their own thing. Check out "Airport Rock," the Barigozzi tune that features an echo chamber sax solo so haphazard, it only kicks in after the first three notes of the solo. "The Green Future" may not change your life, but those mad conga drums might rejuvenate the dancing feet.
"Running Fast" almost redeems the compilation by itself, as it's the one track that's everything you might expect from something like this -- Shaft-like funky beats, pensive organs, and long melody lines in the strings. Also not to be missed, the orgasmic rap of "Sessomatto." It's dirty sex with Columbo. -- Aaron Steinberg
Cleveland's Telarc Label has just issued a six-CD set containing the contents of 12 LPs Erroll Garner released on his Octave label between 1959 and 1973. You don't hear a lot about Garner these days, although during the '50s, he was extremely popular and appealed to a wide audience. In a sense, Garner was a victim of his own popularity. He was so commercially successful that, after his heyday, critics and historians rarely referred to him -- it was as if he were a pop musician who'd had his period of fame and faded away.
Actually, Garner was a very influential artist. His style, which was drawn from many sources (particularly Earl Hines and Fats Waller), was instantly recognizable. He stated all four beats in the bar with his left hand, played single note lines that lagged behind the beat, used distinctive spread chords, and employed octaves and tremolo often. Garner had a strong influence on Ahmad Jamal (both were from Pittsburgh), and Jamal, who was more restrained, used Garner-like voicings, which he sometimes modified.
As influential as he was, Garner did not evolve creatively after the mid-'50s. When the piano and rhythm section tracks contained on this set were cut, he was in decline. He copied himself too much, lost subtlety, and often played schmaltzy on ballads. Mostly, he performs standards and other pop material here. His work on these albums is not his best, although it's still good and very energetic. Most of his fans will dig the CDs very much, because this is the extroverted Garner they remember. However, his best efforts were recorded earlier. Garner, despite the fact that he was one of the most well-liked and well-compensated musicians of his time, has never gotten credit for setting in motion a movement that touched Jamal, Red Garland, Wynton Kelly, McCoy Tyner, and even Bill Evans. What a magnificent legacy. -- Pekar