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SOUND CHECK.

John Lee Hooker/``The Best of Friends'' (Pointblank/Virgin)

Along with 10 tracks from five previous Hooker albums - the ones with cameos from the likes of Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt and Van Morrison - this compilation offers several new cuts featuring Ry Cooder, Ben Harper and harpist Charlie Musselwhite spicing up Hooker's one-chord boogie. Ultimately, the grizzled Hooker pretty much cuts the same songs nowadays, so the album is down to the soloists, particularly on a new reading of the bluesman's first 1948 hit, ``Boogie Chillen,'' with Clapton providing the fireworks. If you happen to own any of Hooker's earlier discs, this album is an obvious case of heard one, heard 'em all. Two stars

- Fred Shuster

Eels/``Electro-Shock Blues'' (DreamWorks)

It's almost the punch line to a bad joke. Million-dollar startup needs a hit badly. They sign the Eels, actually the nom de plume of thoroughly depressed singer-songwriter Mark Everett. He hands in the album. The marketing wheels start turning. Then, somebody listens to the thing. Cue the sound of jaws dropping all over town. ``Electro-Shock Blues'' is a well-produced, fully realized rumination on suicide, cancer, heart attacks, hospital food and death. The Go-Go's it ain't. Everett gives us plenty to chew on, but whether the mature audience this record requires will ever hear it is another matter entirely. Somehow, we don't imagine ``bring out your dead'' will ever replace ``party down'' in the fraternity row lexicon. Three stars

- Fred Shuster

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion/``Acme'' (Matador/Capitol)

New York post-grunge blues ironist Spencer has always been about style over substance. Now, his trio finally pulls off an album that satisfies all the way through. Recorded and mixed by a variety of characters, ``Acme'' hits on hard, funky grooves without spilling over into meaningless noise. Here, even the meaningless noise has meaning. Three stars

- Fred Shuster

Reel Big Fish/``Why Do They Rock So Hard?'' (Mojo/Universal)

This high-energy local skacore outfit made a splash last year with ``Sell Out,'' and the seven-piece group carries on its hyperactive approach with this set-to-click new effort. With so many bands mining the same territory, Reel Big Fish manages to maintain a large, loyal audience. Why do they rock so hard? Because they must. The band appears Saturday at Santa Anita Park. Three stars

- Fred Shuster

Various/``Red Hot + Rhapsody'' (Antilles)

With Gershwin tributes coming fast and furious on this, the centenary of composer George Gershwin's birth, it's only natural that the Red Hot Foundation turn its attention to this classic songbook. Previous ``Red Hot'' albums have focused on Cole Porter and the bossa nova sound, and, like those collections, ``Red Hot + Rhapsody'' has enough variety to appeal to casual listeners as well as Gershwin enthusiasts. The album has a bittersweet tone, mostly due to the number of trip-hop artists present and the downbeat songs they've selected. Highlights include Bobby Womack's funky treatment of ``Summertime'' (one of two versions in the album's 17 cuts) and David Bowie and Angelo Badalamenti's ghostly rendition of ``A Foggy Day (in London Town).'' Not essential, but there are several fine moments. Three stars

- Glenn Whipp

Russell Malone/``Sweet Georgia Peach'' (Impulse)

Guitarist Malone has been known lately for his stellar work with Diana Krall. On this, his first solo album in four years, Malone shows he has much to offer on his own, using his formidable technique to craft a beautifully measured work. The title reflects the laid-back Southern vibe of the album, which includes a lush tribute to Malone's 10-year-old son, ``Song for Darius,'' and the gospel-tinged closer, ``Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.'' Two shining covers are also highlights: an engaging reworking of Herb Albert's ``Rise'' and a lovely melding of Malone's own ``Strange Little Smile'' with the Billy Preston/Syreeta Wright hit ``With You I'm Born Again.'' Malone, along with standout musicians Kenny Barron, Ron Carter and Lewis Nash, seems inspired throughout, creating one of the year's best jazz albums. Four stars

- Glenn Whipp

Oscar Peterson Trio/``Plus One'' (Verve)

This reissue from Verve's ``Master Edition'' series features Peterson's second great trio (bassist Ray Brown and drummer Ed Thigpen) along with Clark Terry on trumpet and fluegelhorn. Terry's energetic presence on this 1964 date makes this one of Peterson's greatest albums; it's also the recording that begat Terry's famous mumbling vocal work, used to great effect on three of the songs here. Each musician soars in the high-spirited setting. For proof, check out Thigpen's playing on ``The Brotherhood of Man, as well as Peterson's Tatum-like rolls on ``They Didn't Believe Me.'' A recording that belongs in every jazz collection. Four stars

- Glenn Whipp

Anoushka Shankar/``Anoushka'' (Angel)

Blessed, or saddled, with one of the great names in world music, Ravi's 17-year-old daughter and musical acolyte shows her bloodlines in a terrific debut disc featuring ragas written and produced by her father. The hypnotic buzz of her sitar is given sympathetic settings and support. An auspicious debut. Three stars

- David Bloom

Wendy Carlos/``Tales of Heaven and Hell'' (East Side Digital)

Back when Wendy was Walter 25 years ago, she/he created ``Switched-on Bach,'' the soundtrack to ``A Clockwork Orange'' and other early digital delights. Now comes a spooky set of seven synth-drenched tracks, perfect for this scary season. Put it on as background music to greet trick-or-treaters or send a shiver down your own quivering spine. Despite her other transformations, Carlos remains a techno-wonk, using cutting-edge computer audio tools, creepy electronic instruments of her own creation and atmospheric sound design to give the music extra dimensionality and an odd, off-kilter lyricism. The centerpiece of the album is ``Clockwork Black,'' a Boschian updating of the themes from Kubrick's dystopian film. Overall, this is literally haunting music - creepy, majestic and orchestral. For particular tastes and seasons perhaps, but excellent for those. Three stars

- David Bloom

The Residents/``Wormwood: Curious Stories From the Bible'' (East Side Digital)

America's truly weird treasure, the Bay Area's Residents, turn to the big book for inspiration on their first album of new material in years that wasn't initially created for a CD-ROM title, musical or some other medium. As the title promises, they've mined the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, for some of the more disturbing and odd tales of human foibles and deitical inscrutability. They helpfully explain the passage behind each song and even provide citations so disbelievers can ``look it up.'' The Eyeballs' music, it turns out, is pretty good stuff, too. Oddly entrancing, slightly spooky pop for weird souls, though I can't even imagine how this all might play at the next Southern Baptist Convention. Three stars

- David Bloom

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Photo: (1) Jon Spencer

(2--7) no caption (CD covers)
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Sound Recording Review
Date:Oct 23, 1998
Words:1112
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