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After having purchased Sarah Harmer's All of Our Names, a delightful disc--see below, I promptly skipped to track two, "Almost," the song that had prompted the purchase of one of this month's captures. I was immediately struck by the enormous sound of the CD versus the webstreamed MP3 version. Harmer's voice over the big rig (Sunfire, AVA OmegaStar III EC, Parasound C/DP 1000, and Legacy Classics) was "there" in the room, as were the soft crash cymbal, the bright chunk of the rhythm guitar, and gobs of bass--all having comparatively less presence on my excellent PC speakers (Altec-Lansings with a pretty good sub). Okay, now, nobody seriously expects an MP3 to remotely approximate the sound of uncompressed compact disc, at least no one I know who values sound quality as much as artistic quality. But look around you: what revolutionary little gizmo commands the most attention of the audio media, not to mention hordes of music consumers? The iPod and dozens of similar MP3 players and their ubiquitous ear buds.

Following on the heels of the iPod (and its brethren--but trying accessorizing them) are a host of aftermarket products designed to turn a modest MP3 player into a home stereo, car stereo, a bona fide hi fidelity sound product. Even Kimber Kable has gotten into the act, offering--are you ready for this?--high end cables to connect your iPod to whatever. With due deference to those who believe that cables are as important to the sound chain as any other component, folks, we're talking about MP3s here, which toss seven of every eight bytes of musical information and which deliver a little more than 12% of what the sound engineer managed to squeeze on to 4" of polycarbonate and aluminum. We're talking about low fidelity, lo-fi, something we'd presumably and willfully abandoned some fifty years ago. What are they thinking?

There was a time that you used the radio as your on-ramp to musical discovery, but you always knew that no matter how exciting a song sounded on the air, the LP or CD held a trove of depth and beauty that the radio (AM, then FM, and now satellite) could never capture. Now, radio and the net have come to represent the end product: a compressed facsimile of the original recording.

I wrote in an equipment review some time ago that we were on the verge of a multi-channel sound revolution, one where 5.1 and beyond music reproduction would radically reshape the audio landscape, rendering two-channel stereo from the ne plus ultra of audio to a landmark in the sound reproduction continuum. Today, it seems that the multi-channel audio, SACD and DVD-A, while not stillborn, have yet to gain any real traction, and the lo-fi, dumbed down version of two-channel stereo has gained ascendancy. It seems sadly that we've taken another step back.

Postscript: For the hard core among you, no, a sound comparison between computer speakers and a heavy duty hi-fi rig is patently unfair. However, I tried in vain to download an MP3 version of Harmer's album or, lacking that, "Almost," that would play on a CD or multi-format DVD player. Rip and compare, right? Well, either I did something wrong or the media is faulty--something. It didn't work, and time ran out. The alternative was to play the CD back through the computer, which I did. While of course the CD did not achieve its full possibilities on my PC, a back-to-back comparison with the downloaded MP3 file leaned toward the CD by a wide, clearly audible margin. At some point I'll figure out how to download a whole disc of something and compare it to the CD on the big rig and let you know what I hear.

Ry Cooder, Chavez Ravine (Nonesuch)

There is so much that can be said about the growth of Los Angeles during the period immediately before and after the Second World War, about how that growth virtually enslaved whole minority communities, black, Asian, and Hispanic, by annexing their cities and ghettoizing their cultures--all against the glitzy backdrop of latter-day sun-worshippers and movie stars everywhere. The story of how the newly transplanted Brooklyn Dodgers acquired their stadium, the land it was built on, and the neighborhood it destroyed is one of L.A.'s countless subplots. Ry Cooder's Chavez Ravine takes numerous musical snapshots of the Palo Verde neighborhood before it fell under the bulldozer of urban renewal, progress, and baseball. The album is both whimsical and gut wrenching--some of the images are too funny, but the entire collage is a shameful piece of nasty business. Cooder showcases many forgotten talents from that era, the legendary Little Willie G., Lalo Guerrero, Ersi Arvisu, and Juliette Commagere, in so many genres that he successfully evokes the wondrous cacophony of a small neighborhood where music was always in the air.

Smash Mouth, All Star Smash Hits (Interscope)

We last visited Smash Mouth in No. 69 and Fush Yu Mang, a collection of ska-punk anthems delivered by a whip smart, SoCal neo-surf band. This disc is pretty much what it proclaims, a greatest hits collection, which includes highlights from its first four discs and various contributions to movie and TV soundtracks (Friends, Shrek, Austin Powers Goldmember, Me, Myself and Irene, and so on). What's especially interesting is the band's various cover treatments. "Why Can't We Be Friends?" Mitch Easter's "Every Word Means No", Steely Dan's "Do It Again", and "I'm A Believer" all get the full monty, as Smash Mouth strips 'era bare and reconstructs them in their own take on the ska-punk idiom. However, "Getting Better", just like Gomez's version last ish, plays it straight, another example of the material inspiring reverence, awe or a bit of both. Ska-punk may or may not suit your tastes, but you can't lose with this disc--a great band having a great time.

The Redwine Trio, Baby Won't You Please Come Home (Mapleshade)

There is something about a really good collection of jazz standards that I find irresistible, especially when they come from unexpected sources. Willie Nelson's classic Stardust, David Grisman's Acoustic Jazz Quartet's I'm Beginning to See the Light, and various contributions from the late Danny Gatton are personal favorites. The Redwine Trio (Ben Redwine, clarinet; Tom Mitchell, guitar; and John Previti, Danny Gatton's long time bassist) have given a handful a unique treatment with Redwine's precision New Orleans-trained reed intertwining provocatively around Mitchell's Django-ish guitar and Previti's solid, often melodic bass. The most unusual piece on the disc is the three-part "Georgia Brown Suite"--pun nearly intended, where the trio produced three distinct takes and decided to keep 'em all. It's a testament to the trio's playing as well as the infectious, rambunctious "Sweet Georgia Brown" that nearly fifteen minutes have passed, and it sounds like they're just warming up. Nice disc.

Rolling Stones, A Bigger Bang (Virgin)

I'll keep this short. I'm an unabashed Stones fan. And, yes, I look forward to their studio releases to hear what they've been cooking up. And, yes, this is as hard rocking an album that we've heard from them in some time. But, no, I'm sorry, while there isn't a bad song on the disc, there are only a couple of good ones ("Look What the Cat Dragged In," "Infamy"), and they haven't the strength to make up for the rest. A Bigger Bang has a lot of angry swagger, crunchy guitars, and a few spine-tingling moments, but only a few. For the most part Bang sounds an awful lot like their '80s and '90s output-not exactly bland, mind you, but not exactly chock full of fresh ideas. Not to put too fine a point on it, but when I first heard "Driving Too Fast" on, I had to check the album info to see if it came from Steel Wheels or Bridges to Babylon. Perhaps it's the lack of contrasting dynamics, the varied approaches to their sound that made masterpieces like Beggar's Banquet, Let It Bleed, and Exile on Main St. so appealing. But even the obligatory acoustic blues number, "Back of My Hand," sounds mailed-in. A Bigger Bang seems more like a smaller whimper.

The New Pornographers, Twin Cinema (Matador)

Jimmy Swaggart once proclaimed that rock music was "the new pornography," hence the band's moniker. Twin Cinema expands on 2003's Electric Version, with a cornucopia of hooks, smart arrangements, and Carl Newman's and Neko Case's intertwining vocals, reminiscent of X's John Doe and Exene Chervenka. One expects The New Pornographers to break through the indie vibe with a more tightly produced, focused disc, such is the strength of their material. While Twin Cinema isn't that, it is more of the brilliant, incisive power pop that characterized Electric Version.

Fountains of Wayne, Out-of-State Plates (Virgin)

Frankly, releasing B sides, bonus tracks, and two previously unreleased songs for a band that has exactly three discs under its collective belt is just a bit cheeky. Then again, Fountains of Wayne may or may not be the epitome of cheek. Ordinarily, I brand these collections FOs or "fans only," but Out-of-State Plates simply bristles with the same brand of razor-sharp power pop that the band has plied since its eponymous debut. There are not a few bands out there who would commit mayhem to have the quality back catalog that these guys have. The new songs are "Maureen" and "Half A Woman," but unless you collect all the international singles and Japanese versions of the CDs, then the whole album's new. Outstanding collection.

Paul Meyers and Santi Debriano, Spirit and Samba (Mapleshade)

Meyers and Debriano are another duo who haunt the many small Manhattan jazz clubs with their softly rendered brand of lesser known standards. Both boast impressive pedigrees as sidemen and leaders of small combos and large orchestras. This collection include a couple of originals (Meyers's "Blues for Mel" and Santi's "Circle Chant") as well as covers of the Jobim brother's "Passarim" J.J. Johnson's "Lament" and others. The moods vary from somber ("Circle Chant", "Lament") to reverent ("Amazing Grace", "My Lord, What a Morning") to playful ("Blues for Mel", "Passarim"). Throughout Meyers and Santi play off each other's ideas with generous simpatico and deft precision. Lovely disc.

Bjork, Gling-Glo (One Little Indian)

This little gem was originally released in 1990 during a hiatus in The Sugarcubes. It is Bjork as Ella/ Sarah/Lena, crooning pop "standards"--well Icelandic pop standards at least--backed by a small club trio, Trio Gudmundar Ingolfssonar, of piano, drums and upright bass. It is a unique and impish glimpse at one of her attempts to find a voice outside of the hugely successful rock group. Except ... the whole thing's sung in Icelandic, but apparently straight--no "stick a knife in your heart" to the tune of "There Is No Sweeter Girl", a slightly rewritten (the Icelandic thing, you know) Rogers and Hammerstein bon-bon included with Mark Fontenoy's "Switchboard Bella", Leiber and Stoller's "Ruby Baby", and Hammerstein and Kern's "I Can't Help Loving That Man", the last two sung in English. Regardless of the success of the date, I find Gling-Glo somewhat engaging and a wonderful opportunity to hear Bjork's considerable voice without the staged artifice of her later recordings.

Radio Paradise Nook. This month's gets courtesy of one irresistible song on

Sarah Harmer, "Almost", All of Our Names (Zoe)

Harmer writes from the heart of rural Ontario outside of Kingston, deep from the loneliness of vistas that are all horizon. "Almost" describes a blushing young lass who's too shy to call the boy she has a crush on and dreams wistfully on in metaphor: "And if I am the sailor/You are the warm gulf wind/And you've blown into this little port/ and roused my dreams again." The balance of the disc is less carefree but just as musically robust, reminiscent of Jane Siberry's early work and the literate lyricism of both Suzanne Vega and Sam Phillips. The smart singer-songwriter is now firmly ensconced in a cut-out on a country road, long left in the mainstream dust of pop divas, thug rappers, goth metalheads, and so on. Its for this very reason, like other relative newcomers Beth Orton and Rachel Yamagata, Sarah Harmer deserves a serious listen.

Willie and Lobo, "Turkish Dessert", Gypsy Boogaloo (Mesa)

Willie Royal (violin) and Wolfgang "Lobo" Fink (guitar) play a variety of acoustic music which reflects their world travels, tossing out hints of Tex-Mex, flamenco, hot jazz--a natural for a violin/ guitar combo--and a host other styles. While they're cast in the "new age" mold, their music is closer to the Gypsy Kings, Kaila Flexer, and to a lesser degree Calexico. Gypsy Boogaloo is harmless fun, better a restaurant sound track than serious listening, but a good listen nonetheless.

The American Analog Set, "Hard to Find", Promise of Love (Tiger Style)

The American Analog Set is an Austin-based band loosely described as "drone" or "trance" rockers, a band which specializes in understated, repetitive grooves. On Promise of Love, The American Analog Set spins some nice melodies and vocals over the grooves. Sometimes this can be effective, as in the hypnotic "Hard to Find" with its strong bass line. Just as often the effect is annoying, bordering on the amateurish: shall we learn a second chord today? You have been warned.

Shivaree, "Goodnight Moon", I Oughtta Give You a Shot in the Head for Making Me Live in This Dump (Odeon)

Unlike the corn-liquored wedding night serenade from which Shivaree takes its name, its music is a wondrous hybrid of indie DIY rock and techno drawled over spare, mostly snail-paced arrangements of standard American song forms: the country torcher ("I Don't Care"), Philly funk ("Pimp"), and a waltz ("Idiot Waltz"). "Goodnight Moon" is decidedly up tempo and has more to do with the timing of a seduction than the children's book namesake. At least I think it does.

Gorillaz, "Feel Good, Inc." Demon Days (EMI)

Today's pop quiz is a bit of a toughie, but that's why you enrolled, right?

Question: The Gorillaz are ...

Circle as many as apply:

(a) a super group

(b) a sly joke

(c) a vanguard music and animation media explosion

(d) a tricked out version of the Archies.

If you answered any one of the above, you're about 25% right. The Gorillaz are musically Chris Franz and Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads/Tom Tom Club), Damon Albarn (Blur), and Miho Hatori (Cibo Matto) all unseen but heard behind the explosive animations of Dan Nokamura--a virtual hip-hop group. You gotta visit the web site ( to get the full idea of what they're up to, including a generous dose of animated music videos. I'm not going to let on too much, but a broadband connection is recommended--and a little patience. Demon Days is the "band's" second release after their debut, Gorillaz, and it's full of gonzo chops, samples galore, and an infectious spirit which lives up to the promise of "Feel Good, Inc." Go for it.

R.I.P. Bob Denver, Robert Moog, Ibrahim Ferrer, Percy Heath, Luther Vandross, Obie Benson, Chet Helms, Vassar Clements, Long John Baldry. Email:
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Title Annotation:THE MUSIC; All Star Smash Hits; Baby Won't You Please Come Home; A Bigger Bang; Twin Cinema; Out-of-State Plates; Spirit and Samba; Gling-Glo; All of Our Names; Gypsy Boogaloo; Promise of Love; I Oughtta Give You a Shot in the Head for Making Me Live in This Dump; Demon Days; Chavez Ravine
Author:East, Kevin
Publication:Sensible Sound
Article Type:Sound Recording Review
Date:Dec 1, 2005
Previous Article:Double double.
Next Article:Reissue roundup.

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