RECORD REVIEWS, RANTS AND RAVES
TV TIME



RECORD REVIEWS, RANTS & RAVES:
GREASE, GRIT & AN AXE TO GRIND


ALBUM REVIEWS FROM AC/DC TO ZZ TOP

RATING SYSTEM:

FIVE "WHATEVERS"...A party platter that matters.

FOUR...Practically perfect.

THREE...Better than average, still a good addition to any music fan's collection.

TWO...Not bottom of the barrel, but nothin' to write home about either.

ONE...A shiny beer coaster.




MY WAY TO HELL!

AC/DC-HIGHWAY TO HELL:

Down Under's (and America's) answer to headbangin' salvation, AC/DC rocked harder, rolled louder, and attacked airwaves with more ferocity than anyone in the stratosphere...simultaneously injecting some much needed humor into heavy metal. Between lead yowler Bon Scott's bubble-in-the-throat screech and lecherous asides, and "schoolboy in disgrace" axe-ecutioner Angus Young's ball-pean-hammer-against-the-noggin notes, this fearsome fivesome made the competition sound about as dangerous as The Archies. Their Mutt Lange-produced breakthrough boasts train-wreckin' tracks of thunderous lust such as GIRLS GOT RHYTHM and LOVE HUNGRY MAN...the stuff that made it safe to be a horny teenager in the late seventies. You also get the menacing creepy crawler NIGHT PROWLER, which oozes dirty blues and bodily fluids...and the "too cool to waste as a mere album title" IF YOU WANT BLOOD, belched out as a real ball-burner. Finally, there's HIGHWAY TO HELL, that undisputed king daddy of all bad-ass anthems, which hooked fans for eternity after the first three notes. Unfortunately, Scott took that titanic title track too literally, succumbing to an alcohol-related demise immediately after. Let's face it...they don't make swan songs like that any more.

RATING: FIVE HORNS UP

HELL YEAH!

AC/DC-BACK IN BLACK:

The brain pounding platter by which all others are measured, this titanic follow up to departed belter BON SCOTT's cocky curtain call HIGHWAY TO HELL netted AC/DC the top selling rock album of all time, with around fifty million units moved. A jam packed juggernaut punctuated by axe mutilators MALCOM YOUNG's crunchy rhythmic riffs and big bro ANGUS' bad boy blasts of galvanized boogie, the ominous opener HELLS BELLS plays on an oft visited "down under" theme...and we're not talkin' Australia, folks. Rowdy radio faves SHOOT TO THRILL and BACK IN BLACK are merely two more of the heavy highlights, with the titillating anthem YOU SHOOK ME ALL NIGHT LONG rivaled only by HIGHWAY TO HELL's title track for sheer sleaze-rock awesomeness. Tough guy front man BRIAN JOHNSON may lack SCOTT's leering howl and bawdy sense of humor, but proves a fine gravel-gargling caterwauler in his own right; his bloozey, blood curdling screech on ROCK & ROLL AIN'T NOISE POLLUTION caps a platter so nearly perfect in its raw, unbridled energy and over the top execution, it's not a shocker that AC/DC never topped it.

RATING: FIVE BELLS



HOW SWEDE IT IS!

ABBA-NUMBER ONES:

Modern bubblegum's greatest and most successful practitioners gets the anthology treatment here; presumably these all topped the charts SOMEWHERE in the world, since DANCING QUEEN was their only American number one. Disclaimers aside, this would have been a richer strike if it included ALL their cotton candy charters, instead of most of 'em. Their underrated, sweetly rendered second single HONEY HONEY and the catchy DOES YOUR MOTHER KNOW certainly deserve a place alongside their exuberant DONNY OSMOND-like breakthrough WATERLOO, the lush FERNANDO and MONEY, MONEY, MONEY (something ABBA knows well enough to chirp about). Lead songbirds Frida and Agnetha's sensual, pop-perfect pleas and Benny and Bjorn's frothy radio-ready compositions will have all but the most jaded listener humming and tapping along...guilt-free grin and vacant stare optional. With their gargantuan hooks and slick multi-tracked vocals, ABBA almost singlehandedly invented the need for Karaoke...but don't hate 'em for it...just nod your head and sigh, "How Swede it is!"

RATING: FOUR VOLVOS



STEP SISTER

PAULA ABDUL-GREATEST HITS:

Blessed with a choreographer's eye and sultry good looks, perfect plastic pop princess PAULA ABDUL was a video juggernaut in the the MTV age. ABDUL's perky brand of dance pop couldn't mask a small voice, but ultra slick production and an irresistible beat, the savior of many a sound bite diva then and now, netted her an impressive six number one singles during the course of a three album career. STRAIGHT UP's jittery pop-and-lock groove, the callous diss of COLD HEARTED, and urban "everything but the kitchen sink" stomper VIBEOLOGY were all slinky soundscapes slathered in synthetic soul. A couple of ballad biggies break up the hyper pace on GREATEST HITS, along with the clunky club cut MEGAMIX MEDLEY, which sinks under its own weight. ABDUL would by now be a mere footnote in musical annals, were it not for another more recent taste making boob-tube phenom...namely a certain GONG SHOW update that made her a superstar all over again.

RATING: THREE PUMPS

ADAM SMASHER

BRYAN ADAMS-SO FAR SO GOOD:

Throughout the 80s, canuck songwriter/guitarist BRYAN ADAMS rolled out an impressive string of hooky, hard-nosed pop rockers only occasionally interrupted by laid back love songs bearing titles like STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART and HEAVEN. ADAM's rusty nail of a rasp and gutsy riff-raff bolstered his breakthrough smash CUTS LIKE A KNIFE, the fired up TINA TURNER duet IT'S ONLY LOVE, and nostalgic singalong SUMMER OF '69, the latter two pulled from his flawless high water mark album RECKLESS; it all sounded familiar yet somehow fresh at the same time. It's the upbeat stuff like THIS TIME and HEAT OF THE NIGHT that prove the most fun to revist on this career roundup...even though one of his best rebel-rousers, SHE'S ONLY HAPPY WHEN SHE'S DANCIN' inexplicably missed the cut. ADAMS eventually morphed into more of a balladeer than a rocker, triggered no doubt by the runaway success of (EVERYTHING I DO) I DO IT FOR YOU...but overall (and in spite of a few "prom staples"), SO FAR SO GOOD maintains a crackling party-hearty atmosphere.

RATING: FOUR CROAKS

'SMITH BROTHERS

AEROSMITH-AEROSMITH:

AEROSMITH freaks who know the band only through their streamlined late 80s renaissance might be taken aback by this wonderfully rough-hewn, auspicious debut disc, best known for spawning the passion-soaked, definitive early power ballad DREAM ON. But hold onto yer hats friends and neighbors, 'cuz the rest of this gritty platter, to quote another legendary Boston band, ain't nothin' but a house party. Hard rockin' pot-shot MAMA KIN, loose-as-a-goose seven minute jam ONE WAY STREET, and a swaggering cover of RUFUS THOMAS' crusty STAX classic WALKIN' THE DOG showcase a primitive soundscape that's sleazy, greasy, and never too easy. STEVEN TYLER's cocky, strangled caterwauling and smutty harp work is matched note for note by the interlocking rock bottom axe work of JOE PERRY and BRAD WHITFORD; the 'SMITH wouldn't grind out a groove this slinky till 30 years later on their (admittedly slicker) RNB covers disc HONKIN' ON BOBO. This is the blooziest, ballsiest, and bitchin'-est that Boston's bad boys ever sounded...so low down 'n dirty, you'll wanna shower afterwards.

RATING: FOUR WAILS

BIG DEAL

AEROSMITH-BIG ONES:

Although the Bad Boys from Beantown's first greatest hits package was for from perfect, lacking long time fan faves such as TRAIN KEPT A ROLLIN', BIG TEN INCH and MAMA KIN, it's still a helluva lot more fun than this "Second Phase of Aerosmith" mix. DREAM ON may have been the definitive power ballad of its era, but BIG ONES is overstuffed with interchangeable metal mellow-dies such as CRYIN', AMAZING, and CRAZY, that have unfortunately become the group's bland schtick-in-trade (their chart topping DON'T WANNA MISS A THING goes missing here). Even slick up tempo fare such as DUDE LOOKS LIKE A LADY, RAG DOLL and LOVE IN AN ELEVATOR can't hold a Bic lighter to the greasy, funked up hard rockin' seventies groove-a-thons BACK IN THE SADDLE, SAME OLD SONG & DANCE and WALK THIS WAY. BIG ONES will no doubt suffice as a sampler for fans who didn't grow up on the 'SMITH's original hyperkinetic bone-bruisers, but Boston's longest lived band of head-bangers sure doesn't shimmy n' shake the paint off the walls the way it used to.

RATING: THREE LIPS



ROCK THIS WAY

AEROSMITH-GREATEST HITS:

This was Aerosmith's original "best of" treatment, and while far from perfect, it's still a fairly accurate barometer of the hard rock fivesome's first and best life. Glaring errors include the unforgivable omission of RNB warhorse TRAIN KEPT A ROLLIN' (also covered by THE ROCK & ROLL TRIO and AEROSMITH's heroes THE YARDBIRDS) in all its rip snortin' glory in favor of REMEMBER (WALKIN IN THE SAND), a far less effective remake. SWEET EMOTION is the edited AM single version, but still packs a wallop even if you grew up on the full length FM take. DREAM ON remains the granddaddy of all power ballads, a genre which Aerosmith unfortunately plied to death in the eighties and nineties. Their rough-as-sandpaper take on COME TOGETHER proves one of the coolest Fab Four remakes on record, and the struttin' funk of SAME OLD SONG AND DANCE makes it anything but. AEROSMITH would enjoy further, increasingly mainstream hits in the ensuing years...but even if they had self destructed right after the first four classic albums (which they nearly did), their "Bad Boys of Boston" legacy would be preserved nicely here.

RATING: FOUR SCARVES

HONK IF YOU LOVE BLOOZE

AEROSMITH-HONKIN' ON BOBO:

After a decade or so of slickly rendered, song doctor-assisted platters during the second coming of AEROSMITH (the best being PUMP and PERMANENT VACATION), HONKIN' ON BOBO is a welcome return to their sleazy blooze-bangin' roots. Never a stranger to gutsy RNB covers...who can forget their early swaggering takes on TRAIN KEPT A ROLLIN', BIG TEN INCH RECORD or WALKIN' THE DOG?...irreverent caterwauler/harp blaster STEVEN TYLER and gripping guitar heroes JOE PERRY, BRAD WHITFORD rock the hell outta heroes like BO DIDDLEY, JIMMY REED and LITTLE WALTER. They also cool down to a bloozey crawl for ARETHA FRANKLIN's torrid I NEVER LOVED A MAN (recast as NEVER LOVED A GIRL) and revive the traditional gospel goody JESUS IS ON THE MAINLINE, but there's nary a pandering power ballad within earshot. Like their role models THE STONES did forty years ago, AEROSMITH pays boisterous lip service to rock's rootsy pioneers, tearing it up with CHUCK BERRY's legendary pianist JOHNNIE JOHNSON in a couple of spots, bringing in earthy Boston singer TRACY BONHAM in others, forging their most entertaining album since TOYS IN THE ATTIC.

RATING: FOUR HARMONICAS

OPEN UP AND SAY, "AHHHHH!"

AEROSMITH-PANDORA'S BOX:

AEROSMITH's ball-bruisin' first phase is chronicled neatly on the triple play PANDORA'S BOX, released in 1991 to coincide with their streamlined rebirth, which saw mainstream pop-rock and power ballads diminishing their original YARDBIRDS-meets-STONES vision. For staunch supporters of that original greasy, sleaze-crammed raunch and roll, almost every vital track, especially from their first four indispensable platters, are trotted out along side a mother lode of live takes, alternate versions and other rarities (a box set fans' wet dream). STEVEN TYLER's swaggering sleazoid screech and the dirty blooze-rock axe attack of JOE PERRY and BRAD WHITFORD pump up seventies radio fodder like MAMA KIN, SWEET EMOTION and LAST CHILD, all peppered with trademark tongue-twistin' sexual metaphors and slam-bang grooves. Cool roots-of-rock covers such as OTIS RUSH's ALL YOUR LOVE, PETER GREEN's RATTLESNAKE SHAKE and KOKOMO ARNOLD's MILK COW BLUES fit right in with the big bad hits, making PANDORA'S BOX a temptation no self-respecting hard rock fan will be able to resist.

RATING: FOUR LIDS

AMERICAN I-DULL

AEROSMITH-TOUGH LOVE/BEST OF THE BALLADS:

Just shoot me now. As YARDBIRDS/STONES purveyors of lean, mean RNB-laced hard rock, AEROSMITH unleashed a fine 'n funky series of albums in the 70s that stood hair and shoulders above most of the competition. They birthed the "power ballad" boom in 1973 with the sublime classic DREAM ON, which unfortunately became the band's schlock-in-trade during their streamlined second coming. Song-doctored hits ANGEL, AMAZING, and CRYIN' were annoyingly indistinguishable slabs of sacharrine slop, boosted by endless ALICIA SILVERSTONE videos on "EMPTY-V". Non-ballads LOVE IN AN ELEVATOR and RAG DOLL, while a step down from blooze-vibe oldies SAME OLD SONG & DANCE and LAST CHILD, inexplicably appear here, perhaps to break up the snoozer pace. Lest you doubt the term "cash-in", consider that AEROSMITH has vomited forth at least half a dozen compilations in the past decade, but no new music. Maybe it's just as well...they'll never come up with another DREAM ON, no matter how hard they try.

RATING: ONE HANKY

ATTIC ANTICS

AEROSMITH-TOYS IN THE ATTIC:

Arguably AEROSMITH's most important, thoroughly satisfying album, as well as the one that broke 'em through to the big time via the sleazy smashes SWEET EMOTION and WALK THIS WAY (the latter became a huge hit all over again as a groundbreaking RUN-DMC reboot). Slam-bang BIG TEN INCH RECORD was a gleeful take on jump blues bandleader TINY BRADSHAW's double entendre oldie (he also penned the YARDBIRDS/'SMITH staple TRAIN KEPT A ROLLIN'). Meanwhile, YOU SEE ME CRYING's piano driven power balladry compared favorably to DREAM ON...a far cry from their nineties deluge of cookie cutter love songs. TOYS' head spinning title track, the boot-stomper NO MORE NO MORE, and ROUND AND ROUND's bloozey mantra resonate with JOE PERRY and BRAD WHITFORD's muscular axe flash and STEVEN TYLER's trademark paint-stripping caterwaul...in short, there's not a bum track within earshot. This was AEROSMITH's swaggering high water mark during their first golden period...a rebellious smack in the head from the only Boston-bred hard rock band that ever really mattered.

RATING: FIVE TREASURES

'BAMA BOUND

ALABAMA-LEGENDARY ALABAMA:

Before ALABAMA kicked the barn door wide open, self contained groups in country music were practically an alien concept; SAWYER BROWN, RESTLESS HEART and HIGHWAY 101 followed 'em through the gate, but none approached a sliver of the foursome's unprecedented popularity, resulting in dozens of major awards, multi-platinum album sales, and over thirty chart topping singles. Led by RANDY OWENS' down to earth vocals, unabashed southern sentiment was ALABAMA's stock in trade, from kneeslappin' guitar and fiddle hoedowns MOUNTAIN MUSIC and TENNESSEE RIVER to down home anthems SONG OF THE SOUTH and DIXIELAND DELIGHT...they fared equally well with romantic ballads like TAKE ME DOWN and FEELS SO RIGHT (both crossover pop hits), and the irresistible singalongs ROLL ON EIGHTEEN WHEELER and I'M IN A HURRY (AND DON'T KNOW WHY). In spite of perfunctionary liner notes and the omission of several key singles including LOVE IN THE FIRST DEGREE and THE CLOSER YOU GET, the triple disc set LEGENDARY, at fifty tracks, easily delivers the most 'BAMA bang for your buck.

RATING: FOUR AMIGOS



ALLMAN JOY

THE ALLMAN BROTHERS-A DECADE OF HITS 1969-1979:

No southern rock outfit has done more for that style of music or lasted longer than the almighty ALLMAN BROTHERS, (who evolved from earlier ensembles like HOUR GLASS and THE 31ST OF FEBRUARY), and A DECADE OF HITS admirably covers their most prolific period. In the interest of single disc clarity, most of the band's lengthy career-defining jams from AT THE FILLMORE EAST (their landmark live album spotlighting late slide guitar maverick DUANE "SKY DOG" ALLMAN) are presented here in their original studio versions. Between soul brother GREGG's smoldering RNB excursions MIDNIGHT RIDER and WHIPPING POST and DICKEY BETTS' sweet 'n pure country leanings on RAMBLIN' MAN, BLUE SKY, and JESSICA, these boogie boys deliver a genre-jumping grabbag (country, jazz, rock) that knows no boundaries. The ALLMANS' definitive cover of ELMORE JAMES' earthy ONE WAY OUT is a keister-kickin' blooze masterstroke, while REVIVAL righteously reverberates with knee-slappin' gospel goodness. Slap this sixteen track party-starter on, pump up the volume, and you'll be hard pressed not to testify.

RATING: FIVE ROADHOUSES

ROOTS OF HIS RAISING

DAVE ALVIN-PUBLIC DOMAIN/SONGS FROM THE WILD LAND:

Once a BLASTER always a BLASTER? Not when you're indigenous axe slinger DAVE ALVIN, whose unbridled passion for roots music shines through in all his projects, from THE BLASTERS' retro rockabilly rave ups and alt country's THE KNITTERS (formed with members of punk band X) to his "under the radar" solo career. Far from your typical uninvolving all covers platter, PUBLIC DOMAIN dusts off traditional folk songs such as the joyously rendered EAST VIRGINIA BLUES (complete with rollicking doo-wop background vocals), the BLIND WILLIE MCTELL associated MAMA, T'AIN'T LONG FO' DAY and the jaunty WALK RIGHT IN, a sixties pop hit for THE ROOFTOP SINGERS. Peddle steel, mandolin, fiddle and other country instruments intertwine with ALVIN's soul-baring vocals and earthy guitar work, lending grit and authenticity to these old fashioned jam sessions. As THE BLASTERS once breathed fiery new life into RNB chestnuts such as BAREFOOT ROCK and BUZZ BUZZ BUZZ, so DAVE ALVIN resurrects long forgotten sea shanties, railroad work songs and murderous odes, making SONGS FROM THE WILD LAND both a captivating listen and a sublime Americana history lesson.

RATING: FIVE PAIRS OF OVERALLS

FAIR GAME

PHIL ALVIN-COUNTY FAIR 2000:

In conjunction with his gutbucket guitar slingin' brother DAVE, funky belter PHIL ALVIN's early 80s group THE BLASTERS rebooted Americana for the masses when everyone else was pumping out two chord punk anthems. ALVIN's soaring second solo platter COUNTY FAIR 2000 is a stream of consciousness melting pot of rockabilly, Dixieland, honky tonk, doo wop, western swing, RNB and jazz, chock full of game special guests from LOS LOBOS guitarist CESAR ROSAS and Big Easy party starters THE DIRTY DOZEN BRASS BAND to blues harp blower BILLY BOY ARNOLD and various ex-BLASTERS(sans DAVE). LOW SLUNG RHYTHM, WRECK YOUR V-8 FORD and WHAT'S THE REASON I'M NOT PLEASIN' YOU are as much laid back fun as their titles suggest. Released in 1994 by the now defunct roots rock label HIGHTONE, COUNTY FAIR, with its old timey title track and over a dozen more slabs of engaging backroads nostalgia compares favorably with THE BLASTERS' most delectable work.

RATING: FOUR APPLES ON A STICK



HIT-STORY

AMERICA-HISTORY/GREATEST HITS:

Unfairly referred to as the poor man's Crosby, Stills and Nash, folk rock trio America actually had much more to offer than tight harmonizing and radio ready material. Dewey Bunnell's unmistakable, forlorn foghorn of a voice was to Steve Stills what Gerry Beckley's sweet, sensitive delivery was to Graham Nash. Best known as a singles band, HISTORY (which boasts eye catching cover art from the late PHIL HARTMAN of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE fame), neatly sums up the bulk of America's chart heyday from their haunting first hit A HORSE WITH NO NAME to grammar teacher's nightmare TIN MAN...as in "Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man". Breezy singalong SISTER GOLDEN HAIR, FM jam-fest SANDMAN and the funky WOMAN TONIGHT all add to the fun quotient here. All that's really missing is latter day smash YOU CAN DO MAGIC, really more of a career footnote than an important song. As far as seventies collections go, HISTORY ranks right up there with classic comps by James Taylor, The Eagles and the Doobies. Could they be improved upon?...Probably. Should they be?...Nahhh.

RATING: FIVE FOLKS



ANIMAL MAGNETISM

THE ANIMALS-RETROSPECTIVE:

Here's everything a casual fan of Newcastle bad boys THE ANIMALS could reasonably ask for, tracking bruising blooze yowler ERIC BURDON's various shifts in musical styles during the second half of the swingin' sixties. The original quintet's string of hits focused on grit-saturated covers of folkie warhorse HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN and JOHN LEE HOOKER's lurching BOOM BOOM, mixed with the more pop-centric BRILL BUILDING stabs WE GOTTA GET OUT OF THIS PLACE and DON'T BRING ME DOWN. Soon enough, BURDON was helming an entirely new set of ANIMALS and shouldering the writing chores himself. His psychedelic vision yielded the hip tributes SAN FRANCISCAN NIGHTS, SKY PILOT and MONTERREY (detailing that massive musical "be-in" starring JANIS, JIMI and THE WHO) and the introspective pearl WHEN I WAS YOUNG. His final burst of popularity was forged in tandem with soul funk brothers WAR for the Latino laced SPILL THE WINE...they moved on, scoring many more chartbusters even as BURDON's solo career sank from view. But for half a glorious decade, THE ANIMALS proved the Brit wave band to beat in terms of ballsy idealism as opposed to "pretty boy" pablum.

RATING: FIVE CRITTERS

UP 'N ADAM

ADAM ANT-ESSENTIAL ADAM ANT:

London upstarts ADAM & THE ANTS burst onto the music scene in the early eighties, sparking a brief but unavoidable "Ant-mania" craze replete with painted faces, pirate gear and the distinct tribal beat of ANTMUSIC leading the campy charge. Backed by twin drummers and the DUANE EDDY-embedded guitar licks of MARCO PIRRONI, thumping chants like STAND AND DELIVER and PRINCE CHARMING soon gave way to a short lived solo career with most of the "ANTS" except PIRRONI exiting to form BOW WOW WOW. As ADAM ANT, the smash album FRIEND OR FOE toned down the percussion and war cries, but added a white hot horn section and spawned three popular radio/MTV tracks including the title cut and the quirky DESPERATE BUT NOT SERIOUS. Most notable was GOODY TWO SHOES, a skittering, shout-along dance single that proved both ANT's breakthrough and his swan song as a pop star. ESSENTIAL, which collects most of the hits and misses, adding last gasp nineties singles ROOM AT THE TOP and WONDERFUL, serves as a stark reminder of how fleeting fame could be during new wave's "flavor of the moment" era.

RATING: FOUR FACE STRIPES

GOD GAVE ARGENT TO YOU

ARGENT-ANTHOLOGY:

Ex-ZOMBIES keyboard maestro/songwriter ROD ARGENT formed this heavier, more progressive sounding namesake act, bringing aboard soulful belter/axe man/future composer-to-the-stars RUSS BALLARD, who eventually penned biggies for ACE FREHLEY, AMERICA, RAINBOW and many others. ARGENT's career maker, the smoky, swirling prog jam HOLD YOUR HEAD UP saturated early seventies airwaves via AM radio in its single length version and on FM as a much longer, trippier jam (the take included here). Other "hits" you'll probably recognize include the scathing put down LIAR (a smash for THREE DOG NIGHT), GOD GAVE ROCK & ROLL TO YOU (which KISS "dumbed down" years later by inserting some of their own lyrics), and a rough-hewn retelling of TIME OF THE SEASON, the last ZOMBIES classic. ANTHOLOGY stands as a fitting tribute to an innovative act whose time in the spotlight was relatively brief...but whose unique, idiosyncratic soundscape set them apart from the rock pack of their era.

RATING: FOUR HEADS UP

JOAN OF STARK

JOAN ARMATRADING-GREATEST HITS:

Until TRACY CHAPMAN came along in the nineties, pop music boasted relatively few successful black female singer/songwriter/guitarists other than JOAN ARMATRADING. The West Indies native's unique, folky/soulful pipes, coupled with intelligent, intimate compositions served her well on laid back efforts LOVE AND AFFECTION and WILLOW, the funky SHOW SOME EMOTION and out and out rockers DROP THE PILOT and I LOVE IT WHEN YOU CALL ME NAMES. She may have never enjoyed an across the board smash like CHAPMAN's FAST CARS, but ARMATRADING's long string of refined, thought provoking albums, including ME MYSELF, WALK UNDER LADDERS and THE KEY always scored high points with her legions of loyal fans. While the market is crowded with over a dozen compilations, GREATEST HITS is one of the most thorough samplers, racking up nineteen very good reasons for the uninitiated to take the plunge into JOAN ARMATRADING's sublime, introspective world.

RATING: FOUR BIG SMILES

WHEEL OF FORTUNE

ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL-WESTERN STANDARD TIME:

No country group carried the western swing torch higher than ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL, who brought BOB WILLS & THE TEXAS PLAYBOYS' charismatic, good natured dance music into modern times, lasting a half decade to boot in spite of an ever rotating lineup. The cleverly titled WESTERN STANDARD TIME is one of the most exuberant all-covers albums ever waxed, unearthing ERNEST TUBBS' signature smash WALKING THE FLOOR OVER YOU, WILLS' immortal SAN ANTONIO ROSE and the black top tongue twister HOT ROD LINCOLN by COMMANDER CODY & HIS LOST PLANET AIRMEN (whose unbridled passion for country, jump blues, and boogie woogie rivals that of ASLEEP). Helmed by honey-voiced singer/six-stringer/band-leader RAY BENSON (the group's lone constant), ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL's engaging party mix of hopped up fiddle, steel guitar, and sax licks on chestnuts like CHATTANOOGA CHOO CHOO, SUGARFOOT RAG and THAT'S WHAT I LIKE ABOUT THE SOUTH make this dandy platter a little slice of freewheeling retro roots heaven.

RATING: FIVE WHEELS



RHYTHM METHOD

ATLANTA RHYTHM SECTION-THE BEST OF ATLANTA RHYTHM SECTION:

Not to be confused with the less popular AMAZING RHYTHM ACES, ARS' membership boasted an impressive pedigree, assembled from the crack remnants of blue eyed soul hit makers THE CLASSICS IV and ROY ORBISON's backing band THE CANDYMEN. Subtle lead crooner RONNIE HAMMOND's smoky vocals rode shotgun over the tasty, organic guitar licks of BARRY BAILEY on the twangy hometown tribute DORAVILLE, smoldering funk fest SO INTO YOU, and carefree party starter CHAMPAGNE JAM. Manager/prolific tunesmith BUDDY BUIE co-wrote every ARS biggie with various band members, including a smartly executed remake of CLASSICS IV biggie SPOOKY, although this collection somehow misses cult chestnuts BACK UP AGAINST THE WALL and HOMESICK, both covered later by country star TRAVIS TRITT. Neither as hard edged as SKYNYRD nor as bloozey as THE ALLMANS, ARS nonetheless carved a memorable niche in the hearty seventies soundscape that was southern rock.

RATING: FOUR GEORGIA PEACHES



FLIP YER WIG!

THE B-52's-TIME CAPSULE/SONGS FOR A FUTURE GENERATION:

Athens' quirky, herky-jerky B-52's deftly mind-melded fun-filled elements such as funky DICK DALE guitar, sixties girl group harmonies, B movie sci-fi sound bites, deadpan male vocals, and surreal subject matter (to say nuthin' of Day-Glo attire and those incredible bouffant wigs) for a plutonic party-mix no listener could mistake for regular radio fodder. Kooky kitsch klassix including ROCK LOBSTER, PRIVATE IDAHO, and LOVE SHACK were every bit as ear-resistible as their titles suggested; if you didn't wanna dance, you were automatically a member of the DEADBEAT CLUB. TIME CAPSULE is the most thorough single disc collage of their long career, even if a some eternal faves missed the final cut; GOOD STUFF and IS THAT YOU MODEAN? may be catchy newer tracks, but aren't as essential or demented as DANCE THIS MESS AROUND, DEVIL IN MY CAR, and 6060-842 from their first two groundbreaking albums. No one in their right mind would wanna miss out on the warped vibe of these early pop culture-splattered platters...not that any BEE-FIVE-TWO fan would ever admit to being in their "right mind".

RATING: FOUR BEEHIVES

ROCK ME, BABY

THE BABYS-ANTHOLOGY:

Seventies band THE BABYS played up a "pretty boy with hard edged hooks" image which probably would have served them better in MTV's photogenic era. This brief but solidly rewarding roundup of JOHN WAITE's pre-solo, pre-BAD ENGLISH band's greatest hits seamlessly straddles the line between BEATLE-esque power pop and soulful mid-tempo ballads that warrant repeated spins. Two of their best efforts in the latter department, ISN'T IT TIME and EVERY TIME I THINK OF YOU, made for some mighty tasty AM radio fodder in the "me decade", with Waite's gritty voice augmented by gospel-rich female choruses. On the harder side, MIDNIGHT RENDEZVOUS' new wavish strains, the seedy teen angst bopper SWEET 17, and a rousing take on MOTWON oldie MONEY raise the bar in THE BABYS' favor. The band's time in the spotlight may have been relatively brief, but their legacy as a poor man's BADFINGER or RASPBERRIES, as demonstrated by this ten track collection, remains blessedly intact.

RATING: THREE DIAPERS

DREAM TEAM

BURT BACHARACH & FRIENDS-GOLD:

The same BRILL BUILDING castle of creativity that gave us legendary tunesmiths CAROLE KING & GERRY GOFFIN, LEIBER & STOLLER, and NEIL DIAMOND also spawned the prolific BURT BACHARACH and HAL DAVID, who penned more choice easy listening classics than anyone else during their long reign. The sophisticated team's greatest mouthpiece was DIONNE WARWICKE, who racked up well over a dozen B&H hits including DO YOU KNOW THE WAY TO SAN JOSE and I'LL NEVER FALL IN LOVE AGAIN...but everyone from DUSTY SPRINGFIELD's whispery WISHIN' AND HOPIN' and TOM JONE's leering WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT to band leader HERB ALPERT's lone vocal smash THIS GUY'S IN LOVE WITH YOU benefited from their song craft draped in lush jazzy arrangements. GOLD is a romantic double dip into high charters from THE SHIRELLES, GENE PITNEY, and SERGIO MENDES, as well as later triumphs written minus DAVID, including PATTI LABELLE/MICHAEL MCDONALD's smash duet ON MY OWN and BURT's stylish ELVIS COSTELLO collaboration GOD GIVE ME STRENGTH. The high points here (and there are many) are as close to the hallowed Great American Songbook era of GEORGE and IRA GERSHWIN and COLE PORTER as sixties pop ever came.

RATING: FIVE MUTED TRUMPETS



JUKEBOX JIVE

BACHMAN CUMMINGS-JUKEBOX:

This all-covers party platter from the GUESS WHO's two leading lights is so much better than the more recent sludge-hammer effort BACHMAN & TURNER (BTO's two partners in crime reunited) it's downright embarrassing. Dipping into the late fifties-early sixties pop/rock songbook that influenced tasteful axe-slinger RANDY BACHMAN, blue eyed soul belter/piano pounder BURTON CUMMINGS and an infinite number of other pop musicians, JUKEBOX unspools like a better than average Saturday night set list. Generally speaking, underplayed classics are unearthed, including a jazz-flecked take on THE FAB FOUR's I'M HAPPY JUST TO DANCE WITH YOU, THE EQUALS' rollicking BABY COME BACK, and HUEY SMITH's RNB chestnut DON'T YOU JUST KNOW IT, alongside more predictable fare from CHUCK BERRY, THE BOXTOPS, and BO DIDDLEY. Not everything here works...DYLAN's epic saga LIKE A ROLLING STONE drags due to RANDY's stilted talk-sing vocal, and a lightly swingin' update of THE GUESS WHO's own AMERICAN WOMAN seems redundant and a bit forced. But overall, the sheer nostalgic joy of kickin' out the classics shines through loud and clear...perhaps next time B&C should invite volcanic growler FRED TURNER to the party and knock the roadhouse walls down completely.

RATING" THREE RE-PLAYS

LOW GEAR

BACHMAN & TURNER:

The long awaited merging of BTO's two main cogs RANDY BACHMAN and FRED TURNER falls flat on its beard...the meaty hooks, sledgehammer soul, and freewheelin' fun of yesteryear have been replaced with stale songs, tepid production and an overall sludgy pace. Opening track ROLLIN' ALONG comes off like a warmed over sequel to their hard rockin' truck drivin' classic ROLL ON DOWN THE HIGHWAY, while ROCK & ROLL IS THE ONLY WAY OUT is an underwhelming anthem attempt that tanks quickly. Randy always fared best when paired with a creative equal like Fred or his old GUESS WHO mate BURTON CUMMINGS...the recent BACHMAN/CUMMINGS album of oldies covers seems vibrant compared to B&T. TURNER's once ferocious man-mountain pipes have been diluted by age, while BACHMAN, always a better axeman than singer, comes nowhere close to equaling his best solo ditty PRARIE TOWN. There isn't a riff, lick, or lyric here that wasn't done better in the seventies. This may be a reunion folks...but it sure ain't a rebirth.

RATING: TWO RETREADS



BACHMAN-TURNER OVERVIEW

BACHMAN-TURNER OVERDRIVE-THE BEST OF B.T.O. (SO FAR):

In spite of the collection's optimistic title THE BEST OF B.T.O. (SO FAR), this bombastic Canadian quartet had a relatively short shelf life, even by seventies rock standards. C.F. Turner's John-Fogerty-on-steroids howl revved up the meatiest numbers LET IT RIDE and ROLL ON DOWN THE HIGHWAY, even tho' ex Guess Who axe man Randy Bachman's TAKIN' CARE OF BUSINESS and YOU AIN'T SEEN NOTHIN' YET got tons more airplay, plus seemingly endless TV and movie exposure during the group's afterlife. Their final hit HEY YOU, rumored to be a poke at Bachman's former band mate Burton Cummings, was musically a blatant retread of all the other biggies, while BLUE COLLAR and LOOKIN' OUT FOR NUMBER ONE were intricately rendered jazz-stroked alternatives to BTO's trademark cock-rock riffage. Umpteen-gazillion B.T.O. comps have flooded the market over the decades, but none ever trumped this first one...and you can bet yer fat stack of 8-tracks on that, bubba!

RATING: FOUR WHEELS

B.T.OH!

B.T.O.-TRIAL BY FIRE/LATEST & GREATEST:

One of the group's two main cogs, RANDY BACHMAN, is absent here, hence the "BTO" monicker in place of BACHMAN-TURNER OVERDRIVE. C.F. TURNER, one of the greatest gravel-in-the-gut belters since JOHN FOGERTY, merely goes through the motions on remakes of LET IT RIDE and ROLL ON DOWN THE HIGHWAY, also belching out a so-so cover of HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN; he comes nowhere close to trumping the originals, so what's the point? New band member RANDY MURRAY's sadly hollow imitations of the "other" RANDY on YOU AIN'T SEEN NOTHING YET and HEY YOU (never a great song to begin with, more an obvious rehash of their other hits) are nearly unlistenable. BTO should have jumped on the UNPLUGGED trend, delivering newly arranged acoustic treatments of their classic catalogue...or pumped out an all-covers collection of blooze rockers tailor made for FRED's banshee wail. A whole album of original music would have served fans best of all...good, bad, or ugly (the album, not the fans).

RATING: ONE SLIPPED GEAR

SAD COMPANY

THE BEST OF BAD COMPANY-LIVE/WHAT YOU HEAR IS WHAT YOU GET:

A misnomer is what you're getting here. Blooze-spewing ex-Free frontman Paul Rodgers put the "Bad" in Bad Co. via earthbound, grit-saturated vocals and climactic lyrical ad-libbing, but once replaced (and I use that term loosely) by pedestrian singer Brian Howe, the band's shooting star fizzled. This concert cash-in on hits old and new is also minus the rock-steady bottom line of bassist Boz Burrell, but Rodgers is the key omission; better to check out the 2002 live offering MERCHANTS OF COOL, still featuring only half the original members, but at least one of 'em is Paul. On WHAT YOU HEAR IS WHAT YOU GET, early Bad Co. staples FEEL LIKE MAKIN' LOVE, CAN'T GET ENOUGH and ROCK 'N ROLL FANTASY clearly have the edge over the newer stuff, but coming out of HOWE's mouth, this could be ANY hard rock cover band riffing away, not the instantly recognizable BC. As far as "classic" rock goes, this is a barely servicable live experience that will put the listener in some pretty bad company.

RATING: TWO BAD



BEST OF THE BAD

BAD COMPANY-ORIGINAL BAD COMPANY ANTHOLOGY:

This double dose of Bad Co.'s greatest moments was long overdue, particularly given their scanty former offering 10 FROM 6. Many years of a Paul Rodgers-less Bad Co. did nothing to enhance their rep, which is why the original foursome reunited for this release and a tour in the late nineties. The handful of new cuts recorded for ANTHOLOGY, while competent, aren't likely to make anyone forget SHOOTING STAR or CAN'T GET ENOUGH. This Bad box is chock full of earth-shaking FM classics, including almost all of their stellar self-titled debut album. Former Free front man Rodgers wails with unhinged soul power, accompanied by the sure-fire fretting of ex Mott the Hoople axe slinger Mick Ralphs on fist-pumpin' meat 'n taters classics like MOVIN' ON, RUNNIN' WITH THE PACK and ROCK & ROLL FANTASY. Sure, a couple of live tracks woulda been nice, disc one out-performs disc two, and YOUNG BLOOD, GONE GONE GONE and ELECTRIC LAND are all missing...but if you want the best Bad for your buck, listen no further.

RATING: FOUR BAD MEN

NOT BAD

BAD COMPANY-STORIES TOLD & UNTOLD:

This isn't your big brother's BAD COMPANY. After PAUL RODGERS bailed for the not so green pastures of THE FIRM, a so-so four album stint with one time TED NUGENT belter BRIAN HOWE resulted; the third version of this meat and taters supergroup settled on RODGERS soundalike ROBERT HART for their last couple of efforts. In addition to a handful of decent to pedestrian new tracks like YOU'RE NEVER ALONE and DOWNPOUR IN CAIRO, this swan song, perhaps inevitably, offers a handful of "re-imagined" BAD CO. classics. Smartly sidedtepping a note-for-note cover of CAN'T GET ENOUGH, the band replaces its hard rock crunch with a swinging acoustic treatment; in fact, most of the remakes here go the "unplugged" route, from the power ballad saga SHOOTING STAR to the lesser known WEEP KNOWN MORE (now with horns!) and OH ATLANTA, which is not the LITTLE FEAT staple. These covers exist for no reason other than to sell BAD CO.'s final studio album to die hard fans and the morbidly curious...better than your local karaoke bar, but obviously not as tasty as the originals. STORIES TOLD & UNTOLD is not BAD...but that's damning with faint praise.

RATING: THREE BAD MEN

BAD BOYS

BAD COMPANY-10 FROM 6:

The seventies was prime time for rock's blitz of so-called "super groups", most of whom lasted not beyond an album or two. BAD COMPANY (two parts FREE, one part MOTT THE HOOPLE and one part KING CRIMSON) was the glaring exception to the rule, pumping out half a dozen platters during their eight year reign, all but one (BURNIN' SKY) which is represented on the quickie anthology 10 FROM 6. The ballsy impact of PAUL RODGERS' soul-searing vocal wallop and MICK RALPHS' meaty guitar hooks is undeniable on CAN'T GET ENOUGH, ROCK & ROLL FANTASY and SHOOTING STAR, slam-bang slabs of hard rockin' excellence, while FEEL LIKE MAKIN' LOVE stands as an equally significant power ballad that is neither sappy nor pandering. It's too bad the so-so LIVE FOR THE MUSIC couldn't have been replaced with GOOD LOVIN' GONE BAD, GONE GONE GONE or any number of missing BAD CO. classics. The original band's final hit, the unfairly maligned ELECTRICLAND, pointed to the more esoteric direction of RODGERS' next project THE FIRM with JIMMY PAGE...which, in keeping with the super group tradition, lasted exactly two albums.

RATING: FOUR ROUGH DIAMONDS

BADDEST HITS

BADFINGER-THE BEST OF BADFINGER:

Often unfairly written off as Fab Four clones, Badfinger was one of rock and roll's hookiest, most harmonic singles bands, thanks chiefly to the sweet, soulful songwriting and passionate vocal efforts of tragic figure Pete Ham. Although Paul McCartney penned their debut charter COME AND GET IT, the boys REALLY hit the stratosphere via Ham's benevolent ballad DAY AFTER DAY (on which GEORGE HARRISON contributes some nifty six string work) as well as sparkling three part harmony rockers NO MATTER WHAT and BABY BLUE; he also co-composed the sublime Nilsson smash WITHOUT YOU, included here in its sparse, effective original form. Other bright spots on this generous 22 track overview include MAYBE TOMORROW, a pre-Badfinger single from their days as the Iveys, though nothing appears from the band's brief comeback attempt without Ham. THE BEST OF BADFINGER is as close to a picture perfect power pop postcard of early seventies radio as you are likely to find...so by all means, come and get it.

RATING: FOUR FINGERS STRAIGHT UP

SEX A-PEEL

BANANARAMA-GREATEST HITS COLLECTION:

The bodacious Brit trio BANANRAMA (a combination of TV's THE BANANA SPLITS and the ROXY MUSIC track PYJMARAMA), pedaled a breezy brand of new wavey pop that proved as much fun as their name. They specialized in sweet dance-floor remakes of sixties chestnuts like SHOCKING BLUE's glam rocker VENUS, STEAM's nonsensical mantra NA NA HEY HEY (KISS HIM GOODBYE) and THE SUPREMES' post-DIANA ROSS hit NATHAN JONES. Other frothy smashes included the catchy, lightweight singles CRUEL SUMMER, SHY BOY and HE WAS REALLY SAYIN' SOMETHIN', the last with backing vocals from funky ska act FUN BOY THREE (the girls returned the favor by singing on FB3's signature T'AINT WHAT YOU DO IT'S THE WAY THAT YOU DO IT). In the longstanding tradition of almost all girl groups, the majority of their material was masterminded by various producers who coated everything they did with a glossy, undeniably commercial sheen. Even so, enough sex, sizzle and sparkle seeped through (aided immeasurably by MTV exposure) to make BANANARAMA one of the eighties' biggest guilty pleasures.

RATING: THREE CHIQUITAS



BAND TOGETHER

THE BAND-THE BEST OF THE BAND:

The Band was composed of five uniquely talented roots-rock musicians who, among other things, could play everything from traditional rock instruments to mandolin, accordion and tuba. Guitarist ROBBIE ROBERTSON penned all of their Americana classics, though sticksman LEVON HELM, bass player RICK DANKO and keyboardist RICHARD MANUEL provided the group's earthy vocals and heavenly three part harmonies, while organ whiz GARTH HUDSON rounded out their instantly identifiable sound with rich, subliminal textures. Country, rock, gospel, blooze, RNB, jazz and more were all part of the Band's basic blend; THE NIGHT THEY DROVE OLD DIXIE DOWN (AM radio listeners, think Joan Baez' cover), UP ON CRIPPLE CREEK, and THE WEIGHT proved some of the most poignant sagas in all of pop music. From DANKO's fragile, quavering vocal during TEARS OF RAGE to HELM's funky good ol' boy twang on THE SHAPE I'M IN, this ex backup group for DYLAN stood head and shoulders above the competition, sounding just as vital today as they did thirty years ago. How many other "bands" can say that?

RATING: FIVE EASY PIECES

BAR ROOM BUDDIES

MOE BANDY & JOE STAMPLEY-SUPER HITS:

Blue eyed soul belter JOE STAMPLEY and cheatin' ditty champ MOE BANDY paired up in the early 80s' URBAN COWBOY era as humorous honky tonkin' duo MOE & JOE (name inspired by WAYLON & WLLIE), pumping out a popular string of good-natured redneck party anthems like JUST GOOD OL' BOYS and the cajun spiced HEY MOE (HEY JOE), extolling the virtues of drinkin', fightin', womanizin' and generally raisin' hell. The kitschy CULTURE CLUB put down WHERE'S THE DRESS so vexed BOY GEORGE he threatened to sue at the time, so these two must've been doing something right. A little of this stuff goes a long way for some folks (HEE HAW only aired once a week, after all), so this brief ten track compilation is tempered with several solo hits from each artist, notably STAMPLEY's earthy trucker anthem ROLL ON BIG MAMA and BANDY's wry observational singalong HANK WILLIAMS, YOU WROTE MY LIFE. As those more serious efforts reveal, both artists are well worth seeking out on their own merits, but SUPER HITS gives fans a little taste of their rib-tickling (if low-brow) teamwork as well. Just say "Yeehaw!"

RATING: THREE MOJO'S



BAUBLES, BANGLES & LEADS

THE BANGLES-GREATEST HITS:

Beginning life as THE BANGS, west coast four-tet THE BANGLES combined BEATLE-esque pop, girl group harmonies, and bubblegummy new wave licks for a solid three album career in the eighties (the same amount their sister act THE GO-GO'S managed before splitting up). SUSANNAH HOFF's kewpie doll looks and flirty pipes were often the focal point, with exquisite harmonizing (and occasional lead vocals) from guitar-and-drums siblings VICKI and DEBBIE PETERSON and bassist MICHELLE STEELE. A strong reliance on outside writers yielded crafty covers of KATRINA & THE WAVES member KIMBERLY REW's GOING DOWN TO LIVERPOOL, PRINCE's MANIC MONDAY, and JULES SHEAR's IF SHE KNEW WHAT SHE WANTS. The gimmicky WALK LIKE AN EGYPTIAN became their albatross, while last gasp hits included the pseudo-psychedelic IN YOUR ROOM and breathless ballad ETERNAL FLAME. ALEX CHILTON's power pop masterpiece SEPTEMER GURLS is a notable omission here, but jangly axe work, cool chick attitude and highly polished studio gloss all figure prominently in this hard to resist eighties time capsule.

RATING: FOUR GALS

BARE NECESSITIES

BOBBY BARE-16 BIGGEST HITS:

Laid back country warbler BOBBY BARE got his start via the pop novelty ALL AMERICAN BOY, a spoken word goof on ELVIS' Army induction, although it was attributed to his friend BILL PARSONS. Soon he was cranking out huge crossover smashes under his own name; the sentimental singalongs 500 MILES AWAY FROM HOME and MEL TILLIS' composition DETROIT CITY spotlighted his plaintive vocals and trademark narrated bridges, which effectively underscored themes of loneliness. MARGIES'S AT THE LINCOLN PARK INN and THAT'S HOW I GOT TO MEMPHIS, both from prolific writer TOM T. HALL, proved typical of BARE's melancholy output in the sixties... a later liaison with children's author/Playboy contributor SHEL SILVERSTEIN yielded humor-laced material like the Cajun tall tale MARIE LAVAUX, south of the border saga TEQUILA SHEILA, and ultimate macho putdown NUMBERS. BOBBY BARE's warm, conversational delivery and his exquisite choice of material (occasionally including his own) made this pioneer of country's "Outlaw" movement one of country's most solid, if most underrated performers.

RATING: FOUR GRINS

SOUL BARING

BAREFOOT SERVANTS-BAREFOOT SERVANTS:

Named after a line in BOB DYLAN's ALL ALONG THE WATCHTOWER, covered so memorably by JIMI HENDRIX, BAREFOOT SERVANTS fired off this shot of hard charging blooze-rock mastery in 1994 (followed a decade later by a sequel). Fronted by longtime Boston's longtime black guitar hero JON BUTCHER, whose raspy, passionate vocals and searing arsenal of six string licks were the band's calling card, their ace lineup also included legendary Hollywood session bassist LELAND SKLAR (JAMES TAYLOR, PHIL COLLINS). The originals JEALOUS MAN, RED HANDED and BOX OF MIRACLES are top notch rip snorters, and the short, gripping acoustic number WHISKEY MAN will make you wish it was a full length track. To boot, a muscular take on IT HURTS ME TOO is one of the better versions of that expressive ELMORE JAMES standard, which everyone from FOGHAT to SUSAN TEDESCHI has tackled. The group's blustery meat and potatoes approach found them swinging through a variety of styles from balls-out boogie to intrinsic folk...in a perfect world, BAREFOOT SERVANTS would have been all over AOR radio in the nineties and the new millennium...for that matter, JON BUTCHER should have been a star way back in 1980.

RATING: FOUR BARE FEET

THE NAKED TRUTH

BARENAKED LADIES-ALL TIME GREATEST HITS 1991-2001:

Adult contemporary music was seldom more exuberant than Ontario's quirky quintet BARENAKED LADIES, whose giddy folk jangle provided a welcome alternative to grunge and hip hop for many nineties listeners. Led by reedy, soulful vocalist STEVEN PAGE and guitarist/singer ED ROBERTSON, BNL's repertoire ranged from tongue in cheek YOKO ONO and BRIAN WILSON tributes to reflective chick tunes (ALTERNATIVE GIRLFRIEND, JANE) and solid rock epics like THE OLD APARTMENT. The massive breakthroughs...ONE WEEK, pop's most rapid fire lyrical barrage since LIFE IS A ROCK (BUT THE RADIO ROLLED ME), and irresistible barroom singalong IF I HAD $1,000,000 DOLLARS...clearly bordered on novelty, but were balanced by stylish efforts like their BRUCE COCKBURN cover LOVERS IN A DANGEROUS TIME and the bittersweet IT'S ALL BEEN DONE. Unless you're put off by intelligently written, exquisitely crafted radio fare with an uncommonly high fun quotient, BARENAKED LADIES proved an amazingly hard band to hate.

RATING: FOUR LADIES

BAR NONE

THE BAR-KAYS-THE BEST OF THE BAR-KAYS:

Rising from the ashes of the same plane crash that killed OTIS REDDING, STAX RECORDS ensemble THE BAR-KAYS regrouped around surviving members BEN CAULEY and JAMES ALEXANDER, morphing into a snarling urban funk band far removed from their more mostly instrumental SOUL FINGER beginnings. SHAKE YOUR RUMP TO THE FUNK, their biggest pop hit under the new regime boasted a staggering bassline, leering vocals, hot horns, and a nasty vibe that found favor with disco fans, even though their revamped sound was closer to GEORGE CLINTON's PARLIAMENT/FUNKADELIC than KC & THE SUNSHINE BAND. Followups included titillating titles like TOO HOT TA STOP, MOVE YOUR BOOGIE BODY and FREAKSHOW ON THE DANCE FLOOR, which kept them on the RNB charts, even though they seldom broke new ground artistically. In a mid seventies arena where funk acts were as plentiful as platform footwear, few threw down harder, heavier, or hornier than the mighty, groove-humping BAR-KAYS.

RATING: FOUR BARS

NICE 'N NASTY

LOU ANN BARTON-THE BEST!:

Don't be too surprised if the name LOU ANN BARTON fails to ring a bell. The undisputed queen of Texas blooze has never been honored with a compilation of her hard to find material (until now)...she's far too raw, sultry and blessedly non commercial to ever achieve mass appeal. Radio's loss is our gain, as the former FABULOUS THUNDERBIRDS, STEVIE RAVE ON & DOUBLE TROUBLE and ROOMFUL OF BLUES belter proves her soul mama-tude by tackling the roots of rock songbook. Rhythmic warhorses like SLIM HARPO's slithery SHAKE YOUR HIPS and tongue twisting TE NI NEE NI NU, IKE & TINA's I IDOLIZE YOU and FAYE ADAMS' SHAKE A HAND are rendered with just the right amount of sweat soaked passion and "rent party" grit. Whether doin' the nasty with frequent collaborator JIMMIE VAUGHAN on IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, kickin' it with fellow Lone Star legends MARCIA BALL and ANGELA STREHLI, or stoking the FAB T's boogie machine, BARTON's intoxicating, smoky mojo and sassy groove-ology make this a hip trip to the roadhouse you won't soon forget.

RATING: FIVE STARS



SCHLOCK & ROLLERS

BAY CITY ROLLERS-GREATEST HITS:

Okay, admit it...these briefly hot Scots of the mid seventies had at least a couple ditties you actually DUG, though you'd rather have been sentenced to wearing plaid suspenders for the rest of your life than come clean to your Kiss-worshippin' buddies. Maybe they weren't innovative, or even all that musically adept, but when SATURDAY NIGHT pops up on oldies radio, you still crank it and chant at the top of your lungs like some deranged, over the hill cheerleader, "S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y...NIGHT!!!" (I had a party-hearty buddy who could only spell this and "PBR"). Frothy follow-ups like MONEY HONEY, ROCK AND ROLL LOVE LETTER and their charismatic cover of Dusty Springfield's I ONLY WANNA BE WITH YOU didn't make you lunge to change the dial either. Too bad the other half of GREATEST HITS can't compete...despite a couple of decent later singles YOU MADE ME BELIEVE IN MAGIC and THE WAY I FEEL TONIGHT...but at least they didn't hang around forever like Donny Osmond. Nick Lowe once wrote a song about 'em and the Backstreet Boys couldn't carry these guys' blow dryers. 'Nuff said.

RATING: THREE TARTAN SCARVES



SUNNY DISPOSITION

THE BEACH BOYS-THE VERY BEST OF THE BEACH BOYS/THE SOUNDS OF SUMMER:

In spite of a career riddled by drugs, death, and family dysfunction, THE BEACH BOYS' musical disposition remained remarkably sunny. Their glorious, meticulously crafted catalogue, influenced by CHUCK BERRY, PHIL SPECTOR, and tight harmony acts like THE FOUR FRESHMEN overflowed with infectious good time ditties celebrating muscle cars, curvy chicks, and the eternal perfect wave. Tortured maestro BRIAN WILSON's early chestnuts SURFIN' SAFARI, LITTLE DUECE COUPE, and CALIFORNIA GIRLS were pristine, enchanting singalongs, while super-session juggernaut GOOD VIBRATIONS, sublime saga HEROES AND VILLIANS and the ethereal GOD ONLY KNOWS showed off a more mature, sensitive side. SOUNDS OF SUMMER boasts thirty more or less essential hits crammed onto one disc, although a chronological account would have mapped their growth from sand worshippers to serious artists. Pop this party platter in during your next cookout, road trip, or poolside bash and soak up the smiles.

RATING: FIVE BIG KAHUNA'S



MOP TOP OF THE POPS

THE BEATLES-1:

Little else can be written about those Liverpool lads' indelible impact on the musical "blip" that is rock n' roll. Taking cues, licks, and harmony tricks from CHUCK BERRY, BUDDY HOLLY, and THE EVERLY BROTHERS, they progressed from teen idols slinging two minute slices of unabashed pop nirvana to risk-taking, experimental craftsmen virtually creating the need for FM radio. All twenty-seven tracks here effortlessly topped the charts somewhere in the world, gathered for the first time on a single party platter. Check out the psychedelic underpinnings of JOHN's lyrical twister COME TOGETHER...the quiet charm of GEORGE's exquisitely rendered SOMETHING...the nursery rhyme charisma of YELLOW SUBMARINE administered as only RINGO could bring it...the stark mindset of ELEANOR RIGBY and YESTERDAY, technically "solo" efforts from PAUL. In lieu of obtaining their still vital catalogue of original albums, "1" serves as an economic and respectable Fab Four starter kit. What else one can utter when encountered by euphoric headshots like SHE LOVES YOU, PAPERBACK WRITER and GET BACK but, "YEAH YEAH YEAH"?

RATING: FIVE BEATS

FAB SCORE

THE BEATLES-ROCK & ROLL MUSIC:

When CAPITOL RECORDS released the double album ROCK & ROLL MUSIC in the mid-70s, it served as a much needed sequel to the FAB FOUR's classic comps 1962-1966 and 1967-1970. Half of this party platter focuses on their all important influences, highlighting fiery takes on rockin' pioneers CARL PERKINS, CHUCK BERRY and the underrated LARRY WILLIAMS. As usual, JOHN and PAUL take on the lion's share of singing chores, punctuating THE ISLEY BROTHERS' TWIST AND SHOUT and LITTLE RICHARD's LONG TALL SALLY with raw roadhouse energy, but GEORGE also gets off solid lead vocals on ROLL OVER BEETHOVEN and EVERYBODY'S TRYING TO BE MY BABY, while RINGO has his moment with THE SHIRELLES' rollicking BOYS. The rest of this shindig belongs to a batch of like-minded mop-top originals; some such as I SAW HER STANDING THERE and DRIVE MY CAR were on the red and blue collections, but many, including I WANNA BE YOUR MAN, BIRTHDAY, and I'M DOWN weren't. For a thrown together cash-in, this works remarkably well, a testiment to THE BEATLES' dues paying cover tune taste and giddy house-rockin' delivery.

RATING: FIVE "YEAH!"'S



RETRO ROCK-IT!

JEFF BECK-ROCK & ROLL PARTY HONORING LES PAUL:

When six string guru JEFF BECK decided to throw a ROCK & ROLL PARTY in honor of his mentor LES PAUL, creator of the solid body electric guitar and recording innovations like multi-tracking, he certainly didn't skimp on the entertainment; the tight as a drum-head backing band for this rockabilly boogie woogie wing-ding is straight out of an ELVIS PRESLEY flick, led by pompadoured cool-daddy singer/guitarist DARRELL HINGHAM. BECK also shares the stage with HINGHAM's wife IMELDA MAY, a stunningly sultry sex kitten who coos, caresses, yips and yells like a possessed retro-chic soul-mama, truly a shimmy-shakin' talent to marvel at. BECK and MAY lovingly channel LES PAUL & MARY FORD's pioneering fretwork and echo-saturated vocals to recreate early fifties classics VAYA CON DIOS, MOCKINGBIRD HILL, and HOW HIGH THE MOON, retaining the high-spirited zing and novel beauty of the originals. The man with an axe to grind also takes on jump bluser TINY BRADSHAW's swingin' chestnut TRAIN KEPT A ROLLIN', (which BECK's old band THE YARDBIRDS memorably covered), plus steam-heat instrumentals PETER GUNN, APACHE, and SLEEP WALK with neck-breakin' chops and passion to spare. Sixties soul slinger GARY "U.S." BONDS shows up for the crowd-participation pleaser NEW ORLEANS, followed by twanger revivalist BRIAN SETZER, who busts out EDDIE COCHRAN's TWENTY FLIGHT ROCK to cap off this funky, fast-paced tribute. Surely LES PAUL was smiling down from his heavenly throne this very special evening.

RATING: FIVE SOLOS

GIVE 'EM THE AXE

THE JEFF BECK GROUP-TRUTH + BECK-OLA:

Like fellow Brits JOHN MAYALL'S BLUESBREAKERS, the late sixties' JEFF BECK GROUP boasted several future rock stars among its lineup, notably prickly guitar genius BECK, whose previous band THE YARDBIRDS had amply displayed his trippy six string pyrotechnics. The fiery ensemble also included bassist RONNIE WOOD (better known as lead axe slinger with FACES and eventually a ROLLING STONE) and FACES' raw throated belter ROD STEWART, fresh off low visibility stints with STEAM PACKET and LONG JOHN BALDRY'S HOOCHIE COOCHIE MEN. This titanic two-fer of the JBG's only pair of platters, TRUTH & BECK-OLA, serves as a raucous, unhinged reminder of each players' passion for their blooze-soaked roots, exhuming eclectic rave ups of ELVIS PRESLEY, WILLIE DIXON and even a sludgy run-through of OL' MAN RIVER...along with hard charging roadhouse originals like PLYNTH (WATER DOWN THE DRAIN). Similar in scope to LED ZEP's pyrotechnic debut disc, this is ground zero for the clutch of hard rock and heavy metal offshoots that exploded during the seventies.

RATING: FOUR SCORCHING LEADS

FOR THE RECORD

BEE GEES-THEIR GREATEST HITS/THE RECORD:

Summing up their multi-decade chart topping reign, THE RECORD jump starts a fabulous forty track trek via THE BEE GEES' stark, ominous debut NEW YORK MINING DISASTER 1941. ROBIN GIBB's aching white soul wail and BARRY's stylish whisper were linchpins of late sixties/early seventies pop radio via the sublime ballads HOW CAN YOU MEND A BROKEN HEART, I STARTED A JOKE, and the lightly psychedelic LONELY DAYS. All were slices of pure pop nirvana slathered in lush orchestration and heaven sent, air-tight harmonies as only blood brothers could administer them. The percolating funk thump of JIVE TALKIN' signaled the start of THE BEES GEES' unchallenged RNB/disco reign, during which BARRY's newly spotlighted falsetto became their trademark on dance floor flash points STAYIN' ALIVE, YOU SHOULD BE DANCING and NIGHT FEVER. THE RECORD wisely racks up a few nifty GIBB BROTHERS versions of pop smashes they penned for other acts, including IF I CAN'T HAVE YOU, HEARTBREAKER, and ISLANDS IN THE STREAM, painting a complete picture of one of Britain's most valuable exports this side of THE FAB FOUR and THE STONES.

RATING: FIVE TRIOS

GRRRRRL POWER

PAT BENATAR-BEST SHOTS:

To quote her most famous song, Pat Benatar was "a tough little cookie" whose operatic vocal power rode shotgun over the 80s charts; unfortunately, this collection doesn't quite serve her legacy. Barnstorming early rockers HIT ME WITH YOUR BEST SHOT and HEARTBREAKER (not the Grand Funk, Led Zep or Stones chestnuts of the same title), plus her pseudo-disco Blondie sound alike WE LIVE FOR LOVE are accounted for; these hard scrabble breakthroughs are counterbalanced by pop throwaways SHADOWS OF THE NIGHT and LOVE IS A BATTLEFIELD. BEST SHOTS gets back on track via the still topical HELL IS FOR CHILDREN, the aptly named pulse pounder ALL FIRED UP and groove-heavy ear-grabber INVINCIBLE. Unfortunately, a couple of mediocre new ditties are favored here instead of missing-in-action classics like her feisty revamps of John Mellencamp's I NEED A LOVER and the Rascals' YOU BETTER RUN. BEST SHOTS was the first but hardly most comprehensive of the countless PAT BENATAR collections that eventually flooded the market.

RATING: THREE PATS ON THE BACK

BROOK BROTHER

BROOK BENTON-THE BEST OF BROOK BENTON:

Smooth, suave, stylish sixties singer BROOK BENTON served up sophisticated soul-pop not unlike the mighty NAT KING COLE a decade or so earlier; as with every compilation in the well-appointed 20TH CENTURY MASTERS series, these are all original versions of the classics, not pale remakes. Amiable hits like BOLL WEEVIL, HOTEL HAPPINESS and KIDDIO lope along on cosmopolitan country grooves...in fact his smash debut ballad IT'S JUST A MATTER OF TIME became a huge hit for RANDY TRAVIS almost forty years later. Other chart-scaling highlights, many from his own pen, include BABY YOU'VE GOT WHAT IT TAKES and A ROCKIN' GOOD WAY, a pair of duets with slinky jazz chanteuse DINAH WASHINGTON, on which the playful, steamy interaction of two true masters is undeniable. Bathed in lush strings and backing choruses, the mid tempo ditties THANK YOU PRETTY BABY and ENDLESSLY are further vehicles for BENTON's laid back, expressive set of pipes. But the real showstopper here is his incredibly rich rendition of swamp songwriter TONY JOE WHITE's serene RAINY NIGHT IN GEORGIA, a stunning, steamy capper for both BENTON's career and this brief but enthralling collection.

ARTING: FIVE CROONS



BERRY PICKIN'

CHUCK BERRY-THE GREAT 28:

It would be easier to list the artists who HAVEN'T covered a CHUCK BERRY chestnut either in the recording studio or on concert stages over the past six decades. KEEF RICHARDS practically worshipped the man, the Fab Four tackled ROLL OVER BEETHOVEN and BRIAN WILSON nicked whole melodies from him. The irascible Father of Rock & Roll penned a timeless catalogue of humor-laced ditties about cars, school, and women, trademarked by his careful enunciation and the most famous guitar intro in history, which he recycled dozens of times. THE GREAT 28 corners virtually every charismatic classic, except for BERRY's two final hits, the high octane PROMISED LAND and MY DING-A-LING, a naughty nursery rhyme he appropriated from the old BEES song MY TOY BELL. Otherwise JOHNNY B. GOODE, MAYBELLINE, ROLL OVER BEETHOVEN, and BACK IN THE U.S.A. form the basic backbone of modern popular music, mostly administered by the killer CHESS RECORDS rhythm section of WILLIE DIXON on bass, drummer LAFAYETTE LEAKE, and JOHNNIE JOHNSON's virtuoso piano fills. This no nonsense collection is a slam-dunk for fans of rock, RNB, and country, since CHUCK BERRY wrote the book on how to bring 'em all together under one roof.

Artists who have covered CHUCK BERRY...the "short list": THE BEATLES, THE STONES, BUCK OWENS, ELVIS, JERRY LEE LEWIS, EDGAR WINTER'S WHITE TRASH, GRATEFUL DEAD, THE BEACH BOYS, MEAT LOAF, DUANE ALLMAN, DAVID BOWIE, THE ANIMALS, BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, MC5, BUDDY HOLLY, BOB SEGER, DWIGHT YOAKAM, GEORGIA SATELLITES, THE DOORS, ROD STEWART, DAVE EDMUNDS, LED ZEPPELIN, JOHNNY WINTER, THE YARDBIRDS, SLADE, THE HOLLIES, PETER TOSH, JUDAS PRIEST, JIMI HENDRIX, LIVING COLOUR, AC/DC, ELTON JOHN, REO SPEEDWAGON, THE STRAY CATS, FOGHAT, JOHNNY RIVERS, JAMES TAYLOR, ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA, MOUNTAIN, THE TROGGS, JOHN LENNON, TOM RUSH, TEN YEARS AFTER, THE BLUES PROJECT...

RATING: FIVE DUCK WALKS

BEST BETTS

DICKEY BETTS & GREAT SOUTHERN-SOUTHERN ROCK JAM:

THE ALLMAN BROTHERS' wonderfully rootsy sound was always equally divided into two camps, one helmed by GREGG ALLMAN's growling gospel-fired blooze, the other given over to guitar slinger DICKEY BETTS' pure country rock leanings. After his scintillating 1974 solo debut HIGHWAY CALL, the man who wrote RAMBLIN' MAN, IN MEMORY OF ELIZABETH REED and BLUE SKY formed GREAT SOUTHERN, further exploring his twang muse through ear grabbers like CALIFORNIA BLUES, SWEET VIRGINIA and the soulful testament ATLANTA'S BURNIN' DOWN. BETTS' slippery slide work, honed during his tenure playing beside the late master DUANE ALLMAN, coupled with sentimental song writing and sweet 'n smoky vocals served him well on GREAT SOUTHERN's only pair of ARISTA albums, which are compiled on SOUTHERN ROCK JAM. This is home spun, good time music to kick up your heels to, short and to the point (unlike THE ALLMAN's legendary monster jams), a solid overview of an underrated spin off project that deserved a lot more exposure than it ever got.

RATING: THREE COWBOY HATS

THE FATHER OF ROCK & ROLL

BIG DADDY-THE BEST OF BIG DADDY:

Fans of DR. DEMENTO, his protégé WEIRD AL, doo wop, classic rock and revivalists like SHA-NA-NA will almost certainly dig BIG DADDY, whose shtick...reimagining pop hits like WHIP IT, DANCING IN THE DARK and SUPER FREAK as ELVIS era oldies...is unlike any other working band. Shades of PAT BOONE, THE COASTERS, LITTLE RICHARD, THE BEACH BOYS and HARRY BELEFONTE run rampant throughout these kitsch-encrusted covers; in fact, half the fun is unraveling the myriad influences that twist CELINE DION's tepid MY HEART WILL GO ON and PRINCE'S erotic LITTLE RED CORVETTE into infectious, foot tapping ear candy. EYE OF THE TIGER done acapella style?...MONEY FOR NOTHING belted like TENNESSE ERNIE FORD?...THE FAB FOUR rendered via their hero BUDDY HOLLY?...not a problem in the hands of this jive jukebox of juvenile delinquents. In terms of creativity, entertainment value, and sheer unadulterated fun, BIG DADDY is no joke.

RATING: FOUR STACKS O' WAX



FINE AS MOONSHINE!

ELVIN BISHOP-20TH CENTURY MASTERS MILLENNIUM COLLECTION:

Folks who know Elvin Bishop solely though his Top Ten pop belly-rubber FOOLED AROUND AND FELL IN LOVE (sung by a pre-Starship Mickey Thomas) are missing out on what true fans have known forever...the former Paul Butterfield Blues Band axe slinger's real stock in trade has always been soulful country boy pyrotechnics laced with an earthy, downhome sense of humor. Bishop's talk-sing style sounds downright homely compared to the ultra-slick Thomas, which is part of his good ol' boy charm on the aptly titled SURE FEELS GOOD and ROCK MY SOUL. Cult classics include funk-filled fiesta STRUTTIN' MY STUFF and rafter-raisin' gospel rave up TRAVELIN' SHOES on this overdue review of his greasy southern fried rock daze. If you crave more of this fine-as-moonshine performer, check out Elvin's series of bone rattlin' blooze-groover discs on the Alligator and Blind Pig labels. To quote one of his early party-starters, Bishop's boot-kickin' groove is even more fun than STEALIN' WATERMELONS.

RATING: FIVE YEEHAWS

CROWE'S FEAT

BLACK CROWES-GREATEST HITS:

Sheryl Crow?...Counting Crows?...The only songbirds that really mattered in the nineties were Chris and Rich Robinson's retro Stones-meets-Faces slam-bang rock n' soul act The Black Crowes. Millions embraced this all too rare respite from the roster of grunge, neo-country, rap-hop, and bubble-teen that clogged that decade's airwaves. From their debut album's sweaty channeling of Otis Redding's HARD TO HANDLE through REMEDY's dose of gospel-backed Southern salvation to hipshaker KICKIN' MY HEART AROUND, this is a sampler with sass...The Buzz Brothers aren't reinventing rock n' roll, merely keeping the Bic Lighter going for the faithful who still hold onto the belief that a great song with a trashy beat will never go out of style. The cream skimmed from the Crowes' first five discs are compiled chronologically here, the way all good anthologies oughta be, showcasing Chris' snotty yelp and Rich's righteous axe work on boogie basher JEALOUS AGAIN and ballad break SHE TALKS TO ANGELS alike. Listeners are advised to play this Crowes' feat at annoying volumes accompanied by the vices of their choice...I'm sure the Robinson boys wouldn't have it any other way.

RATING: FIVE "HITS"

SLAB O' SABB

BLACK SABBATH-WE SOLD OUR SOUL FOR ROCK & ROLL:

Sporting one of the coolest ever compilation titles, WE SOLD OUR SOUL FOR ROCK & ROLL gathers up the best of the sludge-slinging Brit band that virtually created "heavy metal" via TONY IOMMI's intense, industrial axe crunch, OZZY OSBOURNE's sinister, brooding caterwaul and the rebellious, thundering rhythm section of GEEZER BUTLER and BILL WARD. Drawing heavily on their early repertoire, bloozey, ballsy, bad-ass anthems PARANOID, IRON MAN and FAIRIES WEAR BOOTS (all from their benchmark second platter PARANOID), toke-it-up tribute SWEET LEAF, and macabre dirge CHILDREN OF THE GRAVE defined SABB's cynical gloom 'n doom vision, a far cry from ALICE COOPER's more radio-friendly output. For casual fans unwilling to take a full header into the depths of their dark abyss, this CD collection (trimmed by two tracks from its original double LP length) will serve as the most basic of SABB starter kits...which will likely prompt checking into their first half dozen classic platters for a more compelling thrill ride.

RATING: FOUR DEMONS

FANGS FOR THE MEMORIES

BLACKFOOT-RATTLESNAKE ROCK 'N ROLL/THE BEST OF BLACKFOOT:

"Rattlesnake Rock 'N Roll" is as fitting a term as any for BLACKFOOT's heavy hitting, loud and proud brand of southern rock, a mix of SKYNYRD's heavier licks and ZZ TOP's bloozey groove-ology. Helmed by greasy growler/guitarist RICKY MEDLOCKE (who held down the drum chair in an early version of SKYNYRD), the Native American quartet's peak period is well represented by the epic twin guitar shoot out HIGHWAY SONG, ferocious thrill ride TRAIN TRAIN (with hell bent harp solos from MEDLOCKE's grandpa SHORTY and BROWNSVILLE STATION's CUB KODA) and incendiary stomper FLY AWAY. Other highlights include an adrenaline-pumped adrenaline cover of FREE's WISHING WELL but where's their equally energized take on SPIRIT'S I GOT A LINE ON YOU?), the slithery lament SPENDIN' CABBAGE and a live lock down on ROAD FEVER. If you only have room for one BLACKFOOT platter on your shelf, the flawless barnburner STRIKES is the obvious choice...but this cranked up collection of crash 'n burn classics runs a very close second.

RATING: FOUR FANGS

STRIKE ZONE

BLACKFOOT STRIKES:

While the ALLMAN BROTHERS and ZZ TOP explored the bloozey underbelly of southern rock, and MARSHALL TUCKER and CHARLIE DANIELS mined country licks, Jacksonville Forida's BLACKFOOT was a straight-for-the-jugular hard hittin' powderkeg. Wildcat howler/six string sidewinder RICKY MEDLOCKE locked horns with fellow axe handler CHARLIE HARGRETT on the band's two biggest hits, the gargantuan seven minute fretboard slam jam HIGHWAY SONG, and TRAIN TRAIN, a cock-rocker spotlighting smackdown harmonica solos by RICK's grandfather SHORTY and BROWNSVILLE STATION frontman CUB KODA. MEDLOCKE's sleazy yelp also hammered home crash helmet covers of SPIRIT's I GOT A LINE ON YOU and FREE's WISHING WELL, both almost bettering the not at all shabby originals. Nasty group-penned noggin' knockers ROAD FEVER and LEFT TURN ON A RED LIGHT helped round out STRIKES, the heights of which BLACKFOOT never came close to scaling again...but then, hundreds of 70s bands never made an album that even approached the bone-crushin' magnitude of this one.

RATING: FIVE FEET



SOUL OF THE BLUES

BOBBY "BLUE" BLAND-THE ANTHOLOGY:

BOBBY "BLUE" BLAND was both the most soulful bluesman and the blooziest soul man you ever wrapped your ears around; unlike his contemporary B.B. KING, his only instrument was an infallible, alternately smooth as silk/rough as sandpaper set of pipes. He may not have written TURN ON YOUR LOVE LIGHT, FURTHER ON UP THE ROAD, or I WOULDN'T TREAT A DOG THE WAY YOU TREATED ME, but his sizzling, sophisticated vocal wallop are what transformed them into the urban tone-cool classics they so obviously are. Swooping from warm, conversational tones to frenzied howls, BLAND begged, screamed, snorted, and shouted for the listener's attention...nailing it every time he opened his mouth. The roster of contemporary artists who have tackled his songbook is indeed staggering: ROBERT CRAY, EDGAR WINTER, BOZ SCAGGS, ROOMFUL OF BLUES, VAN MORRISON, GARY MOORE, JOHNNY RIVERS, WHITESNAKE, ERIC CLAPTON...yet no one ever beat BLAND at his own gritty game. THE ANTHOLOGY is a generous twin platter wrap-up highlighting sixty slabs of succulent, sanctifyin' soul as only the almighty master of Memphis RNB could bring it.

RATING: FIVE LOVE LIGHTS

BLAST FROM THE PAST

THE BLASTERS-AMERICAN MUSIC:

L.A. based quartet THE BLASTERS were notable for PHIL ALVIN's reedy, uncontrolled yelp and brother DAVE's twangy retro guitar licks which helped set the scene for a tasty roots rock revival during the heart of the early eighties punk revolution. The band's aptly titled debut AMERICAN MUSIC let fly with an electrifying bar band throw-down of rockabilly, country and rhythm & blues...the freewheeling FLAT TOP JOINT even name checked pioneers like GENE VINCENT, JIMMY REED and LIGHTNIN' HOPKINS. Gutsy, infectious DAVE ALVIN originals including the declarative title cut and cult classic MARIE MARIE stood proudly beside hot wired versions of THE HOLLYWOOD FLAMES' BUZZ BUZZ BUZZ, JUNIOR PARKER's BAREFOOT ROCK and BILL HALEY's REAL ROCK DRIVE...not your average "done to death" golden oldies covers. A virtual "best of" compilation in its own right, the CD re-issue of AMERICAN MUSIC adds a half dozen ball-bangin' bonus tracks to the original limited vinyl release, proving that too much of a good thing can never be a bad thing.

RATING: FIVE TALL COOL ONES



EVEN A BLONDE MAN COULD SEE

BLONDIE-THE BEST OF BLONDIE:

New wave-bubblegum's secret weapon was ex-Playboy Club bunny DEBBIE HARRY, a cool chanteuse who exuded tuff girl-group chic; casual listeners assumed her name was actually BLONDIE, solidifying the anonymity afforded the band itself. BLONDIE's multi-genre approach served them well, paying big dividends...HEART OF GLASS' throbbing pulse made disco safe for rock fans, THE TIDE IS HIGH coasted on breezy reggae vibes, and RAPTURE spotlighted HARRY's awkwardly enticing spoken word bridge amid its funky dance club grooves. Doubters of the group's rock credentials need only to hone in on heatsinkers ONE WAY OR ANOTHER or HANGING ON THE TELEPHONE, while SUNDAY GIRL and I'M ALWAYS TOUCHED BY YOUR PRESENCE DEAR sound like salacious, long lost sixties pop gems. Although their finest album PARALLEL LINES is an undisputed stand alone masterpiece, THE BEST OF BLONDIE proves a campy compilation of some of the finest audio fodder eighties radio had to offer.

RATING: FIVE BOTTLES OF BLEACH

HORN OF PLENTY

BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS-BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS' GREATEST HITS:

The most popular horn band of the seventies (after Columbia label mates CHICAGO), BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS started out as ex-BLUES PROJECT leader AL KOOPER's jazz-rock fusion experiment before morphing into a far more commercial entity fronted by white soul growler DAVID CLAYTON-THOMAS. BS&T's GREATEST HITS features LAURA NYRO's AND WHEN I DIE, Motown oldie YOU'VE MADE ME SO VERY HAPPY and the CLAYTON-THOMAS original SPINNING WHEEL, a hat trick of number two hits from their radio-ready second platter. Punctuated by exquisite musicianship, summery brass blasts and DCT's macho white soul delivery, further gemstones included GOFFIN/KING's rousing HI-DE-HO, the down 'n dirty LUCRETIA MCEVIL and a sublime reading of BILLIE HOLIDAY's GOD BLESS THE CHILD. For contrast, check out the sublime KOOPER era cuts I CAN'T QUIT HER and SOMETIMES IN WINTER, which almost sound like another group entirely. Unlike most "best of" collections, GREATEST HITS captures all the important singles in their elegant glory, a tight summation of BS&T's brief but irresistible legacy.

RATING: FOUR REEDS

IN BLOOM

MICHAEL BLOOMFIELD-DON'T SAY THAT I AIN'T YOUR MAN/ESSENTIAL BLUES 1964-1969:

Underrated axe master MICHAEL BLOOMFIELD was a linchpin in the PAUL BUTTERFIELD BLUES BAND, the first white group to successfully bring Chicago blues to the masses. He also fronted the horn-vaccinated ELECTRIC FLAG with drummer BUDDY MILES and vocalist NICK GRAVENITES and collaborated frequently with BOB DYLAN and AL KOOPER on the groundbreaking LIKE A ROLLING STONE and quintessential jam album SUPER SESSION respectively. DON'T SAY THAT I AIN'T YOUR MAN collects rare early covers of LITTLE WALTER's LAST NIGHT and MUDDY WATERS' I GOT MY MOJO WORKING, plus THE BUTTERFIELD BLUES BAND's signature grand slam BORN IN CHICAGO and ELECTRIC FLAG's swingin' cover of HOWLIN' WOLF's KILLING FLOOR. BLOOMFIELD may not have possessed the soulful vocal chops of BUTTERFIELD or GRAVENITES, usually opting to let his guitar do the talking...but DON'T SAY THAT I AIN'T YOUR MAN is a solid tribute spilling over with swaggering six string passion, blistering licks and street-smart technique.

RATING: FOUR SOLOS

METAL TELEPATHY

BLUE OYSTER CULT-DON'T FEAR THE REAPER/BEST OF:

BLUE OYSTER CULT was rightly dubbed "heavy mental" for their twisted cacophony of cosmic, dark humor ditties obsessed with death, the supernatural, and kitschy CREATURE FEATURE icons. Unlike most outfits, BOC boasted a trio of more than capable lead vocalist/songwriters...ERIC BLOOM's macho growl was the polar opposite of BUCK DHARMA's more pop-oriented peals, while underrated singing drummer ALBERT BOUCHARD also commanded the mike with grit and passion. Narrow-minded radio playlists spotlighted only the epic DON'T FEAR THE REAPER, sludgy stomp fest GODZILLA, and hook-heavy BURNIN' FOR YOU, even as rabid fans sunk their teeth into deeper slabs of mayhem like JOAN CRAWFORD, CITIES ON FLAME WITH ROCK & ROLL, and GOIN' THROUGH THE MOTIONS. Six string overlord DHARMA's stunning volleys of fret board fireworks in conjunction with the band's ethereal songwriting (often augmented by outside literary figures) suggested no comparable ensemble of the seventies. Equal portions prog, pop, and balls-out hard rockin' boogie, BEST OF serves up only enough Cult classics to subdue the most casual observer, barely scraping the soft white underbelly of BOC's massive, mind-bending catalogue.

RATING: FIVE LASERS

HEAVY MENTAL

BLUE OYSTER CULT-EXTRATERRESTRIAL LIVE:

BLUE OYSTER CULT's showy 1982 album EXTRATERRESTRIAL LIVE was their THIRD concert outing in just eight years, coming off a decade where virtually every hard rock act from TED NUGENT to DEEP PURPLE seemed obligated to pump out a live party platter. ETL showcases BOC at the peak of their lofty powers; BUCK DHARMA's galvanized six string salvos and pop-oriented pipes on BURNIN' FOR YOU are offset by ERIC BLOOM's hardened growl on DR. MUSIC (which lacks the original's fierce ELLEN FOLEY backing yelps) and the kitschy "no wire hangers" tribute JOAN CRAWFORD. Never a band to shy away from classic rock covers, ROADHOUSE BLUES receives a bloozey nine minute workout featuring guest guitarist ROBBY KRIEGER of THE DOORS. Elsewhere, DOMINANCE & SUBMISSION (forcefully belted by soon to ejected drummer ALBERT BOUCHARD) elicits enthusiastic audience participation and eternal cowbell classic (DON'T FEAR) THE REAPER is a slick note for note replica of its studio counterpart. For BOC fans who prefer their more experimental days, 1975's ON YOUR FEET OR ON YOUR KNEES is the stage souvenir to pick up...for the rest, EXTRATERRESTRIAL LIVE is an unabashed crowd pleaser.

RATING: FOUR SETS OF MIRRORED SHADES

SHINY SURFACE

BLUE OYSTER CULT-MIRRORS:

A change of pace from BLUE OYSTER CULT's cosmic metal vision that begat dark cerebral classics like DOMINANCE AND SUBMISSION and DON'T FEAR THE REAPER, MIRRORS dives head first into the kitsch arena of bubble-metal, a theme first explored on their previous platter SPECTRES. Working an arsenal of pop styles, the disco-laced opener DR. MUSIC (with MEAT LOAF's white soul mama ELLEN FOLEY on steamy backing vocals) segues into the proggy GREAT SUN JESTER and the reflective ballad IN THEE, which enjoyed modest FM airplay. Other sublime highlights include the ego-crushing title anthem, again bolstered by FOLEY's aggressive belting, and the BOUCHARD brothers' (BOC's creative rhythm section) sparkling YOU'RE NOT THE ONE (I WAS LOOKING FOR). As usual, official lead singer ERIC BLOOM's menacing hard rock growl works in sharp contrast to guitarist BUCK DHARMA's and drummer ALBERT BOUCHARD's lead vocal interludes, and the musicianship is stylishly impeccable. MIRRORS may not have been every BOC fan's cup of tea, but its contemporary pop-rock groove certainly pointed the way to the band's final hit single, the radio-friendly favorite BURNIN' FOR YOU.

RATING: FOUR REFLECTIONS



CULT OF PERSONALITY

BLUE OYSTER CULT-SOME ENCHANTED EVENING:

One can hardly blame "heavy mental" outfit BLUE OYSTER CULT for cashing in on the concert album craze of the seventies fostered by the likes of PETER FRAMPTON's and KISS's mega-million selling efforts. BOC's first live platter ON YOUR FEET OR ON YOUR KNEES was issued before the band had calling card hits like DON'T FEAR THE REAPER and GODZILLA, which appear here in stylized, if not superior versions to their radio counterparts. The trippy cosmic sagas ASTONOMY and E.T.I. also get solid workouts, cruising alongside crowd-pleasing renditions of MC5's agressive Detroit Rock City anthem KICK OUT THE JAMS and the urgent ANIMALS singalong WE GOTTA GET OUT OF THIS PLACE. Growling lead vocalist ERIC BLOOM and co-singer/atomic axe smasher BUCK DHARMA are in fine form throughout, even if there are no huge surprises, and the playing length of forty minutes is a bit on the skimpy side. The content of SOME ENCHANTED EVENING may not quite live up to its clever title and unforgettable Grim Reaper cover art, but no true BOC fan would be caught dead without this one in their collection.

RATING: THREE COWBELLS

PLAY ME THAT MOUNTAIN MUSIC!

THE BLUE RIDGE RANGERS:

After the bittersweet experience that was Creedence Clearwater Revival for main cog John Fogerty, he set out to prove himself as a solo artist in more ways than one. THE BLUE RIDGE RANGERS is actually only the man himself, playing all the instruments and singing all the vocals, interpreting a sweet mix of folk, gospel, and twang-banger chestnuts. His foot stompin' take on JAMBALAYA (ON THE BAYOU) stands as one of the best Hank WIlliams tributes ever, while covers of Hank Locklin, Mel Tillis, and George Jones are similar down-home delights, and the spiritual WORKIN' ON A BUILDING invites the inevitable "feel good" singalong. Todd Rundgren, Dave Edmunds and Paul McCartney have all put out their own worthy one-man-band efforts, but none can match the sheer roots-rock authenticity and giddy-up exuberance of BRR. Fogerty must have enjoyed the concept, revisiting it nearly four decades later with a sublime sequel titled THE BLUE RIDGE RANGERS RIDES AGAIN.

RATING: FIVE STRINGS

SOUL BROTHERS

THE BLUES BROTHERS-COMPLETE:

Naysayers who complain that THE BLUES BROTHERS didn't record all that many actual blues tunes or that JOHN BELUSHI and DAN AKROYD possessed only average musical skills are missing the point. Taking their visual cues from CAB CALLOWAY and JOHN LEE HOOKER and their musical ones from DOWNCHILD BLUES BAND and STAX RECORDS, JAKE and ELWOOD's stylish vision was backed up by the most talented band this side of BOOKER T & THE MG'S (both groups featured STEVE CROPPER and DUCK DUNN), able to pump out exuberant blues, sanctifyin' soul and jumpin' jazz at the drop of a fedora. Everything was a cover naturally, with the boys paying tribute to SAM & DAVE's SOUL MAN, DELBERT MCCLINTON's "B" MOVIE BOX CAR BLUES, and JUNIOR WELLS' MESSIN' WITH THE KID on the debut album alone; most rock fans' initial exposure to these talents and many others arrived via their impeccable roots-of-rock taste and energetic delivery. Here's all THE BLUES BROTHERS you'll ever need, just three album's worth...it's also all there is...but baby, it's just enough.

RATING: FIVE SHADES



RIGHTEOUS BROTHERS!

THE BLUES BROTHERS-THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION:

Yeah man, I know, I know...Brother Jake has long gone to that great greasy roadhouse in the sky. Granted, the Blues Brothers were more a product than a real band. True, even when they WERE an actual working unit, all the roots-purist detractors claimed their brand of "blues" was about as authentic as near-beer. But damn it all, these cool, crazy cats introduced me to the likes of Sam and Dave, Junior Wells, Solomon Burke, and countless other RNB masters when I was just a naive teen hopelessly hooked on KISS and Meat Loaf. Maybe John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd were no Ray Charles or Little Walter in the vocal and harp departments respectively, but they had heart 'n soul to spare and were shrewd enough to surround themselves with living legends of the musical world. The Stax studio dream team of former MG's Steve "The Colonel" Cropper and Duck Dunn were legitimate old pros on beloved standards like SOUL MAN, WHO'S MAKIN' LOVE, SWEET HOME CHICAGO, GOIN' BACK TO MIAMI and HEY BARTENDER. Most important of all, hearing these horn-heavy renditions made me want to check out the originals, which of course, have never been bested. So, I'm sending out a heartfelt "thank you" to Jake and Elwood, for introducing me to my first musical love, classic blues and its offshoots. For that, you will forever remain Brothers in my soul.

RATING: FIVE FEDORAS

OH BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?

THE BLUES BROTHERS & FRIENDS-LIVE FROM CHICAGO'S HOUSE OF BLUES:

It's true what they say...you really CAN'T go back...not even if you stack the deck with verifiable STAX legends SAM MOORE and EDDIE FLOYD, guitar virtuoso JEFF "SKUNK" BAXTER, and BLUES BROTHERS alumni PAUL SHAFFER, MATT "GUITAR" MURPHY, STEVE CROPPER and DUCK DUNN. What's missing is obvious...it's the searing charisma and unmitigated passion that the late, great, and never sedate JOHN BELUSHI brought to the table...his little bro JIM may resemble him physically, but vocally, he's not even in DAN ACKROYD's minor league. Only a couple of JOLIET JAKE and ELWOOD-related tunes are trotted out for this HOUSE OF BLUES celebration; the rest of the set list is an uneven mix of rock and soul oldies, some as overplayed as VIVA LAS VEGAS and MONEY. EDDIE FLOYD shines on his chestnut 634-5789, but the mighty SAM MOORE doesn't even get a chance to belt out his signature song SOUL MAN, which was also THE BLUES BROTHERS' breakthrough smash. Everyone's heart is in the right place, but missed oppurtunities like that hint at why this well meaning platter doesn't rock the house like it could have.

RATING: THREE DARK SUITS

BLUES DRUTHER

THE BLUES BROTHERS-MADE IN AMERICA:

After their vibrant roots rockin' debut and star-studded film soundtrack follow-up, MADE IN AMERICA came off as a last gasp effort from THE BLUES BROTHERS, sounding cobbled together from outtakes and scraps. Once again the almighty Memphis-based STAX songbook is trotted out (no surprise, given the involvement of that label's session pros STEVE CROPPER and DUCK DUNN) and JOHNNY TAYLOR's cautionary WHO'S MAKIN' LOVE makes a feisty, funky single choice along the lines of SAM & DAVE's SOUL MAN. Sassy instrumentals GREEN ONIONS and the SOULFINGER (the latter in a medley with FUNKY BROADWAY) are also covered, although the band seems to be treading water while waiting for JOHN BELUSHI's next vocal shot...he only sings lead on a little over half the tracks here. It's cool to hear JOLIET JAKE tackle WAYNE COCRAN's blue eyed soul time bomb GOING BACK TO MIAMI, and DAN AKROYD's stark ELWOOD narration serves the ominous RIOT IN CELL BLOCK #9. Nothing else works quite as well; a CONTOURS/JAMES BROWN medley and BELUSHI's pained rendition of RANDY NEWMAN's GUILTY fall surprisingly flat. THE BLUES BLOTHERS' once unsinkable energy has dwindled and much of the soul-powered magic is gone, making MADE IN AMERICA a so-so coda to an all too brief career.

RATING: THREE NECKTIES

BLUES MOTHER!

THE BLUES BROTHERS-ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK RECORDING-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

THE BLUES BROTHERS movie soundtrack is probably even more fun than the legendary John Belushi/Dan Akroyd flick, which had its best moments via high spirited musical interludes and legendary guest stars Cab Calloway, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and Ray Charles. You get a genre-jumpin' grabbag of jazz (PETER GUNN), rock (GIMME SOME LOVIN' and JAILHOUSE ROCK, wailed out in ragged-but-right Belushi fashion), gospel (James Brown's sweaty testimonial THE OLD LANDMARK), country (THEME FROM RAWHIDE, which suits Akroyd's limited vocal ability to a tee), swing (Cab Calloway's signature hit MINNIE THE MOOCHER), and pure, unabashed soul (from the "Queen" and the "Genious" of it, Aretha and Ray). The bluesiest moments on here are a joyous eight minute workout of the ROBERT JOHNSON classic SWEET HOME CHICAGO, and the infectious EVERYBODY NEEDS SOMEBODY TO LOVE, which may not top Wilson Pickett's soul-shredding version but boasts an enthusiastic spoken word Akroyd intro. Even apart from the fractured flick, THE BLUES BROTHERS works beautifully as the background to a road trip, beer blast, or spontaneous dance party...in short, if you've got the blues, pop this baby in and watch 'em disappear faster than the Bluesmobile itself!

RATING: FIVE PACKS OF SMOKES

BLUES OTHERS

BLUES BROTHERS 2000/ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

Like the movie itself, BLUES BROTHERS 2000 is a flawed, if spirited musical sequel to the classic 1980 film and soundtrack album. Stacking the deck with welcome RNB guest stars ranging from the old school (Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, B.B. King) to the new (Blues Traveler, Jonny Lang) sounds like a can't-miss idea. Dan "Elwood" Aykroyd and new Blues Brother John Goodman do their noble best to recapture the old magic, but John Belushi's ribald charisma and raw energy are naturally missed here...perhaps brother Jim should have been drafted for this project? At least the B.B. King-led Louisiana Gator Boys (an all-star turn featuring every cool cat from Bo Diddley and Jimmie Vaughan to Steve Winwood and Gary "U.S" Bonds) generates enough righteous riffing to pull off HOW BLUE CAN YOU GET. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band oldie BORN IN CHICAGO is uniformly excellent and Dr. John kicks out the jams on Donovan's spooky SEASON OF THE WITCH, but too much of BLUES BROTHERS 2000 falls short of Jake and Elwood's original vision.

RATING: THREE PIECES OF DRY TOAST

SOUR GRAPES

MICHAEL BOLTON-VINTAGE:

When Rod Stewart tackled the great American songbook not long ago, the idea was almost as old as the very chestnuts he covered. Just ask Linda Ronstadt, Robert Palmer, Bryan Ferry, or any number of contemporary balladeers who'd already been there, done that. When Michael Bolton hopped aboard the big band wagon, you just KNEW the fad had been stretched beyond the point of no return. Bolton started out as a hard rock vocalist (if you doubt me, check out FOOL'S GAME) who turned wimpy soul "channeler"... shriekin', wailin', and moanin' in an over the top manner that suggested a man badly in need of a prune juice enema. Now the man who shamelessly butchered Ray Charles' and Otis Redding's truly untouchable GEORGIA ON MY MIND and DOCK OF THE BAY feels he has something to add to the legacy of SUMMERTIME, perfected eons ago by both Janis Joplin and Billy Stewart with incomparable style. Sinatra? Armstrong? The Mills Brothers? Who needs 'em when you've got the constipated crooning of Mr. Bolton for a new generation to breathlessly savor?

RATING: ONE SCREEEEEEEEAM!!

BOND JUMPER

GARY U.S. BONDS-BACK IN 20:

Raucous, hacksaw-rasp shouter GARY "U.S." BONDS, known the world over for the raw early sixties party starters QUARTER TO THREE and NEW ORLEANS, has a tendency to show up when least expected, though his sporadic appearances are never less than a welcome surprise. After a long period of recording inactivity, he mounted this wall-rattling comeback in 2004, two decades after his BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN-assisted hit singles THIS LITLE GIRL and OUT OF WORK revived his career at the dawn of the eighties. This high energy platter may be peppered with cameos from ALLMAN BROTHERS axeman DICKIE BETTS, PHOEBE SNOW, SOUTHSIDE JOHNNY and THE BOSS himself, but BONDS is clearly the main attraction, whether belting out funky oldies like BUSTER BROWN's FANNIE MAE and OTIS REDDING's I'VE GOT DREAMS TO REMEMBER, or freewheeling originals such as CAN'T TEACH AN OLD DOG NEW TRICKS (which could easily be his theme song). BACK IN 20's greasy grabbag of swingin' RNB and incendiary soul showcases an even dozen reasons to stomp some roadhouse sawdust...something BONDS has been doing with grit and gusto for half a decade.

RATING: FOUR SCREAMS

MAKES ME WANNA HOLLER!

GARY "U.S." BONDS-THE SCHOOL OF ROCK 'N' ROLL/BEST OF:

Raucous soul shouter GARY "U.S." BONDS busted out some of the grittiest, hardest hittin' rock & roll soul of his day, bolstered by FRANK GUIDA's primitive production methods, which included multi-tracking his star's raw voice for a unique crash-boom-bang echo effect. Instant party-starters included the unforgettable NEW ORLEANS and QUARTER TO THREE, which buzzed along on yell-it-out choruses, boisterous crowd noise, and trademark hot sax from DANNY G, who was often name checked in the lyrics. Further top notch titles SCHOOL IS OUT (and the answer record SCHOOL IS IN), TWIST TWIST SENORA, and SEVEN DAY WEEKEND loudly trumpeted GUIDA's "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" attitude; this stuff struck a nerve with no less a follower than BRUCE SRINGSTEEN, who engineered a respectable eighties comeback; BONDS continues to spit out rollicking rhythm platters to this very day. This RHINO roundup captures the high energy bombast of this true wildcat who literally shook the paint off the walls in an otherwise tame pre-BEATLES sixties.

RATING: FOUR SHOUTS

LIVIN' ON MY HAIR

BON JOVI-CROSS ROADS:

BON JOVI always amounted to the poor man's SPRINGSTEEN and as far as New Jersey rock acts go, SOUTHSIDE JOHNNY & THE ASBURY JUKES also possessed more chops and blue eyed soul power, even if they lacked BJ's movie star good looks and mass recognition. The guilty pleasure hat trick of YOU GIVE LOVE A BAD NAME, LIVIN' ON A PRAYER, (both co-written with song doctor to the stars DESMOND CHILD) and WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE from their big-hair breakthrough album SLIPPERY WHEN WET cemented the band's crafty, radio-ready brand of "bubble-metal", goosed by JON BON JOVI's non-threatening yelp, RICHIE SAMBORA's slick six string licks, and hooks big enough to hang sombreros on. Subsequent singles BAD MEDICINE, LAY YOUR HANDS ON ME and KEEP THE FAITH milked the arena rock formula a little too thoroughly, even as the band climbed into the upper echelon of pin-up pop stars. Sure, you can hum this stuff all night long, but will you be able to respect yourself in the morning when it's still clingin' to your tongue like dry-mouth?

RATING: THREE CANS OF MOUSSE



INSTRU-"MENTAL"

BOOKER T. & THE MG'S-THE VERY BEST OF BOOKER T. & THE MG'S:

Soul music's most famous house band, BOOKER T. & THE MG'S backed up everyone from OTIS REDDING and CARLA THOMAS to SAM & DAVE and ALBERT KING at Memphis' STAX RECORDS, in addition to scoring their own string of instrumental hits in the sixties. Their debut smash (and signature classic) GREEN ONIONS, so named for its "funky stench", plied a slippery groove that set the pattern for more group-penned successes like the CLINT EASTWOOD-inspired HANG 'EM HIGH, the atmospheric TIME IS TIGHT and percussive delight SOUL-LIMBO, as well as laid back covers of SIMON & GARFUNKEL's MRS. ROBINSON and THE RASCALS' GROOVIN'. Succulent slabs of jazz, country, RNB, pop and gospel anchored BOOKER T. JONES' playful yet sophisticated organ solos, AL JACKSON's peerless in-the-pocket sticks work, guitarist STEVE CROPPER's jagged rhythm licks, and DUCK DUNN's rumbling bass...the latter two eventually emerged as important cogs in THE BLUES BROTHERS. RHINO RECORDS' sublime sixteen track VERY BEST collection virtually defines the expression "lost for words".

RATING: FOUR THEMES


THE BASEMENT TAPES



BOSTON-BOSTON:

That iconic guitar-as-spaceship cover art...TOM SCHOLZ' production perfection and multi-layered guitars...BRAD DELP's soaring, other-worldly vocals...it all added up to nothin' short of a sonic orgasm in 1976. New England's other big name rockers (AEROSMITH, J. GEILS, and THE CARS) also pumped out delicious debut albums in that decade, but unlike those groups, BOSTON shot their wad on the first try. Most tracks were virtually indistinguishable...in fact, many showed up AGAIN in thin disguise on the follow up disc DON'T LOOK BACK. The "band", such as it was, was plastered on the back cover mostly for show...control freak SCHOLZ basically created this juggernaut alone in his basement, calling on DELP only for vocals, the one department in which he was lacking. Even though every song garnered radio play, MORE THAN A FEELING, with its thumping LOUIE LOUIE riff, PEACE OF MIND's slick as hell groove, and the gradually building LONG TIME were the huge hits, spurring umpteen million album sales, in-fighting and inevitable backlash for the rest of their career. Such are the foibles of a rock and roll band.

RATING: FIVE FOREPLAYS

BACK TRACKS

BOSTON-DON'T LOOK BACK:

The dreaded sophomore curse has always been tough for any rock band to overcome, especially one that enjoyed the biggest selling debut platter of its era; in spite of its optimistic title, DON'T LOOK BACK wasn't taking any chances. Band mastermind/control freak TOM SHOLZ wrote and played practically every meticulous note here, with high pitched marvel BRAD DELP supplying his usual theatrical vocal punch, but "there's nothing new under the sun", as the saying goes. The title smash is little more than MORE THAN A FEELING rebooted, PARTY is second hand SMOKIN' and FEELIN' SATISFIED clones ROCK & ROLL BAND and/or PEACE OF MIND (take your pick). The six and a half minute hit A MAN I'LL NEVER BE stands out if only because it's a slick power ballad and a hint as to the MOR direction the next disc THIRD STAGE would take. For BOSTON fans who couldn't get enough of that famous first album's soaring guitars and multi-layered vocals, DON'T LOOK BACK probably won't offend...except maybe those listeners expecting something more the second time around.

RATING: THREE REPLAYS

LESS OF A FEELING

BOSTON-GREATEST HITS:

Die hards can wade through this testimony to seventies high tech and multi-tracked axe/vocal harmonies for the handful of truly classic sonic ear-blasters. Better still, they can simply slap on their dynamic debut BOSTON, because that's where all of the really good stuff still lies, even several decades after the fact. The pickings get pretty slim after the pristine pop power punch of early singles MORE THAN A FEELING, LONG TIME, and soaring autobiographical saga ROCK & ROLL BAND. GREATEST HITS also includes retreads of those juggernauts from second elpee DON'T LOOK BACK...advice BOSTON Svengali TOM SCHOLZ apparently did not heed...and elevator pop from THIRD STAGE. Worst of all, the so called later "band" (consisting of mastermind SCHOLZ and a rotating cast) attempts abominable new material without key vocal slayer BRAD DELP, as well as a plodding instrumental of THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER. That's about as vital as owning this "best of" collection instead of Boston's first (and only essential) platinum platter. Spare me.

RATING: THREE SPACESHIPS



BOWIE KEEPS SWINGING

DAVID BOWIE-CHANGESBOWIE:

From the folky CHANGES, SPACE ODDITY's eerie starkness and the wham-glam of SUFFRAGETTE CITY to the neo-soul of YOUNG AMERICANS and the coldly calculated club floor vibe of LET'S DANCE, rock's ultimate chameleon DAVID BOWIE has seldom repeated himself. Throughout his multi-decade career, the former DAVID JONES borrowed dollops of inspiration from LOU REED, SYD BARRET and IGGY POP while aligning with a long line of stellar guitar foils including MICK RONSON, ROBERT FRIPP and a pre-fame STEVIE RAVE ON. A seamless combination of his CHANGESONEBOWIE and CHANGESTWOBOWIE anthologies, here is most everything you could ask for hit-wise, the lone downer being a jittery, flatulent remix of his chart-topping John Lennon co-write FAME. Fan faves including STAR MAN, ALADDIN SANE, TVC15 and THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD may be missing in action, but what's here is a primo sampling of the Thin White Duke's ethereal sound and vision.

RATING: FIVE OH BOWIES!

BOX TOPS PREMIUM

THE BOX TOPS-THE BEST OF THE BOX TOPS/SOUL DEEP:

Long before gaining cult infamy in the power pop ensemble BIG STAR, ALEX CHILTON was the best blue eyed soul-belting teenager this side of SPENCER DAVIS GROUP front man STEVIE WINWOOD, racking up a smoky string of late sixties mini-classics with THE BOX TOPS. CHILTON's husky roots-baring warble, coupled with the compositions of country tunesmith WAYNE CARSON THOMPSON and legendary Memphis team SPOONER OLDMAN and DAN PENN begat chart topping AM radio chestnuts like THE LETTER and CRIED LIKE A BABY. Crack session musicians may have subbed for individual band members (a common practice in the era of THE MONKEES), but the quasi-psychedelic NEON RAINBOW, earthy SOUL DEEP and sanctifying gospel chant I MET HER IN CHURCH were all further Top 40 singles. Gutbucket covers of BOB DYLAN's I SHALL BE RELEASED and CLIFFORD CURRY's SHE SHOT A HOLE IN MY SOUL, along with CHILTON's own bloozey I MUST BE THE DEVIL round out this nifty collection, which cherry-picks eighteen prizes from THE BOX TOPS' far too brief career.

RATING: FOUR TOPS

SIX PACK

THE BRADY BUNCH-IT'S A SUNSHINE DAY/THE BEST OF THE BRADY BUNCH:

Whatever you wanna call 'em...THE BRADY SIX, THE SILVER PLATTERS or THE BRADY KIDS...this was the audio answer to the squeaky clean sextet's closest TV competition THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY. Suffice to say, BARRY "GREG" WILLIAMS was never a threat to shagadelic teen idol DAVID CASSIDY...but unlike THE PARTRIDGES, all the BRADY kids were actually singing...for better or (mostly) worse. Culled from quickie cash-in platters like MEET THE BRADY BUNCH and THE PHONOGRAPHIC ALBUM (make sure you read that right), you get chirpy bubblegum wads like WE CAN MAKE THE WORD A WHOLE LOT BRIGHTER, TIME TO CHANGE and of course, that all time ear-worm champ THEME FROM THE BRADY BUNCH. The Brady family managed to extend their shelf-life via a cartoon series, a glitzy variety show, and innumerable TV reunions...IT'S A SUNSHINE DAY, which makes THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY seem like LED ZEPPELIN (well...okay...THE DOOBIE BROTHERS) is no better or worse than any of those kitschy, guilty pleasure nostalgia trips.

RATING: THREE ALICE'S

BREAD WINNER

BREAD-ANTHOLOGY:

The ultimate definition of "soft rock", David Gates and Bread could be enjoyed by teenagers and adults alike, hence the band's incredible across-the-board popularity in the first half of the seventies. AM radio resounded with their wistful string of love ballads, though ANTHOLOGY demonstrates that occasionally a gruff Jim Griffin rocker like TRUCKIN' (not the Dead classic) could easily break up the peaceful pace. From the nifty wah-wah pedal punctuation of GUITAR MAN to the dulcet tones of harmony-laden hits like EVERYTHING I OWN, SWEET SURRENDER and IF, Bread's sound was instantly recognizable, offending no one other than brain-fried fans of the two chord/one idea rock dinosaurs so typical of the era. This twenty track collection of pure pop utopia would have been almost as good if it merely included their dozen biggest singles...but true fans will savor the chance to delve a little deeper into Bread's crust.

RATING: FOUR CRUMBS



GET DOWN WITH HIS BAD SELF

JAMES BROWN-20 ALL TIME GREATEST HITS!:

No self respecting lover of modern music would be caught DEAD without a copy of the Black Elvis' grab bag of gargantuan grooves in their collection and 20 ALL TIME GREATEST HITS fits the bill beautifully. Of course we're talkin' 'bout JAMES BROWN, the cat with the most nicknames, the coolest dance moves, the tightest band, and the paint peelin'-est SCREAM in the entire entertainment world. Among his myriad of accomplishments, this disciple of LOUIS JORDAN and THE FIVE ROYALES was a soul, funk and rap pioneer, and not surprisingly, the latter genre's most sampled artist. Brown's barn-burner biggies, from early steampacket ballad PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE to frenzied dance floor-fillers I GOT YOU (I FEEL GOOD) and PAPA'S GOT A BRAND NEW BAG, plus heavy "on the one" showpieces SEX MACHINE and GET UP OFFA THAT THING, are laid out here in all their cold sweat-soaked splendor. If you make only ONE soul purchase, this is the platter that really matters...JB is to RNB what the FAB FOUR are to rock, BOB MARLEY is to reggae, and HANK SR. is to country...maybe even a little bit more.

RATING: FIVE YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEOOOOOOOWWWS!!!!!

JUNIOR HIGH

JUNIOR BROWN-SEMI-CRAZY:

With his high falutin', lickety split ROY CLARK licks and low-slung, drawling ERNEST TUBB delivery, JUNIOR BROWN, undisputed master of the "guit-steel" (his patented lap steel/Telecaster hybrid) has always stood alone in his chosen field...managing to sound both deliciously retro and stubbornly original at the same time. Humor draped down home ditties like VENOM WEARIN' DENIM, JOE THE SINGING JANITOR and GOTTA GET UP EVERY MORNING show off his playful songwriting spark, while his taste in cover tunes is similarly inspired...a HOAGY CHARMICAEL novelty called HONG KONG BLUES and a jaw dropping medley of PIPELINE, WALK DON'T RUN and SECRET AGENT MAN that might even make THE VENTURES sit up and take notice. A genuine throwback to the hayseed hey day of JERRY REED and JOHNNY CASH, SEMI-CRAZY is infused with western swing, roadhouse rhythms and honky tonk stomps, while the funky truck drivin' title track gets a vocal assist from one of that genre's heroes RED SIMPSON. JUNIOR BROWN is such a uniquely engaging, talented performer, this roots rockin' thrill ride is all over before you know it...but hey, that's what "repeat" buttons were made for.

RATING: FOUR GUIT-STEELS

PAINTING THE TOWN BROWNE

JACKSON BROWNE-THE VERY BEST OF JACKSON BROWNE:

A major component of Southern California's seventies' folk rock scene that also included LINDA RONSTADT and WARREN ZEVON, JACKSON BROWNE was one of the most sensitive and successful cogs in that well oiled machine. Equally comfortable with bittersweet love songs or charged political statements, the one time NITTY GRITTY DIRT BAND member served notice on early favorites DOCTOR MY EYES, TAKE IT EASY (a stone smash for THE EAGLES) and ROCK ME ON THE WATER before hitting his commercial stride via THE PRETENDER, SOMEBODY'S BABY and BOULEVARD. Long time cohort DAVID LINDLEY added ear-slicing slide, fiddle and lap steel to the proceedings, boosting the octane of RUNNING ON EMPTY's title smash and heartfelt roadie tribute THE LOAD OUT (he also sang the weird falsetto part on STAY). In spite of a few missing gems like THAT GIRL COULD SING, the 32 track VERY BEST doubles the content of his only previous anthology THE NEXT VOICE YOU HEAR...a plus for die hard fans who can never get enough of JACKSON BROWNE's poignant, introspective outpourings.

RATING: FOUR LAWYERS IN LOVE

SPECIAL DELIVERY

BROWNSVILLE-AIR SPECIAL:

The almighty Brownsville Station may have shortened their name for this last great greasy gasp, but thankfully cut back on nothin' else. Swan songs this good scare the livin' crap outta me, cuz most 70s bands couldn't toss off an album HALF this decent even at their peak. Lava-spewin' covers of Bo Diddley's WHO DO YOU LOVE (makes George Thorogood sound like Barry Manilow) and RNB standard DOWN THE ROAD APIECE stand tall alongside loud 'n proud blooze-rockin' originals like COODA CRAWLIN', LET IT ROLL, and WAITIN' FOR THE WEEKEND. Fretboard manglers Cub Koda and Bruce "Beezer" Nazarian trade gritty "meat 'n taters" lead vocals, propelled by the smackdown rhythm section of Mike Lutz and H-Bomb Weck. This stuff sounded cool in your car, in a bar, maybe even underwater. Did radio play it? Did every record store stock it? Did most of yer uncool buddies even know about it? Nope...'COURSE NOT! Maybe THAT's what made it "special", bubba. At least BROWNSVILLE STATION went out howlin' like the bad-ass banshees a priveledged few of us always knew they were.

RATING: FIVE STAMPS OF APPROVAL

STATION MASTERS

BROWNSVILLE STATION-BROWNSVILLE STATION:

Here's the holy grail of lost seventies "party till ya puke" vinyl albums, (incredibly, it's never made it to "shiny beer coaster" status) which rocks like an avalanche the instant needle and vinyl make blessed contact. Kudos to blooze-innoculated axemeister/gravel-pit vocal growler CUB KODA for grafting a JUNIOR PARKER blooze ditty with a chipmunk-voiced alien straight outta PURPLE PEOPLE EATER, makin' MARTIAN BOOGIE a seven minute psychedelicious mind meld that any DR. DEMENTO fan can appreciate. LADY PUT THE LIGHT ON, the other shoulda-coulda-woulda hit here, soulfully belted out by newest member/guitar slinger BRUCE "BEEZER" NAZARIAN is an infectious shoutalong of keg party proportions, while other titles such as HOT SPIT and SLEAZY LOUISE loudly suggest that the dreaded term "power ballad" simply ain't in this band's vocabulary. So, slap this puppy on...if you can find it, and if yer mama didn't toss yer old turntable along with yer baseball card collection...and you too will be singin' the praises of this primitive pack o' Ann Arbor housewreckers.

RATING: FIVE SMOKES



COOL PUNK

BROWNSVILLE STATION-SCHOOL PUNKS:

BROWNSVILLE STATION's semi-legendary SCHOOL PUNKS is every bit as rootsy, bloozey, ballsy, and bangin' as i remember it. Thanks to the hindsight of adulthood, or whatever it is I've grown into, I realize NOW that it's actually a concept album about...not so shockingly...high school daze (lust, juvenile delinquency, macho posing, the whole shindig). The stellar caricatures of CUB KODA and company as leather clad greasers hangin' in a graffiti-covered lavatory is the stuff that 12 inch LP covers were created for. Drummer H-BOMB WECK sings a rare and soulful lead vocal on DEE CLARK's RNB classic HEY LITTLE GIRL, proving that everyone in this power trio could carry a tune. Elsewhere, OSTRICH is a titillating twanger, LEADER OF THE GANG is GARY GLITTER glammed into high gear, and sorta-hit KINGS OF THE PARTY is a sludgy slab o' CHUCK BERRY crashing headfirst into garage rock and a garbage truck. If they'd tacked on their previous smasheroo SMOKIN' IN THE BOYS ROOM (I've seen other acts put the same hit on two consecutive albums), this puppy would be the PERFECT educational slam-o-rama!

RATING: FIVE FAILING GRADES

WHERE THERE'S SMOKE...

BROWNSVILLE STATION-SMOKIN' IN THE BOY'S ROOM/THE BEST OF BROWNSVILLE STATION:

Motley WHO??? The title trash track of this boot-stompin' comp was a juvey delinquent call to arms when I was in high school and has retained that stature ever since. If that's all ya know about CUB KODA and his grinnin' gang of Detroit Rock City brats, then fer cryin' out loud, whattya waitin' on??? Slap it on, tune in, and shut up!!! Ya got yer rocked up reggae tune (LET YOUR YEAH BE YEAH, as JIMMY CLIFF never envisioned it). Ya got yer killer glam-slam (GARY GLITTER's pre-punk anthem I'M THE LEADER OF THE GANG). Ya even got THE MARTIAN BOOGIE, a spaced out JUNIOR PARKER-meets-THE PURPLE PEOPLE EATER mind-meld that was a DR. DEMENTO SHOW fave for light years. Plus, you also get THE great lost killer slam-bam-o-rama single of the late seventies, LADY PUT THE LIGHT ON ME. Acclaimed liner note king/music journalist/BS leader CUB KODA does the honors here, chronicling the band's slow rise and fast free fall...if only he'd penned an entire book about BS before he went to that "great greasy gig in the sky". Far too many platters have had the gall to claim: "MADE LOUD TO PLAY LOUD!"...only BROWNSVILLE truly meant it.

RATING: FIVE "HIGH FIVES"

STATION BREAK

BROWNSVILLE STATION-STILL SMOKIN':

More than three decades after their vastly underrated final platter AIR SPECIAL dropped, what's left of Ann Arbor bad boys BROWNSVILLE STATION reconvenes for the rather obviously titled STILL' SMOKIN', an homage to their school lavatory smash that was resurrected twenty years ago by hair bangers MOTLEY CRUE. Unfortunately, BS without their spiritual leader, dear departed axe slinger/gravel-pit singer CUB KODA, is a lot like THE THREE STOOGES minus CURLY. Bass thumper MIKE LUTZ, who bellowed gutsy lead on BROWNSVILLE classics like KINGS OF THE PARTY and BAREFOOTIN', performs all the vocals here, including new versions of their dirty drinkin' ditty MY FRIEND JACK and of course SMOKIN' IN THE BOYS ROOM 2012, which both lack KODA's sleazy tongue in cheek delivery. HENRY "H-BOMB" WECK still lays down a cannonball beat...but where's the mighty six stringer/belter BEEZER NAZARIAN, a band member on their last two albums? Forced new STILL SMOKIN' tracks like the name dropping rap ROCK & ROLL IS BETTER THAN MUSIC won't make anyone wanna shelve their treasured copies of YEAH! or SCHOOL PUNKS.

RATING: TWO SMOLDERING ASHES

SMOKE 'EM IF YA GOT 'EM, BOYS!...

BROWNSVILLE STATION-YEAH!:

I feel sorry for all the deprived youngin's who have been raised on MOTLEY CRUE's ummm..."motley" cover of SMOKIN' IN THE BOY'S ROOM, the uncontested juvey delinquent anthem of the early seventies. YEAH! is a short n' sweet, snarling, sweaty testamant to the charismatic GARY GLITTER-meets-BO DIDDLEY garage rockin' blooze-bustin' punk pioneers christened BROWNSVILLE STATION. Besides their own (no doubt) autobiographical ode to the "Butt-head"...in one thirty minute in-yer-ear blast, music historian/record collector CUB KODA's impeccable taste in genre-jumpin' cover tunes spans seemingly every known style of music in the cosmos. Country's HOYT AXTON (LIGHTNING BAR BLUES), reggae's JIMMY CLIFF (almost hit LET YOUR YEAH BE YEAH), New Orleans soulman ROBERT PARKER (BAREFOOTIN'), punk Godfadda LOU REED (SWEET JANE), and psychedelic one hitters BALLOON FARM (QUESTION OF TEMPERATURE), are all rendered in BROWNVILLE's patented slam-bang-thank-you-glam delivery. Smoke 'em if ya got 'em, boys! No one owned rock and roll covers (or created their own covers to be) like these Ann Arbor overgrown high school greasers. More fun than cherry bombs in the boy's room urinal!

RATING: FIVE SOGGY BUTTS

BTO CALLS IT A NIGHT

BTO-ROCK 'N ROLL NIGHTS:

This ain't your older brother's BTO, friends and neighbors; their second album without RANDY BACHMAN strays even further from the band's trademark sound than the previous STREET ACTION. Almost all of the songwriting is divided between new member JIM CLENCH and producer JIM VALLANCE, BRYAN ADAMS' future partner), with only one co-credit apiece from FRED TURNER and BLAIR THORNTON. The always reliable TURNER emotes with unprecedented passion on HEARTACHES, a change of pace gutbucket ballad that deserved to be a hit, and CLENCH's best RANDY-like vocals pop up on HERE SHE COMES AGAIN and JAMAICA (the latter reborn as KRISTINA by RICK SPRINGFIELD a couple years later). Elsewhere, ROCK & ROLL HELL pretty much sums up that dreary dirge and AMELIA EARHART's BEE GEES-like backing vocals and proggy vibe sink it pretty quickly. Half of ROCK 'N ROLL NIGHTS sounds like it could have been made by ANY competent non-descript group...a far cry from BTO's hey day, when their good time blue collar rock was an immediately recognizable sledgehammer blow every time it invaded the airwaves.

RATING: THREE TRASHED HOTEL ROOMS

UNSTRUNG

ROY BUCHANAN-DELUXE EDITION:

Hailed as "The best unknown guitarist in the world" and rumored to have been considered as a replacement for MICK TAYLOR in THE STONES, ROY BUCHANAN was revered for his unique piercing sound and speed king dexterity. Like fellow plank punishers ELVIN BISHOP, JOHNNY WINTER and LONNIE MACK, BUCHANAN was given a new lease on life when roots label ALLIGATOR RECORDS signed him for a series of hot wired eighties albums including the acclaimed WHEN A GUITAR PLAYS THE BLUES. DELUXE EDITION, that company's "best of" imprint, uncorks a melt down version of PETER GUNN as never imagined by HENRY MANCINI, the wry spoken word effort BEER DRINKING WOMAN and greasy guest vocal shots from OTIS CLAY (covering his own RNB oldie NICKEL & A NAIL) and DELBERT MCCLINTON tearing up YOU CAN'T JUDGE A BOOK BY THE COVER. Throughout the "jam" packed proceedings, BUCHANAN's indelible ear shredding licks remain front and center, making DELUXE EDITION a flashy, soul stirring showcase for a guitar hero whose credits stretch back as far as late fifties session work for FREDDY CANNON and DALE HAWKINS.

RATING: FOUR PLAY

WHERE THE BUFFFALO ROAM

BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD-RETROSPECTIVE:

L.A. based country rock pioneers BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD contained far too much raw singing/songwriting/guitar picking talent...STEVE STILLS, RICHIE FURAY, NEIL YOUNG (who drove down from his native Toronto in a hearse), and eventually JIMMY MESSINA...to last beyond three albums, from which RETROSPECTIVE cherry picks their finest moments. Those highlights include STILLS' protest classic FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH (their lone Top 40 hit) and sprawling, bluegrass-driven BLUEBIRD, YOUNG's psychedelia-laced offerings MR. SOUL and BROKEN ARROW, and FURAY's plaintive KIND WOMAN. FURAY, who possessed the most technically perfect singing voice of the three, also lent his pipes to YOUNG's energetic ON THE WAY HOME. Inevitable creative differences, the bane of many a band from THE BEATLES on down, plagued them almost from the start, although successful follow up projects such as CROSBY, STILL, NASH & YOUNG, POCO and LOGGINS & MESSINA continued the SPRINGFIELD's organic folk-pop quest, leading the charge for the early seventies' singer-songwriter boom.

RATING: FOUR BUFFALO NICKELS



DRINKING IT IN

JIMMY BUFFETT-SONGS YOU KNOW BY HEART/GREATEST HITS:

Moving gradually from a one hit wonder in the seventies to ka-billionaire King of the Parrotheads in the nineties and beyond, Jimmy Buffett's 1985 "Best of" to this day represents 75% percent of the material he performs to beach bum wannabes 'round the planet. There's nary a party animal among us who has not bellied up to a sand bar and boogied to FINS, that ornery ode to land sharks everywhere, let alone the glutton's national anthem CHEESEBURGER IN PARADISE, or WHY DON'T WE GET DRUNK AND SCREW, which needs no introduction to the moral majority. For variety, there are several reflective sea-faring ballads, A PIRATE LOOKS AT 40 being the most memorable, and PENCIL THIN MUSTACHE, a dose of nostalgia on par with anything the Statler Brothers ever recorded. A glaring omission is the harp-drenched dance inducer LIVINGSTON SATURDAY NIGHT, but I'm grabbing at boat drink straws here. There's no point in even mentioning that dandy drinkin' ditty that started it all for Jimmy...you already know it by heart.

RATING: FIVE SHAKERS OF SALT

THIS IS HIP!

R. L. BURNSIDE-ASS POCKET FULL OF WHISKEY:

The cover art should tip you off instantly...this ain't your granddaddy's backwoods roadhouse trip. Mississippi mainstay R. L. BURNSIDE, who'd been kicking around the Delta for decades, (mostly recording for the independent FAT POSSUM label) hooked up with alternative rocker JON SPENCER for this most unconventional of roots rock platters. A sleazy, grungy, convoluted mess o' sinewy backwoods riffs, junk pile juke joint jams and BURNSIDE's trademark guttural drone. This provocative groove-a-thon includes a sweat-soaked annihilation of JOHN LEE HOOKER's immortal BOOGIE CHILLEN, BURNSIDE's own signature jam SHAKE 'EM ON DOWN (which he has recorded numerous times) and the raw-boned, kinetic energizer of SNAKE DRIVE. Whether your taste in roots rock runs more towards HOWLIN' WOLF or STEVIE RAVE ON, one thing is abundantly clear when ASS POCKET FULL OF WHISKEY gets cranked up to ozone shattering levels...you've never heard anything quite like this deliriously low down 'n dirty, blooze quakin' assault on the senses.

RATING: FOUR HIP FLASKS

BYRD SONGS

THE BYRDS-20 ESSENTIAL TRACKS FROM THE BOXED SET:

THE BYRDS' pithy blend of Beatle-esque pop, space cowboy psychedelia and ethereal folk rock proved an enormous influence on future ensembles from THE EAGLES and TOM PETTY to REM. Led by the jangly 12 string Rickenbacker and wistful lead pipes of ROGER MCGUINN and bolstered by the exquisite vocal harmonies of DAVID CROSBY, GENE CLARK and CHRIS HILLMAN, they proved to be creative interpreters; their reflective takes on PETE SEEGER's biblical adaption TURN TURN TURN and BOB DYLAN's MR. TAMBOURINE MAN were both chart topping singles. Trippy group-penned follow ups EIGHT MILES HIGH and SO YOU WANT TO BE A ROCK & ROLL STAR provided further radio staples; the band eventually veered into rootsier efforts such as BALLAD OF EASY RIDER and CHESTNUT MARE, by which time only MCGUINN remained from the original lineup. This crisp collection culled from the four platter BYRDS boxed set will most likely be enough high flying fodder for all but the most ardent fans.

RATING: FOUR WINGS

FAVORITE TOY

TOY CALDWELL-CAN'T YOU SEE:

No member of southern rock's MARSHALL TUCKER BAND went by either of those names, but their late guitar slinger TOY CALDWELL, who wrote their best loved material, was the group's heart and soul. This "warts 'n all" club set, jump starts in fine, rowdy fashion with the appropriately titled cover I HEAR THE SOUTH CALLIN' ME, spotlighting CALDWELL's lickety split Dixie licks and ragged but righteous vocal growling. MTB singer DOUG GREY's smooth croon may be missing on new versions of HEARD IT IN A LOVE SONG and SEARCHIN' FOR A RAINBOW, but TOY's original blooze-drenched shout on CAN'T YOU SEE is beautifully intact here, and a 13 minute jam of 24 HOURS AT A TIME rocks with riveting roadhouse intensity, greasy grit gravy poured over every sweaty solo. A pair of bonus studio tracks are tacked onto the end of this platter, including a rock-yer-boots-off treatment of the classic western theme HIGH NOON. CAN'T YOU SEE mines rich veins of country, RNB, and boogie, a fitting coda to the far too brief solo career of TOY CALDWELL.

RATING: THREE COWBOY HATS



BOOM AT THE TOP

FREDDY CANNON-BOOM BOOM ROCK & ROLL/THE BEST OF:

Massachusetts native FREDDY "BOOM BOOM" CANNON had two indelible trademarks...a habit of inserting a shouted "WHOO!" and a crashing drum beat into all his late 50s/early 60s hits, hence his nickname. Retro label SHOUT has packaged all his energy-charged chartbusters, with not a syrupy ballad to be heard in the pack. The CHUCK BARRIS-penned PALISADES PARK, tongue twister BUZZ BUZZ A-DIDDLE-IT, and hip teacher anthem ABIGAIL BEECHER are almost impossible not to shout along with, let alone shake your sacroiliac to. TRANSISTER SISTER and THE DEDICATION SONG are nostalgic, feisty odes to AM radio, while his 1981 single LET'S PUT THE FUN BACK IN ROCK & ROLL, backed by THE BELMONTS (minus DION) is one of the most effervescent comeback efforts ever waxed. Ringing guitars, kitschy subject matter, and above all FREDDY CANNON's raw, high spirited vocals make this collection a must own for any baby boomer's personal jukebox.

RATING: FIVE WHOO!'S

RASPBERRY POP

ERIC CARMEN-DEFINITIVE COLLECTION:

Eric Carmen was AM radio's great lost chord connecting the Beatles to the Beach Boys. Blessed with a high pitch-perfect voice and the ability to write hooks that could catch Moby Dick, the Cleveland native's first group, the Raspberries, sounded too good to be true, let alone last long (they didn't). Their bubblegum-meets-hard-rock efforts bore chart fruit via the lust-encrusted power poppers GO ALL THE WAY and I WANNA BE WITH YOU, creamy school dance ballad LET'S PRETEND, and the flawless "wall of production" autobiography OVERNIGHT SENSATION, which kick off this compilation disc in grandiose style. What follows are Carmen's slightly mellower, but equally classy solo career highlights, including a pair of biggies he wrote for teen throb Shaun Cassidy (THAT'S ROCK & ROLL, HEY DEANIE), heard to best advantage here in their harder-nosed original versions. The Beach Boys-channeled SHE DID IT, yearning angst-fest ALL BY MYSELF, and DIRTY DANCING-era guilty pleasures HUNGRY EYES and MAKE ME LOSE CONTROL round out the fun. While his recorded output has been slight compared to Billy Joel or Elton John, DEFINITIVE is a cohesive single disc collection that easily trumps all those bloated box sets pumped out during the CD era.

RATING: FIVE RASPBERRIES

CARPENTER'S TOOLS

MARY CHAPIN CARPENTER-COME ON COME ON:

Few country albums have produced seven (count 'em! SEVEN!) big hit singles, but then again, few 90s singer/songwriters forged a straight forward folk-pop sensibilty as keen and highly listenable as MARY CHAPIN CARPENTER. Assembling her carefully crafted catalogue from the head, heart and soul, her plaintive ballad NOT TOO MUCH TO ASK, a duet with the criminally underrated JOE DIFFIE, woman's anthem HE THINKS HE'LL KEEP HER, and the light-hearted saga I FEEL LUCKY are among many high points to be found here. CARPENTER's interpretive skills are also in fine form, as her solid covers of fellow americana artists LUCINDA WILLIAMS' wistful PASSIONATE KISSES and MARK KNOPFLER's sardonic singalong THE BUG ("some days you're the windshield, some days you're the bug") will attest. COME ON COME ON rightly represents CARPENTER's most popular hitmaking period, nestled between years of college radio adoration and settling comfortably back into cult status after being edged off the charts by the flashier, harder rocking breed of country in the new millennium.

RATING: FIVE TWIST & SHOUTS

I'M JUST A SINGER IN A ROCK & ROLL BAND

PAUL CARRACK-21 GOOD REASONS/THE PAUL CARRACK COLLECTION:

"Unsung" is a funny word...nobody outside of pop culture completetists can tell you who the heck Paul Carrack is, but everyone cozies up to his yearning blue eyed soul gem of a voice, thanks to successful stints with a handful of pop savvy groups. Carrack is the supple, rhythmic belter who sang lead on such 70s/80s "oldies" as Ace's pub rock masterpiece HOW LONG and Squeeze's coolly crafted TEMPTED, as well as the Mike and the Mechanics classics SILENT RUNNING and THE LIVING YEARS. In addition, he has actually scored several hits under his own name, including the effervescent ONE GOOD REASON, Nick Lowe's wistful composition I NEED YOU, and funk-laden dance inducer I LIVE BY THE GROOVE. They're all rounded up here in one handy little party package, an instant mix tape of some of modern music's catchiest mementos. Carrack may never get the name recognition he so richly deserves, but his asterisk in rock history has long been established.

RATING: FIVE ACES

WHERE THE RUBBER MEETS THE ROAD

THE CARS-COMPLETE GREATEST HITS:

Boss-Town Massachusetts' THE CARS were one of the few late seventies models that gave punk's inevitable offshoot "new wave" a good name, delivering smartly crafted power pop chestnuts made for the radio. JUST WHAT I NEEDED nicked its opening bars from OHIO EXPRESS guilty pleasure YUMMY YUMMY YUMMY...the sixties "bubblegum" influence was also a trademark of BLONDIE, TALKING HEADS, THE GO-GO'S and THE RAMONES. The interchangeable, icy vocals of bassist BEN ORR and leader/songwriter RIC OCASEK, ELLIOT EASTON's economical six string work and GREG HAWKES' eccentric keyboard blurbs powered the obtuse beauty of OCASEK's mod lyrical landscape. Two thirds of their stunning debut album, a virtual "best of" unto itself, is showcased here, with tone-cool singles like LET'S GO, DRIVE and SHAKE IT UP as worthy follow ups...only towards the end did the group begin to spin its wheels. COMPLETE GREATEST HITS is a panoramic snapshot just beggin' to be taken for a road trip

RATING: FOUR GEARS



CARTER COUNTRY

CARLENE CARTER-MUSICAL SHAPES:

Pairing JOHNNY CASH's stepdaughter with genre-jumpers ROCKPILE turned out to be a hell of an idea at the dawn of the eighties; MUSICAL SHAPES, with its retro-chic cover art, cow-punk grooves, and sassy song selection is the finest record most folks never slapped on a turntable. Rockabilly rebel DAVE EDMUNDS' six string licks and NICK LOWE's popping bass lines ride shotgun over CARLENE CARTER's alternately chirpy/growling pipes...to put it bluntly, she sings her ASS off. I'M SO COOL, MADNESS, and TOO BAD ABOUT SANDY are seductive slabs of new wavish grit, while the morning after weeper TOO DRUNK TO REMEMBER would pass muster on a LORETTA LYNN album. In the "shoulda been a smash" department, EDMUNDS and CARTER mesh twangy voices for the tasty trucker ditty BABY RIDE EASY, while crafty updates of FOGGY MOUNTAIN TOP and mama JUNE CARTER's composition RING OF FIRE round out this hip barn-burner of a party platter. Neither CARTER nor ROCKPILE ever received their due as ground-breaking talents...which probably sits fine with their close knit circle of roots conscious fans.

RATING: FIVE LIPSTICKS


CASH CROP

JOHNNY CASH-THE ESSENTIAL JOHNNY CASH:

His craggy, black-shrouded, steel-voiced persona looms larger than any other image in country music. Armed with rudimentary guitar skills and a limited yet commanding set of world-weary pipes, JOHNNY CASH nonetheless became the voice of AMERICA during a career spanning half a decade. From his early, vibrant SUN rockabilly sides with the TENNESSEE TWO (LUTHER PERKINS and MARSHALL GRANT) through a career encompassing folk, RNB, and even novelty tunes, CASH appealed to rock and country fans alike. An introspective songwriter who penned twanger milestones such as I WALK THE LINE and FOLSOM PRISON BLUES, CASH was also a master interpreter, unafraid to tackle subjects as diverse as KRIS KRISTOFFERSON's mother of all hangovers SUNDAY MORNING COMIN' DOWN, CARL PERKINS' gospel toe tapper DADDY SANG BASS or SHEL SILVERSTEIN's darkly hilarious A BOY NAMED SUE. Although it would take a four disc box set to scratch the surface of his rich legacy, ESSENTIAL hits many of the high points in two platters.

RATING: FIVE TRAIN SONGS

WHAT WE'RE GONNA DO RIGHT NOW IS GO BACK...

THE JIMMY CASTOR BUNCH-BEST OF THE JIMMY CASTOR BUNCH/THE EVERYTHING MAN:

Big Apple bred JIMMY CASTOR's spaced out, guttural slabs of uncut seventies funk told only a small part of the singer/sax man/band leader's lengthy, multi-faceted story; his scintillating soundscape also touched down on doo wop, jazz, RNB and disco. Grunting caveman rocker TROGLODYTE and its hilarious cartoony sequel BERTHA BUTT BOOGIE proved his biggest pop hits, replete with impossibly heavy bass lines and bizarrely chanted lyrics that made KOOL & THE GANG's JUNGLE BOOGIE sound like THE BEE GEES. BEST OF also recalls his 1967 Latino jazz beat single HEY LEROY, YOUR MAMA'S CALLIN' YOU...IT'S JUST BEGUN's throbbing (and oft sampled) gutbucket groove-ology...I PROMISE TO LOVE YOU, a tasty leftover from CASTOR's street corner soul beginnings...and a sax-sational instrumental slam jam of REDBONE's swampy saga MAGGIE. The super charged party track titled MAXIMUM STIMULATION pretty much sums up the frantic, freewheeling ringmaster of freaky fun that was JIMMY CASTOR...THE EVERYTHING MAN indeed.

RATING: FOUR GRUNTS

CHAMBER MADE

THE CHAMBERS BROTHERS-THE TIME HAS COME:

A quartet of sanctifying soul siblings from Lee County, Mississippi (anchored by a white drummer, no less), THE CHAMBERS BROTHERS' highly charged brouhaha of sludgy blues, psychedelic rock and fiery funk were underpinned by a gritty gospel upbringing. Their one huge hit, the peace bearing anthem TIME HAS COME TODAY, (heard here in both its legendary eleven minute FM-ready concoction and a rare alternate version) proved one of the most enduring trippy slabs of all time, but everything on this breakthrough platter is well worth a peek. From exuberant covers of CURTIS MAYFIELD and WILSON PICKETT to a slam dunk reading of BACHARACH/DAVID's WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW IS LOVE, LESTER, JOSEPH, WILLIE and GEORGE conjure the best facets of SLY STONE, JAMES BROWN and DENNIS EDWARDS-era TEMPTATIONS. THE TIME HAS COME...a virtual "greatest hits" unto itself...is a treasure trove of spiritual sweat, glorious groove-ology and heavenly harmonizing that no fan of the late sixties sound scene should be without.

RATING: FOUR BROTHERS

CHARLES IN CHARGE

RAY CHARLES-ULTIMATE HITS COLLECTION:

The half decade career of a talent as enormous as RAY CHARLES' can hardly be summed up on a mere double platter, but ULTIMATE HITS goes a long way towards tracking his biggest hits and most memorable moments. His fifties tenure at ATLANTIC RECORDS begat the groundbreaking RNB-meets-gospel smash I GOT A WOMAN, which piped the term "Soul" into the modern music lexicon, not to mention the haunting LONELY AVENUE, jump boogie jam THE MESS AROUND and funky call and response workout WHAT'D I SAY. A master interpreter whose swooping, world weary pipes and supple piano work blurred the lines between jazz, blues and country, CHARLES scored even more consistently when he moved over to ABC, pumping out legendary pop singles like HIT THE ROAD JACK, GEORGIA ON MY MIND and LET'S GO GET STONED. An incalculable influence on nearly everyone who followed in his wake...from JOE COCKER and STEVE WINWOOD to VAN MORRISON...Brother Ray proved the only artist worthy of the nickname "Genius of Soul".

RATING: FIVE SOUL PATCHES

A NEAT TRICK

CHEAP TRICK-AT BUDOKAN:

For sheer explosive energy and slam bang entertainment value, few late seventies platters delivered the goods like CHEAP TRICK AT BUDOKAN, the frolicking foursome's breakthrough after several studio efforts. Much as FRAMPTON COMES ALIVE and KISS ALIVE delivered those artist's underexposed back catalogues to the masses, AT BUDOKAN pumped up cult faves I WANT YOU TO WANT ME and SURRENDER with on stage adrenaline and power pop flamboyance...not to mention thousands of screaming Japanese fans. Bow-tied axe slinger RICK NEILSON's crashing scrapyard riffs, ROBIN ZANDERS's arena rock pipes and the bone-crushing rhythm section of TOM PETERSSON and BUN. E. CARLOS never let up from opener HELLO THERE on through a glorious jam band cover of FATS DOMINO's AIN'T THAT A SHAME (featuring a "top this" volley of solos from each band member) to gleeful grand finale CLOCK STRIKES TEN. Unlike all those long in the tooth double concert albums of the era, this one got CHEAP TRICK's TGIF message across in "record time" (one disc), foretelling music's tighter, less bloated attitude in the decade to come.

RATING: FOUR CHECKERBOARD GUITARS

THAT 70S BAND

CHEAP TRICK-AUTHORIZED GREATEST HITS:

CHEAP TRICK successfully mixed a BEATLE-esque power pop sensibility with crunchy guitar riffs and a welcome sense of humor. Two guys that looked like rock star pin ups, and two that looked like BOWERY BOY member HUNTZ HALL and a used car salesman, they unleashed radio-ready diehards including SURRENDER (complete with klassic KISS reference), the LIVE AT BUDOKAN rave-up I WANT YOU TO WANT ME, and slick power ballad THE FLAME. This tight overview also trots out a volcanic rendition of FATS DOMINO's AIN'T THAT A SHAME, (though not their percussive treatment of ELVIS' DON'T BE CRUEL), bouncy shoulda-been-a-hit SOUTHERN GIRLS, and the theme to THAT 70'S SHOW (THAT 70'S SONG), a revamp of an old BIG STAR effort. Numerous worthy tracks like 'ELLO KIDDIES, VOICES, and CALIFORNIA MAN are missing in action, but that's due more to a wealth of strong material than to careless selection. All in all, AUTHORIZED is a pretty neat trick.

RATING: FOUR GUITAR NECKS



BUZZ OFF

CHEECH & CHONG-GREATEST HIT:

Don't know what the compilers of this weak excuse for a career overview were smokin' at the time, but somethin' sure smells unfunny. Rock n' roll's unofficial counterculture spokesmen of the 70's and their legions of fans deserve higher grade stuff than this. A shortened version of the classic DAVE opens the album, then fades out, only to resurface briefly seven cuts later, STILL leaving off the punchline! Hit single EARACHE MY EYE is similarly chopped in half, giving you the Alice Bowie rock tune parody, but omitting the much funnier confrontation between "Daddy" and "Junior". There's far too much PEDRO AND THE MAN (over twenty minutes) spread throughout three tracks, leaving no room for such missing singles as BLOAT ON, a gluttonous remake of soul hit FLOAT ON, and BORN IN EAST L.A., the duo's jab at The Boss. At least smart-aleck smashes SISTER MARY ELEPHANT and BASKETBALL JONES survive intact, and blooze singer Blind Melon Chitlin' makes a welcome appearance. The same can't be said for quite a few other fondly remembered C & C routines...to quote Chong, "That's a drag, Man!"

RATING: TWO TOKES

BEST BUDS

CHEECH & CHONG-WHERE THERE'S SMOKE THERE'S CHEECH AND CHONG:

An incomparable improvement over their incomplete, foolishly edited GREATEST HIT anthology (which left out portions of their best bits), this double disc does long overdue justice to the seventies' most visible comedy team. Sure, CHEECH & CHONG's biggest singles SISTER MARY ELEPHANT, EARACHE MY EYE and BASKETBALL JONES are in the lineup, but you're also treated to lesser known classics like BLACK LASSIE (featuring JOHNNY STASH), SANTA CLAUS AND HIS OLD LADY and BLOAT ON, a greasy, gluttonous parody of THE FLOATERS' smooth seventies soul smash FLOAT ON. A multitude of cartoonish characters, including clueless cop SERGENT STEDANKO, blues singer BLIND MELON CHITLIN and of course PEDRO AND THE MAN (C & C's half baked alter egos) will be familiar to anyone who played these platters at parties or tuned into DR. DEMENTO back in the day. As with their original albums, not everything is "primo"...but the high grade stuff (the cuts you memorized along with your junior high class mates) makes this well worth the "trip".

RATING: FOUR ROACH CLIPS

CHECKERED PAST

CHUBBY CHECKER-THE BEST OF CHUBBY CHECKER 1959-1963:

Nicknamed by DICK CLARK's wife as a goof on FATS DOMINO, CHUBBY CHECKER's name will forever be synonymous with THE TWIST, even though underrated RNB star HANK BALLARD originated it. Nonetheless, it was CHECKER's note for note copy, promoted by CLARK on AMERICAN BANDSTAND, that became a massive dance craze classic inspiring countless spin-offs like JOEY DEE's THE PEPPERMINT TWIST, THE ISLEY BROTHERS' TWIST & SHOUT, and GARY "U.S." BONDS' TWIST TWIST SENORA. CAMEO/PARKWAY's campy collection marks the first legit appearance of CHECKER's energetic hits on cd (better late than never) including his novelty debut THE CLASS (with imitations of FATS, ELVIS and THE CHIPMUNKS), further dance ditties LIMBO ROCK, POPEYE THE HITHHIKER and THE FLY, and the nonsense singalongs HOOKA TOOKA and HEY, BOBBA NEEDLE. Twenty-four tracks of CHUBBY CHECKER may seem like overkill for all but his most ardent fans; even so, it's nice to finally have this stuff available in their original versions, not the pale remakes that have flooded the market for decades.

RATING: THREE GYRATIONS

YOUR FAIR CHER

CHER-IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME/CHER'S GREATEST HITS:

Cher has worn almost as many musical hats as she has funky wigs during her long and storied musical career. Her early seventies hat-trick of number one singles GYPSIES, TRAMPS & THIEVES, HALF BREED, and DARK LADY are mini-masterpieces of pop radio story-telling...in fact, she turned down THE NIGHTS THE LIGHT WENT OUT IN GEORGIA, which VICKI LAWRENCE promptly topped the charts with. CHER's tackled disco (TAKE ME HOME), rock & roll (the ill-fated group Black Rose), and adult contemporary; IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME collects 16 of her solo efforts, sticking SONNY & CHER's immortal pop slab I GOT YOU BABE on the end for good measure. A BON JOVI-assisted remake of her oldie BANG BANG makes one long for the summery original, but eighties comeback smashes JUST LIKE JESSE JAMES, I FOUND SOMEONE, and the assertive title anthem are pure CHER in all her husky-voiced, overwrought glory. If a few more SONNY classics and her robotic dance floor finale BELIEVE had been included here, you'd have pretty much the total CHER package.

RATING: FOUR BELLY BUTTONS

FREAK OUT

CHIC-DANCE DANCE DANCE-THE BEST OF CHIC:

Far more successful and influential than the hordes of faceless disco one shots that typified the late seventies, New York City's CHIC (rhymes with "sleek"), led by guitarists/writers NILE ROGERS and BERNARD EDWARDS, was "thinking man's dance music" that added a healthy dose of genuine funk to the equation. Their exuberant breakthrough DANCE DANCE DANCE (with its infectious "Yowsah! Yowsah! Yowsah!" hook) and the sound alike sequel EVERYBODY DANCE paved the way for CHIC's career peaks...the high energy anthem LE FREAK and GOOD TIMES, whose low slung, throbbing bass line inspired smashes for BLONDIE (RAPTURE), QUEEN (ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST) and THE SUGARHILL GANG (RAPPER'S DELIGHT). Buoyed by coolly detached female vocals, ROGERS and EDWARDS' crisp production (they also twisted the knobs for DIANA ROSS and SISTER SLEDGE) and a carefree party attitude, CHIC's sophisticated groove-ology placed them miles ahead of the competition.

RATING: FOUR CHIC CHEERS

CHICAGO TRANSITION AUTHORITY

CHICAGO-THE VERY BEST OF CHICAGO/ONLY THE BEGINNING:

Horn-accented outfit Chicago plied a deft blend of rock, jazz, and RNB, charting constantly with radio ready fare like the breezy SATURDAY IN THE PARK, jubilant wall of noise-maker FEELIN' STRONGER EVERY DAY, and tasty slow dancer COLOUR MY WORLD. After the untimely demise of gritty axe-handler/blue eyed soul belter Terry Kath, the band radically altered its style to suit mainstream tastes, sacrificing credibility for mega success and MTV exposure...not unlike their peers ZZ Top, Dr. Hook, and J. Geils. Peter Cetera's easy listening croon was featured on an endless run of paint-by-numbers ballads with gooey titles like HARD TO SAY I'M SORRY and YOU'RE THE INSPIRATION, while Robert Lamm's earthier vocals and the band's trademark mighty brass section took a backseat. In short, disc one of this chronological career spanner trumpets Chicago's meticulously crafted mastery...while most of the second platter shows how far the band eventually strayed from their original vision.

RATING: FOUR TOOTS

HIGHLIGHTS

THE CHI-LITES-GREATEST HITS:

THE CHI-LITES enjoyed a long run of smoothly rendered ballads and funk-filled smashes throughout the seventies, helmed by sweet cream falsetto front man/songwriter EUGENE RECORD. Although they regularly peppered the RNB charts, they're best remembered by the general public for the yearning, across the board pop smashes OH GIRL and HAVE YOU SEEN HER, which became hits all over again when tackled by PAUL YOUNG and MC HAMMER respectively. On the dance-floor side, ARE YOU MY WOMAN (TELL ME SO)'s piercing horn-driven refrain was the backbone of BEYONCE'S chart-humpin' hit CRAZY IN LOVE, and the pumped up protest platter (FOR GOD'S SAKE) GIVE MORE POWER TO THE PEOPLE) could have been a TEMPTATIONS hit during their post-DAVID RUFFIN rebirth. One of the Windy City's smoothest soul exports, THE CHI-LITES were proof positive that Detroit and Memphis weren't the only locations that could dish out solid gold soul salvation.

RATING: FOUR PART HARMONIES

CHIPS OFF THE OLD ROCK

THE CHIPMUNKS-CHIPMUNK PUNK:

ROSS BAGDASARIAN's cute cut-ups have been around in one form or another for decades, but in 1980 they were a nearly forgotten commodity best remembered for their yuletide novelty hit THE CHIPMUNK SONG and a short-lived sixties cartoon series. Released as a lark by BAGSDASARIAN's son, CHIPMUNK PUNK updated the boys for the eighties...the crude cover art depicting them in an alley decked out in skinny ties and safety pins is priceless. Inside, the terrible trio covered cutting edge (though not very "punk") acts including BLONDIE, THE CARS and THE KNACK, the latter a cartoon-ish group in their own right. Injecting LET'S GO, REFUGEE and CALL ME with their trademark high pitched harmonies and "bad boy" swagger, an angst-riddled ALVIN squealing, "Good girls don't...but I do" is an especially guilty treat. This kitschy LP opened the floodgates for a whole "new wave" of CHIPMUNK-mania, including another animated show, additional theme platters such as URBAN CHIPMUNK and a string of popular motion pictures. During an up and down career that spanned half a century, ALVIN, SIMON & THEODORE were never cooler than when copping an attitude on CHIPMUNK PUNK.

RATING: THREE CHIPMUNKS

PIECE TALK

ERIC CLAPTON-TIME PIECES:

The best of guitar guru ERIC CLAPTON?...ehhhh, not so much. Where's the mighty LET IT RAIN, one of his earliest "jam on it" solo singles, co-written by BONNIE BRAMLETT of DELANY & BONNIE fame? What happened to BELL BOTTOM BLUES, TULSA TIME, BLUES POWER, I CAN'T STAND IT, and HELLO OLD FRIEND? Surely these sturdy chestnuts take precedence over pedestrian reggae-fied covers of KNOCKIN' ON HEAVEN'S DOOR and SWING LOW, SWEET CHARIOT. Ironically, the compilers of this skimpy collection were choosing from one of Slowhand's best periods musically (the seventies), long before he slid into middle of the road somnambulism two decades later. A far better anthology choice is the smartly named THE CREAM OF CLAPTON, which includes TIME PIECES' strongest efforts...titanic tracks like the original DEREK & THE DOMINOS version of LAYLA and the earthy J. J. CALE compositions AFTER MIDNIGHT and COCAINE...as well as five CREAM classics and a slice of BLIND FAITH, his short-lived supergroup with STEVE WINWOOD. Now THAT'S the "Cream" of CLAPTON...this is more like milk that's been left out a little too long.

RATING: THREE SLOW HANDS

CREAM OF THE CROP

ERIC CLAPTON-THE CREAM OF CLAPTON:

THE CREAM OF CLAPTON is light years better than the earlier, abysmal collection TIME PIECES, gathering up gemstones covering most phases of the axe master's sixties and seventies career...the psychedelic power trio CREAM's biggest hits WHITE ROOM and SUNSHINE OF YOUR LOVE, DEREK & THE DOMINOS' jam packed juggernaut LAYLA, and nearly a dozen stylish solo shots. BLUES POWER, LET IT RAIN and AFTER MIDNIGHT, all from his poignant debut album, still sound elegantly vibrant, though his white boy reggae covers of BOB MARLEY's I SHOT THE SHERIFF and BOB DYLAN's KNOCKIN' ON HEAVEN'S DOOR can't out shine the definitive originals. The shuffling warning label COCAINE and slick country rocker PROMISES are classic later CLAPTON, although the equally enjoyable LAY DOWN SALLY is nowhere within earshot. Missing only brief stays with THE YARDBIRDS and JOHN MAYALL'S BLUESBREAKERS, CREAM chronologically skims his best early work, making this a must have for fans of SLOW HAND.

RATING: FIVE GUITAR GODS

CLASH 'N BURN

THE CLASH-THE SINGLES:

The most important, influential band to emerge from Britain's late seventies punk scene, THE CLASH touted a seething, politically charged mix of RNB, reggae and righteous rock & roll for the glorious five year period documented on THE SINGLES. Fronted by caustic belter JOE STRUMMER and soulful singer/guitarist MICK JONES, the unorthodox foursome pumped out the revolutionary albums GIVE 'EM ENOUGH ROPE, LONDON CALLING and COMBAT ROCK, gutsy firebrand classics bearing loud 'n proud messages. Brash early shotgun blasts WHITE RIOT, CLASH CITY ROCKERS, and a crashing cover of BOBBY FULLER's I FOUGHT THE LAW were matched by even more popular later efforts TRAIN IN VAIN, ROCK THE CASBAH and SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO, the latter two bolstered by near constant MTV exposure. Armed with STRUMMER's raw hell-bent bleat, JONES' three chord projectiles, and an aggressive arsenal of anthems, THE CLASH's motto "the only band that mattered" wasn't mere braggadocio...it was truth in advertising.

RATING: FIVE MOHAWKS



CAREY-OKIE

CLEVELAND ROCKS! MUSIC FROM THE DREW CAREY SHOW:

CLEVELAND ROCKS!/MUSIC FROM THE DREW CAREY SHOW: ABC's quirky hit about everyone's favorite Buzz Beer swillin' schlub and his common sense-challenged cronies often incorporated rock & roll for surreal and/or humorous effect. From elaborately choreographed dance sequences staged to the Vogues' FIVE O'CLOCK WORLD and Tower of Power's WHAT IS HIP? to drafting Ian Hunter's anthem CLEVELAND ROCKS as its main theme song, DREW CAREY had the most fun with musical interludes this side of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW. Kitsch-laden souveniers on this soundtrack include a ROCKY HORROR SHOW class-sick, a rehearsal from Drew's mercifully short-lived band the Horndogs, and a Joe Walsh/Little Richard tag team on ROCKY MOUNTAIN WAY. You also get make-up dependent Mimi skewing yuletide carols and DREW's original theme MOON OVER PARMA, warbled by the nearsighted one himself, mixed in with the brain-bashers from Iggy Pop and the Reverend Horton Heat. This party platter is the next best thing to kickin' back with a cold Buzz and watchin' reruns of THE DREW CAREY SHOW.

RATING: FOUR EYES



ROCK & ROLLER COASTERS

THE COASTERS-VERY BEST OF THE COASTERS:

These brassy, sassy RNB class clowns proved the perfect vehicle for JERRY LEIBER & MIKE STOLLER's joyously hip sagas of teen turmoil and ribald social commentary. Pre-COASTERS group THE ROBINS got the party started with SMOKEY JOE'S CAFE and RIOT IN CELL BLOCK #9, gritty ditties which paved the way for a long run of COASTERS classics in the late fifties and early sixties. CARL GARDNER's boisterous wise guy lead vocals and KING CURTIS' soul twistin' sax highlighted CHARLIE BROWN, YAKKETY YAK, and POISON IVY, two minute comedies saturated with playful charisma and infectious sing along refrains. ALONG CAME JONES was a rollicking Saturday matinee serial portrait of an intrepid hero, while the sly narrative SHOPPIN' FOR CLOTHES showcased GARDNER's yearning customer and bass man WILL "DUB" JONES' ultra-smooth sales clerk. No other vocal group mixed laughs and hip lip service more effectively than THE COASTERS...who still possess the power to tickle your funny bone fifty years after the fact.

RATING: FIVE JOKERS



READY, EDDIE, GO!

EDDIE COCHRAN-THE BEST OF EDDIE COCHRAN:

Had his career not been snuffed out by the same car crash that maimed fellow rockabilly pioneer GENE VINCENT, EDDIE COCHRAN possessed the poster boy looks, raw voice, guitar talent, and songwriting chops to compete with ELVIS and the other big cats. As it stands, he's best remembered today for his swaggering teen anthem SUMMERTIME BLUES, which metal pioneers BLUE CHEER, honky tonker ALAN JACKSON, punk princess JOAN JETT, new wavers THE FLYING LIZARDS, and others took a crack at in the ensuing decades. This exuberant country rocker's catalogue of canny compositions also included the rollicking party platter C'MON EVERYBODY (covered by nearly as many admirers), the stop and start groove of SOMETHIN' ELSE, and the rip-snorter TWENTY FLIGHT ROCK. He also handled covers of RAY CHARLES' HALLELUAH I LOVE HER SO and JOHN D. LOUDERMILK's SITTIN' IN THE BALCONY with vigor and grace. The sweetly rendered THREE STEPS TO HEAVEN ironically proved to be his final effort, but THE BEST OF EDDIE COCHRAN, which chronicles a good portion of his brief recorded output, is one hell of an epitaph.

RATING: FIVE TUBES OF BRILL CREAM

SET 'EM UP, JOE

JOE COCKER-ULTIMATE COLLECTION:

The closest rock & roll has ever gotten to a white RAY CHARLES, JOE COCKER shared both The Genius' intense, soulful growl and staggering interpretive talents. Possessing an almost inhuman vocabulary of raspy growls and bloozey bellows not to mention a twitchy, hyperactive stage presence (memorably mimicked by JOHN BELUSHI on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE), COCKER broke down, reconfigured and wrung every ounce of emotion from every cover. He scored huge with BILLY PRESTON's tender rhapsody YOU ARE SO BEAUTIFUL, a raucous concert rendition of THE BOX TOPS' THE LETTER, and a sludge-groove spin on THE FAB FOUR's jaunty WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS. The son of Sheffield, England also twisted the knob off RANDY NEWMAN's seductive YOU CAN LEAVE YOUR HAT ON, topped the charts via the adult contemporary JENNIFER WARNES duet UP WHERE WE BELONG and slammed his way through the brooding WHEN THE NIGHT COMES, busting out the longest ceiling-peeling scream this side of WILSON PICKETT. A testifying, often terrifying purveyor of RNB, gospel and pop, JOE COCKER was the rare song-slinger who never...in fact, probably COULDN'T...belted out a number the same way twice.

RATING: FOUR CROAKS



FROSTY THE SHOWMAN

ALBERT COLLINS-DELUXE EDITION:

Lone Star State blooze bruiser ALBERT COLLINS forged a chilling reputation in the sixties as THE ICE MAN, so named for minor key, cold chisel guitar instrumentals like SNO-CONE and FROSTY. Also known as the "Master of the Telecaster", he reached a far wider audience after joining forces with ALLIGATOR RECORDS in the eighties, a righteous roots label which also rekindled the careers of ELVIN BISHOP, KOKO TAYLOR and JOHNNY WINTER. DELUXE EDITION spotlights COLLINS' engaging talk-sing vocal delivery and numbing six string work on titles like I AIN'T DRUNK, BUT I WAS COOL, and MASTER CHARGE, roadhouse ripsnorters with plenty of southern soul and solid showmanship to spare. Sub-zero themes are revisited on the slick jams COLD CUTS and MELT DOWN, while tasty run-throughs of T-BONE WALKER's T-BONE SHUFFLE (assisted by JOHNNY COPELAND and ROBERT CRAY) and JOHNNY "GUITAR" WATSON's TOO TIRED round out this crisp collection. Earthy faves such as TOO MANY DIRTY DISHES, BRICK and HONEY HUSH are missing in action, so stone cold followers of ALBERT COLLINS know DELUXE EDITION is really just the tip of the iceberg.

RATING: FOUR ICICLES

RY COMMENTARY

RY COODER-PARADISE & LUNCH:

Most music fans are only vaguely familiar with fret-king RY COODER through his sublime soundtrack work, sessions with THE ROLLING STONES (rumor has it he was once considered for membership), or involvement with the award-winning BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB. His 1974 platter PARADISE & LUNCH is a scintillating blend of folk, blues and country, swirling amid acoustic and slide guitars, mandolins and gospel-fueled backing vocals. Well known for immersing himself in eclectic cover versions of indigenous music, COODER takes on BLIND WILLIE MCTELL's A MARRIED MAN'S A FOOL, BOBBY WOMACK's IT'S ALL OVER NOW (given a reggae slant here), LITTLE MILTON's IF WALLS COULD TALK, and the BURT BACHARACH-penned MEXICAN DIVORCE, dry love ditties playfully retold in his earthy, "everyman" voice, showcasing organic, groove-solid instrumental soundscapes. PARADISE & LUNCH bears up to repeated listenings, an album of fine 'n funky music to mellow out and sing along to, with subtle rewards in every nook and cranny just waiting to be uncovered.

RATING: FOUR STRINGS

COOKE BOOKE

SAM COOKE-THE MAN & HIS MUSIC:

Like THE MILLS BROTHERS and NAT KING COLE before him, SAM COOKE's romantic, polished RNB/pop style held enormous appeal for black and white audiences alike. His joyous, swooping tenor and celebratory songwriting garnered him a decade long string of bright, sophisticated hits beginning in the late fifties. The popularity of his song catalogue is undeniable...THE ANIMALS covered BRING IT ON HOME TO ME, STAX stars SAM & DAVE and OTIS REDDING took on SOOTHE ME and SHAKE respectively, the previously raucous DR. HOOK scored a comeback via sweet ballad ONLY 16, TONY ORLANDO & DAWN and THE SPINNERS both enjoyed hit revivals of CUPID, and CAT STEVENS' tackled ANOTHER SATURDAY NIGHT. No one ever belted 'em out quite like the master though...THE MAN & HIS MUSIC provides a generous 28 tracks that chronicle SAM COOKE from his soul-stirring early gospel work on through his still poignant protest classic A CHANGE IS GONNA CAME.

RATING: FIVE SAM JAMS



THE BROTHERS GRIM

ALICE COOPER-GREATEST HITS:

GREATEST HITS stood head and mascara above all other collections of its day; the cover art alone was a mini-masterpiece, depicting gangster-clad group members lounging with GROUCHO, BOGIE, and LORRE. Grit choked anthems SCHOOL'S OUT, ELECTED and NO MORE MR. NICE GUY were satirical stomp-fest shout-alongs that still come off bratty and poignant today; within these dirty dozen ditties, there's nary a wasted lyric, riff, or emotion. BE MY LOVER, with its class-sick line, "She asked me why the singer's name was ALICE" sported doo-woppin' backgrounds, while steampacket sax underpinned UNDER MY WHEELS, and hippy dippy DONOVAN laid down detached, creepy backing vocals on BILLION DOLLAR BABIES. Focal point/front man VINCENT FURNIER purred, growled, and vamped his way through the twisted wreckage, punctuating the preposterous party zone with sleazoid soul power and all too rare harmonica stabs. ALICE COOPER punctured society's bloated balloon with trademark barbed-wire wit and wrist-slashing chords...what the band saw wasn't pretty, but it sure was good for a nasty laugh.

RATING: FIVE FREAKOUTS

GRAVEST HITS

ALICE COOPER-MASCARA & MONSTERS/THE BEST OF ALICE COOPER:

How in the name of Hades can ALICE COOPER'S GREATEST HITS, one of the truly essential compilations of the seventies, possibly be improved on? It's a scary thought! After all, the original ALICE COOPER band spewed forth high octane anthems like ELECTED, NO MORE MR. NICE GUY, and SCHOOL'S OUT, all monstrous slabs of sublime, witty satire. MASCARA AND MONSTERS merely augments the group's peak period with a handful of ALICE's solo stabs. Many of these are surprisingly digestible power ballads such as ONLY WOMEN and I NEVER CRY that shocked in a whole new way; they made fans gasp incredulously, "Wha'?...That's the SAME guy???" ALICE's later years found him trying on other musical shrouds, not always as comfortably. (WE'RE ALL) CLONES is a synth-soaked whack at new wave, while his comeback smash POISON suggests BON JOVI-esque hair metal, a genre ALICE partially inspired alongside infamous threads such as shock rock, punk, and Goth. This is class-sick COOP all the way...welcome to his nightmare.

RATING: FIVE FINGERS IN THE EYE

THE TRASH MAN COMETH

ALICE COOPER-TRASH:

The eighties was not a good decade for ALICE COOPER...his slickster "new wave" effort FLUSH THE FASHION (featuring the synth-saturated single CLONES) pointed to a new direction far removed from the dank cesspool of BILLION DOLLAR BABIES and SCHOOL'S OUT. After bombing with well meaning albums like DADA and ZIPPER CATCHES SKIN, "The Coop" followed the charge led by AEROSMITH and other "long in the tooth" seventies rockers, turning to ex-disco contender/song-doctor-to-the-stars/BON JOVI producer DESMOND CHILD for a platter's worth of hip hooks but few dirty looks. DEAD BOYS punker STIV BATORS, JOE PERRY and RICHIE SAMBORA all log cameos on TRASH; in fact, the surprising comeback single POISON is the best song BON JOVI never recorded. Gone however, is ALICE's campy, darkly humorous attitude, replaced by an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink wall of sound approach aimed squarely at the MTV/hair metal crowd. This is what brought the Godfather of Shock back to the masses (however briefly), taking his rightful place alongside TWISTED SISTER, MOTLEY CRUE and KISS, the bad boy bands he inspired in the first place.

RATING: THREE GARBAGE BAGS

GO ASK ALICE...

ALICE COOPER-WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE:

After eight albums as highly influential shock-rockers, the original ALICE COOPER band split up over the usual "creative differences", leaving frontman VINCENT FURNIER to assume the monicker; the dark, highly theatrical concept album WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE was the result. Despite the usual twisted and macabre fare, the biggest jolt was the atypical ballad ONLY WOMEN BLEED, whose poignant theme of battered females touched off a series of surprisingly mellow hits over the next few years. NIGHTMARE's atmospheric title track, the slick tongue in cheek anthem DEPARTMENT OF YOUTH and necrophiliac tribute COLD ETHYL proved closer to class-sick ALICE, with LOU REED guitarist DICK WAGNER, future KING CRIMSON bassist TONY LEVIN, DETROIT WHEELS drummer JOHNNY "BEE" BANDAJEK among the hired guns (VINCENT PRICE also makes a cameo). WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE may have lacked the hard rock muscle of earlier albums like SCHOOL'S OUT and BILLION DOLLAR BABIES, but it remains the provocative peak of ALICE's solo career, spawning a sequel several decades down the line.

RATING: FOUR SHRIEKS

THE COSTELLO SHOW

ELVIS COSTELLO-THE VERY BEST OF ELVIS COSTELLO:

Initially a ranting, geeky-looking rock & roll upstart, ELVIS COSTELLO outlasted every one of his new wave era peers by evolving with the times. Never content to stay in one musical bag very long, his initial searing punk hat trick of MY AIM IS TRUE, THIS YEAR'S MODEL and ARMED FORCES (the last two backed by his reckless band THE ATTRACTIONS) was soon followed by shifting focuses in country, white soul and baroque pop. Combining a lethal punch of raw snarling vocals, muscular guitar work and cynical, pun-riddled songwriting, the former DECLAN MACMANUS was capable of oozing a dark ballad like ALLISON in the same breath as the scathing diatribe RADIO RADIO or the sunny radio smash VERONICA, his lone Top 40 hit. From the ferocious opener, NICK LOWE's acerbic anthem (WHAT'S SO FUNNY) 'BOUT PEACE, LOVE & UNDERSTANDING? on through the serene BURT BACHARACH co-write GOD GIVE ME STRENGTH, the double dip VERY BEST presents more than forty damn good reasons ELVIS COSTELLO didn't go the way of FLOCK OF SEAGULLS.

RATING: FOUR SKINNY TIES

GARAGE ROCK

CRACKER-GARAGE D'OR:

Rising from the ashes of offbeat eighties ensemble CAMPER VAN BEETHOVEN, best known for TAKE THE SKINHEADS BOWLING and their hit cover of STATUS QUO's PICTURES OF MATCHSTICK MEN, CRACKER mined a rich vein of alt-rock, white boy soul, and bluegrass-stained country for a fun-filled roots rockin' rampage. Raspy, cynical singer DAVID LOWRY co-wrote most of their material with axe maestro JOHNNY HICKMAN and bassman DAVEY FARRAGHER, including the hard-edged radio smashes GET OFF THIS and LOW, not to mention the eight minute mini-masterpiece EURO-TRASH GIRL. GARAGE D'OR's absence of immortal CRACKER classics such as HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, I HATE MY GENERATION and HOW CAN I LIVE WITHOUT YOU is offset somewhat by an extra disc's worth of rarities...namely off the cuff live versions of MR. WRONG and HICKMAN's twang-banger LONESOME JOHNNY BLUES, a droning CARPENTERS cover, and the aptly titled instrumental SURFBILLY. None of CRACKER's handful of compilations get the all important mix of hits and fan faves quite right, but this one comes closest to fulfilling the band's irreverent, genre-jumping vision.

RATING: FOUR CRUMBS

MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE JUNGLE...

THE CRAMPS-PSYCHEDELIC JUNGLE/GRAVEST HITS:

High jacking grungy slabs of rockabilly, swamp blooze, psychedelia and ED WOOD for their own immoral purposes, California cretins THE CRAMPS emerged from punk's primordial ooze via their ALEX CHILTON produced EP debut GRAVEST HITS, smartly mated here with the full length nocturnal sleaze-fest PSYCHEDELIC JUNGLE. Berserk ELVIS-meets-ROKY ERICKSON screecher LUX INTERIOR and his saucy guitar goddess spouse POISON IVY were a kitschy made-in-hell tag team, backed by the bombastic jungle rhythms of skin thrasher NICK KNOX on deliciously obscure garage relics GREEN FUZ and GOO GOO MUCK (look 'em up, trash rock fans) and likeminded originals DON'T EAT STUFF OFF THE SIDEWALK and HUMAN FLY. Their irreverent vision, a maggot-infested garbage can overflowing with macabre hijinx and junior high level sex jokes, provided a blueprint for future schlock-meisters from THE B-52'S to SOUTHERN CULTURE ON THE SKIDS. The purely psychotic nugget SURFIN' BIRD may not have been written exclusively for THE CRAMPS to annihilate...but after hearing 'em tear it apart feather by feather, there's little doubt that it should have been.

RATING: FOUR ROCKIN' BONES



SMOKIN' FUN

ROBERT CRAY-STRONG PERSUADER:

This Grammy winning juggernaut was sophisticated singer/guitar slinger ROBERT CRAY's commercial breakthrough (after many years in the trenches), and along with STEVIE RAVE ON's stellar debut, a tone-cool introduction to the blooze for much of the rock & roll crowd. That feisty slice of six stringed magic SMOKING GUN (which shares a melody with BOB DYLAN's moody SEVEN DAYS) was the shot heard 'round the world, deservedly propelling the dues-paying CRAY's name into the stratosphere. The rest of STRONG PERSUADER is an equally gritty, urban passion-play, featuring coulda-been hits such as I GUESS I SHOWED HER, FOUL PLAY, and RIGHT NEXT DOOR (BECAUSE OF ME). These hell-bent home-wreckers are punctuated by CRAY's soul man wail, even as the legendary Memphis Horns perforate the proceedings with searing blasts of Stax righteousness. STRONG PERSUADER is one smartly crafted party platter you'll want to break out often...there's plenty of rock, rhythm and soul in ROBERT CRAY's jelly-roll.

RATING: FIVE FINGERS

SKIMMING THE CREAM

STRANGE BREW-THE VERY BEST OF CREAM:

Like ERIC "SLOW HAND" CLAPTON's previous roots-of-rock project THE YARDBIRDS, British power trio CREAM hipped millions of listeners to the blooze via the most contorted interpretations of SKIP JAMES, ROBERT JOHNSON and ALBERT KING ever channeled through a psychedelic wah-wah pedal. This "jam band" predecessor boasted the unbeatable mind-meld of JACK BRUCE's soulful triple threat bass/harp/vocals (he also wrote the majority of CREAM classics with lyricist PETE BROWN), GINGER BAKER's jazz-stoked drum work, and CLAPTON's aggressive "Guitar God" pyrotechnics. The original material, including the heat-sinking hits WHITE ROOM and SUNSHINE OF YOUR LOVE were on a par with their mentors' down 'n dirty compositions I'M SO GLAD, CROSSROADS and SPOONFUL, which often became sprawling, improvisational workouts in their capable mitts. Not surprisingly, it was far too much talent to contain under one roof and they imploded after four albums in three short years. What's left behind is this intense, stunning account of an ensemble that actually lived up to all the "supergroup" hype...and how often does THAT happen?

RATING: FIVE SPOONFULS



SWAMPED WITH CLASSICS!

CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL-CHRONICLE:

Show me a cat who grew up in the seventies who doesn't own a copy of this anthology (and still plays it), and I'll show you a cat who also doesn't like brewskis, the THREE STOOGES and America...in other words, I don't trust 'im. This stands as one of the ten GREATEST "greatest hits" collections ever asembled; head yowler/guitar slinger/songwriter JOHN FOGERTY and company covered all the touchstones of rock and roll, from bloozey country to wailin' soul, and did it bigger and better than anyone else. Charismatic, gritty, spooky and sentimental, CCR effortlessly channeled old timey ditties DOWN ON THE CORNER and TRAVELIN' BAND, psychedelic swampers RUN THROUGH THE JUNGLE and GREEN RIVER, take-no-prisoner rock ravers UP AROUND THE BEND and SWEET HITCH-HIKER...and had double sided hit singles with practically everything they touched. CHRONICLE serves up twenty tracks of titillating, triumphant twang, missing only quagmire classic BORN ON A BAYOU, one of their most vital singles...a good excuse to pick up CHRONICLE VOL. 2, their near equal sequel.

RATING: FIVE PLAID SHIRTS

JIM DANDY

JIM CROCE-PHOTOGRAPHS AND MEMORIES/HIS GREATEST HITS:

He may have resembled your average local pizzeria proprietor, but introspective, folky singer/songwriter JIM CROCE was a storyteller of rare depth and clarity, equally comfortable with ribald, rollicking character studies and tender, reflective ballads. In the first category, YOU DON'T MESS AROUND WITH JIM and BAD, BAD LEROY BROWN, arrogant heroes who get their comeuppance by song's end, as well as ROLLER DERBY QUEEN, ("built like a 'fridgerator with a head"), are wryly humorous slices of barroom Americana. On the other hand, TIME IN A BOTTLE and OPERATOR (THAT'S NOT THE WAY IT FEELS) are such effective sagas of forlorn imagery, they can still bring a lump to the throat. Elsewhere, WORKIN' AT THE CAR WASH BLUES is an irresistible ode to blue collar stiffs, while I GOT A NAME, the lone non-original composition here, reverberates with the Philly native's wistful, down to earth vocal delivery. CROCE's immeasurable talent was snuffed out by an untimely plane crash...but thankfully his legacy remains intact for future generations to smile along with, cry to, and marvel at.

RATING: FIVE STOGIES



ROYALE FLUSH

STEVE CROPPER-DEDICATED/A SALUTE TO THE FIVE ROYALES:

Memphis guitar hero STEVE "THE COLONEL" CROPPER's lengthy soul pedigree includes founding member of beloved instrumental combo BOOKER T & THE MG's (hit makers who doubled as the house band for STAX/VOLT artists like CARLA THOMAS and OTIS REDDING), co-writer of the sanctified classics IN THE MIDNIGHT HOUR, KNOCK ON WOOD and SITTIN' ON THE DOCK OF THE BAY, and a stint in the BLUES BROTHERS. DEDICATED pays tribute to influential fifties RNB ensemble THE FIVE ROYALES and their elegant axe man/songwriter LOWMAN PAULING. THINK and DEDICATED TO THE ONE I LOVE may be better known through smash covers by JAMES BROWN and THE SHIRELLES, but their underrated body of work is given new life via CROPPER and a roots rockin' guest roster. STEVE WINWOOD kicks things off with a fun 'n feisty THIRTY SECOND LOVER, alt country darlin' LUCINDA WILLIAMS lends her parched vocals to the aching WHEN I GET LIKE THIS, and Muscle Shoals session ace DAN PENN gets off a world weary version of SOMEONE MADE YOU FOR ME. CROPPER's obvious love for the subject matter propels a stellar vocabulary of fluid six string licks, beautifully underscoring but never crowding the proceedings. Glorious gospel, low-down 'n dirty blues, and blessed back-scratchin' soul are all part of the passion-filled party being thrown in the FIVE ROYALES' honor.

RATING: FOUR FRETS

SPELLING IT OUT

CROSBY, STILLS & NASH-CSN (BOX SET):

A super group of CROSBY, STILLS & NASH's magnitude deserves a super box set...these four platters serve up all the folky pop hits as well as sterling solo works and various combinations of the three principals (and sometimes NEIL YOUNG), fitting the bill nicely. Covering the span 1968-1990, the harmony-laden highlights are many...the group's hard rocking cover of JONI MITCHELL's WOODSTOCK and spaced out excursion DEJA VU, CROSBY & NASH's FM fave IMMIGRATION MAN, the pure pop perfection of STEPHEN STILLS' LOVE THE ONE YOU'RE WITH, GRAHAM NASH's poignant protest CHICAGO, even DAVID CROSBY's late eighties single DRIVE MY CAR. For fans who think they already have everything, CSN contains a generous clutch of alternate takes (including a nine minute workout of ALMOST CUT MY HAIR), rare live material and a cool cover of TRAFFIC's DEAR MR. FANTASY, making it the very definition of a worthwhile box set.

RATING: FIVE WOODEN SHIPS

DEJA VIEW

CROSBY, STILLS, NASH & YOUNG-SO FAR:

The mid seventies was a ripe time for "up till then" career defining compilations by stars like ALICE COOPER, THE DOOBIE BROTHERS and ELTON JOHN. Compiled entirely of tracks from their first pair of albums CROSBY, STILL & NASH and its YOUNG-enhanced follow up DEJA VU, this concise sampler is evenly divided between former BYRDS member DAVID CROSBY's bluesy tones, ex HOLLIES star GRAHAM NASH's gleaming pop, and BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD partners STEVE STILLS and NEIL YOUNG's earthy folk rock. Trademark vocal harmonies, intertwining acoustic and electric guitars, JONI MITCHELL's simple cover art, and radio staples such as TEACH YOUR CHILDREN, DEJA VU, SUITE: JUDY BLUE EYES, and OHIO make this a classic collection, although CROSBY's ALMOST CUT MY HAIR and NASH's MARRAKESH EXPRESS are inexplicably missing. CSN, and occasionally Y were rock's first and best "supergroup", even if their output was sporadic due to solo projects and side bands, and never really surpassed the opening shots rounded up on SO FAR.

RATING: FOUR SINGERS



SOMETHING TO CROW ABOUT

SHERYL CROW-THE VERY BEST OF:

Easy on the eyes and ears, SHERYL CROW was a tough chick roots rocker sporting mature writing skills and a husky, expressive set of pipes...even the crack in her voice sounded sexy. CROW's greatest singles were alluring, radio-friendly treats...the STONES-esque crunch of MY FAVORITE MISTAKE, the strained high vocals lighting up IF IT MAKES YOU HAPPY, and SOAK UP THE SUN's twangy, carefree groove were all but impossible to ignore. Unafraid to tap a variety of musical styles, she covered DYLAN, GUNS 'N ROSES, and HANK WILLIAMS, while hobnobbing with everyone from ERIC CLAPTON and STEVE EARLE to KID ROCK. Not everything works on this collection...a cover of CAT STEVENS' FIRST CUT IS THE DEEPEST can't touch ROD STEWART's soulful reading, and it appears in TWO different versions here. Almost all of her albums are recommended listening, but THE VERY BEST delivers a mighty fine crash course concerning one of the most prominent female voices of the nineties and beyond.

RATING: FOUR BEAUTY MARKS

CUMMINGS & GOINGS

BURTON CUMMINGS-THE BURTON CUMMINGS COLLECTION:

As irrepressible front man for the Great White North's most famous pop music export THE GUESS WHO, blue eyed soul singer/piano pounder BURTON CUMMINGS racked up an impressive series of Top 40 singles including AMERICAN WOMAN, NO TIME and SHARE THE LAND both north and south of the Canadian border. CUMMINGS' polished solo work leaned more toward adult contemporary than freewheeling rock & roll, with his biggest stateside hit STAND TALL (a million seller) tapping into the same melodramatic vein as THESE EYES. Not that he couldn't still lay down the boogie when the mood struck, as on the rousing MY OWN WAY TO ROCK and NEVER HAD A LADY BEFORE, which TOM JONES covered with equal macho panache. Cult classics YOU SAVED MY SOUL (which just squeaked into the American Top 40, peaking at number 37), BREAK IT THEM GENTLY, and DREAM OF A CHILD also appear on RHINO RECORDS' generous twenty track sampler...perhaps the best way to enjoy CUMMINGS' catalogue aside from scoring his hard to find solo platters.

RATING: FOUR MUSTACHES

HEARING DOUBLE

CHERIE & MARIE CURRIE-MESSIN' WITH THE BOYS:

Black leather belter JOAN JETT may have been the most famous member of the 70s' groundbreaking all girl ensemble THE RUNAWAYS, followed by guitarist LITA FORD, but CHERIE CURRIE, the band's original pin-up blonde frontwoman deserves a smattering of kudos too. 1980's provocatively titled MESSIN' WITH THE BOYS was her "sort of" solo debut...her twin sis MARIE shared interchangable lead vocals on covers of THE RASBERRIES swan song OVERNIGHT SENSATION (HIT RECORD), FREE's earthy WISHING WELL, and songwriter to the stars RUSS BALLARD's SINCE YOU'VE BEEN GONE, which was also covered by RAINBOW and HEAD EAST around the same time. The CURRIE sisters dished out forced, coldy calculated would be pop-rock with a dash of punk thrown in for good measure; even though they never approached the soul-mama biker chick toughness of JETT or even the less demanding big hair rock of FORD, taken on its own merits, MESSIN' WITH THE BOYS, as the title suggests, had a few of its own kitschy, spandex-heavy moments.

RATING: THREE BOTTLE BLONDES

FIDDLIN' AROUND

THE CHARLIE DANILES BAND-ESSENTIAL:

Charlie Daniels is the musical bridge that connected straight ahead country music to southern fried rock more seamlessly than anyone else. His hilarious tall tale UNEASY RIDER proved an unexpected chart buster, while WITCHITA JAIL and THE LEGEND OF WOOLEY SWAMP are both fine samples of down home story telling in their own right, half narrated/half sung in DANIELS' unmistakable drawl. From his name checkin' tribute THE SOUTH'S GONNA DO IT to ultra-patriotic anthems STILL IN SAIGON and IN AMERICA, the fiddle wielding North Carolina native is a favorite of practically everybody, regardless of musical preferences. This solid fourteen track collection also lets rip with barstool belter DRINKIN' MY BABY GOODBYE, boot kickin' line dance request BOOGIE WOOGIE FIDDLE COUNTRY BLUES, and his best known hoe down THE DEVIL WENT DOWN TO GEORGIA, qualifying THE ESSENTIAL CHARLIE DANILES BAND as a purty good ol' collection from a purty good ol' boy.

RATING: FOUR BOWSTRINGS

SWINGIN' SINGLES

BOBBY DARIN-THE HIT SINGLES COLLECTION:

Bronx born belter BOBBY DARIN may have used innocuous rockers like SPLISH SPLASH and QUEEN OF THE HOP to jump start his career in the late fifties, but his musical interests and electrifying talent encompassed a much wider variety of moods. From BEYOND THE SEA's RNB-laced groove and the sugary pop perfection of THINGS to his folky final smash IF I WERE A CARPENTER, DARIN stamped 'em all with unbridled passion and personality. He also injected a born showman's freewheeling attitude into standards like LAZY RIVER, BILL BAILEY and CLEMENTINE, swinging them harder than they'd ever been swung, before or since. The saucy, intoxicating big band brouhaha of career pinnacle MACK THE KNIFE will always be THE definitive version in spite of covers by SINATRA, ELLA, SATCHMO and scores of others. One of the music industry's finest all around entertainers, BOBBY DARIN's criminally short life was offset by a long list of enduring chestnuts, all rendered in his inimitable finger snappin', toe tappin' style.

RATING: FOUR TUXES

HITS & PIECES

THE DAVE CLARK FIVE-THE HITS:

Like a soulful cousin to THE FAB FOUR, THE DC5 roared more like a DC10, racking up well over two dozen hits during a three year period in the mid sixties. Highly energized RNB covers such as BOBBY DAY's OVER & OVER, CHRIS KENNER'S I LIKE IT LIKE THAT, and THE CONTOURS' DO YOU LOVE ME mingled alongside rowdy, cock-sure band originals GLAD ALL OVER, ANY WAY YOU WANT IT, and BITS & PIECES, all earmarked by lead singer MIKE SMITH's ferocious howl and the group's beat-heavy stomp 'n whomp sound. Among the non-smashes here are GOOD OLD ROCK & ROLL MEDLEY, the same set of fifties classics that CAT MOTHER & THE ALL NIGHT NEWSBOYS had a smash with, and a decent cover of NA NA HEY HEY KISS HIM GOODBYE by one hit wonder STEAM. Criminally short lived, but immensely popular, THE DAVE CLARK FIVE brought a big bad bang to the British Invasion and a profound influence on rock & roll that can never be underestimated.

RATING: FIVE HIGH FIVES

RAY OF LIGHT

RAY DAVIES-SEE MY FRIENDS:

Incalculably influential KINKS troubadour RAY DAVIES' arsenal of wistful compositions has been routinely tackled over the decades by everyone from THE WHO and GREEN DAY to WEIRD AL and ELVIS COSTELLO. SEE MY FRIENDS rounds up an eclectic guest list of classic rockers, folkies and alternative upstarts for another go at the dusty jewels in DAVIES' crown, with decidedly mixed results. Americana belter LUCINDA WILLIAMS and blue eyed soul icon ALEX CHILTON fare best during their energetic turns at bat on LONG WAY FROM HOME and 'TIL THE END OF THE DAY, while old pros BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN and METALLICA (who fail to improve on VAN HALEN's volcanic version of YOU REALLY GOT ME) take a back seat to retro-mongering newcomers such as PALOMA FAITH and MUMFORD AND SONS. DAVIES' wry, conversational croak sounds much the same as it always has, maybe even a trifle distracted by now...hardly surprising considering how many times he's trotted out LOLA and TIRED OF WAITING over the past half century.

RATING: THREE FAH FAH FAH'S


STOP AND SMELL THE HOOKS

MAC DAVIS-BABY DON'T GET HOOKED ON ME/STOP AND SMELL THE ROSES:

Lubbock, Texas songwriter/singer Mac Davis knew the ins and outs of how to pen a good pop song; Kenny Rogers, Elvis, and Gallery all scored hits with his compositions SOMETHIN'S BURNIN', IN THE GHETTO and I BELIEVE IN MUSIC respectively. Amounting to a better retrospective than his official "Greatest Hits", this two-fer CD package boasts four tacked-on bonus cuts include the smugly tongue-in-cheek singalong IT'S HARD TO BE HUMBLE, country charter TEXAS IN MY REAR VIEW MIRROR, and the wistful ROCK N' ROLL I GAVE YOU ALL THE BEST YEARS OF MY LIFE...all of these "Lost 45s" are nearly impossible to find elsewhere nowadays. Among the twenty other tracks here, you also get the chart-topping anti-commitment classic BABY DON'T GET HOOKED ON ME, the seductive delight ONE HELL OF A WOMAN, and the gospel-colored mini-anthem STOP AND SMELL THE ROSES. All make for sublime guilty pleasure listening, even if there are some long stretches of audio Nutri Sweet in between the better grooves.

RATING: THREE HOOKS

SOFT-HEARTED

PAUL DAVIS-SUPER HITS:

Always an "under the radar" singer/songwriter, PAUL DAVIS looked like an ALLMAN BROTHER but put across unobtrusive middle of the road hits such as the nostalgic bopper '65 LOVE AFFAIR and saccharine belly-rubber I GO CRAZY. His mid tempo ballads COOL NIGHT, SWEET LIFE, and DO RIGHT were nearly interchangeable, but DAVIS occasionally veered off into more upbeat territory with SUPERSTAR, which name checks ELTON JOHN, LINDA RONSTADT and STEVIE WONDER and covers of THE BEACH BOYS' DARLIN' and THE FRIENDS OF DISTINCTION's LOVE OR LET ME BE LONELY. Rodeo saga RIDE 'EM COWBOY could easily be mistaken for one of BREAD's better numbers, although his boot-tappin' rocker BOOGIE WOOGIE MAN didn't make the cut here...and in fact has seldom been heard from since its inclusion on a K-TEL compilation in the early seventies. After the Top 40 singles dried up, DAVIS continued to enjoy modest success in country circles, hobnobbing with the likes of MARIE OSMOND...while brief, SUPER HITS concentrates on the bulk of his gentle pop chestnuts.

RATING: THREE PONYTAILS

LITTLE STEVIE 'WONDER'

THE SPENCER DAVIS GROUP-THE BEST OF THE SPENCER DAVIS GROUP:

They may have been named after the band's guitarist, but THE SPENCER DAVIS GROUP was organist/singer/multi-instrumentalist STEVE WINWOOD's baby all the way. The teenaged WINWOOD's raw searing vocals were so steeped in gritty blue eyed soul, he came off like an unhinged RNB belter twice his age on their signature smashes GIMME SOME LOVIN' and I'M A MAN. He also excelled on a slew of rootsy covers including LIEBER & STOLLER's COASTERS classic SEARCHIN', BRENDA HOLLOWAY's smoldering EVERY LITTLE BIT HURTS and the traditional folk staple THIS HAMMER. Produced by ISLAND RECORDS founder CHRIS BLACKWELL, feel-good pop rockers KEEP ON RUNNING and SOMEBODY HELP ME held sway with pub scene instrumentals like TRAMPOLINE and WALTZ FOR LUMUMBA. Eventually, WINWOOD moved on to other ventures, forming supergroup BLIND FAITH with ERIC CLAPTON and jazz-prog groundbreakers TRAFIC. The slow burning blooze jam GOODBYE STEVIE serves as a fitting capper for THE SDG's all too brief British Invasion reign.

RATING: FOUR SOUL MEN

BIRD SONGS

BOBBY DAY-GOLDEN CLASSICS:

Although hardly a household name, BOBBY DAY (aka BOBBY BYRD) was responsible for a handful of enduring RNB memories that brightened airwaves at the end of 50s. ROCKIN' ROBIN proved an indispensable goodtime smash, while THE BLUEBIRD, THE BUZZARD & THE ORIOLE was a funky biped-themed follow up hit. More DAY-penned classics fared even better in the hands of other artists; THURSTON HARRIS made big waves when he covered LITTLE BITTY PRETTY ONE and THE DAVE CLARK FIVE righteously tackled OVER AND OVER to explosive effect. A young MICHAEL JACKSON even pulled off a spirited ROCKIN' ROBIN revival, making it a hit for a second time. GOLDEN CLASSICS serves up the well done originals of these gems, plus a dozen more gritty toe tappers with a few decent ballads mixed in for variety...a nifty history lesson from the pioneering days of rock, pop and doo wop.

RATING: FOUR FEATHERS

SMOKIN'!

DEEP PURPLE-BURN:

British hard rock pioneers DEEP PURPLE were never strangers to change...but when the band rotated members for the third time in less than a decade, few predicted a slam-bang statement like BURN right out of the gate. Lion-maned DAVID COVERDALE's meancing blooze growl, stoked by ex-TRAPEZE bassist GLENN HUGHES' high harmonies, proved a heavy hittin' dream team on the pedal to the fretboards title track, their biggest radio juggernaut since SMOKE ON THE WATER. Deeper tracks including ominous warning MIGHT JUST TAKE YOUR LIFE showcased RICHIE BLACKMORE's and JON LORD's trademark guitar/organ interplay, while MISTREATED, a sleazy seven minute slab of smoldering RNB, smoked with COVERDALE's macho, gutbucket delivery. DEEP PURPLE would soon spin off similar ensembles like RAINBOW and WHITESNAKE, and the group soldiered on in varying formats for decades, but BURN (marred only by the pointless closing instrumental "A" 200) stands as their last truly great gasp of unmitigated, ball-bruisin' rock and roll.

RATING: FOUR CANDLES

PURPLE PEOPLE BEATERS

DEEP PURPLE-FRIENDS & RELATIVES:

Few rock bands have endured a more convoluted history than DEEP PURPLE or experienced success with as many lineups. Although only four actual DEEP PURPLE tracks appear on this double disc (so-so live rarities including their cover of PAINT IT BLACK and a DAVID COVERDALE-led SMOKE ON THE WATER), their roots and branches are well accounted for, trotting out solo stabs from belters IAN GILLAN, COVERDALE and GLENN HUGHES, one time axe slinger TOMMY BOLIN, even a rare offering from original DP bassist NICK SIMPER. The RONNIE JAMES DIO version of RICHIE BLACKMORE's RAINBOW gets its due; although not directly connected to DEEP PURPLE, DIO also fronts his namesake band on a concert version of MOB RULES from his BLACK SABBATH days. Nothing here is as earth shattering as DP's headiest stuff, chiefly due to an over reliance on muddy live tracks...and something from original vocalist ROD EVAN's spacey CAPTAIN BEYOND, not to mention BLACKMORE'S NIGHT, would have been welcome additions to this project...even so, FRIENDS & RELATIVES does a decent job of rounding up the usual suspects for DP completists.

RATING: THREE PURP-ETRATORS

PURPLE PEOPLE BEATERS

DEEP PURPLE-MADE IN JAPAN:

Coming off of DEEP PURPLE's legendary MACHINE HEAD album, this flawless concert captures the band's MACH II lineup at the absolute peak of their self-indulgent headbangin' powers. MADE IN JAPAN busts out captivating stage versions of piledriver anthems HIGHWAY STAR and STRANGE KIND OF WOMAN helmed by IAN GILLAN's hard rock screech, RICHIE BLACKMORE's gutsy lightning licks, and JON LORD's theatrical organ salvos. The tawdry true life tale SMOKE ON THE WATER (even better here than in its well known studio take) benefits from a slightly faster groove set by skin-thrasher IAN PAICE and bassist ROGER GLOVER, while JON LORD's staggering solo climax is a thing of squawling beauty. Perhaps no hard rock institution better typified the epic jam band ethos than DP; their brooding, atmospheric CHILD IN TIME, THE MULE (basically a ten minute drum solo) and tricked out instrumental LAZY allow the band to stretch out, while a twenty minute smackdown of SPACE TRUCKIN' is the perfect capper to an exhausting metal rendezvous peppered with RNB, prog and classical flourishes. The incendiary MADE IN JAPAN is deservedly the early seventies juggernaut by which all other live rock recordings are measured.

RATING: FOUR FLASHPOTS

PURP-ETUITY

DEEP PURPLE-NOBODY'S PERFECT:

Few hard rock concert platters could hope to compete with DEEP PURPLE's sprawling seventies juggernaut MADE IN JAPAN, especially a reunited version of the classic MACH II lineup fifteen years later. The aptly titled NOBODY'S PERFECT unwisely resurrects all but one warhorse from JAPAN (where they were given definitive readings) including messy, meandering takes on STRANGE KIND OF WOMAN, HIGHWAY STAR and that all time "air guitar" anthem SMOKE ON THE WATER. Bloozey growler IAN GILLAN talks too much between (and during) songs, ruining what flow this show has, while the perfunctory soloing of six stringer RICHIE BLACKMORE and organist JON LORD never really kicks things into high gear. A run through of comeback single KNOCKING AT YOUR BACK DOOR goes on longer than expected, while a studio remake of their first hit HUSH is notable only for the substitution of a rooster's crow for the original's eerie wolf howls. Let's just say platter falls squarely between DP's pair of Mach III live outings with DAVID COVERDALE...the surprisingly solid MADE IN EUROPE and the tepid cash-in LAST CONCERT IN JAPAN.

RATING: TWO STRANGERS



NAME THAT RIFF!

DEEP PURPLE-THE VERY BEST OF DEEP PURPLE:

Admit it. You've attempted that infamous dinosaur riff during your misguided youth on your older brother's beat up axe, thinking you had the makin's of a rock god. You know the one: duh-duh-duh...duh-duh-DUH-duh...duh-duh-duh...duh-duh. THE VERY BEST OF DEEP PURPLE is a near-perfect senses-assaultin' anthology featuring "that epic that needs no introduction" and other air-guitar warhorses. The band's tenure with three very different lead vocalists is spotlighted here...the semi-prog Rod Evans era via Joe South-penned staple HUSH and a tough-as-leather take on Neil Diamond's KENTUCKY WOMAN...the heavy rockin' Ian Gillan monster jams HIGHWAY STAR and SPACE TRUCKIN'...and the blooze-spoutin' DAVID COVERDALE finale of BURN and STORMBRINGER (with an assist from co-belter GLENN HUGHES). Ever glaring RICHIE BLACKMORE's slash 'n burn six string pitted against JON LORD's staggering organ volleys completed the big Purple picture. Any self respecting "rock-head" already owns their important albums, but the casual fan could hardly ask for more than THE VERY BEST.

RATING: FIVE "DUH"S

GOIN' DEF FOR A LIVIN'

DEF LEPPARD-VAULT/GREATEST HITS:

Mere teenagers when they crashed the gate of new Brit metal in the late seventies, DEF LEPPARD never sounded more hungry or vital than on their first pair of slash and burn platters ON THROUGH THE NIGHT and HIGH 'N DRY. It took MTV and overblown producer ROBERT "MUTT" LANGE to make 'em superstars via the hit-crammed albums PYROMANIA and HYSTERIA, spit-polished radio-ready glam pop that fell in line with the beckoning hair band era. VAULT collects peak period singles like THE GARY GLITTER-meets-BON JOVI bash POUR SOME SUGAR ON ME, slickster heat sinker PHOTOGRAPH, and BRINGIN' ON THE HEARTBREAK, the most palatable of their inescapable run of power ballads. The post-HYSTERIA stuff smacks of pale retreads, easily forgotten fluff which should have been replaced with the pre-fame ball-bangers WASTED and ANOTHER HIT AND RUN. Two thirds of this anthology do DEF LEP's legacy justice...the rest should have stayed in the vault.

RATING: FOUR EARPLUGS

SPECIALS DELIVERY

DESMOND DEKKER & THE SPECIALS-KING OF SKA:

Honey-voiced Jamaican ska pioneer (a forefather of reggae) pioneer DESMOND DEKKER's importance cannot be underestimated. This 1991 release is a perfectly natural, joyous mating of teacher and pupil which mashes up DEKKER with late eighties Two Tone scenesters THE SPECIALS for a pumped up affair brimming with rocksteady chemistry and summery energy. DEKKER's early chestnut KING OF SKA is convincingly resurrected, along with JIMMY CLIFF's KING OF KINGS and BYRON LEE's JAMAICA SKA (which ANNETTE FUNICELLO, of all people, once covered!), salted with peppy horn lines, funky, undulating rhythms and spirited vocals, leaning more towards DEKKER's smooth groove ways than THE SPECIALS' punk-influenced vision. The original versions of 007 (SHANTY TOWN), ISRAELITES and RUDY GOT SOUL, DEKKER's influential ska classics from the sixties, are tacked onto the end of this criminally brief album, a tantalizing trip back to the genre's sublime glory days.

RATING: THREE RUDE BOYS

SOUL TWO SOUL

DELANEY & BONNIE-THE BEST OF DELANEY & BONNIE:

A soul-searing marriage of roots rockin' RNB, good time gospel, and stone cold country, DELANEY & BONNIE plied an old fashioned blue eyed soul groove so infectious, ERIC CLAPTON dissolved his supergroup BLIND FAITH to tour with them, only to purloin most of their backing band for his next project DEREK & THE DOMINOS. BONNIE BRAMLETT channeled the raw power of JANIS JOPLIN and TINA TURNER (she was the one and only white IKETTE) and co-wrote CLAPTON's solo classic LET IT RAIN, THE CARPENTERS' smash SUPERSTAR (heard here in its original form as GROUPIE) and D & B's own folkie smash NEVER ENDING SONG OF LOVE. DELANEY BRAMLETT was a former SHINDIG musician whose gritty belting and unbridled passion earmarked DAVE MASON's ONLY YOU KNOW AND I KNOW, the celebratory COMIN' HOME and a rousing rendition of DR. JOHN's WHEN THE BATTLE IS OVER. RHINO RECORD's eighteen track tribute, with stellar backing from CLAPTON, DUANE ALLMAN and other luminaries, is a freewheeling tent revival that'll lift your spirits, rock your backbone and almost certainly save your soul.

RATING: FOUR SOUL SHAKES

LONG TIME COMING

DELP & GOODREAU:

While hardly on the same sonic plateau as the first BOSTON album (then again, how many platters ARE?), the late, lamented BRAD DELP's final project pairs him with frequent guitar slinging partner BARRY GOODREAU, whom he also worked with on the latter's 1980 solo debut, the mid eighties band ORION THE HUNTER and their semi-successful nineties act RETURN TO ZERO. You won't find much in the way of out and out rockers along the lines of PEACE OF MIND or DON'T LOOK BACK here, but there's plenty of smoothly rendered ear candy ala RTZ's Top 40 pop hit UNTIL YOUR LOVE COMES BACK AROUND. For fans of DELP's one of a kind set of pipes, thought provoking, melancholy lyrics and GOODREAU's tasteful six string soliloquies, that should be more than enough. The toughest tracks, RHYTHM WON'T STOP and RECONCILLIATION, arrive near the end of this under the radar effort, with the acoustic ballad MY ONE TRUE LOVE serving as a decent swan song for one of contemporary rock's truly amazing, soul-searing voices.

RATING: THREE SAD NOTES

RICK & ROLL HOOCHIE KOO

RICK DERRINGER-ROCK & ROLL HOOCHIE KOO/THE BEST OF RICK DERRINGER:

Multi-faceted guitar slinger Rick Derringer has just about done it all. The Ohio native was a teen star in the sixties group The McCoys, supported both Johnny and Edgar Winter in their best bands, played on Steely Dan, Alice Cooper, and Kiss albums, created Hulk Hogan's theme song for the WWF, and released a solid series of blooze albums in the new millennium. Yet he's mainly remembered for two songs...the McCoys' bubble-rock chart topper HANG ON SLOOPY, and his big solo hit, the earphone-melting ROCK & ROLL HOOCHIE KOO. Unfortunately, a lame reggae-styled update of SLOOPY appears on this retrospective, and a decent remake of Warren Zevon's LAWYERS, GUNS AND MONEY is MIA. That leaves the feisty Johnny Winter-associated STILL ALIVE AND WELL and a handful of gems from his breakthrough album ALL AMERICAN BOY as points of interest. No doubt about it, the little dude can play...but at sixteen selections, BEST OF could be too much unfamiliar material to digest at one sitting for the casual fan.

RATING: FOUR BULLETS

DETROIT ROCK CITY

DETROIT WITH MITCH RYDER:

After a scorching three album career with THE DETROIT WHEELS and a middle of the road solo album, Michigan's favorite son of rock & roll MITCH RYDER resurfaced in 1971 with the seven piece outfit DETROIT (featuring WHEELS drummer JOHNNY "THE BEE" BAJANDEK and LOU REED guitarist STEVE HUNTER), a furnace blast of blustery bar band blooze-rock. The frantic opener LONG NECK GOOSE sounds like a lost WHEELS classic, and any platter that pumps out super charged takes on THE STONES' GIMME SHELTER, WILSON PICKETT's I FOUND A LOVE and CHUCK BERRY's LET IT ROCK is bound to be a barnburner. RYDER's gravel-gargling pipes are a tad rawer than in the past, but he still kicks out the jams on the boozey ballad DRINK and a tough, sinewy reload of the VELVET UNDERGOUND warhorse ROCK 'N ROLL that stomps all over other versions you've heard. From the cool classic car logo pictured on the cover to the sweat-drenched RNB-packed punch inside, DETROIT is a pile-driving pack who apparently shot their wad early, never to record together again...which is truly rock & roll's loss.

RATING: FOUR WHEELS

PIPES DREAM

KARLA DEVITO-IS THIS A COOL WORLD OR WHAT?:

Talk about a tough act to follow...it couldn't have been easy being the chick belter who had to step into ELLEN FOLEY's stiletto-prints after the bigger than life MEAT LOAF breakthrough BAT OUT OF HELL (which prominently featured FOLEY), one of the late seventies' undisputed juggernauts. No slouch in the "one woman girl group" department herself, KARLA DEVITO proved up to the daunting task on her criminally underrated debut IS THIS A COOL WORLD OR WHAT? Looking like a flesh 'n blood BETTY BOOP and caterwauling like a possessed KATE BUSH, MRS. ROBBY BENSON projects operatic energy into MIDNIGHT CONFESSIONS, the finest GRASS ROOTS revamp ever, revisits BAT's dramatic ballad showpiece HEAVEN CAN WAIT, and works JOHN FOGERTY's ALMOST SATURDAY NIGHT into a rockin' soul powered lather. She also excels on her own material, notably the sizzling herky-jerky new wave-spiked title track, a hit on MTV and in some clubs, but not on the charts. Equal parts GO-GO'S, ANN WILSON and PAT BENATAR, in a cooler world, KARLA DEVITO would have been as big star as any of 'em back in the early eighties.

RATING: FOUR BIG GRINS



DEVO-TED 2 U

DEVO-GREATEST HITS:

At the dawn of MTV, DEVO was as much a visual force as a musical one, armed with identical flower pot hats and plastic hair helmets to cultivate their message of faceless uniformity and nerdy dominance. The spud-boys matched their bizarre look with a quirky, herky-jerky sound pastiche of cartoony vocals, staccato guitars and steely synth blurbs with twisted titles like THROUGH BEING COOL and JOCKO HOMO. Their lone radio smash may have been the frenzied slap 'n tickle classic WHIP IT (buoyed no doubt by its accompanying tongue-in-cheek S & M video), but robotic deconstructions of the STONES dinosaur SATISFACTION and LEE DORSEY's NEW ORLEANS classic WORKIN' IN A COAL MINE were also funk-strewn new wave faves. While their BRIAN ENO-produced debut disc ARE WE NOT MEN is highly recommended as a stand-alone purchase, GREATEST HITS covers all the career highlights of their humorously warped world view.

RATING: FOUR SPUDS

MORE BANG FOR YOUR BUCK

NEIL DIAMOND-CLASSICS/THE EARLY YEARS:

Long before morphing into a glitter-shirted, arena-filling superstar, Brooklyn-bred crooner NEIL DIAMOND paid his dues as a songwriter, offering up JAY & THE AMERICAN's SUNDAY AND ME and several well received MONKEES chestnuts. CLASSICS/THE EARLY YEARS collects AM radio highlights recorded for the BANG label, including gutsy singalong CHERRY CHERRY, gospel rave up THANK THE LORD FOR THE NIGHT TIME, the crisp KENTUCKY WOMAN, not to mention his solid original take on I'M A BELIEVER. In the "shoulda been hits" department are the equally vibrant, smartly crafted DO IT, THE BOAT THAT I ROW and YOU GOT TO ME, all awash in DIAMOND's soulful vocals, energetic acoustic strumming, and punchy female backing choruses. It's also nice to sample the stripped down simplicity of RED RED WINE, known to most listeners through reggae ensemble UB40's dancehall take. DIAMOND would go on to create dozens of further hits, but he never bettered the joyous selection of pop utopia highlighted on THE EARLY YEARS.

RATING: FIVE GEMSTONES

RIFF RAFF

BO DIDDLEY-BO DIDDLEY IS A GUNSLINGER:

Sans his trademark bow tie, red plaid jacket, rectangle specs and square guitar, the former ELIAS MCDANIEL is barely recognizable brandishing six guns and black cowboy duds on the cover of '61's BO DIDDLEY IS A GUNSLINGER, a swaggering collection of bad boy boogie. The rambunctious title track is a natural sequel to the rhythm master's classic BO DIDDLEY, portraying him as a bad hombre, backed by that inevitable "shave and a haircut" beat. RIDE ON JOSEPHINE and CADILLAC, covered by admirers GEORGE THOROGOOD and THE KINKS respectively, are hip road trips colored by DIDDLEY's dark wailing vocals, chunky riffage and JEROME GREEN's incessant maracas work. Elsewhere, DOING THE CRAWDADDY's a hip shakin' dance ditty, SIXTEEN TONS a raw remake of TENNESSEE ERNIE FORD's signature chestnut and DIDDLEY is a wild, sax-driven instrumental. With CHESS RECORDS' rock and roll sheriff calling the shots, BO DIDDLEY IS A GUNSLINGER proves every bit as much low down fun as that macho declaration suggests.

RATING: FOUR BULLETS



BO-DACIOUS!

BO DIDDLEY-HIS BEST/THE CHESS 50TH ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION:

Alongside his CHESS Records stablemate CHUCK BERRY, the former ELIAS MCDANIEL was one of rock and roll's major architects, fusing blues, country, and otherworldly elements into his own swampy, primitive vibe. Although his namesake hit (borrowed from the kiddie chant HAMBONE) and WHO DO YOU LOVE are his best known accomplishments, even casual listeners should recognize BEFORE YOU ACCUSE ME, ROAD RUNNER, and MONA through countless covers by the original British Invasion stars down through BROWNSVILLE STATION, BOB SEGER, and GEORGE THOROGOOD. Lesser known gems include CRACKIN' UP, OOH BABY and YOU DON'T LOVE ME, which forego his trademark "shave and a haircut" rhythms in favor of slinkier, sexier RNB patterns. Kudos to BO's main man JEROME GREEN, who played maracas like a lead instrument, and was his verbal sparring partner on the humorous classic SAY MAN, a precursor to "rap" if there ever was one. If all you know about BO concerns a nifty square guitar, a derby hat and that legendary beat, then you don't really...pardon the expression...know DIDDLEY.

RATING: FIVE BIG BEATS

PAIR OF ACES

DILLARD & CLARK-THE FANTASTIC EXPEDITION OF DILLARD & CLARK:

BYRDS co-founder GENE CLARK was never their most visible member and was in fact the first to exit their ranks...effectively relinquishing the frontman role to twelve string guitarist ROGER MCGUINN. Banjo wiz DOUG DILLARD was one quarter of bluegrass groundbreakers THE DILLARDS, who brought mountain music into modern times during the early sixties. When DILLARD & CLARK teamed up, their fantastic expedition was a rustic melding of folk, gospel and bluegrass, that, along with THE FLYING BURRITO BROTHERS, MICHAEL NESMITH and others, helped usher in the era of country-rock. CLARK's low-key vocals and bittersweet songs are bolstered by DILLARD's exemplary pickin', guest turns from future EAGLES six-stringer BERNIE LEADON and BYRDS/BURRITOS musician CHRIS HILLMAN, and a feisty cover of FLATT & SCRUGGS' GIT IT IN LINE BROTHER. This plaintive platter is closer to THE BYRDS' more famous americana experiment SWEETHEARTS OF THE RODEO than the backwoods hot-zing of THE DARLING FAMILY (whom THE DILLARDS memorably portrayed on THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW); roots rock fans should choose their preferred tonic accordingly.

RATING: THREE MANDOLINS

THAT ONE ALWAYS MAKES ME CRY

THE DILLARDS-THERE IS A TIME 1963-1970:

Along with LESTER FLATT & EARL SGRUGGS' guest appearances on THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, Missouri-bred quartet THE DILLARDS brought the energetic euphoria of bluegrass to early sixties TV via their humorous portrayal of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW's backwoods DARLIN' family. Led by guitar strumming vocalist RODNEY DILLARD and his banjo bangin' brother DOUG, the freewheeling troupe's mountain man sagas DOOLEY and EBO WALKER will be instantly familiar to fans of Mayberry. Imaginative covers of DYLAN's WALKIN' DOWN THE LINE, TIM HARDIN's REASON TO BELIEVE and THE BEATLES' I'VE JUST SEEN A FACE emphasize the country rock direction their folk/gospel mix often flirted with. Fluctuating between traditional and contemporary efforts from THE DILLARDS' first five hard to find albums, THERE IS A TIME 1963-1970 stands tall as the definitive retrospective of one of bluegrass' most accomplished clans.

RATING: FOUR FRONT PORCHES

BLUE WOPPER

DION-BRONX IN BLUE:

It should comes as no surprise to DION followers that the former BELMONTS leader is capable of churning out a blues platter as vibrant and entertaining as this one...his roots have always been steeped in gospel, folk and RNB. Providing his own sparse but zesty accompaniment on acoustic guitar, THE WANDERER still commands enough rich, soulful vocal power to put across effective readings of ROBERT JOHNSON, MUDDY WATERS and BO DIDDLEY. Rock fans who have only experienced the warhorses CROSSROADS, STATESBOROUGH BLUES and WHO DO YOU LOVE through rowdy roadhouse covers from CREAM, THE ALLMAN BROTHERS and GEORGE THOROGOOD won't find it hard to accept DION's quieter back to basics takes, which conjure images of front porch sing alongs below the Mason/Dixon line. Throughout the fourteen slices of blessed intimacy on BRONX IN BLUE, DION wails with such abandon and genuine love for the subject matter (even HANK WILLIAMS' HONKY TONK BLUES is trotted out), it's hard to imagine a more appropriate gift from one of the most engaging elder statesmen of rock & roll.

RATING: FIVE CAPS



STREET SMART

DION-GREATEST HITS:

During his six decade (and counting) career, Bronx-bred belter DION DIMUCCI has succeeded as a doowoppin' street corner badass backed by the formidable BELMONTS on I WONDER WHY and TEENAGER IN LOVE, a solo pop rocker immersed in the RNB juices of RUNAROUND SUE and THE WANDERER, a message-baring folkie on his last big smash ABRAHAM, MARTIN & JOHN, a gospel artist, and most recently a still potent acoustic blues interpreter. Whew! GREATEST HITS squeezes in practically every relevant hit and near miss, among them the inevitable chick paeans SANDY, LITTLE DIANE (with its bizarre kazoo riffing), and the funky singalong DONNA THE PRIMA DONNA, many written by DIMUCCI himself. DION's brash, swooping delivery, peppered with his trademark scat calls and impeccable blue eyed soul panache bodes him well even on the newer tracks. An earnest reading of BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN's IF I SHOULD FALL BEHIND is a real treat, while KING OF THE NEW YORK STREETS serves as a fitting capper for DION's righteous, woefully underrated reign.

RATING: FIVE STREET LAMPS

BRONX CHEER

DION-HEROES/GIANTS OF EARLY ROCK:

Charismatic late fifties/early sixties hit maker DION DIMUCCI...who has maintained a recording career ever since, tackling folk, gospel and blues as the mood grabs him...is still in remarkably fine voice for a man well into senior citizenship, sounding as gritty and playful as he did on RUNAROUND SUE and THE WANDERER all those decades ago. Taking on the usual suspects...CHUCK BERRY, EDDIE COCHRAN, BO DIDDLEY, THE EVERLY BROTHERS and ELVIS...DION injects RAVE ON, BYE BYE LOVE and SWEET LITTLE ROCK & ROLLER with a vibrant groove and his trademark clear cut, street-smart vocals. GIANTS OF EARLY ROCK includes a 45 minute bonus DVD which finds the doo-wopper reminiscing about his heroes like BUDDY HOLLY and RICHIE VALENS (with whom he was on tour the "day the music died") and trading slick retro-licks with hot-zing axe master ROBERT "CROW" RICHARDSON. Oldies cover projects may be as common as grooves on a long player, but when pulled off with this much charisma, enthusiasm and love by one of rock's actual pioneers...well, that's what makes DION the leader of the pack.

RATING: FOUR STREET CORNERS

STRAIT TALK

DIRE STRAITS-SULTANS OF SWING/THE VERY BEST OF DIRE STRAITS:

MARK KNOPFLER's DYLAN-esque talk-sing vocals and intricate six string workouts gave DIRE STRAITS a truly unmistakable sound...the introspective pub rock saga SULTANS OF SWING was a blast of fresh air during radio's late 70s/early 80s' fascination with punk and new wave. KNOPFLER, whose material was covered by everyone from THE EVERLY BROTHERS and THE JUDDS to TINA TURNER and MARY CHAPIN CARPENTER, had a knack for languid, low key excursions such as ROMEO & JULIET and PRIVATE INVESTIGATIONS. These were occasionally tempered by a feisty rocker like TWISTING BY THE POOL, perhaps the band's most effervescent number. All three biggies from their commercial juggernaut BROTHERS IN ARMS...MONEY FOR NOTHING, with its STING cameo and built-in MTV plug, WALK OF LIFE's rollicking roller rink pulse, and the stark ballad SO FAR AWAY...are spotlighted here, alongside lesser known followups CALLING ELVIS and HEAVY FUEL. Fans could rightly grouse about the lack of subtly shaded signature tunes DOWN TO THE WATERLINE and SKATEAWAY, but overall, SULTANS OF SWING is a decent sampler of a band that virtually defined "adult contemporary".

RATING: FOUR MURMERS



SIMPLY DIVINE

THE DIVINYLS-MAKE YOU HAPPY (1981-93):

Australia has been responsible for a healthy number of worthwhile bands from hard rockers AC/DC to the punk-oriented SAINTS...THE DIVINYLS expertly tread the fine line between the two styles, spearheaded by slash-'n-burn guitarist MARK MCENTEE and sex kitten belter CHRISTINA AMPHLETT, whose raunchy, hiccup-laced vocals drove aggressive ditties like PLEASURE AND PAIN and TEMPERAMENTAL. Unfairly remembered mainly for their self-serving smash I TOUCH MYSELF, the band's dynamic debut platter DESPERATE was a stand alone classic boasting the irresistible sonic shards BOYS IN TOWN, ONLY LONELY, SIREN (NEVER LET YOU GO) and SCIENCE FICTION. Well-crafted covers of SYNDICATE OF SOUND's garage rocker HEY LITTLE GIRL, THE RASCALS' blue eyed soul gem AIN'T GONNA EAT OUT MY HEART and ROXY MUSIC's glittery LOVE IS THE DRUG hint at THE DIVINYLS' tasty wide-reaching roots. Unfortunately this outfit was too far ahead of the curve to become the household name in America they so richly deserved to be.

RATING: FOUR LEERS

CHESS SET

WILLIE DIXON-THE CHESS BOX:

Two discs hardly constitute a "box"...perhaps CHESS SET would have been a more imaginative title, but there's certainly no denying the immense quality of work here. WILLIE DIXON, CHESS RECORDS' "go-to" producer, backing musician, and most prolific songwriter penned more stone cold blues classics than anyone else in the business. This roadhouse ready anthology features groundbreakers, hip-shakers, and money-makers from MUDDY WATERS, KOKO TAYLOR, LITTLE WALTER, and HOWLIN' WOLF, who all benefited from DIXON's guidance and keen commercial sense. WANG DANG DOODLE, YOU SHOOK ME, HOOCHIE COOCHIE MAN, LITTLE RED ROOSTER, BACK DOOR MAN, YOU CAN'T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER, I AIN'T SUPERSTITIOUS, SPOONFUL and SEVENTH SON are all boisterous slabs of CHICAGO grit that put CHESS on the map, providing a foundation for rock & roll in the process. These hot links (including a few sung by DIXON himself) were vigorously tackled by the burgeoning British Invasion crowd...everyone from CREAM and SAVOY BROWN to ZEPPELIN and THE STONES...and have been mined endlessly by every generation of roots oriented musicians since.

RATING: FIVE SPOONFULS

SOUL MINE

LEE DORSEY-WORKING IN THE COAL MINE:

Reedy New Orleans belter LEE DORSEY's name may not ring a bell with everyone, but most music fans will smile at the mere mention of sixties pop-soul hits like his irresistible YA YA (copped from a children's bathroom ditty), the frisky RIDE YOUR PONY and that sweat-soaked chant WORKING IN THE COAL MINE. Most of DORSEY's playfully funky material was penned and produced by the prolific ALLEN TOUSSAINT, who was also behind hits for Crescent City stars ERNIE K-DOE, AARON NEVILLE and IRMA THOMAS. GET OUT OF MY LIFE WOMAN, FREEDOM FOR THE STALLION and SNEAKIN' SALLY THROUGH THE ALLEY show off DORSEY's more serious, organic side than borderline novelties like GREAT GOOGA MOOGA and MY OLD CAR, but everything here resonates with warmth and charm. Rockers from ROBERT PALMER and LESLIE WEST to DEVO and THE FLESHTONES have embraced DORSEY's catalogue of cunning classics over the decades, stamping their approval on this underrated, influential entertainer.

RATING: FOUR YA YA'S

HOOKED ON CLASSICS

DR. HOOK & THE MEDICINE SHOW-ESSENTIAL:

Before morphing into a safe as milk pop group in the late seventies, DR. HOOK & THE MEDICINE SHOW were a raunchy, rowdy, rag-tag bunch of yahoos who relied mostly on eccentric songwriter SHEL SILVERSTEIN for their best material; the aching ballad SLYVIA'S MOTHER and party time plea COVER OF THE ROLLING STONE represented both sides of their feel-good country rock repetoire. Few ditties have ever shocked like FREAKIN' AT THE FREAKERS' BALL, which gleefully namechecks S&M, substance abuse, and necrophilia all in under three minutes; considerably tamer but just as much fun are the bar fly tribute QUEEN OF THE SILVER DOLLAR and LIFE AIN'T EASY, a sentiment anyone can belly up to. The smooth SAM COOKE remake ONLY SIXTEEN and its equally tender follow-up A LITTLE BIT MORE point towards the direction DR. HOOK would soon follow (dropping "& THE MEDICINE SHOW" for good measure) but represent the very best moments from their reincarnation. ESSENTIAL is as good a DR. HOOK collection as a casual fan could ask for...unless pandering titles like SEXY EYES and BABY MAKES HER BLUE JEANS TALK are of particular importance to you.

RATING: FOUR EYE PATCHES

HOOKED FOR LIFE

DR. HOOK-GREATEST HOOKS:

DR. HOOK fans are often divided into two camps...diehards that dig the seedy hippie rock of their early MEDICINE SHOW daze featuring SHEL SILVERSTEIN's wonderfully eclectic material COVER OF THE ROLLING STONE and SYLVIA'S MOTHER...and those who prefer the streamlined dance-pop of WHEN YOU'RE IN LOVE WITH A BEAUTIFUL WOMAN and SEXY EYES. Eye-patched RAY SAWYER may have been the face of DR. HOOK, but DENNIS LOCORRIERE was its most recognizable voice, singing lead on the bulk of their radio hits, including the winsome ballads ONLY 16 and SHARING THE NIGHT TOGETHER. The fondly remembered ribald MEDICINE SHOW era gets short shrift...no FREAKIN' AT THE FREAKER'S BALL or QUEEN OF THE SILVER DOLLAR...but GREATEST HOOKS is the only single disc collection that tracks virtually every one of their Top 40 singles, from sleazy listening to easy listening. There are two slightly different versions of this release, one which excludes their last couple of hits GIRLS CAN GET IT and BABY MAKES HER BLUE JEANS TALK...you'll want those two last gasps to make this trip complete.

RATING: FOUR HAIRCUTS

THE OLD SHEL GAME

DR. HOOK & THE MEDICINE SHOW-I GOT STONED & I MISSED IT/THE BEST FROM SHEL SILVERSTEIN 1971-79:

In the early 70s, prolific, eclectic songwriter (also children's author and PLAYBOY cartoonist) SHEL SILVERSTEIN and fun lovin' country rockers DR. HOOK & THE MEDICINE SHOW made one helluva raunchy, rowdy tag team. SILVERSTEIN's wry wit and gritty ditties matched their own irreverent vision note for note, leading to the band's two biggest hits, sleazoid tongue in cheek plea COVER OF THE ROLLING STONE and emotion-racked ballad SYLVIA'S MOTHER. Additional highlights from SILVERSTEIN's greasy grab bag of goodies included slopbucket singalongs ROLAND THE ROADIE & GERTRUDE THE GROUPIE, QUEEN OF THE SILVER DOLLAR, FREAKIN' AT THE FREAKER'S BALL, and stirring, sensitive fare like CARRY ME, CARRIE. True, not everything on this 23 track roundup is a slam dunk cult classic...A COUPLE MORE YEARS and PLEASURE & PAIN showcases the group's later about-face into adult contemporary pop fluff...they even lopped "AND THE MEDICINE SHOW" off their name...but there's certainly more than enough geniune gonzo appeal to satisfy fans of SILVERSTEIN and old school DR. HOOK alike.

RATING: FOUR YUKS

HOOKS, LINES, & STINKERS

DR. HOOK & THE MEDICINE SHOW-REVISITED:

This is not the same DR. HOOK that, after dropping "and the Medicine Show" from their name, did the biggest musical switcheroo since the DOOBIE BROTHERS acquired MICHAEL NCDONALD. If you're lookin' for their disco-fied hits WHEN YOU'RE IN LOVE WITH A BEAUITFUL WOMAN and BABY MAKES HER BLUE JEANS TALK (even those titles make me cringe), then search elsewhere. All ten tracks of trash on "REVISITED come straight from the demented pen of SHEL SILVERSTEIN, who, besides composing left-of-center hit songs (A BOY NAMED SUE, THE UNICORN, TEQUILA SHEILA), also contributed articles to Playboy AND wrote and illustrated classic children's books. The tune titles here tell the tawdry tale: ACAPULCO GOLIDE, ROLAND THE ROADIE & GERTRUDE THE GROUPIE, FREAKIN' AT THE FREAKER'S BALL and more demented debauchery. Two numbers are even fondly remembered bona fide hits---the melancholy SYLVIA'S MOTHER and that odorous ode to fame n' fortune COVER OF THE ROLLING STONE (which actually DID get their ugly mugs on that rag). Sleazy songs, greasy instrumentation, and party-hearty vocals make this catalogue of early classics sound like DR. HOOK had just as much fun making it you will digesting it. REVISITED really oughta come with one of those little warning stickers found on other substances that are supposedly bad for you: "CAUTION-Listening to this disc is highly infectious and may be hazardous to your health!"

RATING: FIVE YUKS

BORN ON A BAYOU

DR. JOHN-GOIN' BACK TO NEW ORLEANS:

Those who are familiar with the "funky butt" sound of DR. JOHN (his term) knows he never LEFT "the Big Easy". More than any other living artist, the mighty MAC REBENNACK personifies the swampy, organic, celebratory groove of New Orleans, oozing its steamy, celebratory grooves and second line rhythms from every pore of his very being. Tracing his musical roots via eighteen tantalizing tracks of jazz, blues, rock, and good-time jive, the master interpreter reimagines the folk standard GOODNIGHT, IRENE as a hot steppin' rug cutter and similarly recasts SINCE I FELL FOR YOU, BLUE MONDAY, and I'LL BE GLAD WHEN YOU'RE DEAD, YOU RASCAL YOU with healthy dollops of trademark grit, grease and gris-gris. The Doctor's street smart bloozey growl and earnest ivory ticklings are bolstered by regional legends such as AL HIRT, PETE FOUNTAIN and AARON NEVILLE, who help him exhume the ghosts of JELLY ROLL MORTON, PROFESSOR LONGHAIR and Mardi Gras Indian Chiefs. As an added bonus, JOHN provides plenty of entertaining, informative liner notes to go along with this ultra-hip trip back to the bayou; BACK TO NEW ORLEANS is most certainly the right place at the right time.

RATING: FIVE GRIS GRIS

JUST WHAT THE DOCTOR ORDERED

DR. JOHN-IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD:

There are two kinds of all-covers albums saturating that overstuffed market. You have those by average artists merely copying classics note for note without bringing one new thought to the party...and those like the joyously rendered IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD, a sassy dose of "after dark" RNB/jazz/soul as only New Orlean's own groove-ologist Dr. John can administer it. Like Ray Charles, Joe Cocker, and damned few others, the mighty Mac Rebennac (who sounds funky just clearing his throat) can tackle practically any standard and own it ouright. His sly, steamy duet with Rickie Lee Jones on MAKIN' WHOOPEE is the perfect intertwining of two of modern music's most intriguing, eclectic talents, and the ivory tinkler's breezy renderings of DON'T LET THE SUN CATCH YOU CRYING and ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE are sleepy slices of pure laid back nirvana. No matter what kind of mood you may find yourself in, this doctor's got your prescription.

RATING: FOUR BLACK KEYS



ROCKIN' TO NEW ORLEANS

FATS DOMINO-MY BLUE HEAVEN/THE BEST OF:

New Orleans' most famous musical exponent FATS DOMINO racked up a helluva lot more hit singles than CHUCK BERRY, LITTLE RICHARD or BUDDY HOLLY, yet he's seldom mentioned in the same breath as one of rock & roll's pioneering figures. Starting with the raw 1949 smash THE FAT MAN, his warm, conversational vocals and rollicking boogie woogie piano drove dozens of classic laid-back ballads and mid tempo rockers usually written by himself and prolific bandleader DAVE BARTHOLOMEW. Whether covering standards or performing his own material, DOMINO's jovial, non-threatening presence bowled over blacks and whites, parents and teens alike via BLUEBERRY HILL, WALKIN' TO NEW ORLEANS and AIN'T THAT A SHAME. Like so many early rock stars, FATS' chart dominance ended with the invasion of THE BEATLES, whose songs he nonetheless covered, notably their funky homage LADY MADONNA. MY BLUE HEAVEN racks up twenty titanic tracks reeking of charisma, charm, and class from a performer whose talent was every bit as big as the man himself.

RATING: FIVE TINKLIN' IVORIES

HIP TRIP

DONOVAN-GREATEST HITS (EXPANDED):

No artist better exemplified the flower child era than Scottish minstrel DONOVAN, whose wispy voice and ethereal songwriting made him one of late sixties radio's most recognizable talents. The indispensable GREATEST HITS includes pop-oriented remakes of his stark DYLAN-esque folk ballads COLOURS and CATCH THE WIND as well as his hippy-dippy radio smashes SUNSHINE SUPERMAN and that classic banana peel smoker MELLOW YELLOW...the expanded version adds his last pair of Top 40 hits, the dreamily recited epic ATLANTIS and psychedelic JEFF BECK team up GOO GOO BARABAJAGAL. The ominous dirge SEASON OF THE WITCH (covered by everyone from VANILLA FUDGE to DR. JOHN) creeps along seductively, while HURDY GURDY MAN's grungy aura benefits from JIMMY PAGE's distorted axe play; the airy LALENA and playful JENNIFER JUNIPER unspool like mere afterthoughts by comparison. Naturally, DONOVAN comes off irresistibly dated today...his trip's as delightful as discovering tattered photos in a musty attic trunk of your old long-haired, tie-dyed clad self.

RATING: FOUR EPISTLES TO DIPPY



DOOBIES MOTHER

THE DOOBIE BROTHERS-BEST OF THE DOOBIES:

This early career retrospective was mostly Tom Johnston's baby, as was the Doobie Brothers band itself until mellow white funk belter Michael McDonald took over the reins halfway through their career...he dominates the less successful BEST OF THE DOOBIES, VOLUME 2. Johnston wrote, sang gritty lead, and strummed hooky licks on the quintessential chestnuts CHINA GROVE, LISTEN TO THE MUSIC, and LONG TRAIN RUNNIN', the latter known to most listeners as "Without Love, Where Would You Be Now". He also pulled off TAKE ME IN YOUR ARMS (ROCK ME), quite possibly the most soulful white man cover of a MOTOWN ditty ever waxed, bolstered by red hot horns, zinging strings and gospel-rich backing vocals. Toss in a couple of twanger tunes from Pat Simmons (including the chart topping BLACK WATER) and just enough McDonald so his fans won't feel cheated, and you truly have THE BEST OF THE DOOBIES' mid seventies machine. This crisp collection of solid, good time singalongs is just the ticket for ROCKIN' DOWN THE HIGHWAY.

RATING: FIVE "DOOBIES"

MCSOUL MAN

THE DOOBIE BROTHERS-BEST OF THE DOOBIES, VOLUME 2:

The Doobies' tasty rock & roll vibe was seriously dilluted after switching out head honcho Tommy Johnston with the mellower Michael McDonald. There was a time in the late seventies when seemingly EVERYTHING on pop radio was awash in his smooth n' smokey, white RNB sound...huge hits like Cristopher Cross' RIDE LIKE THE WIND, ROBBIE DUPREE's STEAL AWAY, and KENNY LOGGINS' THIS IS IT were all heavily McDonald-influenced. BEST OF THE DOOBIES, VOL. 2 follows the band's middle of the road era, though surprisingly few bona fide "hits" are on display; only WHAT A FOOL BELIEVES and REAL LOVE even made the TOP 10. Marvin Gaye chestnut LITTLE DARLIN' I NEED YOU, jazzy groover MINUTE BY MINUTE, and YOU BELONG TO ME (which Carly Simon also charted with) all bear McDonald's dominating soul stamp; however, he's not offset often enough by Pat Simmons' grittier croon on songs like DEPENDIN' ON YOU, the one semi-rocker here. Overall, this is a pleasurable, if tame listening experience...scarcely a match for the knuckles-to-the-fretboards punch of the original BEST OF THE DOOBIES.

RATING: THREE DOOBIE DOOBIE DOO'S

WHICH DOOBIE YOU BE?...

THE DOOBIE BROTHERS-GREATEST HITS:

One of the 70s' quintessential anthologies has been properly updated to cover all phases of the Doobie Brothers' long career...the boogie rockin' Tom Johnston-dominated starting point, Michael McDonald's adult contemporary followup era, and the inevitable reunion years. Happily, the first half of this collection is virtually identical to the original BEST OF THE DOOBIES, offering immortal radio staples JESUS IS JUST ALRIGHT, CHINA GROVE, and BLACK WATER. Part two is mostly McDonald's terrain, stocked with jazzy, white soul musicianship on mega hits WHAT A FOOL BELIEVES and MINUTE BY MINUTE. Pat Simmons, the band's one constant member, offers up the hooky DEPENDIN' ON YOU and a smokey duet with McDonald on ECHOES OF LOVE. GREATEST wraps with the muscular one-two punch of Johnston's comeback effort THE DOCTOR, which is basically CHINA GROVE done sideways, and Simmons' DANGEROUS, a would-be biker anthem whose impact is marred by intrusive synth. Fans might quibble over certain tunes that made the cut (the bland REAL LOVE instead of ANOTHER PARK ANOTHER SUNDAY? Really?...), but this is by far the most Brotherly bang for your buck.

RATING: FOUR BROTHERS

BIG BROTHERS

THE DOOBIE BROTHERS-ORIGINAL ALBUM SERIES...TOULOUSE STREET...THE CAPTAIN & ME...WHAT WERE ONCE VICES ARE NOW HABITS...STAMPEDE...TAKIN' IT TO THE STREETS:

Best remembered as a high quality singles band, THE DOOBIE BROTHERS' California brand of country rockin' boogie, buoyed by exquisite vocal harmonies, twin guitars and twin drummers, made them AM/FM radio mainstays throughout the 70s. Earthy belter/songwriter TOM JOHNSTON dominates the first four platters of this five disc set with rhythmic slabs LISTEN TO THE MUSIC, CHINA GROVE, and ROCKIN' DOWN THE HIGHWAY, although fellow axeman PAT SIMMONS gets in his share of folky licks via SOUTH CITY MIDNIGHT LADY and the chart-topping singalong BLACK WATER. A rollicking soul-daddy cover of MOTOWN oldie TAKE ME IN YOUR ARMS (ROCK ME) proved to be JOHNSTON's last real triumph, before smokey-voiced keyboardist MICHAEL MCDONALD joined for TAKIN' IT TO THE STREETS and the group's gradual shift to a mellower groove. SIMMONS' funky workout WHEEL OF FORTUNE and JOHNSTON's tranquil excursion ANOTHER PARK, ANOTHER SUNDAY reveal a depth and maturity beyond the obvious rock hits, making this set (five cds housed in cardboard sleeve replicas of the orginal album art) a sound purchase for any fan inclined to explore beyond their well worn copy of BEST OF THE DOOBIES.

RATING: FIVE DOOBIES

THROUGH THE DOORS...

THE DOORS-THE VERY BEST OF THE DOORS:

The uncompromising originality and reckless mystique of THE DOORS' music and their long-ranging influence on modern rock remains incalculable, from this collection's ferocious opening salvo BREAK ON THROUGH to eerie, angst-infested parting shot THE END. Doomed Lizard King JIM MORRISON and his transcendental troubadours tackled sleazy gutbucket soul (ROADHOUSE BLUES and LOVE ME TWO TIMES), ethereal, provocative imagery via LIGHT MY FIRE, and the trippy nocturnal balladry of RIDERS ON THE STORM with equal grit and gusto. TOUCH ME fairly explodes with brass-perforated energy, while MORRISON's haunted howl rides shotgun over L.A. WOMAN, a masterstroke of swaggering, groove-solid menace. MORRISON's psychedelic "squirmin' like a toad" poetry, RAY MANZAREK's kinetic organ licks, the jazz-stoked drum work of JOHN DENSMORE and ROBBIE KRIEGER's blooze-drenched guitar bursts all meshed seamlessly for THE DOORS' unique proto-punk soundscape...what more could a serious rock fan ask for?

RATING: FIVE PAIRS OF LEATHER PANTS

STOMP OF APPROVAL

THE DOVELLS-THE BEST OF THE DOVELLS:

In the pre-British Invasion sixties, Philadelphia was home to a slew of hit making teen idols and dance craze makers like BOBBY RYDELL, DEE DEE SHARP and CHUBBY CHECKER, who recorded for CAMEO PARKWAY and were tirelessly promoted by DICK CLARK on his fledgling AMERICAN BANDSTAND program. THE DOVELLS, a feisty blue eyed soul quintet led by LEN BARRY's raw shout, scored big with catchy slabs of RNB grit tailor made for the dance floor, notably BRISTOL STOMP and its inevitable sequel BRISTOL TWISTIN' ANNIE, plus lesser hits HULLY GULLY BABY and DO THE NEW CONTINENTAL. Their other real biggie, the aptly named YOU CAN'T SIT DOWN was a vocal remake of the PHIL UPCHURCH COMBO's instrumental gem, complete with pumped up frat rock attitude, squonking sax and BARRY's righteous yips and yelps. Nifty novelty ditties such as BETTY IN BERMUDAS and MOPE-ITTY-MOPE, plus solid renditions of JACKIE WILSON's BABY WORKOUT and THE FLARES' FOOTSTOMPIN' help complete this generous, party smart package, culminating with LEN BARRY's smash solo offering 1-2-3. This is the first ever CD release of THE DOVELLS' underrated work, so plug it in, turn it up and boogie down!

RATING: FOUR STOMPS



CATCHING THEIR DRIFT

THE DRIFTERS-THE VERY BEST OF THE DRIFTERS:

One of "House of Soul" label ATLANTC RECORDS' earliest and most popular vocal groups was THE DRIFTERS, whose sweet RNB-meets-doo wop sound caressed the airwaves from the mid 50s through the mid sixties. Blessed with an unbeatable succession of vibrant lead belters including BEN E. KING, RUDY LEWIS, and JOHNNY MOORE, THE DRIFTERS tapped into the legendary wellspring of Brill Building songwriting teams JERRY LEIBER & MIKE STOLLER (who also produced them), CAROLE KING & GERRY GOFFIN, and DOC POMUS & MORT SHUMAN. Carefree chestnuts SAVE THE LAST DANCE FOR ME, ON BROADWAY, and UNDER THE BOARDWALK offered cha-cha rhythms, orchestral string sections, and ringing guitar work all blended seamlessly to pop perfection. For fans eager to hear the whole story, the double disc DEFINITIVE DRIFTERS tracks their entire career through almost sixty hits, near-misses, and rarities. THE VERY BEST is what its title implies, the absolute cream of these outstanding, pioneering purveyors of sophisticated soul.

RATING: FIVE HEAVENLY HARMONIES

PARTY TILL YOU DUKE!

DUKE & THE DRIVERS-CRUISIN':

This lost Boston sextet of the seventies was the missing link between the J. GEILS BAND and BACHMAN-TURNER OVERDRIVE, unfortunately never approaching a micron of either group's success outside of New England. Band members sporting tongue in cheek nicknames like RHINESTONE MUDFLAPS and CADILLAC JACK spewed forth fat 'n funky grooves, "too cool" covers of soul masters DON COVAY, OTIS REDDING and GAMBLE & HUFF, grit-laden, sanctifyin' vocals, and righteous blooze-defining riffs, making this one helluva party platter, bubba. The infectious piledriver single WHAT YOU GOT (a hit in the Northeast) is undoubtedly the groove-heaviest rhythm 'n rock anthem PETER WOLF never took a shot at. Astonishingly, the frat party inspired CRUISIN' remains unavailable on a little shiny beer coaster (that's "CD" to you hip folks) three decades after its release...which only adds another layer to DUKE & THE DRIVERS' grand mystique.

RATING: FIVE ROAD TRIPS

STOP DA MUSIC!

JIMMY DURANTE-AS TIME GOES BY/THE BEST OF JIMMY DURANTE:

Most people remember JIMMY DURANTE as an all around entertainer and consummate, charismatic showman...but not everyone knows that besides cracking jokes, acting in movies and fracturing the English language, "The Ol' Schnozz" also had a tender, winning way with a tin pan alley standard. Lending his world famous gravelly pipes to lushly orchestrated versions of SEPTEMBER SONG, YOUNG AT HEART and the CHARLIE CHAPLIN-penned SMILE, DURANTE summons up the same dollops of genuine feeling and heartfelt enthusiasm he brought to everything he did. Although he started in show business as a ragtime piano tinkler/saloon comic known for cute novelties like INKA DINKA DOO, these relaxed, straight renditions are as bright and welcome as a sunny spring morning. Appropriately for a collection as sentimental and nostalgic as this one, AS TIME GOES BY concludes with DURANTE's signature closing line "Goodnight Mrs. Callabash...wherever you are."

RATING: FIVE SCHNOZZOLA'S

TANGLED UP IN BOB

BOB DYLAN-THE ESSENTIAL BOB DYLAN:

Armed with a plaintive, reedy set of pipes, an acerbic wit and impenetrable persona, the former ROBERT ZIMMERMAN fostered a deeply poetic folk-rock catalogue that revolutionized pop music in the sixties and has been tackled by hundreds of performers as varied as THE FOUR SEASONS, JOHNNY CASH and WILLIAM SHATNER. He's well represented on Columbia's double anthology by his own hits and fan faves...the pioneering LIKE A ROLLING STONE (radio's first six minute smash), country bed warmer LAY LADY LAY, convoluted protest saga HURRICANE...as well as sparse acoustic versions of BLOWIN' IN THE WIND, MR. TAMBOURINE MAN and ALL ALONG THE WATCHTOWER, biggies for PETER, PAUL AND MARY, THE BYRDS and HENDRIX. While his indispensable sixties albums BLONDE ON BLONDE, HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED and NASHVILLE SKYLINE should be on every music fan's play list, THE ESSENTIAL BOB DYLAN tackles the thankless task of cherry picking thirty cerebral chestnuts from the Duluth, Minnesota troubadour's poignant, unparalleled output.

RATING: FIVE HARMONICA RACKS

SWAN SONG

THE EAGLES-LIVE:

Leaning heavily on their final pair of seventies platters, EAGLES LIVE effectively caps off the career of one of the decade's most popular country/pop/rock ensembles. Kicking off with five tracks from their peak period platter HOTEL CALIFORNIA and its less successful follow up THE LONG RUN, this laid back crowd pleaser offers sterile, note for note renditions of GLENN FREY's twangy TAKE IT EASY, DON HENLEY's haunting sagebrush saga DESPERADO and RANDY MEISNER's achingly beautiful TAKE IT TO THE LIMIT, not to mention MEISNER's replacement TIM SCHMIDT crooning the sleepy I CAN'T TELL YOU WHY. Welcome comedy relief arrives in the form of JOE WALSH's ingenious ode to excess LIFE'S BEEN GOOD, which, along with his URBAN COWBOY hit ALL NIGHT LONG, are the only real surprises...unless you count the sweet, semi-acapella rendition of STEVE YOUNG's SEVEN BRIDGES ROAD. Long time fans may pine for missing chestnuts such as ALREADY GONE, BEST OF MY LOVE, WITCHY WOMAN and ONE OF THESE NIGHTS, especially in lieu of a few obscurities played here...but overall, EAGLES LIVE makes a fitting swan song.

RATING: THREE EGGS

EAGLE AYE

THE EAGLES-THEIR GREATEST HITS 1971-1975:

Like BOB MARLEY's LEGEND, this sublime collection of seventies chestnuts seems to turn up in the music collection of virtually everyone you've ever met. Long before the Eagles reunited to became a megalomaniacal touring cash-grab with little interest in producing new material, they actually doled out some pretty decent folk rock laced with a sharp pop edge. DON HENLEY's eerie moaner WITCHY WOMAN and lonesome prairie ditty DESPERADO nicely offset GLEN FREY's twangy pick me up TAKE IT EASY (a JACKSON BROWNE co-write) and the cheater ditty LYIN' EYES. The always underrated RANDY MEISNER's lonesome country croon on TAKE IT TO THE LIMIT is also a laid back treat. This roundup predates their two most overplayed hits HOTEL CALIFORNIA and LIFE IN THE FAST LANE, a bonus or a detriment, depending on the listener. In spite of those missing biggies, GREATEST HITS stands as the best selling anthology of all time...I can almost see the smile creeping onto HENLEY's stony puss now.

RATING: FIVE NEST EGGS

BIRD DROPPINGS

EAGLES-SELECTED WORKS 1972-1999:

If ever a band could be accused of "feathering their nest", it's mainstream country-rockers the Eagles. Never mind that they ushered in the era of the overpriced concert ticket, charging a then unheard of seventy five bucks for their first reunion tour in the mid-90's. SELECTED WORKS 1972-1999 is a superfluous box set that stretches the point by twenty years; after their last original studio LP, '79's THE LONG RUN, they've only metered out miniscule doses of new but not particularly memorable material. Anyone who already owns the group's six original albums also has everything here, including OUTLAW MAN, JAMES DEAN, and TRY AND LOVE AGAIN, which deserved to be hits on a par with TAKE IT TO THE LIMIT and LIFE IN THE FAST LANE. Pointless filler including LONG RUN LEFTOVERS and RANDOM VICTIMS PART 3 are no substitute for bona fide missing gems like SEVEN BRIDGES ROAD and VICTIM OF LOVE, while a "Millenium Concert" disc is mainly notable for its distinct lack of Eagles songs...although a pair of Don Henley solo flights, a Joe Walsh oldie, a Tom Waits cover, and a couple of holiday ditties make the set list. Let's call this anthology what it really is...the turkey that laid the golden nest egg. Let's hope Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon are gettin' their cuts.

RATING: THREE BIPEDS



JUKE OF EARLE

STEVE EARLE-ESSENTIAL STEVE EARLE:

Before he became a train wreck of hard core habits, multi-marriages and grey bar motels, STEVE EARLE set late eighties country music on its ear, a brutally honest outlaw storyteller who steered clear of Nashville songwriting cliches. Experimenting with rootsy styles ranging from twang-a-billy and bluegrass to biker rock, his craggy singing voice was the perfect match for EARLE's world weary view of society. Out-of-the-gate hit GUITAR TOWN was a feisty, irreverent ode to the road, an updated truck drivin' theme dunked in DUANE EDDY-esque twang. ESSENTIAL also offers THE DEVIL'S RIGHT HAND, the best anti-gun ditty since SKYNYRD's SATURDAY NIGHT SPECIAL, mandolin-meets-metal-mash-up COPPERHEAD ROAD, and the bittersweet kiss-off GOODBYE'S ALL WE GOT LEFT. Though never rising above cult status (and probably liking it that way), EARLE would overcome most of his personal demons, continuing to spit out acclaimed, increasingly controversial observations well into the new century.

RATING: FIVE TROUBADOURS

WORLD DANCE PARTY

EARTH, WIND & FIRE-GREATEST HITS:

EARTH, WIND & FIRE, named for elements in leader MAURICE WHITE's astrological charts, seamlessly tempered their spiritual funk/soul vibe with a glossy pop sheen that also dabbled in jazz and gospel...the rare group with something for everyone. After several years as one of RNB's best kept secrets, EWF broke through in a big way with the chart smashing platter THAT'S THE WAY OF THE WORLD and never looked back. Former RAMSEY LEWIS drummer turned stouthearted belter WHITE fronted horn heavy, positive-groove party starters SHINING STAR and SATURDAY NITE while velvet toned crooner PHILLIP BAILEY spiced up the shimmering balladry of REASONS and AFTER THE LOVE HAS GONE. That early showstopper MIGHTY MIGHTY, a sparkling take on GOT TO GET YOU INTO MY LIFE (one BEATLES cover that actually worked), and BOOGIE WONDERLAND with soul sisters THE EMOTIONS, shows why EWF effortlessly filled the music charts, dance floors and concert halls during their late seventies hey-day.

RATING: FIVE SPIRITS

AXE HANDLE

DAVE EDMUNDS CHRONICLES (1968-1984):

Roots rockin' revivalist DAVE EDMUNDS has worn many hats over his long career...ace guitar slinger, twang-bangin' vocalist, producer to the stars (FABULOUS THUNDERBIRDS, DION, FOGHAT, kd lang), and co-leader of influential eighties band ROCKPILE with fellow pub rocker NICK LOWE. CHRONICLES (1968-1984) is the best single disc representation of his work, beginning with LOVE SCULPTURE's warp-speed psychedelicized reading of Khachaturian's SABRE DANCE on through a solid take on MOTOWN fave SOMETHING ABOUT YOU. His impeccable cover tune taste is evident via SMILEY LEWIS' rhythmic I HEAR YOU KNOCKIN' done as an echo-heavy rocker, ELVIS COSTELLO's slippery GIRLS TALK taken to a new plateau, and earthy tributes to JOHN FOGERTY, SPRINGSTEEN, and GRAHAM PARKER. Other high-ballin' highlights include salty takes on the GEORGE JONES warhorse THE RACE IS ON (backed by a then unknown STRAY CATS), LOWE's stop-the-wedding heat sinker I KNEW THE BRIDE, and BABY RIDE EASY, a joyous trucker duet with cow punk cutie CARLENE CARTER. RNB, new wave, western swing, PHIL SPECTOR-esque pop?...all just another day in the studio for a time warp talent like DAVE EDMUNDS.

RATING: FIVE OLDIES



DAVE'S RAVE!

DAVE EDMUNDS-REPEAT WHEN NECESSARY:

Welsh revivalist rocker Dave Edmunds' finest hour rings in on this companion album to partner-in-rhyme Nick Lowe's equally vital LABOUR OF LUST; both were recorded simultaneously, utilizing their goodtime band Rockpile. The retro-billy singer/guitar slinger spews forth nothing but charisma, craftsmanship, and class, whether tackling the definitive version of Elvis Costello's wry and witty GIRLS TALK, Graham Parker's crash 'n burner CRAWLING FROM THE WRECKAGE, or country bootkicker QUEEN OF HEARTS (stolen, nearly note-for-note by Juice Newton). But that's only the "hits"; monster mash CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, bloozey shuffle BAD IS BAD, and the Wall of Sound melody TAKE ME FOR A LITTLE WHILE are much more of a good thing. Edmunds, also well known for his production work for Dion, Foghat, k.d. lang, and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, is a rock 'n roll flame keeper of the highest order; this salacious slab o' sound is a testimonial to his twang-banger talents.

RATING: FIVE FRETBOARDS

FLAG WAVER

THE ELECTRIC FLAG-A LONG TIME COMIN':

The first band to incorporate a hot horn section into their earthy roots-rock groove, late sixties supergroup ELECTRIC FLAG boasted an impressive roster that included PAUL BUTTERFIELD BLUES BAND guitar hero MIKE BLOOMFIELD, blue eyed soul growler NICK GRAVENITES and BAND OF GYPSIES drummer/vocalist BUDDY MILES. Not everything on their Chicago blues/psychedelic/jazz debut works quite like the band's freewheeling cover of HOWLIN' WOLF's KILLIN' FLOOR and GRAVENITES' swingin' composition GROOVIN' IS EASY...but raucous drinkin' ditty WINE and MILES' stark raving take on BOBBY HEBB's mellow classic SUNNY are among the high points. ELECTRIC FLAG's ground-breaking, if short-lived fusion of hip sounds found the notoriously fickle BLOOMFIELD bailing to work with AL KOOPER almost immediately, leaving the others to soldier on for one surprisingly robust follow-up. Perhaps a case of "too much, too soon", the FLAG's brief legacy helped pave the way for bigger, more contemporary ensembles like BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS and CHICAGO.

RATING: FOUR WAVES

CLASSIC ROCKS!

ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA-STRANGE MAGIC/THE BEST OF:

ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA was the Fab Four-classical music mind meld vision of lead singer/guitarist JEFF LYNNE, spun off from THE MOVE, an even more experimental outfit. Kicking off with 1973's eight minute symphonic slam-jam of CHUCK BERRY's ROLL OVER BEETHOVEN, ELO racked up an unbroken batch of radio-ready hits, scoring with streamlined pop rockers EVIL WOMAN and DON'T BRING ME DOWN as well as the occasional tasty ballad (CAN'T GET IT OUT OF MY HEAD, TELEPHONE LINE). In the deja vu department, MR. BLUE SKY was SGT. PEPPER era BEATLES rebooted note for note, while DO YA was a herky-jerky staple hijacked from THE MOVE's old catalogue. LYNNE's crafty axe work and keening vocals, bassist KELLY GROUCUTT's lovely high harmonies, and operatic flourishes fused for ELO's flawless studio sound...dropping their trademark string section for the last few hits resulted in less distinctive (but no less popular) fare like DON'T BRING ME DOWN. STRANGE MAGIC captures all the vital stuff on two platters, making it a sound choice over ELO's numerous incomplete single disc comps and their long-winded triple play box set.

RATING: FIVE HIGH NOTES

STRINGS ATTACHED

ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA PART TWO-E.L.O.'S GREATEST HITS LIVE:

As its rather clunky title implies, this is not the Jeff Lynne helmed mega-watt force that ruled the pop charts in the seventies. It's a near-tribute act featuring several former band members paired with the Moscow Symphomy Orchestra on a live run-through of past glories. Given the original E.L.O.'s classical music overtones, this sucker ain't half the travesty it oughta be. Ex-Climax Blues Band vocalist Pete Haycock and E.L.O. mainstay Kelly Groucutt do an admirable job of recreating Lynne's high pitched vocals, and the trademark string section sound remains intact on old favorites TURN TO STONE, EVIL WOMAN, and CAN'T GET IT OUT OF MY HEAD. Always a reluctant live ensemble anyway, the original group shied away from concert discs, making this semi-reunion excusable, if only to once again experience the grandiose ROLL OVER BEETHOVEN in all its Chuck-Berry-meets-high-class-symphony-splendor. As an update on one of modern rock's greatest singles groups, E.L.O. TWO is a fairly interesting, if pointless second sequel.

RATING: THREE BOWS



ECLECTIC TUNES

THE ELECTRIC PRUNES-LOST DREAMS:

With a name that screamed spaced out sixties, (along with other "food" groups VANILLA FUDGE, MOBY GRAPE, and STRAWBERRY ALARM CLOCK), THE ELECTRIC PRUNES spewed forth a raw, eccentric groove awash in garage rock, psychedelia, RNB, and even (so help me) country strains. Their two radio hits I HAD TO MUCH TO DREAM (LAST NIGHT) and GET ME TO THE WORLD ON TIME were oscillating buzz-guitar blasts of righteous reverb, but there was considerably more to this band's unhinged vision. LOST DREAMS culls the bulk of their first two highly respected albums, including CAROLE KING/GERRY GOFFIN's slowly escalating, moody paean I HAPPEN TO LOVE YOU, the twisted mind excursion TRAIN TO TOMORROW, and revamped folkie standard AIN'T IT HARD. Pinwheeling organ swirls, tough, squirmy vocals, and hippie period axe effects dart in and out of the glorious mess the PRUNES made; the band's classic Vox wah-wah pedal ad is a welcome hidden track, rounding out a collection that's more fun than a pile of smoked banana peels.

RATING: FIVE PITS

THE POWER OF TWO

ENGLAND DAN & JOHN FORD COLEY-THE BEST OF ENGLAND DAN & JOHN FORD COLEY:

One of the seventies' most popular "soft rock" duos (an oxymoron if there ever was one), ENGLAND DAN & JOHN FORD COLEY may not have been on a par with HALL & OATES, or even SEALS & CROFTS (DAN was the younger brother of JIM SEALS), but their short string of sentimental Top 40 hits speaks for itself. The first pair of smashes, I'D REALLY LOVE TO SEE YOU TONIGHT and NIGHTS ARE FOREVER WITHOUT YOU (both written by PARKER MCGEE) are lush MOR excursions boasting tight harmonies, while TODD RUNDGREN'S LOVE IS THE ANSWER, augmented by a gospel choir, proves another perfect vehicle for their laid back talents. Further successes included IT'S SAD TO BELONG, GONE TOO FAR and WE'LL NEVER HAVE TO SAY GOODBYE, more of the same reflective, hard to hate AM radio fodder. While DAN SEALS moved on to a successful country career during the eighties, and his partner tested out the ill fated trio LESLIE, KELLY & JOHN FORD COLEY, it's their reign as a better than average pop duo for which they will always be best remembered.

RATING: THREE NOTES

THEY GOT THE BEAT

THE ENGLISH BEAT-WHAT IS BEAT?:

The late seventies/early eighties ska revival, sparked by THE SPECIALS, MADNESS and THE ENGLISH BEAT successfully blended punk's new strains with the skittering pre-reggae grooves of old, creating a raw, eclectic soundscape. THE BEAT (as they were known in their British homeland) fostered a brief but passionate career before splintering into the more pop-oriented spin-offs FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS and GENERAL PUBLIC. WHAT IS BEAT wraps up the tastiest morsels from their three album output, including a joyous take on SMOKEY ROBINSON's TEARS OF A CLOWN, simply one of the most charismatic MOTOWN covers ever launched, sparkling radio hit SAVE IT FOR LATER and urgent, empowering dance track TWIST AND CRAWL. Stylish guitarist/vocalist DAVE WAKELING and sassy toaster RANKING ROGER helmed an energetic "throw-down" sound bursting with rollicking RNB rhythms and quirky sax blasts from reed man SAXA (who backed original ska pioneers DESMOND DEKKER and PRINCE BUSTER). The fiery live medley GET A JOB/STAND DOWN MARGARET provides a smashing, politically charged coda for one of the era's most exciting, likeable bands.

RATING: FIVE BEATS

ROKY & ROLL

ROKY ERICKSON-GREMLINS HAVE PICTURES:

This intensely atmospheric odds 'n sods collection spotlights one of a kind artist ROKY ERICKSON (pronounced "ROCKY"), former head honcho of Texas-based garage/psychedelic rockers THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR ELEVATORS, tortured, self medicated soul and highly influential, mind-numbingly erratic solo artist. A good chunk of ERICKSON's most infamous platter THE EVIL ONE, including appropriately creepy odes COLD NIGHT FOR ALLIGATORS, IF YOU HAVE GHOSTS and NIGHT OF THE VAMPIRE shows up here, alongside the cathartic acoustic reflection I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN HERE BEFORE and a dire seven minute trampling of LOU REED's stark VELVET UNDERGROUND ode HEROIN. GREMLINS HAVE PICTURES, which covers the years 1975 through 1982 (admittedly one of his best eras) is not as all-encompassing as YOU'RE GONNA MISS ME: THE BEST OF ROKY ERICKSON. Nonetheless, it loudly flaunts ERICKSON's unhinged demonic groove, fractured songwriting and rough, caterwauling delivery, a probable influence on every modern day shock rocker from ROB ZOMBIE to MARILYN MANSON.

RATING: FOUR SCREECHES



DEAD RECKONING

ROKY ERICKSON & THE ALIENS-THE EVIL ONE:

As delicious a slab of devilish dementia as anything ALICE COOPER ever conjured up, this ex-13th FLOOR ELEVATORS psychedelic pioneer/acid casualty exhumes a real winner here. Produced by former CREEDENCE bassist STU COOK, the song titles read like an old Saturday afternoon "B"-movie marathon...CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN, NIGHT OF THE VAMPIRE and I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, to name just a smattering. All are shriek-shouted in ERICKSON's patented CHARLES MANSON-meets-SCREAMIN' JAY HAWKINS delivery, convincing anyone within earshot that OZZY and ROB ZOMBIE merely SING about demons...this cat is the truly unhinged one who shares his bed with 'em. Check out the frantic raunch 'n roll of DON'T SHAKE ME LUCIFER, the haunting ode IT'S A COLD NIGHT FOR ALLIGATORS, or the comparatively serene (but still creepy) CLICK YOUR FINGERS APPLAUDING THE PLAY at you own risk. ROKY ERICKSON is an audio exorcism that will leave you either disgusted, amazed, or both...but never ever bored.

RATING: FIVE BLOODY HAMMERS

EURYTHM 'N BLUES

EURYTHMICS-GREATEST HITS:

Brit-pop's bold and beautiful duo ANNIE LENNOX and DAVE STEWART were one of the most visually and audibly arresting acts of the new wave era, altering musical styles with seemingly every astonishing single and album. Ice queen vocals are matched by equally frigid synth stabs on launchpad classic SWEET DREAMS and ANGEL is a slice of frothy pop perfection, while slashing guitars, red hot horns and righteous backing singers ride shotgun over howlin' rocker WOULD I LIE TO YOU. LENNOX, white soul's best eighties belter, proudly testifies toe to toe with the almighty ARETHA FRANKLIN that SISTERS ARE DOIN' IT FOR THEMSELVES, and the STONES-esque crunch of I NEED A MAN sets up the meatiest male-bashin' lyrics this side of GLORIA STEINEM. Unlike many other acts' GREATEST HITS collections that are incomplete or feature questionable song choices, there's nary a mediocre moment to be heard here...EURYTHMICS manage to both entertain and dazzle without pandering.

RATING: FIVE DREAMS



BROTHER TO BROTHER

THE EVERLY BROTHERS-ALL TIME ORIGINAL HITS:

The history of heavenly harmonizing siblings stretches back at least as far as country duos the OSBOURNE BROTHERS and the STANLEY BROTHERS; PHIL and DON EVERLY, the offspring of rootsy entertainers Ike and Margaret, brought their down home mix of RNB, pop and folk to the rock and roll stage in the late fifties. Exuberant up-tempo smashes WAKE UP LITTLE SUSIE, BYE BYE LOVE, and BIRD DOG held sway with creamy ballads ALL I HAVE TO DO IS DREAM and DEVOTED TO YOU, all from the prolific songwriting team of BOUDLEAUX and FELICE BRYANT; eventually the boys were penning their own classics, including their biggest ever hit CATHY'S CLOWN. RHINO's ALL TIME ORIGINAL HITS is a satisfying, if incomplete cross-section of material from their tenures at CADENCE and WARNER BROTHERS...it misses lesser known gems like I'M HERE TO GET MY BABY OUT OF JAIL and GONE, GONE, GONE (more recently covered by ROBERT PLANT and ALLISON KRAUSS), but ropes in the bulk of their biggest radio triumphs. A profound influence on every voice-blending act from THE BEATLES to SIMON & GARFUNKEL, THE EVERLY BROTHERS' importance on the early pop radio scene can't be underestimated.

RATING: FIVE TWO PART HARMONIES

BIRDS THE WORD

THE FABULOUS THUNDERBIRDS-HOT STUFF/THE GREATEST HITS:

Even though they'd been an important cog on the Texas blooze-rock circuit since the early seventies, Austin's FABULOUS THUNDERBIRDS didn't hit pay dirt till their DAVE EDMUNDS-produced platter TUFF ENOUGH. The macho title anthem and SAM & DAVE oldie cover WRAP IT UP became welcome radio mainstays in the mid-eighties. Soulful belter/hot harp blower KIM WILSON and delectable six string slinger JIMMIE VAUGHAN (SRV's older bro) fronted a no frills mix of roadhouse riffs and southern soul on rootsy reboots of SLIM HARPO's GOT LOVE IF YOU WANT IT and the WILLIE DIXON penned YOU CAN'T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER, not to mention WILSON's forceful STAND BACK and the chill out groover TWO TIME MY LOVIN'. While older fans often prefer the band's leaner, looser years, HOT STUFF, which covers THE FAB T-BIRDS' peak of popularity is a slick, stand alone Saturday night special.

RATING: FOUR FABS

HOOCHIE COOCHE MEN

FACES-GOOD BOYS...WHEN THEY'RE ASLEEP/THE BEST OF FACES:

FACES' brand of slop bucket booze-fueled blooze rock, helmed by incomparable front man ROD STEWART's raw, soulful husk of a voice and RONNIE WOOD's sinewy guitar licks was a heady mash of RNB, country and folk which made 'em the seventies' most famous bar band. The reflective brilliance of OOH LA LA, POOL HALL RICHARD's swaggering boogie and that classic hard rockin' kiss-off STAY WITH ME (featuring one of the most memorable axe intros of the era) are just some of the high-life highlights on BEST OF, a generous nineteen track sampling distilled from their career spanning box set FIVE GUYS WALK INTO A BAR. Drummer KENNY JONES, bassist RONNLE LANE and keyboardist IAN MACLAGEN, all seasoned vets of SMALL FACES till the defection of leader STEVE MARRIOTT to HUMBLE PIE, rounded out this reckless party-hearty ensemble. Eventually overshadowed by STEWART's burgeoning solo career (on which WOODY played a healthy part), FACES were that all too rare entry in rock music...a bunch of mates having a hell of a good time, all the while refusing to take themselves too seriously.

RATING: FOUR LADS

PLEADING THE FIFTH

THE VERY BEST OF THE 5TH DIMENSION:

Call them the black MAMAS & THE PAPAS if you want...unbelievably, THE 5TH DIMENSION sounded even whiter than that undisputed pinnacle of MOTOWN crossover acts, DIANA ROSS & THS SUPREMES. Front woman MARILYN MCCOO's beauty contest looks and cool vocal flair, coupled with the group's knack for covering some of the best song craftsmen of their era (LAURA NYRO, JIMMY WEBB, etc.) resulted in an unbroken string of Top 40 gems from the late sixties through the early seventies. MCCOO's husband BILLY DAVIS JR. succeeded in piercing the gang's RNB bubblegum with a delicious blast of unhinged gospel grit on the second half of HAIR medley AQUARIUS/LET THE SUN SHINE IN...but for the most part, the 5D were as safe and reliable as THREE DOG NIGHT or THE GRASS ROOTS. The euphoric highlights rounded up on VERY BEST (UP, UP & AWAY, STONED SOUL PICNIC, ONE LESS BELL TO ANSWER, STONE SOUL PICNIC) are plentiful here, from five talented performers more than capable of taking pristine pop vocal harmony to another dimension.

RATING: FIVE BELLS

ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGHS

FIREFALL-GREATEST HITS:

A folk-rock super group of sorts, Colorado based FIREFALL boasted singer/guitarist RICK ROBERTS of THE FLYING BURRITO BROTHERS, SPIRIT bassist MATT ANDES (who also played in JO JO GUNNE and HEART) and ex-BYRDS drummer MICHAEL CLARKE, their sound landing stylistically somewhere between THE EAGLES and PURE PRARIE LEAGUE. Front man ROBERTS provided most of the unobtrusive lead vocals and winsome songwriting, represented best by the slickly up tempo LIVIN' AIN'T LIVIN, nearly interchangeable smashes JUST REMEMBER I LOVE YOU and YOU ARE THE WOMAN, and the prog/pop epic STRANGE WAY. Fan favorites also dot this well appointed eighteen track RHINO collection...CINDERELLA marks the band's darker side, while their final Top 40 hit STAYIN' WITH IT is a hard to hate duet with LISA NEMZO. Although not known for taking risks, DAVID MUSE' melodic woodwind colorings helped set FIREFALL apart from the onslaught of similar middle of the road ensembles in the seventies. In lieu of tracking down their hard to find original albums, GREATEST HITS more than serves a purpose.

RATING: THREE EAR CANDIES

PAST TENSE

THE FIRM-THE FIRM:

Few acts were tougher to follow than LED ZEPPELIN and BAD COMPANY, but undisputed guitar god JIMMY PAGE and macho belter PAUL RODGERS tried anyway with supergroup THE FIRM, which also included former MANFRED MANN'S EARTH BAND skins pounder CHRIS SLADE and future BLUE MURDER bassist TONY FRANKLIN; the band barely lasted through a pair of albums. First single RADIOACTIVE proved an oddball success, although it lacked the soulful hard rock crunch of past triumphs, while SATISFACTION GUARANTEED sounded like nothing more than a leftover BAD COMPANY ballad. Unfortunately, the rest of this platter is mired in a midtempo sludge best exemplified by an unwise cover of THE RIGHTEOUS BROTHERS oldie YOU'VE LOST THAT LOVIN' FEELIN'. PAGE and RODGERS would fare no better with subsequent ensembles like the bloozey COVERDALE/PAGE (featuring WHITESNAKE bawler DAVID COVERDALE) or PAUL RODGERS' THE LAW, whose only other constant was FACES drummer KENNEY JONES. THE FIRM could have been so much more given the legends involved, but its so-so material and languid execution isn't likely to make anyone toss their well-worn copies of HOUSES OF THE HOLY or STRAIGHT SHOOTER.

HIGH FIVE

ABSOLUTELY RIGHT-THE BEST OF FIVE MAN ELECTRICAL BAND:

Canada's smartly named Five Man Electrical Band will always be best remembered for the mega-watt chart-bruiser SIGNS, one of protest music's cheeriest efforts...it was also the subject of a worthy late 80s acoustic revival by hard rockers Tesla (who even christened their live album FIVE MAN ACOUSTICAL JAM). FMEB follow-up singles didn't fare as well, but were never less than interesting, fun-filled attempts at striking lightning twice. ABSOLUTELY RIGHT (their other Top 40 hit in the states) bops along at a frantic, irresistible pace, WEREWOLF is an eerie, half spoken, "hair-raising" epic, and rollicking singalong MONEY BACK GUARANTEE combines elements of country, RNB and Dixieland. Lead vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Les Emmerson knew how to put a charismatic spin on things, as deeper tracks I'M A STRANGER HERE and DANCE OF THE SWAMP WOMAN clearly demonstrate. This tight anthology belongs in every serious fan's collection of above average "good timey" 70s pop music.

RATING: FIVE, MAN!

THE FAMILY THAT PLAYS TOGETHER

LESTER FLATT & EARL SCRUGGS-SONGS OF THE FAMOUS CARTER FAMILY:

This is a natural pairing of bluegrass' most prolific duo and legendary pioneers of country music THE CARTER FAMILY, showcasing warmly intimate readings of such standards as WORRIED MAN BLUES and KEEP ON THE SUNNY SIDE from their rustic catalogue of back woods classics. Clan matriarch MOTHER MAYBELLE adds autoharp coloring to LESTER FLATT's plaintive vocals and EARL SCGRUGGS' acoustic guitar and banjo licks (which are toned down from the trademark frantic breakdowns of their THEME FROM THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES and ROLL IN MY SWEET BABY'S ARMS) for a hearty toe-tapping mix of gospel, folk and blues. FLATT & SCRAGGS instill a spirited reverence and down home authenticity to FOGGY MOUNTAIN TOP, JIMMY BROWN THE NEWSBOY and ON THE ROCK WHERE MOSES STOOF, marvelous chestnuts that have been an important part of the bluegrass scene for decades, making this one of the most pleasurable musical history lessons imaginable.

RATING: FIVE BANJOS



GO GREEN

FLEETWOOD MAC-THE BEST OF PETER GREEN'S FLEETWOOD MAC:

An entirely different animal than the seventies pop juggernaut, the original FLEETWOOD MAC was an unparalleled British blues band helmed by brooding visionary PETER GREEN. Often compared to ERIC CLAPTON (whom he replaced in JOHN MAYALL'S BLUESBREAKERS), the underrated guitarist/singer's masterstrokes BLACK MAGIC WOMAN, OH WELL and GREEN MANALISHI (WITH THE TWO-PRONGED CROWN) are most familiar to general audiences through popular covers by SANTANA, THE ROCKETS and JUDAS PRIEST. Amid an LSD-fueled quest for spirituality and psychedelic experimentation beyond the basic RNB template, GREEN shunned stardom, eventually leaving the band in the hands of others. BEST OF also offers the ELMORE JAMES-channeling JEREMY SPENCER's sleazy MY HEART BEAT LIKE A HAMMER and third guitarist DANNY KIRWAN's trippy DRAGONFLY for balance. Nonetheless, it's GREEN's reedy vocals and stylish six string exploits like the down 'n dirty RATTLESNAKE SHAKE and hypnotically liquid instrumental ALBATROSS on which the bulk of FLEETWOOD MAC's early legacy rests.

RATING: FOUR TABS OF ACID

BIG MAC

FLEETWOOD MAC-THE VERY BEST OF FLEETWOOD MAC:

Although FLEETWOOD MAC began life as British blues bangers scoring underground classics like OH WELL and RATTLESNAKE SHAKE under the of tutelage of guitar guru PETER GREEN, it wasn't until many lineups later that the better known pop-rock version emerged as a powerhouse seventies hit making machine. LINDSEY BUCKINGHAM's intricate axe work and quirky vocal stylings, STEVIE NICKS' husky pipes and "hippie chick" persona, and CHRISTINE MCVIE's sweet soulful groove peppered radio-friendly triumphs like GO YOUR OWN WAY, RHIANNON and HOLD ME. The double platter VERY BEST also wisely delves into underground classics including THE CHAIN, WORLD TURNING and GOLD DUST WOMAN, which are as vital as the biggies. Spiffy live renditions of BUCKINGHAM's sultry BIG LOVE and ominous I'M SO AFRAID appear here, NICKS proves she's the undisputed queen of one word song titles via SARA, GYPSY and LANDSLIDE, and the woefully underrated MCVIE racks up more hits than both of them put together. Fans can carp about this or that missing cult fave...but overall, it's hard to imagine a better sampler of the BIG MAC's salad days.

RATING: FOUR RUMOURS



SWAMP STOMP!

JOHN FOGERTY-BLUE MOON SWAMP:

Roots rocker JOHN FOGERTY's credentials as a raw, funky country boy were established long ago in the swamp stompin' CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL; even though his solo output was relatively light over the ensuing decades, BLUE MOON SWAMP proved a most welcome return to form. Previous efforts CENTERFIELD and OLD MAN DOWN THE ROAD may stand as his biggest post-CCR hits, but the scintillating heartland rock on tracks like BLUEBOY, SOUTHERN STREAMLINE and BRING IT DOWN TO JELLY ROLL are every bit as good, maybe even better. A HUNDRED AND TEN IN THE SHADE showcases molten lava gospel backing from THE FAIRFIELD FOUR, HOT ROD HEART coasts on vivid open road imagery, and WALKING IN A HURRICANE unleashes a gritty hard edged vibe that'll blow you sideways. FOGERTY's gutsy, soulful pipes are in fine form here, tempered by his richocheting axe licks and passionate pummeling from former JOHN MELLENCAMP drummer KENNY ARONOFF; BLUE MOON SWAMP's a smokin' audio excursion from an old pro who, unlike far too many long-in-the-tooth rockers, absolutely gets better with age.

RATING: FOUR GATORS

HONEST JOHN

JOHN FOGERTY-THE LONG ROAD HOME:

Few classic rock fans would disagree that CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL'S twenty track anthology CHRONICLE, which boasts the swampy warhorses PROUD MARY, GREEN RIVER and SWEET HITCH-HIKER, is one of the most entertaining compilations ever waxed (despite the head-scratching omission of BORN ON A BAYOU). Band figurehead JOHN FOGERTY's sporadic solo career yielded a handful of like-minded hits which are sprinkled in here amongst the CCR oldies, the first time both have been available on one platter. Solid concert renditions of his otherwise lost early gems ALMOST SATURDAY NIGHT and ROCKIN' ALL OVER THE WORLD join the title tracks from his CENTERFIELD and DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN albums, although there's nothing from THE BLUE RIDGE RANGERS or EYE OF THE ZOMBIE. The infamous parallel between RUN THROUGH THE JUNGLE and OLD MAN DOWN THE ROAD drive home how little FOGERTY's rootsy style has changed over the decades. While the world could certainly use a solid overview of just his recent stuff, THE LONG ROAD HOME makes for a seamless "heartland rock" connection.

RATING: FOUR BOWL HAIRCUTS

RIVER RAVE

JOHN FOGERTY-PREMONITION:

JOHN FOGERTY fans the world over rejoiced when he finally embraced his long ignored CCR past by releasing the solid, swaggering concert platter PREMONITION, especially in the wake of CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVISITED, a touring "tribute" by his former band mates. The ace guitarist/growler sounds lean 'n mean throughout the show, pumping up old classics like BORN ON THE BAYOU (complete with creepy crawly sound effects), GREEN RIVER and DOWN ON THE CORNER with renewed enthusiasm, as well as sprinkling in a few solo hits including THE OLD MAN DOWN THE ROAD and that summertime fave CENTERFIELD. Backed by ace session bassist BOB GLAUB and ex-JOHN MELLENCAMP skin-thrasher KENNY ARONOFF among others, FOGERTY hits on all cylinders for his too seldom heard boot-kickers ALMOST SATURDAY NIGHT and ROCKIN' ALL OVER THE WORLD, plus dues-paying covers of SUSIE Q and I PUT A SPELL ON YOU. The slam-bang hat-trick of FORTUNATE SON, TRAVELIN' BAND and PROUD MARY wraps the party up in crowd-pleasing fashion, reminding one and all that the no frills, roots rockin' FOGERTY has always been a force to be reckoned with.

RATING: FOUR SWAMPS

6 PACKS & 8 TRACKS

FOGHAT-THE BEST OF FOGHAT:

For pure, mullet-headed, blooze-based rock n' roll, few bands carried the torch (or Bic lighter) higher than this Savoy Brown offshoot. Rightly christened "the kings of 8-tracks and six packs", Foghat's lead yowler Lonesome Dave Peverett and slide guitar slinger Rod Price brought the uncut boogie to tried and true chestnuts like Chuck Berry's MAYBELLINE and Willie Dixon's I JUST WANT TO MAKE LOVE TO YOU. Foghat delivered the goods on their own whomper-stompers SLOW RIDE and FOOL FOR THE CITY as well, providing the soundtrack for countless seventies frat house/biker parties. Even their left field pop hit THIRD TIME LUCKY, a rare deviation from formula, worked as a guilty pleasure sing-a-long. Sure, underrated barnstormers WHAT A SHAME and SOMEBODY'S BEEN SLEEPIN' IN MY BED would have been welcome additions to this overview, but if you don't find your steel-toed work boot bangin' the boards to what's already here, it's time to break out yo' Mama's Barely Man-enough 45's and hoist a cream soda to MANDY's magnificence.

RATING: FIVE FISTS IN THE AIR

NEAR EQUAL SEQUEL

FOGHAT-THE BEST OF FOGHAT VOL. 2:

Some might suggest that one Foghat anthology was sufficient, but if yer a die-hard fan of the British boogie boys and their hamfisted hits, rejoice! Everything that missed the cut on BEST OF is here for the partyin'. Besides live takes on two of their biggest triumphs FOOL FOR THE CITY and I JUST WANT TO MAKE LOVE TO YOU, you get a fistful of near misses like the pumped up RNB remake SOMEBODY'S BEEN SLEEPIN' IN MY BED, plus raucous readings of Sun Records shaker UBANGI STOMP and Buddy Holly's immortal THAT'LL BE THE DAY. Though personnel changes (notably the exit of slide guitarist Rod Price) led to a streamlining of the well tread Foghat sound, LIVE NOW-PAY LATER and STRANGER IN MY HOME TOWN remain catchy later singles efforts. And NOTHIN' sounds better blastin' through the car speakers of your choice than WHAT A SHAME, a simply monstrous '73 slab of high octane rock that loudly demonstrates why Foghat, like a cheap six-pack, goes down easily and leaves you feeling pretty damned good.

RATING: FOUR BIC LIGHTERS

FAST RIDE

FOGHAT-LIVE:

DEEP PURPLE's MADE IN JAPAN and KISS ALIVE notwithstanding, FOGHAT-LIVE is hard proof that not EVERY seventies headbanger needed a double concert platter to get their point across. Cherry picking from their vast catalogue of boogie bashing rockers, LIVE may be only a half dozen tracks long, but all six carry that extra "umph" that only a concert setting punctuated by throngs of screaming beer drinkers and hell raisers can provide. FOGHAT's trashy party stompers SLOW RIDE and FOOL FOR THE CITY are trotted out in grand arena rock tradition, slathered in LONESOME DAVE PEVERETT's sleazy yowl, searing slabs of ROD PRICE's slide guitar and the earthquake rhythm section of CRAIG MACCREGGOR and ROGER EARLE; gripping, testosterone-fueled takes on BIG JOE TURNER's HONEY HUSH and MUDDY WATERS' I JUST WANT TO MAKE LOVE TO YOU are every bit as much jet-propelled fun. With no dreaded power ballads to gum up the works, FOGHAT-LIVE unfurls as a senses-numbing souvenir of what hard rock concerts were all about in the "me decade".

RATING: FOUR MUSTACHES

ROCK AND ROLE MODEL

ELLEN FOLEY-NIGHT OUT:

Best known as the brassy female counterpart on PARADISE BY THE DASHBOARD LIGHT, MEAT LOAF's eight and a half minute ode to sweaty lust, leather lunged ELLEN FOLEY was all over BAT OUT OF HELL's ballsiest tracks from YOU TOOK THE WORDS RIGHT OUT OF MY MOUTH to ALL REVVED UP WITH NO PLACE TO GO. A big voiced session queen who also belted behind IAN HUNTER, THE CLASH and BLUE OYSTER CULT, FOLEY's unvarnished RNB powered pipes made NIGHT OUT an unforgettable, if little heard solo debut in '79. Highlights on this heart wrenching hailstorm of guitar driven rock and PHIL SPECTOR flecked pop include saucy takes on TIMI YURO's WHAT'S A MATTER BABY and THE STONES' STUPID GIRL, not to mention her own epic WE BELONG TO THE NIGHT co-written by the glam slam production team of IAN HUNTER and MICK RONSON. All but ignored by tin eared radio programmers in 1979, NIGHT OUT proved a scorcher of an opening shot and FOLEY's most accomplished platter...for those lucky enough to have sampled her sledgehammer soul mama style up close and personal.

RATING: FOUR YELPS

FOOLS GOLD

THE FOOLS-NIGHT OUT/HEAVY MENTAL:

In spite of the band's name and their early novelty PSYCHO CHICKEN (a TALKING HEADS parody that hit big in their BOSTON home area), THE FOOLS were deadly serious about rock & roll. Power pop, Brit Invasion and punk hooks saturate SOLD OUT, their major label debut; SPENT THE RENT and the title track are high grade head-boppers, semi-smash IT'S A NIGHT FOR BEAUTIFUL GIRLS slinks along on a slippery ska groove, and I WON'T GROW UP may or may not bring to mind a hyperactive PETER PAN. Follow up album HEAVY MENTAL trots out kitschy rockers ALIBI and THE LAST CADILLAC ON EARTH, and soulful singer MIKE GERARD is surprisingly effective interpreting the ROY ORBISON weeper RUNNING SCARED...but the rest doesn't quite stack up to their earlier stuff. Obviously, the hard to find PSYCHO CHICKEN shoulda been included on this tantalyzin' CD two-fer, but why quibble? FOOLS fans (you know who you are) have waited an eternity for their well worn LPs to make the transition to shiny beer coaster.

RATING: FOUR GRINS

LOCO BOYS MAKE GOOD!

THE FOOLS-WORLD DANCE PARTY:

While even non-New Englanders can sing the praises of THE J. GEILS BAND, THE CARS and AEROSMITH, Ipswich, Massachusetts homeboys THE FOOLS, the clown princes of eighties rock, are in more rarified company. Originally released in 1990 as the long awaited follow up to their new wave era SOLD OUT and HEAVY MENTAL platters, WORLD DANCE PARTY finds belter MIKE GIRARD and company joyously blasting out the title anthem, faithfully regurgitating MANFRED MANN's ear worm chestnut DO WAH DIDDY DIDDY and otherwise acquitting themselves quite nicely, thank you. THE UNTOUCHABLES is a rare belly rubbing ballad that compares favorably to the band's early cover of ROY ORBISON's CRYING, while SHE MAKES ME FEEL BIG and SEX plow THE FOOLS' more familiar "nudge-nudge wink wink" terrain. The hands down highlight is cult classic LIFE SUCKS THEN YOU DIE, a twanged out redneck rocker custom made for frat parties or barn dances. A ho-hum remake of their semi-hit IT'S A NIGHT FOR BEAUTIFUL GIRLS is the only real misstep...but taken as a whole, the "rockers unite" vibe of WORLD DANCE PARTY is the aural equivalent of a peace sign.

RATING: FOUR YEEHAH'S

JUKE ROCK HEROES

FOREIGNER-RECORDS:

The aptly titled RECORDS is a brief, but practically perfect roundup of contemporary rock act FOREIGNER's glory years, culled from their first four slickly rendered albums. Beefy faves like HEAD GAMES and DIRTY WHITE BOY are front and center in all their swaggering, chauvinistic glory...this was the late seventies, after all...unfortunately HOT BLOODED, one of their best barnburners, unspools here in a fairly sloppy live version, this compilation's lone downer. Motown maverick JUNIOR WALKER blows a mean-as-hell sax during URGENT's steam-heat climax, while front man LOU GRAMM and ex-SPOOKY TOOTH guitarist MICK JONES effortlessly interlock on sultry vocals and arena rock axe spurts. The vastly underrated LONG LONG WAY FROM HOME stacks up quite nicely against better known smashes, from the slowly building FEELS LIKE THE FIRST TIME to crunch-rocker JUKE BOX HERO...suffice to say the band rarely released a bad single. RECORDS' cover art of a tabletop diner jukebox exemplifies FOREIGNER's eternal faceless status, but there's no denying the hits, hooks, and gratuitous grooves waiting inside.

RATING: FOUR-EIGNERS

'TIS THE SEASONS!

FRANKIE VALLI & THE FOUR SEASONS-ANTHOLOGY:

THE FOUR SEASONS were America's answer to the early onslaught of THE BEATLES, more than holding their own with a long string of chart busters throughout the sixties. Fronted by the unmistakable, otherworldly falsetto peals of FRANKIE VALLI, the Jersey quartet's catalogue was largely written by group member/producer BOB GAUDIO, a glorious throwback to late fifties street corner symphonies. Everything-but-the-kitchen-sink production values bolstered the soaring two minute slabs of teen angst pop nirvana SHERRY, BIG GIRLS DON'T DRY and RAG DOLL, while BOB DYLAN's DON'T THINK TWICE, recorded under the guise of THE WONDER WHO (which fooled no one), received an off the wall novelty treatment. RHINO RECORDS' excellent compilation also collects VALLI's huge solo hit CAN'T TAKE MY EYES OFF YOU, (inexplicably ignoring his later biggies SWEARIN' TO GOD and MY EYES ADORED YOU), and the group's surprise mid seventies comebacks, the disco-laced WHO LOVES YOU and immortal last gasp DECEMBER 1963 (OH WHAT A NIGHT). Fans of impeccable vocal harmonies and meticulous pop song craft will find ANTHOLOGY a platter for all seasons.

RATING: FOUR HIGH NOTES



TOPS OF THE HEAP

THE FOUR TOPS-ESSENTIAL COLLECTION:

Along with THE SUPREMES, THE MIRACLES and THE TEMPTATIONS, THE FOUR TOPS were one of the MOTOWN family's most beloved and successful vocal groups, with good reason. Few commanded a microphone with the gritty passion and monstrous soul power of LEVI STUBBS, who could plead, beg and shout with as much conviction as OTIS REDDING. The quartet's envious run of HOLLAND/DOZIER/HOLLAND penned showstoppers included sweet debut BABY I NEED YOUR LOVING, dramatic holler REACH OUT I'LL BE THERE, and the titanic twin spins I CAN'T HELP MYSELF and ITS THE SAME OLD SONG. After HDH exited MOTOWN, the quartet's underestimated cover versions of WALK AWAY RENEE and IF I WERE A CARPENTER continued to pinpoint their creamy trademarks harmonies. This is the rare TOPS collection that traces later hits for other labels, notably the sophisticated gemstones ARE YOU MAN ENOUGH, AIN'T NO WOMAN LIKE THE ONE I'VE GOT and WHEN SHE WAS MY GIRL, giving this an edge over the glut of MOTOWN-only roundups. For a complete picture of why these four were truly "tops", listen no further than ESSENTIAL.

RATING: FIVE TOPS

PETER PERFECT

PETER FRAMPTON-GREATEST HITS:

Former HUMBLE PIE axe slinger PETER FRAMPTON will always be best remembered for one of the biggest live albums of the seventies, the inexplicable juggernaut FRAMPTON COMES ALIVE, which breathed new life into several platters' worth of mostly ignored solo material. Not surprisingly, the highlights on GREATEST HITS are the spirited stage versions of SHOW ME THE WAY, BABY I LOVE YOUR WAY and the fourteen minute jam DO YOU FEEL LIKE WE DO...in fact, the original studio takes of IT'S A PLAIN SHAME, BABY (SOMETHIG'S HAPPENING) and DOOBIE WAH come off a bit anemic compared to their lively concert counterparts. Although FRAMPTON scored a few more decent radio singles like I'M IN YOU, I CAN'T STAND IT NO MORE and a sparkling cover of STEVIE WONDER's SIGNED, SEALED, DELIVERED I'M YOURS, his follow ups have forever remained in the shadow of COMES ALIVE. It would have been nice to hear BREAKING ALL THE RULES (which cops the nifty guitar riff from THE STONES' classic BITCH), but most of the good stuff is wrapped up neatly in this sixteen track party pack.

RATING: FOUR TALK-BOX SOLOS

GIRL ON TOP

CONNIE FRANCIS-THE VERY BEST OF CONNIE FRANCIS:

Cheesy cover art aside, THE VERY BEST OF CONNIE FRANCIS spotlights twenty-one sweet, sassy, sometimes delightfully silly hits from an emotion-packed talent who virtually defined pre-BEATLES invasion pop music from the fairer sex. Jaunty, irresistible sing-a-longs such as EVERYBODY'S SOMEBODY'S FOOL and VACATION were offset by melancholy ballads including her signature WHO'S SORRY NOW, assuring that the former Concetta Rosemarie Franconero was rarely off the singles charts from the late fifties through the early sixties. The Brill Building songwriting team of NEIL SEDAKA and HOWIE GREENFIELD supplied some of her most memorable early efforts, including STUPID CUPID, FRANKIE and WHERE THE BOYS ARE (a showstopper which she recorded in six languages). However, it was FRANCIS' soaring pipes that sold these records as she matured from teen idol to adult contemporary artist, tackling everything from big band to country. The most popular songbird of her era, the incomparable CONNIE FRANCIS laid the groundwork for every successful female pop belter who followed in her wake.

RATING: FOUR SIRENS

FRANKLIN MINT

ARETHA FRANKLIN-JEWELS IN THE CROWN/ALL- STAR DUETS WITH THE QUEEN:

During ARETHA FRANKLIN's impressive late eighties comeback (she'd been away from radio and missed, as lamented in STEELY DAN's HEY NINETEEN), the big names of pop, rock and RNB were lining up for a chance to bask in the Queen of Soul's aura. A few big hits resulted in these collaborations...notably the funk-stoked anthem SISTERS ARE DOIN' IT FOR THEMSELVES with EURTHMICS and GEORGE MICHAEL's I KNEW YOU WERE WAITING FOR ME...which are supreme highlights of this collection. Some of the other mash ups aren't far behind in terms of energy and sparkle...the ethereal (YOU MAKE ME FEEL LIKE) A NATURAL WOMAN, with BONNIE RAITT and GLORIA ESTEFAN, can still bring a lump to the throat, and KEEF RICHARDS helps her tear off a meaty chunk of JUMPIN' JACK FLASH, probably the hardest she's ever rocked. Unsurprisingly, ARETHA out sings the hell out of everyone at this party (even MARIAH CAREY, no cinch)...NOBODY, regardless of age, gender or color is going to beat the Queen at her own game.

RATING: FOUR JEWELS

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ARETHA

ARETHA FRANKLIN-THE VERY BEST OF ARETHA FRANKLIN, VOL. 1/THE SIXTIES:

ARETHA FRANKLIN brought the sanctified delivery of her church upbringing to the soul and pop charts in a huge way during the second half of the sixties. Her signature classic RESPECT, written and originally recorded by OTIS REDDING, was an unhinged fire and brimstone testament in her mitts, complete with gospel-saturated "sock it to me" call and response. Similarly, DON COVAY's earthy compositions CHAIN OF FOOLS and SEE SAW boasted slinky arrangements that percolated beneath ARETHA's exuberant soul shouting. In sharp contrast, CAROLE KING's stark ballad NATURAL WOMAN and must-hear interpretations of ELEANOR RIGBY and THE WEIGHT showcased a rare talent unafraid to tackle pop, jazz, easy listening and rock in addition to her beloved RNB. This peak period collection, coupled with RHINO RECORDS' companion platter VERY BEST: THE SEVENTIES is one helluva testimonial to the once and forever Queen of Soul...and that's not even counting her well deserved comeback a decade later.

RATING: FIVE SOCK IT TO ME'S

THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE

FREE-BEST OF FREE:

Before bluesy balls-out belter PAUL RODGERS and skin-pounder SIMON KIRKE joined the slick rock super group BAD COMPANY, they paid their dues in FREE alongside doomed guitarist PAUL KOSSOFF and funky bassist ANDY FRASER. Known to casual followers mainly for ALL RIGHT NOW, a crackling smash which jumped out of AM airwaves in 1970, the quartet also had much to offer in the "deep tracks" department. A powerful pastiche of hard rock, folk and RNB in the vein of fellow Brits SAVOY BROWN, RODGERS' raw-throated howl, unique phrasing and trademark ad-libs, coupled with KOSSOFF's righteous riffing made explosive earfuls of FIRE AND WATER, CATCH A TRAIN and BOOKER T & THE MG'S composition THE HUNTER. For extreme contrast, the serenely hypnotic instrumental MOUTHFUL OF GRASS (ALL RIGHT NOW's flip side) was three plus minutes mellowed out nirvana. Although this even dozen collection of cult classics has long been supplanted by the double disc MOLTEN GOLD, BEST OF serves as a solid reminder of the organic hey day of forty minute long players.

RATING: FOUR FREE FALLS

LEFTY'S RIGHT

LEFTY FRIZZELL-THE BEST OF LEFTY FRIZZELL:

Behind only HANK WILLIAMS in terms of influence, LEFTY FRIZZELL was one of country's most important, if underrated artists; his warm, relaxed vocals and western swing groove drove timeless hard country chestnuts like IF YOU'VE GOT THE MONEY IVE GOT THE TIME, ALWAYS LATE (WITH YOUR KISSES) and his lone number one single SAGINAW, MICHIGAN. Plagued by personal demons, FRIZZELL charted only sporadically during his two decade career...his enormous impact was most evident following his untimely death at age forty-seven. Everyone from MERLE HAGGARD and WILLIE NELSON (who covered IF YOU'VE GOT THE MONEY for a hit) to GEORGE JONES and GEORGE STRAIT have cited the Texas troubadour's talent as a one of a kind song stylist, whether on his own sentimental MOM & DAD'S WALTZ or tackling THE LONG BLACK VEIL with chilling, unbridled passion. RHINO's stellar anthology BEST OF does this immeasurable talent justice, gathering eighteen tracks of sublime honky tonk that fits his legacy as comfortably as an old pair of cowboy boots.

RATING: FIVE KISSES

CHESS SET

LOWELL FULSON-THE COMPLETE CHESS MASTERS:

Although never a household name in roots rock circles, highly underrated singer/guitarist/songwriter LOWELL FULSON's soothing brand of jazz-stroked blues spanned a half decade, innumerable labels, and a handful of stone classics. The double platter CHESS MASTERS represents his peak period, serving up 43 tracks of laid back west coast RNB nirvana, a far cry from that label's usual output of raw Chicago sides and pioneering rock from artists like HOWLIN' WOLF, MUDDY WATERS, and BO DIDDLEY. FULSON, who penned the OTIS REDDING/CARLA THOMAS classic TRAMP, had his own biggest hit with RECONSIDER BABY, a hip, jazzy, slow groover eventually tackled by everyone from ELVIS and FREDDIE KING to IKE & TINA and DOUG SAHM. Elsewhere on this tone-cool collection, IT'S A LONG TIME slinks along to a sax-driven strip club beat, BLUE SHADOWS sparks a smoky, after hours atmosphere, and the atypical ROCK THIS MORNING and COMIN HOME (SOMEDAY) swing and sputter like not so distant cousins of LITTLE RICHARD. Approximately half the tracks served up on CHESS MASTERS are also available on the single disc compilation RECONSIDER ME: CHARLY BLUES MASTERWORKS, a more concise and frugal alternative to the out of print (hence, pricey) CHESS set.

RATING: FOUR SMOOTH GROOVES



TORTURED SOUL

MARVIN GAYE-GOLD:

MOTOWN RECORDS pushed out a seemingly endless supply of "Sound of Young America" gemstones from the early sixties through the early seventies...drummer turned slick singer MARVIN GAYE was there every step of the way, initially mixing his own compositions with those provided by label staff writers HOLLAND-DOZIER-HOLLAND and SMOKEY ROBINSON. Sprightly hot-steppin' hits STUBBORN KIND OF FELLOW, HOW SWEET IT IS and AIN'T THAT PECULIAR were followed by a series of silky duets with TAMMI TERRELL, plus that groove-heavy chart topper I HEARD IT THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE, which bettered label-mates GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS' rawer version by one notch. The seventies found GAYE eschewing cookie cutter singles, focusing instead on more personal, stark social proclamations such as WHAT'S GOING ON, INNER CITY BLUES (MAKES ME WANNA HOLLER) and MERCY MERCY ME. He also affirmed his "love-god" status, pumping out explicate bed-warmer LET'S GET IT ON, the disco-laced GOT TO GIVE IT UP and his steamy swan song SEXUAL HEALING. GAYE's dignified, sensual talents can scarcely be contained on a mere double disc, but GOLD ponies up nearly three dozen reasons to savor the joyous flavor.

RATING: FIVE PAIRS OF SILK PAJAMAS



HOWLIN' WOLF

THE J. GEILS BAND-BEST OF THE J. GEILS BAND:

Boring cover art (bowling pins toppling...I don't get the connection) and a measly nine tracks aside, this contract fulfilling compilation for Atlantic Records is still an eardrum-piercing platter that truly matters to anyone within earshot of a radio in the 70s. About half the hot-shot ditties here are pulsating, showstopping live renditions...which should clue the uninitiated that Boston's mighty J. Geils Band was one of THE premier blooze/rock concert acts of its or any other day. A ferocious hodgepodge of lean guitar work, swirling organ, heart-stopping harp, and the woofin' goofin' Peter Wolf's funky rasp, they OWNED covers of soul chestnuts like BOBBY WOMACK's LOOKIN' FOR A LOVE, THE MARVELOWS' I DO, and THE SUPREMES' WHERE DID OUR LOVE GO. Their gritty blue collar originals were equally classic...the reggae-tinged workout GIVE IT TO ME, the peerless pop perfection of MUSTA GOT LOST, and SOUTHSIDE SHUFFLE's infectious RNB groove make this a helluva HOUSE PARTY indeed. As comps go, this is much too short, but I was going for another brew anyhoo. WHAMMER JAMMER, DICKIE!!!

RATING: FIVE FUNKY FINGERS UP

CHANGE STINKS

THE J. GEILS BAND-FLASHBACK:

Fans of this Beantown sextet's rafter-raisin', harp-saturated boogie n' blooze might well gasp "WHA' HAPPEN???" upon spinning this second career compilation of new-wavey, MTV-ready hits. Like the DOOBIES, ZZ TOP and AEROSMITH, the J. GEILS BAND pulled a musical 180 midway through their career by seriously mainstreamin' their legendary rock and soul vibe. The upside was increased airplay and platinum sales...the downside meant diminished quality and decreased credibility. Sure, LOVE STINKS is a fun li'l ditty (Who can't relate to THAT sentiment?), and CENTERFOLD was accompanied by a sexy video in its day, but this updated version of GEILS is a HOWLIN' WOLF-cry away from the searing, gritty groove of WHAMMER JAMMER and FIRST LOOK AT THE PURSE. At least I DO is a raucous live version of the same showstoppin' party starter on BEST OF, the superior first anthology...that one will undoubtedly help old school JGB fans wash the synthesized, ultra-slick taste of FREEZE FRAME and FLAME THROWER from their mouths.

RATING: THREE SELL-OUTS

SOUL POWER!

THE J. GEILS BAND-BLOW YOUR FACE OUT:

No one ever threw a house party quite like the mighty J. GEILS BAND, a roots-baring grab bag of brash blooze, good time rock & roll and staggering soul power. Wild man wailer PETER "WOOFA GOOFA" WOLF is one of the seventies' (and well beyond) most charismatic, energetic front men, peppering the party with tongue-twistin' jive disc jockey patter (his former occupation), and belting the hell outta covers of everything from TRUCK DRIVIN' MAN and RAISE YOUR HAND to WHERE DID OUR LOVE GO. J. GEILS' lean 'n mean axe work, SETH JUSTMAN's funky keyboard punctuation, and the smack-down rhythm section of DANNY KLEIN and STEPHEN JO BLADD are bolstered by harp master-blaster MAGIC DICK literally blowin' his face off every chance he gets. Recorded in their native Boston and their adopted hometown of Detroit, LOVE-ITIS, MUSTA GOT LOST and GIVE IT TO ME are funky, rowdy, sanctifying slabs of righteousness that make this one of the coolest concerts ever waxed, a more than fitting sequel to their legendary live outing FULL HOUSE.

RATING: FIVE SOUTHSIDE SHUFFLES

YOUR ROOTS ARE SHOWING

THE J. GEILS BAND-COVERED BY GEILS:

Damned few white bands outside of Rare Earth or Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels were capable of tackling gritty, good-time soul chestnuts and making them their very own. But Boston's RNB jaugernaut The J. Geils Band cut their teeth on "too cool" covers such as The Contours' take on Smokey Robinson's FIRST I LOOK AT THE PURSE, Bobby Womack's LOOKIN' FOR A LOVE, The Showstoppers' HOUSE PARTY, and I DO by The Marvelows. Admit it...you always thought Geils originated ALL those cool classics (so did I). Only The Supremes' bouncy WHERE DID OUR LOVE GO was a bona-fide smash BEFORE wailer/song impaler Peter Wolf and company unleashed their equally stylish rendition. Although they eventually succumbed to the more mainstream pop of LOVE STINKS and CENTERFOLD, for most of their existence J. Geils' blues-ology vibe was never in question. Albert Collins?...Don Covay?...Stax?...a truck drivin' tune?...not a problem for this sanctifyin' sextet. COVERED BY GEILS is a hip trip without a skip or a blip!

RATING: FIVE WOOFA GOOFA'S

SATURDAY NIGHT SPECIAL

THE J. GEILS BAND-THE J. GEILS BAND ANTHOLOGY/HOUSEPARTY:

RHINO RECORDS' appropriately titled double set is the only collection on the market that chronicles Boston's numero uno party outfit with the love and respect they so richly deserve. THE J. GEILS BAND lent a rollicking HOUSEPARTY vibe to everything they did, from covers of their rootsy RNB heroes OTIS RUSH, ALBERT KING, CURTIS MAYFIELD, LITTLE WALTER and DON COVAY to like minded originals such as SOUTHSIDE SHUFFLE, DETROIT BREAKDOWN and SANCTUARY. PETER WOLF's funky soul-papa rasp, MAGIC DICK's encyclopedic arsenal of harp licks and J. GEILS' lean, stinging guitar work highlighted the greasy early gems GIVE IT TO ME and MUSTA GOT LOST and later mainstream radio staples CENTERFOLD and LOVE STINKS...there are also ten sweat-soaked concert tracks here, where these guys were REALLY in their element. HOUSEPARTY spews out almost forty salacious slices of rock 'n soul whack and not a bummer in the whole batch...not a shocker, given the hard charging talent that drove the J. GEILS BAND from those early seventies soul blasters on through their early eighties' MTV-ready finale.

RATING: FIVE DEAD PRESIDENTS

COLLINS MIX

GENESIS-TURN IT ON AGAIN/THE HITS:

The original PETER GABRIEL-helmed version of GENESIS weren't hit makers, but highly theatrical prog rockers prone to extended jams and trippy wordplay for the FM crowd. Once GABRIEL and guitarist STEVE HACKETT departed, drummer PHIL COLLINS moved out front for Top 40-friendly pop singles such as ABACAB, THAT'S ALL and INVISIBLE TOUCH, while concurrently launching an equally commercial solo career. From sublime early successes FOLLOW YOU, FOLLOW ME and MISUNDERSTANDING on through later expertly crafted chestnuts LAND OF CONFUSION and JESUS HE KNOWS ME, TURN IT ON AGAIN racks up a pleasurable though by no means definitive sampling of GENESIS' work. Glaring omissions include the moody MAN ON THE CORNER as well as the RNB-driven hotsteppers PAPERLATE and NO REPLY AT ALL...even the best known GABRIEL era effort THE LAMB LIES DOWN ON BROADWAY is missing in action. A so-so remake of THE CARPER CRAWLERS featuring the original lineup and the bland non-COLLINS single CONGO don't add much to the picture; let's call this a good collection that really should have been great.

RATING: THREE MEMBERS



KEEP THIS ONE FOR YOURSELF!

GEORGIA SATELLITES-LET IT ROCK/BEST OF THE GEORGIA SATELLITES:

One of Southern Rock's last great greasy gasps, these guys kicked more ass than a high school football coach, letting fly with a raunchy attitude spiced with kickin' country, dirty soul, and bar band boogie. Helmed by bad boy belters/geetar slingers Dan Baird and Rick Roberts, the Satellites boasted brontosaurus chops, snotty swagger AND a sense of humor...which never hurt NOBODY no how in the rock & roll biz. Monster hit KEEP YOUR HANDS TO YOURSELF sets the piledriver pace for this career roundup appropriately named after one of Chuck Berry's most tread upon chestnuts. Crash 'n burn covers of HIPPY HIPPY SHAKE, the Ringo Starr-penned DON'T PASS ME BY, and a party-perfect John Fogerty medley of ALMOST SATURDAY NIGHT/ROCKIN' ALL OVER THE WORLD blend seamlessly with Baird's bare bones double entendre OPEN ALL NIGHT and the blooze-buster ALL OVER BUT THE CRYIN'. Cranked to an especially high thrash threshold is Terry Anderson's BATTLESHIP CHAINS, three minutes of rock so primitive I'm surprised Fred Flintstone didn't write it. These wild cats were too good to last beyond a few albums, but LET IT ROCK delivers a stompin' summary of their meat n' taters years.

RATING: FIVE BEER BLASTS

MICKEY'S MANTLE

MICKEY GILLEY-TEN YEARS OF HITS:

Like his far rowdier piano poundin' cousin JERRY LEE LEWIS, country star MICKEY GILLEY rarely, if ever wrote his own songs...but like THE KILLER, whenever he tackled other people's material, he always made 'em seem like his own. Best known for his (now defunct) Texas nightclub GILLEY's during the eighties' URBAN COWBOY craze, his carefree mix of RNB, honky tonk and pop served him well on early hits ROOM FULL OF ROSES and WINDOW UP ABOVE, not to mention stylish ballad covers of SMOKEY ROBINSON's YOU'VE REALLY GOT A HOLD ON ME, BUDDY HOLLY'S TRUE LOVE WAYS, and BEN E. KING's STAND BY ME. GILLEY doesn't let loose all that often, but when he does, watch out...the good-humored barroom barnburner DON'T THE GIRLS ALL GET PRETTIER AT CLOSING TIME is as much fun as anything JERRY LEE ever pumped out, with THE POWER OF POSITIVE DRINKIN' not far behind. GILLEY's warm, earthy vocals and expressive keyboard tinkling go down as easy as a Lone Star longneck, making this 20 track collection a worthy souvenir of his peak period.

RATING: FOUR BLACK KEYS

SCHOOL DAZE

GIRLSCHOOL-THE COLLECTION:

Arriving on the scene just after THE RUNAWAYS' demise, Britain's pile driving GIRLSCHOOL proved a rawer, tougher, more technically adept all-gal ensemble, slamming out raunchy, no nonsense anthems that were much more dangerous and harder rocking than JOAN JETT and her buddies. The fearsome foursome tackled MOTORHEAD's BOMBER (they also teamed up with LEMMY and company on the sweaty PLEASE DON'T TOUCH), ZZ TOP's politically incorrect TUSH and glam-slam faves such as GARY GLITTER's I'M THE LEADER OF THE GANG and SWEET's FOX ON THE RUN...their own crash 'n burn originals included the titillating titles SCREAMING BLUE MURDER, DON'T CALL IT LOVE and PLAY DIRTY. Led by brazen belters/guitarists KIM MCAULIFFE and KELLY JOHNSON, the all encompassing double platter COLLECTION spans almost fifty tracks of kick-ass antics, peppered with hard to get live shots and B-sides. While less adventurers eighties listeners were cozying up to the tame bubble-wave of THE GO-GOS and THE BANGLES, the cool crowd knew GIRLSCHOOL was the only group that could hold their own with the big boys...and then some.

RATING: FOUR TOUGH CHICKS


GO-GO GIRLS

THE GO-GO'S-GREATEST:

Chic chick quintet THE GO-GO'S pumped out a mere three albums during their original run, but GREATEST captures their perky bubblegum/new wave/surf rock sound effectively via a mix of hottie hit singles and fan fave tracks. Initial chartbusters OUR LIPS ARE SEALED and WE GOT THE BEAT are frothy, funky slices of dance-floor punk, VACATION is every bit as sunny as CONNIE FRANCIS' completely different oldie of the same name, and GET UP AND GO mines a compulsive BO DIDDLEY beat not unlike BOW WOW WOW's cover of THE STRANGELOVES gem I WANT CANDY. Later efforts TURN TO YOU, HEAD OVER HEELS and a cover of the sixties dance chestnut COOL JERK are only a shade less charismatic...BELINDA CARLISLE's chirpy pipes, JANE WEIDLIN's high harmony vocals, and CHARLOTTE CAFFEY's solid guitar work notwithstanding. Unlike practically every "girl group" that came before them, THE GO-GO'S penned most of their own material and played their own instruments, and sounded damn good doing it. GREATEST is a smartly crafted collection of golden goodies that any fan of early eighties party music would be smart to latch onto.

RATING: FOUR LIPSTICKS

BOSTON, YOU'RE MY CLONE

BARRY GOODREAU-BARRY GOODREAU:

By 1980, fans of New England's powerhouse arena rockers BOSTON had grown weary of waiting for their endlessly delayed third album to drop; naturally many gravitated towards axe man BARRY GOODREAU's competent debut, which brought soaring vocalist BRAD DELP and drummer SIB HASIAN along for the ride. The semi-hits LEAVIN' TONIGHT (belted by DELP soundalike FRAN COSMO) and especially DREAMS (with BRAD at the helm) unspool like prime BOSTON tracks...not quite equaling the debut platter's pristine TOM SCHOLZ'-engineered quality, but certainly in line with their followup DON'T LOOK BACK. Hard rocker MEAN WOMAN BLUES (which is not the RAY CHARLES chestnut) and the pumped up NOTHIN' TO LOSE are further decent meat and potatoes efforts awash in multi-layered vocals and guitars. Although this was GOODREAU's lone solo effort, he later turned up in similar sounding projects such as ORION THE HUNTER and RETURN TO ZERO, having been unceremoniously dumped from BOSTON (like the rest of the band, save DELP) by notorious control freak SCHOLZ in the early eighties.

RATING: THREE STAGES

MIND IF I BUTT IN?

DICKIE GOODMAN-LONG LIVE THE KING:

It may be an odd title for a compilation, but DICKIE GOODMAN was indeed the king...of "break in" records, admittedly not an overcrowded field. Beginning with FLYING SAUCER, his 1956 novelty smash with partner BILL BUCHANAN, GOODMAN specialized in interviewing "celebrities" from presidents to movie monsters, inserting snippets of currently popular singles as off the wall responses. His biggest successes included the political barbs WATERGRATE and ENERGY CRISIS '74 (the latter which is inexplicably missing here), MR. JAWS (a Top five hit which coincided with the blockbuster flick) and KONG, his final chart entry about the world's greatest gorilla. You'll also be treated to kitschy icons like BATMAN, JAMES BOND and E.T., plenty of election coverage and the atypical disco ditty DANCIN' U.S.A. Admittedly, at over two dozen tracks, a little of this stuff can go a long way...but taken one silly two minute sound bite at a time, one can marvel at DICKIE GOODMAN's unique ability to skew pop culture armed with little more than a handful of pop 45s.

RATING: FOUR SAMPLES



GOLDEN GIRL

LESLEY GORE-THE GOLDEN HITS OF LESLEY GORE:

Thanks to the miracle of multi-tracking, pop chanteuse LESLEY GORE was a virtual "girl group" unto herself, competing with the likes of THE CHIFFONS and THE SHIRELLES for chart space in the early sixties. Best known for her QUINCY JONES-produced chart topper IT'S MY PARTY...an irresistibly bouncy tearjerker, she followed it up with her own answer record JUDY'S TURN TO CRY. GORE continued with similar "boy cheats girl" sentiments MAYBE I KNOW and SHE'S A FOOL before toughening up her image via the staunch declaration YOU DON'T OWN ME. Composer MARVIN HAMLISCH provided her two final biggies, the bubblegummy SUNSHINE, LOLLIPOPS AND RAINBOWS, and the more mature sounding CALIFORNIA NIGHTS, (which she sang on BATMAN in her guest shot as CATWOMAN's accomplice) which sparkle with yearning effervescence. GOLDEN HITS, released way back in 1965, is still LESLEY GORE's best compilation, gathering up ten Top 40 singles and almost as many flipsides and obscurities for your very own emotion-filled listening party.

RATING: FOUR FRECKLES



GRANDEST FUNK

GRAND FUNK RAILROAD-CAPITOL COLLECTORS SERIES:

For GRAND FUNK fans interested in a dynamic overview of Mark, Don & Mel that gives equal time to their early underground classics and subsequent Top 40 run of pop-rock smashes, listen no further. The fifteen track CAPITOL COLLECTORS SERIES touches down on all the right bases, chronologically encapsulating milestones from the bloozey HEARTBREAKER (head honcho MARK FARNER says it's the first song he ever wrote) to their last biggie, the glorious blue-eyed soul singalong BAD TIME. In between, there's the serenely rendered CLOSER TO HOME/I'M YOUR CAPTAIN, slam-jam speaker-shredder SHININ' ON, and autobiographical party-boy anthem WE'RE AN AMERICAN BAND. Tastefully selected cover tunes, always a GF staple, include ERIC BURDON's spacey INSIDE LOOKING OUT, RNB nugget SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL and their mega-watt reconstruction of THE LOCOMOTION. Critics always hated GRAND FUNK but fans always loved 'em...perhaps it takes "real people" to know real, honest to God ROCK & ROLL SOUL when it assaults the senses.

RATING: FIVE BARE CHESTS

A GRAND OLD TIME

GRAND FUNK-CAUGHT IN THE ACT:

The mid seventies was prime time for overblown double live albums, providing breakthroughs for acts like KISS and PETER FRAMPTON and encapsulating careers for others. Detroit groove-masters GRAND FUNK are in fine form here, appropriately kicking things off with FOOT STOMPIN' MUSIC and ROCK & ROLL SOUL, which pretty much sums up their "boogie till it hurts" credo. Obligatory drum solos and audience-baiting call and response sections, classic earmarks of every concert stage back then, propell MARK, DON & MEL (and keyboardist CRAIG FROST) through funky fan faves T.N.U.C., BLACK LICORICE and celebratory jam band covers of ERIC BURDON's INSIDE LOOKING OUT and THE STONES' GIMME SHELTER. Axe ace FARNER and gritty timekeeper BREWER keep a tight rein on things, their blue eyed soul vocals ably abetted by the female "FUNKETTES", who lend a gospel air to "party down" anthem WE'RE AN AMERICAN BAND, imaginative BRILL BUILDING regurgitation THE LOCO-MOTION and pumped up singalong SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL. Some fans took a bit longer than others to get hip to GRAND FUNK, but CAUGHT IN THE ACT is an ultimately satisfying coda for their long, explosive career.

RATING: FOUR FUNKS

FUNK YOU TOO

GRAND FUNK-MORE OF THE BEST:

Some sequels are created more equal than others...Detroit power trio GRAND FUNK RAILROAD had already shot most of their wad on the excellent CAPITOL COLLECTOR'S SERIES compilation, which racked up all their biggest AM radio hits and FM cult faves from WE'RE AN AMERICAN BAND to CLOSER TO HOME. Even so, MORE OF THE BEST will thrill hard core GF fans as a companion piece made up of early meat 'n taters efforts PARANOID and ARE YOU READY, plus later streamlined groovers ARE YOU READY SALLY and TAKE ME. No strangers to tasty RNB cover tunes like SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL and LOCOCMOTION, this time the gang tackles THE CONTOURS' frantic display of one-up-man-ship CAN YOU DO IT, which just missed the Top 40; another "shoulda-been" bigger effort is would be anthem Y.O.U. from their early eighties reunion album GRAND FUNK LIVES. Played in conjunction with their first Capitol collection, MORE OF THE BEST provides hard rock fans with a fairly complete picture of what MARK, DON and MEL (and eventually CRAIG FROST) were all about.

RATING: THREE HIP DUDES

SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS

THE GRASS ROOTS-ALL TIME GREATEST HITS:

California folk rockers THE GRASS ROOTS forged some of the most summery, soulful chestnuts to be found on AM radio, their output comparing favorably with THE MONKEES and PAUL REVERE & THE RAIDERS (two more groups that session aces THE WRECKING CREW often provided instrumentation for). From the mid sixties through the early seventies, this faceless foursome led by earnest singer ROB GRILL managed a consistent string of smash singles chock-full of pure pop nirvana. Well crafted up tempo hits like MIDNIGHT CONFESSIONS, SOONER OR LATER, and TEMPTATION EYES still possess the power to inspire spontaneous sing-a-longs no matter where you are when you hear 'em, while the mellower strains of LET'S LIVE FOR TODAY and WHERE WERE YOU WHEN I NEEDED YOU remain introspective delights. Unlike several earlier GRASS ROOTS compilations that were needlessly stretched out over two discs, this sixteen track sampler collects every platter that matters, save the controversial final single MAMACITA. Plant this earthy anthology in your CD player and watch it take root.

RATING: FOUR BLADES



THE DEAD ZONE

GRATEFUL DEAD-SKELETONS FROM THE CLOSET/THE BEST OF GRATEFUL DEAD:

THE GRATEFUL DEAD was no more a singles group than PINK FLOYD or TEN YEARS AFTER, but this brief sampling of "hits" from hippie-dom's fave psychedelic folk/rock ensemble serves as the most basic of Dead Head starter kits. SKELETONS FROM THE CLOSET exhumes JERRY GARCIA and BOB WEIR staples (usually in conjunction with DEAD lyricist ROBERT HUNTER) such as TRUCKIN', CASEY JONES, FRIEND OF THE DEVIL, UNCLE JOHN'S BAND, and SUGAR MAGNOLIA from the rustic high water mark albums WORKINGMAN'S DEAD and AMERICAN BEAUTY, but somehow overlooks the criminally underrated PHIL LESH masterwork BOX OF RAIN. There are better examples of the DEAD's legendary live jam spirit than their laid back cover of BOBBY "BLUE" BLAND's TURN ON YOUR LOVE LIGHT, and purists can argue about the rest of the song selection. SKELETONS FROM THE CLOSET, which boasts some of the most iconic cover artwork of its era, is an effective sampler of the long, strange trip the GRATEFUL DEAD laid on the world in their seventies hey day.

RATING: THREE BARE FEET

GRAY MATTER

DOBIE GRAY-ULTIMATE COLLECTION:

One of the most sophisticated, passionate, woefully underappreciated singers of his era, Texas native DOBIE GRAY emoted with a warmth and dexterity equaled by only a small handful of soul-pop artists. It's true he's best remembered for his early sixties hipster clarion call THE "IN" CROWD, a go-go dancer's delight, and the next decade's creamy folk sing along DRIFT AWAY, known to more recent fans via UNCLE KRACKER's remake (with DOBIE on exuberant guest vocals). But GRAY's sharp interpretive talents bode him well in a number of genres...he effortlessly nailed the gospel-laced LOVING ARMS (which ELVIS also tackled), scored a disco hit with YOU CAN DO IT, and made an admirable foray into country via exquisite rootsy covers of ERIC CLAPTON's WATCH OUT FOR LUCY and DAVE MASON's SO HIGH (ROCK ME BABY & ROLL ME AWAY). DOBIE GRAY never became a name commensurate to his raw talent, but the twenty track ULTIMATE COLLECTION administers long overdue respect and closure for the swingin' soul man and his fans.

RATING: FOUR DOBIES

GREASY KID STUFF

GREASE-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

Is there a man, woman, or child among us who has not surrendered to the charms of this classic musical/comedy dose of nostalgic kitsch? Admittedly, AMERICAN GRAFFITI was a more accurate portrayal of the ducktail 'n poodle-skirts era and featured authentic oldies by the original artists, but GREASE has proven to have unlimited mainstream appeal across several generations. Even enjoyed separately from the flick, this high-spirited soundtrack is a hoot; JOHN TRAVOLTA does his best belting ever in tandem with the always capable OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN on the high-spirited YOU'RE THE ONE THAT I WANT, and is no mean slouch as he solos on the semi-raunchy, ELVIS-inspired showstopper GREASED LIGHTNING. ONJ carries a winsome torch on the breathless ballad HOPELESSLY DEVOTED TO YOU, FRANKI VALLI perks up the BEE GEES-penned title tune, Pink Ladies leader STOCKARD "RIZZO" CHANNING, eternal teenager FRANKIE AVALON, and retro-mongers SHA NA NA all excel at their turns at bat. A harmless hodgepodge of rock, pop and doo wop that continues to resonate with audiences several decades after the fact, GREASE is still the word.

RATING: FOUR COMBS

BACK TWO BASICS

GREAT WHITE/APRIL WINE-BACK TO BACK HITS:

A pretty decent rock 'n roll "two-fer", from a pair of groups who don't really have enough big hits to fill up compilations of their own. Great White was far from the pinnacle of 80s big hair rock, but at least they had the taste to cover Ian Hunter's immortal ONCE BITTEN, TWICE SHY, and their guitarist sported a nifty shark-eating-a-man's-leg axe. Their other biggies (HOUSE OF BROKEN LOVE, ROCK ME) simulate warmed over Zeppelin, but some people dig that, or so i'm told. On the other hand, the Great White North's April Wine had a way with an arresting riff and a hit-worthy hook, from their funky first classic YOU COULD HAVE BEEN A LADY (alas, not found here) through the yank-me-crank-me hijinx of ROLLER and the arena-ready barnburner I LIKE TO ROCK. Even their biggest success, that breathless ballad JUST BETWEEN YOU AND ME, stands hair and shoulders above many that so permeated the era. For the budget minded, or simply "filler" conscious fan, BACK TO BACK is a no-brainer.

RATING: THREE WHITE WINES

GOIN' GREEN

GREEN DAY-INTERNATIONAL SUPERHITS:

West Coast trio GREEN DAY forged their wry, rebel-rousing sound as a cross somewhere between the RAMONES and BUZZCOCKS, morphing from cult faves on the post-grundge punk circuit into international superstars in a decade's span. Hard charging early singles WHEN I COME AROUND, GEEK STINK BREATH and BASKET CASE sported leader BILLY JOE ARSMTRONG's snide reedy shout and catchy, crunchy axe riffage, while the atypical acoustic ballad GOOD RIDDANCE (TIME OF YOUR LIFE) represented their more passionate side (it also became their most identifiable hit). The terse rocker MINORITY and the irresistible singalong WARNING continued their melodic, irreverent run of dumb fun ditties, setting the stage for 2004's across the board smash album AMERICAN IDIOT. Starting with the Grammy winning debut platter DOOKIE, SUPERHITS plows through their non-stop barrage of boisterous nineties work, 21 short 'n sweet snot-shots of sonic pulchritude that sound every bit as vital today as they ever did...play it twice if you doubt that statement.

RATING: FOUR YELPS

SKY'S THE LIMIT

NORMAN GREENBAUM-SPIRIT IN THE SKY/THE BEST OF NORMAN GREENBAUM:

Malden, Massachusetts native NORMAN GREENBAUM's glowing moment in the sun was that irresistible church-rockin' singalong SPIRIT IN THE SKY, a number three charter in 1970. Borrowing its melody from JOHN LEE HOOKER's BOOGIE CHILLUN (as did ZZ TOP's LA GRANGE), SKY was a righteous folk-rocker that resonated with psychedelic axe effects and gospel-rich backing singers; it was eventually covered by everyone from punker NINA HAGEN to country's KENTUCKY HEADHUNTERS. Dry humor, whimsical vocals and eclectic subject matter permeated much of GREENBAUM's material, including CANNED HAM (which just missed the Top 40) and THE EGGPLANT THAT ATE CHICAGO, credited to his mid sixties ensemble DR. WEST's MEDICINE SHOW AND JUNK BAND, a DR. DEMENTO radio show staple. As a bonus, VARESE SARABANDE's easy to digest fifteen track collection offers the unissued late seventies ditty THE DAY THEY SOLD BEER IN CHURCH, as fitting a coda as any for the man behind one hit wonder-dom's most heavenly single.

RATING: THREE CANNED HAMS



MMMMM-MMMMM! GOOOOOOD ALBUM!

SONGS, THEMES AND LAUGHS FROM THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW:

THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW was quite possibly the best written and acted sitcom to ever mosey onto the airwaves...after all, who wouldn't wanna live in a town just like Mayberry? Homespun music was as integral a part of its success as its gentle backwoods humor and cast of eclectic characters. From the jazzy, jauntily whistled theme song (also available here with lyrics warbled by Andy as THE FISHIN' HOLE) to Griffith's good timey renditions of humor-laced bluegrass traditionals such as SOURWOOD MOUNTAIN, FLOP EARED MULE and CINDY, this near-perfect platter is an audio photograph of a simpler, more carefree time when a neighbor was also a friend, and a man's word still meant something. Thrown in for extra good measure is Griffith's own unique spin on fairy tale JACK, THE GIANT KILLER and familiar incidental instrumentals from the series bearing titles like BARNEY'S HOEDOWN, THE MAN HUNT and MAYBERRY MARCH. This here's the next best thing to watchin' ANDY GRIFFITH reruns for the one hundredth time.

RATING: FIVE FISH ON THE LINE

DANDY GRIFFITH

ANDY GRIFFITH-WHAT IT IS, IS ANDY GRIFFITH/ANDY'S GREATEST COMEDY MONOLOGUES & OLD TIMEY SONGS:

One of the most beloved TV icons of all time, ANDY GRIFFITH's down home comedy monologues and rootsy sing alongs have been anthologized countless times, but this double disc (named after his early spoken word hit WHAT IT WAS, WAS FOOTBALL) is the most complete collection on the market. The warm soliloquy NORTH CAROLINA, MY HOME STATE might as well be called Mayberry, while fans of THE ANDY GRIFFTH SHOW will immediately recognize the toe-tappin' bluegrass barnburners CINDY, FLOP EARED MULE, and SOURWOOD MOUNTAIN. Bluesy chestnuts (ST. JAMES INFIRMARY, PICK A BALE OF COTTON), swingin' jazz (ANDY'S LAMENT), outright novelty efforts (THE WHISTLING PING PONG GAME) and fishin' hole ditties spotlight SHERIFF TAYLOR's "every man" vocals and charismatic story-telling abilities. GRIFFITH's low-key re-enactments of JACK THE GIANT KILLER and HAMLET may not be for every taste, but they offer a satisfying glimpse into the very night club routines that helped make him a star. If you can make it through this platter without grinning bigger than OTIS CAMPBELL on a Saturday night, mister, you're a better man than I am.

RATING: FOUR "OUTSTANDING!"S

GUESS WHO'S THE BEST?...

THE GUESS WHO-GREATEST HITS:

For the Guess Who fan that craves a near perfect collection of ALL their radio staples, plus just a tad more, this is the one to beat. More comprehensive than THE GREATEST OF THE GUESS WHO or THE BEST OF THE GUESS WHO, yet not as longwinded as their double disc anthology, this 18 track sampler includes all the Randy Bachman era biggies as well as the later Kurt Winter gemstones. Keyboardist/lead belter Burton Commings emotes with arena rock ferocity on righteous ravers NO TIME and AMERICAN WOMAN, yet croons with unbridled passion when needed on THESE EYES and LAUGHING. He also contributes snazzy flute to B-side-gone-smash UNDUN, on which Bachman adds delicate axe colorings, much as he did later on B.T.O.'s jazzy LOOKIN' OUT FOR NUMBER ONE. Even the last gasp hits (STAR BABY, CLAP FOR THE WOLFMAN, DANCIN' FOOL) are good ones, and in between you get the singalong shoe-ins SHARE THE LAND and HAND ME DOWN WORLD, not to mention cautionary tales such as FOLLOW YOUR DAUGHTER HOME and GUNS, GUNS, GUNS. Though lacking thier first chartbuster SHAKIN' ALL OVER, one spin of THE GUESS WHO'S GREATEST HITS will make readily apparent why they are truly one of Canada's most important exports.

RATING: FIVE GUESSES



GREATEST WHITE NORTH

THE GUESS WHO-GREATEST OF THE GUESS WHO:

Stupendous Mad magazine caricaturist JACK DAVIS' hilarious cartoon cover notwithstanding, this is not the "best" GUESS WHO anthology bucks can buy, but will suffice for the casual fan who won't mind (or possibly won't notice) a couple of missing classics. The Canadian supergroup's signature biggies, including put-down anthem AMERICAN WOMAN, melancholy slow dancer THESE EYES, the jazz-tinged UNDUN and rompin' boot-stomper NO TIME, all penned by RANDY BACHMAN and BURTON CUMMINGS, are the bedrock of the GUESS WHO's enormous popularity. After BACHMAN departed to form the equally successful BACHMAN-TURNER OVERDRIVE, the hits kept on comin' for a while, notably campy novelty CLAP FOR THE WOLFMAN (with a cameo by a certain gravel-voiced deejay), and the intectious pop single STAR BABY. If you're wondering what those missing songs are, they're good un's...the sublime NO SUGAR TONIHT/NEW MOTHER NATURE medley, and hopeful hymn SHARE THE LAND to name the most obvious. Even without 'em, THE GREATEST OF THE GUESS WHO comes reasonably close to truth in advertising.

RATING: FOUR STARS, BABY



GUY STUFF

BUDDY GUY-BUDDY'S BLUES:

Long before morphing into a blooze-rockin' superstar who jammed with the likes of ERIC CLAPTON and other guitar gurus that knelt at his alter, BUDDY GUY paid his proverbial dues at CHESS RECORDS, whose roster boasted pioneering legends MUDDY WATERS (his mentor), HOWLIN' WOLF and SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON. One of many superb entries in MCA's CHESS RECORDS 50TH ANNIVERSARY series, BUDDY'S BLUES tracks fifteen signature slices of gritty groove-ology including the laid back smokers WHEN MY LEFT EYE JUMPS, FIRST TIME I MET THE BLUES, and MY TIME AFTER A WHILE. GUY, who played behind nearly everyone at CHESS during his tenure there, also cultivated a feisty up-tempo side, amply spotlighted via PRETTY BABY, SHE SUITS ME TO A TEE and LET ME LOVE YOU BABY. These hot steppin' fuzz-tone workouts brimming with sweat-soaked enthusiasm are fore bearers of his scorching DAMN RIGHT I'VE GOT THE BLUES sound of the nineties. Boasting raw, expressive pipes that match his six string sizzle, here's THE collection for any Chicago Blues fan eager to soak up the soul shakin' vibe of that genre's undisputed godfather, BUDDY GUY.

RATING: FIVE POLKA DOTS

RED ZONE

SAMMY HAGAR-THE ESSENTIAL RED COLLECTION:

Few singers have plumbed the fast car/fast chick depths of dumb-fun cartoon rock as deeply as SAMMY HAGAR, whose catalogue of swaggering solo triumphs dates from the early seventies to the new millennium. HIP-O's label-hopping collection kicks off in grand style with the MONTROSE biker anthem BAD MOTOR SCOOTER...cruises through that all time state trooper screw-you I CAN'T DRIVE 55 (early highway-hugger TRANS AM is inexplicably missing)...and slams it home via the GARY GLITTER-sampled drinking anthem MAS TEQUILA from his CABO WABO phase. You'll also uncover screamed themes from the fractured eighties flicks HEAVY METAL and FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, a sleazier I'VE DONE EVERYTHING FOR YOU than RICK SPRINGFIELD's hit version, and the slick YOUR LOVE IS DRIVING ME CRAZY, the closest SAMMY ever came to indulging pop radio. HAGAR's sense of crude frat-boy humor...sorely missing from his gigs fronting VAN HALEN and the more recent supergroup CHICKENFOOT...permeates this contagious collection. After all, isn't that what the Red Rocker's fans are plunkin' down their beer money for?

RATING: THREE LOCK BOXES

BAKERSFIELD BOUND

MERLE HAGGARD-LEGENDARY COUNTRY SINGERS:

One of the most important and respected of all country legends, MERLE HAGGARD (along with BUCK OWENS) was the chief practitioner of the "Bakersfield Sound", a hard core honky tonk/western swing alternative to sixties Nashville's safer, more commercial side. Hag's self-penned, thought provoking arsenal included blue collar sagas (RAMBLIN' FEVER, WORKIN' MAN BLUES), prison laments (SING ME BACK HOME, MAMA TRIED), saloon songs (THE BOTTLE LET ME DOWN, SWINGIN' DOORS), and thought provoking anthems (FIGHTIN' SIDE OF ME, OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE), most of which topped the charts. He was still racking up big hits such as I THINK I'LL JUST STAY HERE AND DRINK, TWINKLE TWINKLE LUCKY STAR and LET'S CHASE EACH OTHER AROUND THE ROOM well into the eighties. TIME LIFE's expertly assembled anthology ponies up over two dozen stone classics by HAGGARD, an artist whose very name invokes the rootsy best of his irrefutable influences, from BOB WILLS and HANK WILLIAMS to JIMMIE RODGERS.

RATING: FIVE HAGS


HIGH WATERS MARK

HAIRSPRAY-ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK:

The original version of outrageous cult director JOHN WATERS' most accessible comedy boasted an eccentric cast of RICKI LAKE, DIVINE, JERRY STILLER, SONNY BONO and DEBBIE HARRY. The arresting audio companion to HAIRSPRAY is every bit as much grand, giddy fun as that fabulous flick, thanks to tastefully obscure song selections from the pre-Fab Four era of sixties pop, soul and rock. Nearly forgotten, underrated classics such as RAY BRYANT's swinging dance instruction tune THE MADISON TIME, the FIVE DU-TONES' funky frenzy SHAKE A TAIL FEATHER, and LITTLE PEGGY MARCH's bubblegum lipsmacker I WISH I WERE A PRINCESS are crafty, blessedly abstract choices. Throw in the IKETTES' (IKE & TINA TURNER's backup singers) soul-saturated I'M BLUE (THE GONG GONG SONG), BRENDA LEE-wannabe RACHEL SWEET's kitschy title number, and not one, but TWO creepy crawly ditties called THE ROACH and THE BUG, and you've got a sterling soundtrack that's pure dance-party nirvana. Go on...you know you wanna...tease yourself with HAIRSPRAY.

RATING: FIVE RAT TAIL COMBS

MAN CRAZY

BILL HALEY & HIS COMETS-THE BEST OF:

He may not have had ELVIS' good looks, CHUCK BERRY's songwriting talent, or LITTLE RICHARD's explosive energy...and he certainly didn't invent rock & roll...but BILL HALEY had ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK, one of the most recognized and revered anthems of the fifties. His euphoric blend of western swing, rockabilly and "daddy-o" pop also punctuated rollicking remakes of RNB chestnuts like BOBBY CHARLES' SEE YOU LATER ALLIGATOR and a sanitized version of BIG JOE TURNER's ribald smash SHAKE, RATTLE & ROLL. Although HALEY tended to repeat himself (half of the dozen song titles here contain the word "ROCK") and he often skirted towards novelties like SKINNY MINNIE and THIRTEEN WOMEN (AND ONLY ONE MAN IN TOWN), the COMETS' irresistible rock-a-beatin' boogie beat...lickety split guitar work, blasting sax and group-hollered backing vocals...made every number a solid invitation to cut a rug or at least tap your foot. Unlike far too many HALEY compilations of questionable virtue, THE BEST is a solid crash course in the carefree, celebratory vibe that made early rock and roll such a crazy gas.

RATING: FOUR SPIT-CURLS

PHILLY OF SOUL

HALL & OATES-ESSENTIAL:

By far modern music's most successful pair of aces, DARYL HALL & JOHN OATES dished out slick and celebratory Philly Soul defined by sublime vocal harmonies and stylish craftsmanship. Their RNB-flecked seventies hits SARA SMILE, SHE'S GONE and RICH GIRL showcased an auspicious beginning, ultimately overshadowed by their incredible chart clampdown throughout the eighties. MANEATER's bass/sax driven web of funk, the twitchy treasure YOU MAKE MY DREAMS, and reverent remakes of classic duo oldies YOU'VE LOST THAT LOVIN' FEELING and STARTING ALL OVER AGAIN were just a few of the showstoppers targeted for the MTV generation. Pop radio jumped all over their steady output, usually featuring heartthrob HALL's keen, yearning tenor over the equally talented OATES' reedy lower register. Appealing to fans of blue eyed soul, dance-rock and adult contemporary alike, H & O have been the subject of over a dozen compilations, but are perhaps served best by the career encapsulating double platter ESSENTIAL.

RATING: FIVE DUOS

HALL OF FAME

TOM T. HALL-ULTIMATE COLLECTION:

The pride of Olive Hill, Kentucky, TOM T. HALL was a matchless talent able to pen realistic down home sagas ranging from melancholy to playfully humorous, including hits for DAVE DUDLEY, BOBBY BARE and most notably, JEANNIE C. RILEY's 1968 monster HARPER VALLEY's P.T.A., which topped both the country and the pop charts. ULTIMATE COLLECTION racks up two dozen organic memories, mostly his own seventies smashes such as the chug-a-luggin' singalong I LIKE BEER, truck stop tribute RAVISHING RUBY, and I LOVE, a laundry list of things he's thankful for. Expertly blending elements of bluegrass, folk, gospel and pop, HALL's warm, reflective talk-sing vocal style, emphasis on colorful characters and vividly descriptive lyrics allowed him to put across bittersweet ditties THE YEAR THAT CLAYTON DELANEY DIED and OLD DOGS, CHILDREN & WATERMELON WINE as well as lighter fare such as FASTER HORSES (THE COWBOY AND THE POET) and BALLAD OF FORTY DOLLARS. More than any other musical genre, country has always relied on a good story...and TOM T. HALL was king of the yarn spinners.

RATING: FOUR TALES

TWO HIT WONDER

ALBERT HAMMOND-ALBERT HAMMOND/99 MILES FROM L.A.:

Provided they recognize the name at all, nine out of ten people will tell you that seventies folk/pop star ALBERT HAMMOND was a "one hit wonder" known for his early seventies smash IT NEVER RAINS IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA. They'll seldom mention the long string of biggies he wrote for middle of the road acts like THE HOLLIES, LEO SAYRE or STARSHIP, or the fact that he actually had a second single, the acoustic singalong I'M A TRAIN, that proved popular enough to make #31 in 1974. This "two-fer" collection ponies up his hard to find third and fourth albums; TRAIN's follow up I DON'T WANNA DIE IN AN AIR DISASTER was garnering radio play but yanked from the airwaves when JIM CROCE's plane went down. Soon HAMMOND went back to penning hits for others, including WILLIE NELSON/JULIO IGLESIAS' duet TO ALL THE GIRLS I'VE LOVED BEFORE and ART GARFUNKEL's warm reading of 99 MILES FROM L.A. (both heard here in their original versions). Somehow, HAMMOND got lost in the soft rock singer/songwriter shuffle of the seventies...but for fans of that style, here's an excellent double dip into his reflective, laid back world.

RATING: THREE CHICK-A TRAINS



FREE ELECTRIC MAN

ALBERT HAMMOND-GOLDEN CLASSICS/IT NEVER RAINS IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA:

Folky singer/songwriter ALBERT HAMMOND never scored many classics under his own name, but he penned his share of pop hits like LITTLE ARROWS and GIMME DAT DING, as well as MOR biggies for everyone from WILLIE NELSON to STARSHIP. His one true smash was an ode to the often futile search for stardom IT NEVER RAINS IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, which had a bouncy singalong melody that belied its dark undercurrent of homesickness; BOBBY BARE explored the same theme a few years earlier on 500 MILES AWAY FROM HOME. Smaller chart successes included the ahead-of-its-time ecology saga DOWN BY THE RIVER, tight autobiographical rocker FREE ELECTRIC BAND, and I'M A TRAIN, an infectious novelty peppered with acoustic Latino flourishes. Also well worth a listen is Hammond's stark original version of THE AIR THAT I BREATHE, which became THE HOLLIES' final hit, as well as the insightful tracks SMOKEY FACTORY BLUES, FROM GREAT BRITAIN TO L.A. and THE PEACEMAKER. GOLDEN CLASSICS is the rare anthology that not only collects a deserving artist's best singles but also the entirety of his first two sorely underrated, hard to find early seventies albums.

RATING: FIVE RAINDROPS



SLIM PICKIN'

SLIM HARPO-THE BEST OF SLIM HARPO:

The undisputed king of "swamp blues", Louisiana-bred SLIM HARPO's primitive, greasy rhythms were an infectious and vital influence on RNB lovin' rockers who followed in his wake. HARPO's juke joint harmonica bleats, snarling guitar work, and ultra-laid back bayou-boogie vocals were co-opted by admirers like THE ROLLING STONES, who put SHAKE YOUR HIPS on their landmark album EXILE ON MAIN STREET. Other fans included THE KINKS, BROWNSVILLE STATION and THE FABULOUS THUNDERBIRDS, who tackled GOT LOVE IF YOU WANT IT, I'M A KING BEE, and TIP ON IN respectively. One of the few old school bluesmen to post bona fide hits like the seductive BABY SCRATCH MY BACK and the mellow shot RAININ' IN MY HEART on the pop charts, SLIM's funky approach appealed to anyone within earshot of his spellbinding delivery. If the salty BLUES HANGOVER fails to raise a smile and the percolatin' dance floor groove of TEE-NI-NEE-NI-NU don't slip your sacroiliac outta whack, you're missing the point of this fine-as-moonshine collection.

RATING: FIVE GATORS

WHILE THE FANS GENTLY WEEP

GEORGE HARRISON-THE BEST OF GEORGE HARRISON:

It's hard to fathom why an event as tragic as Lonesome George's death still hasn't produced a decent career-spanning retrospective in his honor. This "half 'n half" mix of admittedly important Beatles bits like SOMETHING, TAXMAN and WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS plus stellar introspective solo hits WHAT IS LIFE, MY SWEET LORD and GIVE ME LOVE (GIVE ME PEACE ON EARTH) certainly seemed vital at the time of its mid seventies release...but the RODNEY DANGERFIELD of rock and roll deserves a worthy update. 2009's LET IT ROLL: THE BEST OF GEORGE HARRISON comes up woefully short, ignoring delicious cult classics like WAH-WAH, DING DONG DING DONG, CRACKERBOX PALACE and his exuberant TRAVELING WILBURYS material. HARRISON, noted for his fluid, melodic guitar work, warm, earthy vocals, and spiritual world view, has never truly been given his due...say, with a spectacular box set brimming with ALL the classics as well as a smattering of live tracks, outtakes and rarities. Even RINGO has been treated a helluva lot better than this.

RATING: FOUR QUIET ONES

WHEN HE WAS FAB

GEORGE HARRISON-BEST OF DARK HORSE 1976-1989:

As a semi-solid sequel to GEORGE HARRISON's first BEST OF platter, which was equal parts FAB FOUR milestones he sang lead on and early solo hits, DARK HORSE 1976-1989 fills a much needed compilation gap in the "Quiet Beatle"'s career. With his out of the gate hat trick of Top Ten hits MY SWEET LORD, WHAT IS LIFE and GIVE ME LOVE behind him, this fifteen track sampler covers the era when he recorded for his own label (named for his 1974 album DARK HORSE). Agreeable radio hits like the whimsical CRACKERBOX PALACE, JOHN LENNON tribute ALL THOSE YEARS AGO and the JEFF LYNE-produced GOT MY MIND SET ON YOU are all here...but for some reason, THIS SONG, his cheeky answer to plagiarism charges for MY SWEET LORD, is missing (also, none of his comps include the euphoric Top 40 single DING DONG DING DONG). While incomplete in many respects, HARRISON's introspective material, sweetly spiced vocals and virtuoso guitar work make this anthology an acceptable substitute for his mostly out of print later albums.

RATING: FOUR CLOUD NINE'S

GORGEOUS GEORGE

GEORGE HARRISON-LIVE IN JAPAN:

1992's LIVE IN JAPAN is a sterling souvenir of notoriously tour-shy, iconic guitarist GEORGE HARRISON's best known work, boasting a heavy dose of his Fab Four chestnuts, from the stylish SOMETHNG and HERE COMES THE SUN to the darker WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS and TAXMAN. HARRISON, who is in fine voice throughout the show, also digs into his spiritual, thought provoking seventies hits MY SWEET LORD, WHAT IS LIFE and GIVE ME LOVE as well as his left field late eighties biggie GOT MY MIND SET ON YOU, purely a love it or hate it dance track. The REAL fun happens when HARRISON busts out the underexposed stuff from his catalogue...PIGGIES, OLD BROWN SHOE, IF I NEEDED SOMEONE, DARK HORSE, DEVIL'S RADIO and more. Those welcome curve balls and the star-studded band...long time buddy ERIC CLAPTON, bassist NATHAN EAST, percussionist RAY COOPER and vocalist KATIE KISSOON among others...help make this double platter GEORGE HARRISON's most welcome live trip since CONCERT FOR BANGLA DESH all those years ago.

RATING: FOUR QUIET BEATLES

NO SUCH THING AS A FREE RIDE

DAN HARTMAN-KEEP THE FIRE BURNIN':

Musical multi-tasker Dan Hartman first gained notice as bassist/co-lead vocalist for the Edgar Winter Group, writing and singing one of their best loved pop smashes FREE RIDE. He then wrangled solo success in the disco era with the smash INSTANT REPLAY, one of the genre's high points, followed in the eighties by the blue eyed soul diamond I CAN DREAM ABOUT YOU from cult flick STREETS OF FIRE. Behind the scenes, Dan produced Tina Turner's THE BEST, and wrote both James Brown's comeback anthem LIVING IN AMERICA (heard as a demo here) and the much-sampled LOVE SENSATION, which later morphed into MARKY MARK's hip hop classic GOOD VIBRATIONS (truly a world away from the BEACH BOYS tune). KEEP THE FIRE BURNIN' serves as the perfect funky white boy party platter, boasting a canny dance floor remake of FREE RIDE and other signature stompers to rock your boogie shoes. Even if you won't remember Dan's name, I defy you to chase his feel-good rhythms outta your noggin anytime soon.

RATING: THREE BASSLINES



HEAD OF HIS CLASS

ROY HEAD-AN INTRODUCTION TO ROY HEAD:

Damned few artists have ever convincingly pulled off the "white man's JAMES BROWN" trip, or would even dare try...there's Detroit soul rocker MITCH RYDER...new millennium Brit belter JAMES HUNTER...and the woefully underrated ROY HEAD. An impossible to categorize party starter not unlike LONNIE MACK and DELBERT MCCLINTON, HEAD busts out sixteen sweaty, juke joint-ready slabs of hard country, swaggering southern soul and bad-ass rock & roll punctuated by throbbing bass lines, red hot horns, and head-smackin' screams on this shattering platter. The chooglin' funk of SOUL TRAIN is a greasy laundry list of RNB legends in the vein of SHORTY LONG's MOTOWN gem FUNCTION AT THE JUNCTION; HEAD also slashes his way through impressive throw downs of JUNIOR PARKER's DRIVING WHEEL, DOUG SAHM's Tex-Mex mix SHE'S ABOUT A MOVER, and THE SOUL SISTERS' cult classic I CAN'T STAND IT. He may be best remembered for his lone mid-sixties smash TREAT HER RIGHT...which isn't included here...but even without it, AN INTRODUCTION TO ROY HEAD is a rafter-raisin' boogie-man blast straight from the Texas roadhouse.

RATING: FIVE SORE THROATS

HEART ATTACK

HEART-THE ESSENTIAL HEART:

Like their contemporaries ZZ Top, Aerosmith and J. Geils, Heart mainstreamed their original seventies vision, resulting in a slicker, big-hair sound that caught on with the MTV generation. Disc one in this double set is the real keeper, focusing on their early hit makin' hey-day via the lovely acoustic ballads DREAMBOAT ANNIE and DOG & BUTTERFLY, plus scintillating soul-mama rockers CRAZY ON YOU and BARRACUDA. Ann Wilson is undoubtedly THE powerhouse femme fatale vocalist of her generation, despite a tendency to occasionally over-sing on some of the eighties efforts. In the soapy saga ALL I WANNA DO IS MAKE LOVE TO YOU she stretches the word "get" over half a dozen syllables, while the up-tempo WHO WILL YOU RUN TO finds her reverberating with tuff-chick abandon, spewing out the word "off" like it was a mouthful of curdled milk...not that there's anything wrong with that. This generous collection includes every big hit and many worthwhile near-misses, giving equal time to both sides of the Wilson Sisters' long impressive reign.

RATING: FOUR HEARTBEATS



BLOOZE EXPERIENCE

JIMI HENDRIX-BLUES:

Although unfairly pigeon-holed as a "classic rock artist", Jimi Hendrix, amid all the psychedelic guitar pyrotechnics, always had one foot planted firmly in da blooze. His sweat-soaked epic RED HOUSE, covered by every admirer from Joe Perry to Boz Scaggs, and wah-wah workhorse VOODOO CHILE, better known to the under-thirty set as a "Stevie Ray Vaughan tune", are landmark recordings, equally as vital to modern blues as his PURPLE HAZE is to modern rock. Other highpoints on this, the umpteenth posthumous Jimi collection (yet, headband and shoulders above 90 per cent of 'em) include a thoughtful accoustic rendering of HEAR MY TRAIN A COMIN', reprised later on the CD as a smokin' electric "experience", otherwordly covers of Albert King's BORN UNDER A BAD SIGN (makes Cream sound like Bread) and Muddy Water's MANNISH BOY, one of the genre's most often exhumed pieces, regurgitated as only the Lefthanded Lucifer could dream it. So, take a break from those album rock radio "three-fer" weekends, and turn onto another side of the multi-faceted Jimi Hendrix...the blues seldom sounded this "far out".

RATING: FIVE PACTS WITH THE DEVIL

AXE-PERIENCE NECESSARY

JIMI HENDRIX-THE ULTIMATE EXPERIENCE:

There are literally dozens of greatest hits collections on the market chronicling the pyrotechnic, super-sonic legacy of rock's original guitar god James Marshall Hendrix...who paid his dues playing behind THE ISLEY BROTHERS, LITTLE RICHARD and other chitlin' circuit acts, and had to go to England to be "discovered". These twenty titanic tracks touch upon all the important bases...careening psychedelic FM cornerstones FOXY LADY and PURPLE HAZE, hopped-up hipster blooze bashes RED HOUSE and VOODOO CHILE, and spaced out contortions of ALL ALONG THE WATCHTOWER (one of the most stunning DYLAN covers ever waxed) and THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER, barely recognizable via HENDRIX' twisted heatsinker acrobatics. A profound influence on virtually every other hot shot six stringer, THE ULTIMATE EXPERIENCE has little trouble living up to its title, showcasing the fret board guru who shook, rattled, and rolled the foundations of rock and roll to its very core...the aftershocks are still felt being a half decade later.

RATING: FIVE JAMS

FLYING SOLO

DON HENLEY-ACTUAL MILES/GREATEST HITS:

Output has never been DON HENLEY's strong suit...THE EAGLES only managed a half dozen albums during their seventies reign, and his subsequent solo career netted just three more by the time this compilation was released. Nonetheless, the reedy voiced singer enjoyed a healthy run of Top 40 hits throughout the eighties, adopting a detached AOR sound that had more in common with HOTEL CALIFORNIA than his old band's early country-rock vibe. The sleazy used car salesman cover art showcases HENLEY's seldom evident sense of humor; what's inside is his cynical, at times pretentious world view filtered through crafty fare such as DIRTY LAUNDRY, THE BOYS OF SUMMER and THE END OF THE INNOCENCE. Songwriting chores are shared with the usual suspects including DANNY KORTCHMAR and J. D. SOUTHER...ironically, THE END OF THE INNOCENCE sounds more like co-author BRUCE HORNSBY than HENLEY himself. Synth-driven social commentary JOHNNY CAN'T READ should have been included here instead of the less impressive "new" tracks; in fact, only one song from his solid debut even pops up. Suffice to say that hard core HENLEY-ites will want to own all his original platters...this one's mostly a quick fix for the casual fan.

RATING: THREE DRUMSTICKS

HIATT RIOT

JOHN HIATT-GREATEST HITS:

The title is a misnomer, since the only real "hits" this Hoosier minstrel ever had are those he wrote for other artists, including Bonnie Raitt's and Jeff Healey's breakthroughs THING CALLED LOVE and ANGEL EYES (heard here in their sandpapery original versions), and B.B. King's comeback RIDIN' WITH THE KING. Hiatt's talents are divided between his ragged-but-righteous howl and his uncanny ability to pen insightful songs in all roots-rock genres from folk and blues to country. His eventual breakthrough albums BRING THE FAMILY and SLOW TURNING hipped his new found fans to what music royalty had known for ages...Hiatt has always been the "go to guy" for quality material (just ask Three Dog Night, Rosanne Cash, and Jewel, who all scored with his stuff). PERFECTLY GOOD GUITAR, his gritty ditty about axe-smashin' rock stars, and the intoxicating SLOW TURNING are clearly BEGGING for cool covers by a few quality-hungry acts out there. Fans of Elvis Costello and Graham Parker's wry wordplay and acerbic wit should check out this rollicking retrospective and immediately work their way through John Hiatt's huge catalogue of high-falutin work.

RATING: FIVE TONGUES IN CHEEK

HIGHWAY SONG

HIGHWAYMAN-THE HIGHWAYMEN:

Super groups are most common in rock and roll circles, but when grizzled old pros like JOHNNY CASH, WILLIE NELSON, WAYLON JENNINGS and KRIS KRISTOFFERSON team up, you're talkin' the Mt. Rushmore of "Outlaw Country". JIMMY WEBB's hit title saga gave each veteran a turn at the mike (naturally KRIS, better known for his songwriting than his singing abilities, can't compete with the others vocally), although only various combinations of the four appear on half the tracks. Folksy revivals of CASH's old staple BIG RIVER, GUY CLARK's DESPERADOS WAITING FOR A TRAIN and ED BRUCE's THE LAST COWBOY SONG feature the entire cast, but JOHNNY and WILLIE acquit themselves nicely as duet partners on the bouncy THE TWENTIETH CENTURY IS ALMOST OVER (penned by cult heroes STEVE GOODMAN and JOHN PRINE) and CASH's stark original COMMITTED TO PARKVIEW. Surprisingly, there are no WILLIE/WAYLON team ups, but obviously their liaisons have been well documented elsewhere. Not so surprisingly, THE HIGHWAYMEN didn't endure any longer than CREAM or THE TRAVELING WILBURYS...not that it wasn't a hell of a lotta fun while it lasted.

RATING: THREE LEGENDS

STUPOR-GROUP

HINDU LOVE GODS:

For the handful of music fetishists who have pondered what WARREN ZEVON would sound like if he rocked out for a whole platter or how R.E.M. would fare minus front man MICHAEL STIPE, here's the short, unvarnished answer. There are certainly worse ways to digest roots of rock legends ROBERT JOHNSON, WOODY GUTHRIE and GEORGE JONES than via HINDU LOVE GODS' ragged but righteous after hours jam session. ZEVON's leathery roadhouse-ready yowl, PETER BUCK's brawny axe attack, BILL BERRY's thrumming bass lines and MIKE MILLS' relentless drum kit bashing stir up a shitstorm of sawdust, sweat and suds. Surprisingly effective rave ups of PRINCE's RASPBERRY BERET and GEORGIA SATELLITES' BATTESHIP CHAINS are the only concessions to modern times; everything else is strictly Chitlin' Circuit nirvana, from ALBERT KING's CROSSCUT SAW to that hoariest of blooze staples, MUDDY WATERS' MANNISH BOY. Sandwiched somewhere between THE FLINTSTONES and THE ROLLING STONES, HINDU LOVE GODS was THE stupor-group of 1990...they took no prisoners and made no apologies for it.

RATING: FOUR MOONLIGHTERS



HOLLIE-DAZE

THE HOLLIES-GREATEST HITS:

One of the Merseybeat era's tastiest, most well-rounded pop ensembles, THE HOLLIES were named after rockin' pioneer BUDDY HOLLY and helmed by ALLAN CLARKE and GRAHAM NASH, nailing down pristine vocal harmonies with the precision of THE BEATLES. The group debuted with a spry cover of RNB oldie JUST ONE LOOK and the GRAHAM GOULDMAN-penned delight BUS STOP before relying on their own worthy compositions STOP STOP STOP, CARRIE-ANN and ON A CAROUSEL, sweet-toothed slices of AM radio perfection. Relying more on outside writers after GRAHAM's departure for folk super group CROSBY, STILLS, & NASH, THE HOLLIES continued their hit-making ways. The career-defining ballad HE AIN'T HEAVY, HE'S MY BROTHER, LONG DARK ROAD and LONG COOL WOMAN IN A BLACK DRESS were among their most notable achievements. The latter's ominous guitar intro was laid down by CLARKE, whose sinewy soul bleat was among the gutsiest ever laid down for a seventies rock single. Their chart swan song, a passionate reading of ALBERT HAMMOND's soaring THE AIR THAT I BREATHE, has been tacked onto GREATEST HITS reissues, completing the truly impressive mission of one of the British Invasion's most likable components.

RATING: FIVE VOICES



GOOD BUDDY

BUDDY HOLLY-GREATEST HITS:

DON MCLEAN's famous claim about "the day the music died" wasn't mere lip service. BUDDY HOLLY delivered a scintillating blend of rockabilly, country and RNB punctuated by his wonderfully warm, hiccup-laced voice and jangly guitar. Lubbock, Texas' favorite son proved an influence on both THE BEATLES and THE STONES...the wistful WORDS OF LOVE became a note-for-note tribute by THE FAB FOUR, while the grittier NOT FADE AWAY provided MICK and KEEF with their first stateside hit. Despite hundreds of covers by as many artists later, WELL ALRIGHT, THAT'LL BE THE DAY and PEGGY SUE still sound their most deliciously vibrant in the hands of the master himself. HOLLY's boyish good looks, ringing guitar work, and sentimental songwriting scored alarmingly often in a two year career, rocking out with THE CRICKETS on OH BOY! and RAVE ON as well as laying back on lush string-laden ballads RAINING IN MY HEART and IT DOESN'T MATTER ANYMORE. GREATEST HITS is an 18 track time capsule as vital to modern popular music as the phonograph needle itself.

RATING: FIVE HORN RIMS

HONEY SWEET

HONEY CONE-THE BEST OF HONEY CONE:

When MOTOWN's most prolific songwriting team HOLLAND/DOZIER/HOLLAND left the label over royalty disputes to start their own HOT WAX and INVICTUS imprints, their initial signing was HONEY CONE, whose foxy chic bubble-soul compared favorably to THE SUPREMES and THE MARVELETTES. Lead singer EDNA WRIGHT, sister of PHIL SPECTOR stable favorite DARLENE LOVE, brought bright, sassy vocals to their first hit WHILE YOU'RE OUT LOOKING FOR SUGAR and clever wordplay gem WANT ADS, with CAROLYN WILLIS and SHELLIE CLARK chiming in on the irresistible choruses. Penned by GENERAL JOHNSON of CHAIRMEN OF THE BOARD (another HDH discovery), that pop/RNB chart topper paved the way for the chirpy follow ups STICK UP, THE DAY I FOUND MYSELF and ONE MONKEY DON'T STOP NO SHOW. Part of EMI-CAPITOL's TEN BEST series of oldies compilations, which includes other hard to find acts from TYRONE DAVIS to TAVARES, THE BEST OF HONEY CONE is seventies soul music at its sweetest, a confectionary treat that's as stylish as it is habit forming.

RATING: FOUR CANDY KISSES



THE BOOGIE MAN

JOHN LEE HOOKER-THE VERY BEST:

THE BLUES BROTHERS drafted their classic "look"...dark shades, dark fedora, dark suit...if not their sound from JOHN LEE HOOKER; the "boogie man" even did a low key cameo in their fractured flick as a street performer. His influence on modern rockers is a no-brainer...THE ANIMALS covered his signature chestnuts BOOM BOOM and DIMPLES, ZZ TOP's early hit LA GRANGE borrowed liberally from BOOGIE CHILLUN, and CANNED HEAT recorded a gritty album with him in the seventies...he also jammed with SANTANA, VAN MORRISON and ROBERT CRAY in his twilight years. The beauty of HOOKER's music was in the stark, raw-boned simplicity of his Delta Blues drone, a muttering talk-sing vocal style often accompanied by only the leanest raw guitar work and a percussive foot tap. Whether it's BIG LEGS, TIGHT SKIRT's party-down sound, I'M IN THE MOOD's low down 'n dirty grind, or CRAWLIN' KING SNAKE's molasses-paced vibe you crave, this primo sampler from compilation kings RHINO has you covered. Wanna boogie, chillen?...let the primitive moan and single chord groove-ology of JOHN LEE HOOKER show you how-how-how-how...

RATING: FIVE MUMBLES

WHEN JOHNNY COMES MARCHIN' HOME

JOHNNY HORTON-16 BIGGEST HITS:

A sturdy honky tonker who was no stranger to rockabilly rhythms, JOHNNY HORTON's legacy rests on a series of jaunty patriotic sagas recorded shortly before his untimely death in 1960. THE BATTLE OF NEW ORLEANS (rendered even more of a novelty when it was lampooned by HOMER & JETHRO as THE BATTLE OF KOOKAMONGA), SINK THE BISMARK and NORTH TO ALASKA (from the JOHN WAYNE flick of the same name) were country smashes that even achieved Top Ten status on the pop charts. HORTON's twangy growl and rustic songwriting also produced the exhilarating sawdust kickers HONKY TONK MAN and I'M A ONE WOMAN MAN (covered by DWIGHT YOAKUM and GEORGE JONES respectively) and the earnest truck drivin' saga I'M COMIN' HOME, while THE MANSION YOU STOLE and WHISPERING PINES showed off a more sentimental side. A versatile crossover artist not unlike JOHNNY CASH and MARTY ROBBINS, JOHNNY HORTON's keen knack for hook-filled storytelling is undeniable on 16 BIGGEST HITS.

RATING: FOUR BATTLES

HIT CHOCOLATE

HOT CHOCOLATE-VERY BEST OF HOT CHOCOLATE:

Remembered today mainly for their biggest smash, the exuberant booty call YOU SEXY THING, England's racially mixed RNB outfit HOT CHOCOLATE actually produced a half dozen funk-infested dance hits during the disco era (a tag they were well above). ERROL BROWN's pleading vocal cascades and tortured screams fueled the doomed heroine saga EMMA, while DISCO QUEEN and EVERY 1'S A WINNER pumped out irresistibly fleshy bump 'n grind grooves. Almost as interesting as their own chartbusters were two group penned tracks that scored big for rock artists...YOU COULD HAVE BEEN A LADY was APRIL WINE's breakthrough and interracial love song BROTHER LOUIE sold a cool million in the hands of one hit wonders THE STORIES. While not held up today in the same light as American ensembles KOOL & THE GANG or EARTH, WIND & FIRE, HOT CHOCOLATE could deliver the goods, leaving behind this sturdy catalogue of hip soul party starters to prove it.

RATING: FOUR WHIPPED CREAMS

YOU CAN TUNA GUITAR...

HOT TUNA-KEEP ON TRUCKIN'/THE VERY BEST OF HOT TUNA:

Everything about the cover of HOT TUNA's compilation KEEP ON TRUCKIN' screams the late sixties...from its R. CRUMB coined title and underground cartoon work to the fat balloon styled lettering and tongue in cheek depiction of long-haired musicians being pursued by "the man" (a cop car). JEFFERSON AIRPLANE members JORMA KAUKONEN and JACK CASADY started their forty year side project to explore the seedy folk blues of their heroes MUDDY WATERS, ROBERT JOHNSON and REVEREND GARY DAVIS via faithful (if often psychedelicized) interpretations while adding their own organic compositions to the roots rockin' jam session. Whether performing as an acoustic duo or a full tilt electric boogie band (with pals like PAPA JOHN CREACH on violin), axe master KAUKONEN's freewheeling licks and reedy vocals along with CASADY's highly inventive bass lines propel funky fare like TRUE RELIGION and I SEE THE LIGHT. TRUCKIN' naturally contains rollicking live jams (always HOT TUNA's strong suit) of the staples HESITATION BLUES and KEEP YOUR LAMPS TRIMMED AND BURNING; this is old fashioned music meant to expand the mind, succeeding beyond your wildest imagination.

RATING: FOUR JAMS

WOLF PACK

HOWLIN' WOLF-HOWLIN' WOLF/MOANIN' IN THE MOONLIGHT:

The dynamic double disc HOWLIN' WOLF/MOANIN' AT MOONLIGHT is a triple threat listening experience, showcasing the inhuman blooze growlings of man-mountain HOWLIN' WOLF, ace guitarist HUBERT SUMLIN's paint-shakin' peals and prolific songwriter WILLIE DIXON's greasy compositions WANG DANG DOODLE, THE RED ROOSTER and SPOONFUL. Most of the former CHESTER BURNETT's best loved midnight trawls are present, as both albums were collections of his raw, seething singles (like most blues platters of the era), with his own I ASKED FOR WATER (SHE GAVE ME GASOLINE), FORTY-FOUR and HOW MANY MORE YEARS on a par with DIXON's material for ominous power. LITTLE FEAT, THE DOORS, CREAM, THE STONES and countless other rockers have tackled the WOLF songbook over the decades...but none ever approached the gutsy, volatile conviction of the master blaster himself. Here are two dozen tracks of smokestack lightnin' from the legendary CHESS vaults...unfiltered, unhinged hard-core Chicago blues the way it's meant to be experienced.

RATING: FIVE MOANS



WOLF TRACKS

HOWLIN' WOLF-THE LONDON HOWLIN' WOLF SESSIONS:

Blues junkies may cry "foul!" but this solid attempt to update the otherworldly sound that was HOWLIN' WOLF features a who's who of brit invasion admirers that cut their teeth on the big man's gutteral growl and axeman HUBERT SUMLIN's spine-bending licks. The oft-revived WOLF songbook of lowdown laments includes THE RED ROOSTER and SITTIN' ON TOP OF THE WORLD, covered by THE STONES and CREAM repectively; these are injected with a modern twist from ERIC CLAPTON, STEVE WINWOOD, BILL WYMAN and CHARLIE WATTS, with THE WOLF out front sounding almost as menacing as he ever did. WANG DANG DOODLE, HIGHWAY 49 and I AIN'T SUPERSTITOUS are also exhumed, although no new revelations accompany the flash treatment; however, a short tutorial from a weary sounding WOLF on how best to record ROOSTER is interesting to absorb. For the true essence of HOWLIN' WOLF, stick with the exceptional compilation HIS BEST, from CHESS RECORDS' 50TH ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION.

RATING: THREE HOWLS

HUMBLING BLOCK

HUMBLE PIE-BACK ON TRACK:

Trying to recapture the blooze rockin' glories of HUMBLE PIE twenty years after the fact and without their late, great front man STEVE MARRIOT sounds like a daunting, thankless task...and of course, it is. This time out, original drummer JERRY SHIRLEY (who also manned the kit for the short-lived eighties super group FASTWAY) and bassist GREG RIDLEY have lined up the services of one time JEFF BECK vocalist BOB TENCH and guitarist DAVE "BUCKET" COLWELL, who has more often surfaced as a sub in BAD COMPANY. Predictably, the results are less than satisfying, as the all original track list including AIN'T NO BIG THING and STAY ONE MORE NIGHT falls fairly flat...and unlike the beloved boogie bashing PIE of old, there are no gutbucket covers of RNB oldies to break up (or pick up) the pace. Without MARRIOT's hard scrabble personality and immediately recognizable, soul-searing yowl at the fore, this could be any generic hard rock band going through the motions.

RATING: TWO CRUSTS



PIE CHARTS

HUMBLE PIE-DEFINITIVE COLLECTION:

When diminutive-in-stature-but-huge-in-talent belter STEVE MARRIOTT parted company with psychedelic folkies the SMALL FACES in the late sixties (the others became simply the FACES by adding ROD STEWART and RONNIE WOOD), he formed the harder edged HUMBLE PIE with ex-HERD axe slinger PETER FRAMPTON. Originally cultivating a rootsy folk sound, the band soon morphed into bloozey boogie bashers (especially after FRAMPTON's departure for a solo career) dominated by MARRIOTT's gravelly, soul-soaked howl on the greasy, undisputed party starters NATURAL BORN WOMAN, HOT 'N NASTY and 30 DAYS IN THE HOLE. MARRIOTT's raucous, street-smart attitude blasted through churned up covers of RAY CHARLES' I DON'T NEED NO DOCTOR, IKE & TINA's steamy BLACK COFFEE, and EDDIE COCHRAN's timeless C'MON EVERYBODY...in PIE's greasy mitts, these chestnuts became raw, freewheeling jam sessions aimed squarely at the hard rock crowd. DEFINITIVE COLLECTION gathers up seventeen celebratory slices of PIE's tastiest moments not to be missed by stone cold music junkies who thought outside the Top 40 box in the seventies.

RATING: FIVE CRUMBS



SHADES OF GENIUS

IAN HUNTER-ONCE BITTEN TWICE SHY:

As the reedy, soulful vocalist for seventies upstarts MOTT THE HOOPLE and as a solo performer, IAN HUNTER displayed an acerbic wit, rebellious attitude and cunning songwriting chops...attributes the best rock & roll has always thrived on. Double dipping anthology ONCE BITTEN TWICE SHY rounds up forceful anthems such as CLEVELAND ROCKS, GUN CONTROL and ALL AMERICAN ALIEN BOY on the "fast disc" and lighter fare like SHIPS and OLD RECORDS NEVER DIE on the equally intriguing "slow disc". It's so chock-full of gems and rarities, one barely notices the omission of cult classics JUST ANOTHER NIGHT and WE GOTTA GET OUT OF HERE (with gutsy guest vocalist ELLEN FOLEY). You're also treated to the best live version of MOTT's signature tune ALL THE YOUNG DUDES ever waxed, with longtime HUNTER guitar foil MICK RONSON, QUEEN's BRIAN MAY, DEF LEPPARD's JOE ELLIOT, and the song's writer DAVID BOWIE chipping in. For long time fans or curious newcomers, ONCE BITTEN is one tasty platter to sink your choppers into.

RATING: FOUR 'ALLO'S

KING LEER

BILLY IDOL-GREATEST HITS:

This ex-Generation X singer finally got his due with a comprehensive career compilation in the new millennium; 1987's cleverly titled but far too brief VITAL IDOL just didn't cut it. At the dawn of new wave, the bleach blonde belter with the best sneer since King Elvis churned out a pumping fistful of punk-friendly radio classics bolstered by STEVE STEVENS' hard rockin' guitar salvos. Between the club floor thump of DANCING WITH MYSELF and tough Tommy James retread MONY MONY, the darkly divine WHITE WEDDING, and the rebel yell of, well, REBEL YELL, Idol had early eighties radio playlists and MTV in his hip pocket. Later singles scarcely packed the same kick in the head, although EYES WITHOUT A FACE wasn't half bad for a change of pace ballad. Soulless covers of the Doors' paean L.A. WOMAN and Simple Minds' DON'T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME are dull regurgitations here...those two missteps aside, if Billy's your Idol, then this is your anthology.

RATING: FOUR STIFF UPPER LIPS

LEAH LITTLE LOVIN' ON ME

DONNIE IRIS-THE MILLENNIUM COLLECTION:

Pennsylvania rocker DONNIE IRIS brought a well-honed sense of craftsmanship and a welcome power pop influence to the new wave era, a decade after achieving "one hit wonder" status with THE JAGGERZ Top Ten smash THE RAPPER. Resembling BUDDY HOLLY physically, but sounding much closer to TODD RUNDGREN, IRIS made his comeback via AH! LEAH!, a flawless slab of pure Top 40 nirvana, complete with big guitar hooks, catchy, simple lyrics and gloriously multi-tracked vocal harmonies. Irresistible follow ups included the dumb fun singalong LOVE IS LIKE A ROCK (his biggest anthem), MY GIRL (not the TEMPTATIONS warhorse, but a mid-tempo rocker), and SWEET MERILEE, all administered in unabashed geek fashion ready made for MTV-era radio. A new, harder edged concert version of THE RAPPER almost outshines the original, finishing up THE MILLENNIUM COLLECTION in grandiose style, cementing the notion that DONNIE IRIS was one of the early eighties' most accomplished yet underappreciated artists.

RATING: FOUR PAIRS OF SPECS



FUNK SOUL BROTHERS

THE ISLEY BROTHERS-ESSENTIAL ISLEY BROTHERS:

Few compilations offer such a worthy summation of the Isley Brothers' multi-faceted, incalculably influential career, which continued for a half century after their first hit, the gospel frathouse anthem SHOUT. Nearly every phase pops up here...their raw, early RNB successes (TWIST AND SHOUT, RESPECTABLE)...soul/pop smashes (IT'S YOUR THING, THIS OLD HEART OF MINE)...smooth interpretations of others' work (LOVE THE ONE YOU'RE WITH, SUMMER BREEZE)...funk-infested chart-stranglers (FIGHT THE POWER and THAT LADY, the latter showcasing second generation Isley Brother Ernie's Hendrixian guitar bravado)...slick, silky ballad work (BETWEEN THE SHEETS)...and most recently, a string of popular R. KELLY productions that brought Ronald (aka Mr. Biggs) to yet another generation. Ronald Isley possesses some of the mightiest soul-searing pipes in the biz and the group had songwriting chops to spare...just ask the multitude of artists, from Joey Dee and The Doobies to Joan Jett and Joss Stone, who tackled their material. THE ESSENTIAL ISLEY BROTHERS deserves a treasured spot in any serious-minded rock, funk, or RNB fanatics' collection.

RATING: FIVE SHOUTS!

GOTCHA COVERED

ALAN JACKSON-UNDER THE INFLUENCE:

Country artists recording entire albums of their favorite songs may be as common as ticks on a hound, but honky tonkin' hat act ALAN JACKSON has the chops and the talent to bring something fresh to the party, not so much bettering the originals as reminding the listener of how much fun country music could be back in the 60s and 70s. CHARLY MCLAIN's classic infidelity ditty WHO'S CHEATIN' WHO is awash in his laid back, conversational delivery and a boot scootin' beat, while DON WILLIAMS' IT MUST BE LOVE and CHARLEY PRIDE's KISS AN ANGEL GOOD MORNING are always worth revisting. Not surprisingly, UNDER THE INFLUENCE boasts a lively trio of odes to the bottle, including JIM ED BROWN's hazy honky tonker POP A TOP, the white lightnin' whump of GEORGE JONES' REVENOOER MAN, and the Parrothead national anthem MARGARITAVILLE, complete with a JIMMY BUFFET cameo...surely this pairing inspired their later smash(ed) collaboration IT'S FIVE O' CLOCK SOMEWHERE. Throughout his long career, JACKSON has proven perfectly capable of writing his own hits, but he comes off here as a charismatic interpreter paying confident tribute to his down home roots.

RATING: FOUR STETSONS

TEXAS TROUBADOURS

ALAN JACKSON/GEORGE STRAIT/JIMMY BUFFET-LIVE AT TEXAS STADIUM:

This 2004 hat trick of superstars...traditional twanger GEORGE STRAIT, good ol' boy belter ALAN JACKSON and Parrothead Prime Minister JIMMY BUFFET...unspools as an energetic, eupohoric Lone Star State hoe down with shots of the Caribbean sprinkled in for good measure. STRAIT, a steady hitmaker for over three decades now, pulls off earthy faves like MILK COW BLUES and HONK IF YOU LIKE HONKY TONK, while JACKSON tackles THE EAGLES' SEVEN BRIDGES ROAD, HANK WILLIAMS JR.'s TEXAS WOMEN and naturally, timely drinkin' ditty IT'S FIVE O' CLOCK SOMEWHERE with BUFFET. Crowd pleasin' singalongs including ALL MY EX'S LIVE IN TEXAS, HEY GOOD LOOKIN' and MARGARITAVILLE are all trotted out in various combos of these three charismatic performers, while JACKSON and STRAIT even get in their own BUFFET-like licks via DESIGNATED DRINKER. This is such a good-natured grabbag of pompous-free comradery, you'll probably wish you were there...but if you weren't, LIVE AT TEXAS STADIUM is a smart souvenir of a grand summer slam jam for the stetson set.

RATING: THREE LEGENDS



HIGH 5!

THE JACKSON 5/THE JACKSONS-THE JACKSONS STORY:

Gary, Indiana's JACKSON 5 exploded out of the gate with their incredible hat-trick of chart topping singles I WANT YOU BACK, ABC, and THE LOVE YOU SAVE, deliriously interchangeable, undeniably irresistible sonic slabs of unfiltered bubble-soul...an obvious inspiration for the OSMOND BROTHERS' first sugar-smack hit ONE BAD APPLE. Sweet cream soul ballads NEVER CAN SAY GOODBYE and I'LL BE THERE followed along with their funkified final MOTOWN smash DANCIN' MACHINE...a label jump and a name change to THE JACKSONS resulted in the more sophisticated dance fare SHAKE YOUR BODY (DOWN TO THE GROUND) and ENJOY YOURSELF. No single disc can hope to tell the whole tale, but THE JACKSONS STORY offers up every important effort, sprinkling in a few of MICHAEL's solo smashes for good measure. Pop music has had its fair share of mighty musical siblings, but none that aimed higher or sparkled brighter than the first family of soul.

RATING: 5 BROTHERS



WANDA WOMAN

WANDA JACKSON-VINTAGE COLLECTIONS:

WANDA JACKSON's sultry mix of rockabilly, RNB and straight up country twang came off like a rowdier version of BRENDA LEE; she could knock out the rollickin' barnburner LET'S HAVE A PARTY or peel off a tearjerker like RIGHT OR WRONG with equal guts, passion and conviction. Her ass-kickin' cult classics FUJIYAMA MAMA and HOT DOG! THAT MADE HIM MAD sizzled like a branding iron, riddled with trademark yips, screams and jeans-bustin' tension. She also waxed many fine-as-moonshine covers, transforming THE ROBINS' ominous RNB hit RIOT IN CELL BLOCK #9 into a swingin' party worthy of JAILHOUSE ROCK. IT DOESN'T MATTER ANYMORE, HARD HEADED WOMAN and KANSAS CITY are also stamped with her sassy delivery and leathery tough chick vocal style. On the ballad side of things, her forlorn IN THE MIDDLE OF A HEARTACHE is as perfect as any PATSY CLINE ballad you care to name. A purring sex kitten brandishing a honky tonk whip, WANDA JACKSON wasn't nicknamed "the female ELVIS" for nothin'.

RATING: FIVE YELPS

SLIDE INTO HOME

ELMORE JAMES-THE VERY BEST OF ELMORE JAMES:

Slide guitar master ELMORE JAMES' loud, clanging six string volleys, appropriated from early pioneer ROBERT JOHNSON, were as familiar and vital to modern blues as CHUCK BERRY's trademark axe licks were to rock & roll. JOHNSON's DUST MY BROOM became one of JAMES' indelible signature songs, along side his own intensely rendered weepers THE SKY IS CRYING and IT HURTS ME TOO, not to mention high spirited juke joint boogies like MADISON BLUES and SHAKE YOUR MONEYMAKER. Between his passionate gutbucket vocals and fierce bell-ringing guitar work, JAMES inspired and influenced legions of future blooze rockin' guitar heroes from FLEETWOOD MAC's JEREMY SPENCER (who copied his style exactly) and DUANE ALLMAN on through CUB KODA, GEORGE THOROGOOD and STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN...all have aggressively tackled his rough-hewn catalogue. From RHINO RECORDS' well anointed BLUES MASTERS series of anthologies, VERY BEST tracks JAMES through sixteen "straight from the Delta" chunks of steamy swamp power.

RATING: FOUR SLIDES

CHESS SET

ETTA JAMES-HER BEST:

CHESS RECORDS, the legendary home of pioneering rockers like BO DIDDLEY and CHUCK BERRY and blues upstarts such as MUDDY WATERS and HOLWIN' WOLF could also claim the incomparable ETTA JAMES on its roster, a powerfully emotive belter who could handle any form of music. Claiming to have been heavily influenced by none other than self-proclaimed "gangster of love" JOHNNY "GUITAR" WATSON, JAMES is best known for the beautifully rendered milestone AT LAST, but she also dished out the equally heart-stirring ballads I'D RATHER GO BLIND, A SUNDAY KIND OF LOVE and ALL I COULD DO WAS CRY. If you crave this blues queen's funkier, down 'n dirty side, there's the joyous SOMETHING'S GOT A HOLD ON ME, TELL MAMA (originally written as TELL PAPA by soul man CLARENCE CARTER), and her wopper-bopper showstopper live rendition of JIMMY REED's BABY WHAT YOU WANT ME TO DO. Despite well documented personal issues, ETTA JAMES consistently scored significant RNB charters (and a few that crossed over to the pop side), worked alongside admirers from BERRY to THE STONES, and left behind a soul-searing legacy, much of it captured on HER BEST.

RATING: FIVE LADIES



THE JAMES GANG

TOMMY JAMES & THE SHONDELLS-THE VERY BEST OF:

One measure of a pop artist's worth is the amount of cover versions their catalogue spawns on down the line. Eighties singers were all over TOMMY JAMES & THE SHONDELLS' zesty brand of psychedelic bubblegum; punker BILLY IDOL topped the charts with a dance-ready version of frat rocker MONY MONY, his female counterpart JOAN JETT knocked out a brash yet sensual CRIMSON & CLOVER, and mall-teen idol TIFFANY emoted on a perky I THINK WE'RE ALONE NOW. Even as late as 1999, R.E.M. unearthed DRAGGIN' THE LINE for an AUSTIN POWRS soundtrack. And what of the original versions of these kitschy classics, you rightly ask? Suffice to say that JAMES, who co-wrote many of his own hits (as well as TIGHTER TIGHTER for ALIVE N KICKIN' and THE CLIQUE cult classic SUGAR ON SUNDAY) delivered just the right amount of primitive sex appeal via HANKY PANKY and sweet vocal buoyancy on CRYSTAL BLUE PERSUASION, even as he dug deep for shreds of white soul acceptance on the gospel shout-out BALL OF FIRE. Late sixties AM radio was awash in the sunshine sounds of THE SHONDELLS, good time vibes that continue to shimmer a half decade later.

RATING: FOUR POP ROCKS

OLD WAVE

JAN & DEAN-GREATEST HITS:

One of the early sixties' best loved hitmakers after THE BEACH BOYS, JAN & DEAN's twin spin classics SURF CITY and DRAG CITY were co-written by BRIAN WILSON, SIDEWALK SURFIN' was a CATCH A WAVE rewrite, and DEAN TORRENCE sang guest lead on the BEACH BOYS cover of BARBARA ANN, cementing the "endless summer" connection between the two acts. High-pitched vocals, spirited singalong choruses, and glossy studio perfection boosted JAN & DEAN's handful of harmony-heavy car and sand-bar hits like THE LITTLE OLD LADY FROM PASADENA, RIDE THE WILD SURF, and the melodramatic DEAD MAN'S CURVE, which eerily presaged JAN BERRY's near fatal car crash in real life. Cutie-pie chick ditties LINDA, THE NEW GIRL IN SCHOOL and HONOLULU LULU round out this ten track sampler, missing their earliest charter BABY TALK and the kitschy later single BATMAN...both fun novelties, but hardly essential to the duo's catalogue. Budget-priced and clocking in at under a half hour, GREATEST HITS is a quick, refreshing dip into the pool of sun 'n fun that was JAN & DEAN.

RATING: FOUR WOODIES

FLIGHT PATTERNS

JEFFERSON AIRPLANE/JEFFERSON STARSHIP/STARSHIP-COLLECTION:

Admittedly, trying to encapsulate the convoluted JEFFERSON AIRPLANE/JEFFERSON STARSHIP/STARSHIP saga on a single CD is a daunting, thankless task...even though VH1 BEHIND THE MUSIC gives it their best shot, dividing eighteen tracks evenly among the three versions of the band. The AIRPLANE's psychedelic folk rock shows powerful belter GRACE SLICK to best advantage on staples WHITE RABBIT and SOMEBODY TO LOVE, while MARTY BALIN provides fine reedy counterpoint on VOLUNTEERS...which segues nicely into the mellow blue eyed soul-pop of JEFFERSON STARSHIP's BALIN-dominated smashes MIRACLES, WITH YOUR LOVE and COUNT ON ME. The streamlined STARSHIP, pairing high pitched ELVIN BISHOP singer MICKEY THOMAS with SLICK on love 'em or hate 'em blockbusters WE BUILT THIS CITY, SARA and NOTHING'S GONNA STOP US NOW wraps up the San Francisco ensemble's final chapter in schlocky style. Naturally, there's plenty of good stuff missing on COLLECTION, so rabid fans of the various lineups will want to dig into individual group compilations for a stronger fix.

RATING: FOUR LINEUP CHANGES



"WAYLON" THE CLASSICS

WAYLON JENNINGS-GREATEST HITS:

The King of the Outlaws may be dead and gone, but as they say in country music circles, his memory lives on. WAYLON and fellow Texan/frequent duet partner WILLIE NELSON spearheaded the seventies' so called "Outlaw Movement", essentially a marketing term attached to their uncompromising, roots-rich take on country music. Grit-rimmed, tough talkin' tracks like LONESOME ON'RY AND MEAN, LADIES LOVE OUTLAWS and I'VE ALWAYS BEEN CRAZY were all wry, tongue in cheek variations on the "Nashville outsider" attitude that made WAYMORE so endearing and his music so enduring. The definitive cover of ED BRUCE's tongue-in-cheek MAMMAS, DON'T LET YOUR BABIES GROW UP TO BE COWBOYS and the genteel LUCHENBACH TEXAS (both enhanced by WILLIE), funky boot-kicker ONLY DADDY THAT'LL WALK THE LINE, and smooth belly rubber AMANDA likewise bear up to repeated spins. Accept no soulless, dimpled, beefcake substitutes; WAYLON...no last name ever need be uttered...was the real deal and deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as JOHNNY, MERLE, BUCK and any other country-to-the-core legend that ever lived (or died).

RATING: FIVE WAILS

WAYMORE

WAYLON JENNINGS-ULTIMATE WAYLON JENNINGS:

An update on his "must have" gritty GREATEST HITS collection from a quarter century before, 2004's ULTIMATE WAYLON JENNINGS repeats nine of that peerless collection's eleven original classics (including GOOD HEARTED WOMAN, LUCHENBACH TEXAS and MAMMAS DON'T LET YOUR BABIES GROW UP TO BE COWBOYS), adding a baker's dozen tracks to the mix. DON'T YOU THINK THIS OUTLAW BIT'S DONE GOT OUT OF HAND makes a wry comment on WAYLON's prominence in the seventies, while RODNEY CROWELL's I AIN'T LIVIN' LONG LIKE THIS, the WILLIE NELSON duet JUST TO SATISFY YOU and the iconic THEME FROM THE DUKES OF HAZZARD deliver almost as much "good ol' boy" punch. When he gets a little more serious, as on the patriotic statement AMERICA and JIMMY WEBB's HIGHWAYMAN (also the name of his supergroup with NELSON, JOHNNY CASH and KRIS KRISTOFFERSON), JENNINGS still delivers the goods, punctuating every effort with trademark gravelly pipes, impeccable twang-ology and no nonsense attitude.

RATING: FOUR BLACK HATS

TULL ALL

JETHRO TULL-M.U./THE BEST OF JETHRO TULL:

A tight, nearly perfect compilation from the pre-CD era of forty minute albums, M.U. tracks almost a dozen peak period highlights from JETHRO TULL, a cerebral British troupe whose sprawling concept albums took precedence over standard hit singles. Helmed by theatrical muse/focal point IAN ANDERSON's plaintive vocals, eclectic songwriting and elaborate flute outbursts, stand alone songs LIVING IN THE PAST, LOCOMOTIVE BREATH and BUNGLE IN THE JUNGLE were all seventies rock radio cornerstones, as were excerpts from the more elaborate epics AQUALUNG and THICK AS A BRICK. Lesser known but no less impressive efforts such as FAT MAN, TEACHER and SKATING AWAY (ON THE THIN ICE OF A NEW DAY) balance out this rousing folk-prog roundup, which naturally cried out for a sequel (the almost as good REPEAT/THE BEST OF VOL. II) a couple of years later. The next best thing, especially for casual fans, to collecting their original groundbreaking platters, M.U. documents the organic exploits of one of the most unique ensembles to ever wax poetic.

RATING: FOUR FLUTES

JETT PROPELLED

JOAN JETT & THE BLACKHEARTS-BAD REPUTATION:

Coming off the break up of the late seventies' influential but low selling all gal group THE RUNAWAYS, JOAN JETT's hard drivin' debut BAD REPUTATION is a rafter-raising roundup of hard rock and punk, cool covers and fierce originals, all laced with her trademark "don't mess with me" attitude. The bombastic title track, which opens the party with a helluva bang, may well be the best thing here, in spite of solid send ups of LESLIE GORE's peerless kiss-off YOU DON'T OWN ME, frat rock classics WOOLY BULLY and SHOUT, and glam godfather GARY GLITTER's DO YOU WANNA TOUCH ME and DOING ALRIGHT WITH THE BOYS. The extended release of this platter adds tasty tackles of the early WHO ditty CALL ME LIGHTNING and TOMMY JAMES' HANKY PANKY as well as gutbucket live material, notably a scorching rendition of BAD REPUTATION backed by THE RAMONES' old rhythm section of MARKY and DEE DEE. It all adds up to one hell of an opening shot, a wham-bam head whack of grit, grease and GRRRL power that paved the way for JETT's next album, the massive commercial breakthrough I LOVE ROCK & ROLL.

RATING: FIVE PAIRS OF BLACK LEATHER PANTS

JETT SET

JOAN JETT & THE BLACKHEARTS-FETISH:

Taking seventies pioneer SUZI QUATRO's leather-clad glam rock image to the next level has always been ex-RUNAWAYS leader JOAN JETT's calling card. FETISH, an odd 'n sods compilation of previously released oldies covers and originals, plus the new S&M anthem title track (available in censored and XXX versions) was released as a stop gap teaser during a decade long layoff between legitimate albums from the BLACKHEARTS front woman. Most of these cuts, including fun-fueled takes on THE STONES' STAR STAR, TOMMY JAMES' HANKY PANKY and SAM THE SHAM's WOOLY BULLY weren't on her FIT TO BE TIED collection of greatest hits, making this an acceptable sequel. The only repeats are her solo version of THE RUNAWAYS' CHERRY BOMB and the GARY GLITTER goody DO YOU WANNA TOUCH ME, tackled here in a rollicking live setting. Several of her underrated early tunes including FRENCH SONG and LOVE IS PAIN get needed exposure here, along with the previously unavailable BABY BLUE, further fine examples of both sexes' favorite pin up gal wrecking her usual rock and roll havoc.

RATING: FOUR DOG COLLARS



WHAM BAM THANK YOU GLAM!

JOAN JETT-FIT TO BE TIED-GREAT HITS BY JOAN JETT AND THE BLACKHEARTS:

In the seventies, England had Suzi Quatro to carry the glitter rock torch for the sexier gender...in the eighties, America unleashed her sleazier, slinkier student Joan Jett. This cool collection of tuff 'n trashy classics features the ex-Runaway rippin' a page outta the Gary Glitter "Big-Riff-Shout-the-Chorus" trick book o' glam rock (admittedly, it was a one page book). Raucous remakes of pop cornerstones rule: Glitter's DO YOU WANNA TOUCH ME (OH YEAH!), Tommy James' CRIMSON AND CLOVER (lip-smackin' bubble-glam), the Runaways' own CHERRY BOMB and a supersonic LOVE IS ALL AROUND as Mary Tyler Moore never envisioned it. Jett's own arse-kickin' compositions I HATE MYSELF FOR LOVING YOU and BAD REPUTATION sound right at home next to her career makin' cover of the Arrows' I LOVE ROCK N ROLL, a genre anthem on the level of Kiss' ROCK AND ROLL ALL NITE and Led Zep's ROCK AND ROLL. Suffice to say that when Joan Jett screams for respect, she gets it...even if she has to beat it outta ya.

RATING: FIVE "UNHHHS"

JETT STREAM

JOAN JETT & THE BLACKHEARTS-FLASHBACK:

If LINDA RONSTADT was pop music's queen of tasty covers throughout the seventies, ex-RUNAWAYS stand out JOAN JETT was hot on her heels as rock and roll's slam-bangin' eighties version. The rebellious rarities collection FLASHBACK spits out a healthy dose of cool redo's, a smattering of back to basics originals and an alternate take on I LOVE ROCK & ROLL backed by the SEX PISTOLS (itself a cover of an ARROWS track). Obvious glam influences like ALICE COOPER's BE MY LOVER and DAVID BOWIE's REBEL REBEL, 1910 FRUITGUM COMPANY's bubble-licious INDIAN GIVER and THE SHEEP's ultra obscure garage gem HIDE AND SEEK all receive gloriously black hearted three chord interpretations. JETT's motorcycle mama attitude and grimy growl also decimate THE PISTOLS' label-bashing EMI anthem (renamed MCA), BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN's LIGHT OF DAY (from her lone film role) and snotty RUNAWAYS oldie CHERRY BOMB (backed here by Riot GRRRL group L7). Cruder and certainly less predictable than her official all covers platter THE HIT LIST, FLASHBACK is a "greatest hits" for JOAN JETT fans who like to boogie outside the classic rock box.

RATING: FOUR SHAGS

BASIC COVERAGE

JOAN JETT-THE HIT LIST:

Since most of leather-clad Joan Jett's biggest hits were cover versions anyway (even I LOVE ROCK & ROLL was originally an English biggie for the Arrows), an entire disc of classic rock remakes makes perfect sense; she spit this party platter out years before everyone from the Ramones to Rush were doing all-covers collections. The smartly titled HIT LIST showcases the Blackheart Babe's crunching, glam-punctuated takes on AC/DC's DIRTY DEEDS DONE DIRT CHEAP and ZZ Top's sex-pot anthem TUSH. For contrast, the Kinks' doleful tribute to Hollywood's hey-day, CELLULOID HEROES, and Nazareth's ballad biggie LOVE HURTS also get the nod. Like Brownsville Station before her, this Suzi Quatro protege can give the big bad Gary Glitter treatment to nearly any oldie, from TIME HAS COME TODAY to ROADRUNNER, and make it sound like her own idea. These SEEM like Joan Jett's greatest hits, and are such fun to listen to, you won't even care that none of them really are.

RATING: THREE BLACK HEARTS

RABBIT-FIRE

JIVE BUNNY & THE MASTERMIXERS-THE ALBUM:

Almost a decade after 1980's STARS ON 45-spawned medley fad, London's JIVE BUNNY & THE MASTERMIXERS launched an even more exuberant super-collage of golden oldies set to an irresistible drum beat. Kicking off with a stuttering CHUBBY CHECKER soundbite of "C-c-c'mon everybody!" and a souped up take on GLENN MILLER's signature IN THE MOOD, smash hit SWING THE MOOD spat out BILL HALEY, EVERLY BROTHERS and ELVIS snippets at break-neck speed, interspersed with LITTLE RICHARD screams for added excitement. Other highlights included the equally frantic follow-up THAT'S WHAT I LIKE (a BIG BOPPER exclamation), the rare mellow respite LOVER'S MIX and a pounding glam rock mash-up of GARY GLITTER, T. REX and SWEET (what? no SLADE?). Unlike the STARS ON series, most of these are not slick imitations, but bits and pieces of the actual artists themselves (an ANDREWS SISTERS tribute notwithstanding), adding a gritty party vibe to this freewheeling platter of non-stop, sock-hoppin', hot rockin' dance floor fun.

RATING: FOUR HOPS

BIGGEST SHOTS

BILLY JOEL-THE HITS:

For most people, BILLY JOEL has always been a love or hate proposition...perhaps "hate" is too strong a word...some merely choose to dismiss the Bronx balladeer's accomplishments. For casual fans, this single platter encapsulation of most (but hardly all) of his greatest hits will probably work better than his many double disc anthologies. That said, any sampler that leaves off the tin pan alley tribute JUST THE WAY YOU ARE and UPTOWN GIRL, the best ditty FRANKIE VALLI never did, is sorely lacking something. Those caveats aside, the Bronx born belter's autobiographical breakthrough PIANO MAN, credibility attempt IT'S STILL ROCK & ROLL TO ME and tongue twisting historical laundry list WE DIDN'T START THE FIRE are still fun to revisit even if you've heard 'em hundreds of times. He may not be as prolific as fellow ivory tickler (and occasional touring partner) ELTON JOHN...but with its summery mix of soothing ballads and playful pop punches, THE HITS more than delivers on its title.

RATING: FOUR ALLENTOWNS

LIVING DOLL

DAVID JOHANSEN-FROM PUMPS TO POMPADOUR/THE DAVID JOHANSEN STORY:

In between his early seventies stint as leader of trashy punk pioneers THE NEW YORK DOLLS and his kitschy metamorphosis into high-haired jump blooze belter BUSTER POINDEXTER in the late eighties, DAVID JOHANSEN forged an aggressive RNB-anchored stance under his own name. The DOLLS' sweaty PERSONALITY CRISIS is a genre classic, and his scorching live ANIMALS MEDLEY of WE GOTTA GET OUT OF THIS PLACE/DON'T BRING ME DOWN/IT'S MY LIFE, growled out with sleazy soul-papa grit, proved the rare cover that matched the original artist's vision. Other cult chestnuts from his solo phase include the high spirited FRENCHETTE (which name checks THE MARVELETTES, THE RONETTES and LEVI STUBBS) and the grandiose dance floor groove-ology of FUNKY BUT CHIC. Mainstream success eluded DAVID JO until his calypso flavored POINDEXTER chartbuster HOT HOT HOT, which meshes nicely with a tacky take on HIT THE ROAD JACK. FROM PUMPS TO POMPADOUR ponies up a satisfying peek into JOHANSEN's reign as a solid, soul-blaring, woefully underappreciated rock & roll chameleon.

RATING: FOUR YELPS

I JUST WANNA TESTIFY

DAVID JOHANSEN-LIVE IT UP:

A dazzling follow up to his first three underexposed solo albums, LIVE IT UP is a sweat soaked, street-smart souvenir that proved DAVID JOHANSEN's biggest hit till he adopted his swing-daddy BUSTER POINDEXTER persona for the calypso smash HOT HOT HOT later in the eighties. While this rafter raising Boston club gig dutifully trots out cult fave originals like FRENCHETTE and FUNKY BUT CHIC, the real treat is when the ex-NEW YORK DOLL bellower rips into some well chosen covers, imbibing each with a raucous, unhinged RNB spirit. A rock 'em sock 'em ANIMALS medley (which garnered airplay on both radio and MTV) does the mighty ERIC BURDEN proud, while REACH OUT I'LL BE THERE displays DAVID JO's ballsy attitude as he takes on that most indelible of vocal legends, LEVI STUBBS. Wrapping up with THE FOUNDATIONS' blue eyed soul gem BUILD ME UP BUTTERCUP, THE CADETS' jungle-juiced STRANDED IN THE JUNGLE, and early DOLLS' staple PERSONALITY CRISIS, LIVE IT UP slams home JOHANSEN's reputation as one of rock's most uninhibited, crowd-pleasing party-starters.

RATING: FOUR BOHEMIAN LOVE PADS




YOUR SONGS

ELTON JOHN-GREATEST HITS:

A heaven-sent hodge-podge of perfectionist pop, blue eyed soul power and mellow moods, GREATEST HITS captures flamboyant piano pounder ELTON JOHN at the absolute peak of his charismatic powers and me-decade stardom. BORDER SONG's gospel richness and the funky pulse of HONKY CAT effortlessly nudge shoulders with CROCODILE ROCK's bouncy nostalgic vibe and the sardonic, harder rockin' SATURDAY NIGHT'S ALRIGHT FOR FIGHTING. JOHN and his songwriting partner BERNIE TAUPIN were also masters at image-evoking ballads like DANIEL and GOODBYE YELLOW BRICK ROAD, no small feat in an era crowded with cloying, navel-gazing minstrels. Tastefully restrained axe slinger DAVEY JOHNSTONE and the unstoppable rhythm section of NIGEL OLSSON and DEE MURRAY chimed in with glorious backing harmonies, a little recognized facet of JOHN's multi-talented, long time backing band. It's hard to imagine a more superlative time capsule of the seventies' biggest, and no doubt most important recording star.

RATING: FIVE BLACK KEYS

THE BITCH IS BACK

ELTON JOHN-GREATEST HITS VOLUME II:

Here's a near equal sequel to CAPTAIN FANTASTIC's original flawless GREATEST HITS, further documenting his incredible stranglehold on the airwaves and the singles charts throughout the 70s. Almost half of this compilation consists of huge hits never released on a proper EJ album, including his BILLIE JEAN KING tribute PHILADELPHIA FREEDOM, the KIKI DEE duet DON'T GO BREAKIN' MY HEART, and charming covers of two true British Invasion classics, PINBALL WIZARD and LUCY IN THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS. THE BITCH IS BACK stands as his fiestiest, most tantalyzing rocker this side of SATURDAY NIGHT'S ALRGHT FOR FIGHTING, while South of the Border saga GROW SOME FUNK OF YOUR OWN is a punchy update of JAY & THE AMERICAN's classic COME A LITTLE BIT CLOSER. In the ballads arena, SOMEONE SAVED MY LIFE TONIGHT and LEVON are well crafted tales that don't come off syrupy or condescending, something long time lyricist BERNIE TAUPIN excelled at. GREATEST HITS VOLUME II stacks up as the perfect companion piece to its predecessor, showcasing ELTON JOHN's across the board charisma and impeccable pop craftsmanship.

RATING: FOUR PAIRS OF GLASSES

NEAR-SIGHTED

ELTON JOHN-GREATEST HITS 1970-2002:

You can't take away much from a man who managed to score at least one TOP 40 hit during every year listed in this compilation's title. The real "keeper" here is disc one, which covers ELTON JOHN's classic 70s pop rockin' reign, offering up the pulsatin' party platter SATURDAY NIGHT'S ALRIGHT FOR FIGHTING, diva-licious ditty THE BITCH IS BACK and RNB sass-fest HONKY CAT, with much loved trademark ballads ROCKET MAN, YOUR SONG and the original CANDLE IN THE WIND sprinkled in for contrast. Almost as important as what's on disc one is what's NOT covered on number two. His huge pair of cover tunes PINBALL WIZARD and LUCY IN THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS are unaccounted for, as are the underrated GROW SOME FUNK OF YOUR OWN, EGO, BITE YOUR LIP, MAMA CAN'T BUY YOU LOVE, EMPTY GARDEN, and KISS THE BRIDE to name but a few; there's literally a whole CD's worth of missing hits and fan faves. Unless you can't live without JOHN's DISNEY-era dabblings and other middle of the road singles from the 90s, there's no reason to trade in your well loved copies of his first three greatest hits CDs for this collection.

RATING: THREE SPECTACLES



WHAT ABOUT BOB?...

ROBERT JOHNSON-CLOSE PERSONAL FRIEND:

No, not THAT ROBERT JOHNSON. THIS one sported a BEATLES haircut, spectacles, oxfords, and a glorious grabbag of guitar driven goodies that shot outta your speakers and embedded themselves in your grey matter. Unknown to all but the most rabid vinyl collectors, he was a charismatic, oh-so-frantic, hook-rockin' six stringer/shouter/singer that compared favorably to better known late 70s retro upstarts MOON MARTIN and DAVE EDMUNDS. Originally recorded for the short-lived INFINITY label, whose roster generally included "on-the-rebound" acts like DOBIE GRAY, HOT CHOCOLATE, and ORLEANS, ROBERT JOHNSON's debut platter was a stunning combo of euphoric, sling-shot power pop and righteous rockabilly rave-ups. If you can find this sucker at any price that won't gouge out yer eyeballs, for the love of eardrums and all that's holy, BUY it!

RATING: FIVE "YEAH!"S

HIGH BOB

ROBERT JOHN-CLASSIC MASTERS:

The rock & roll game has always had room for a cat with an abnormally high pitched voice, and while Robert John was never accorded the name brand recognition of Frankie Valli or Lou Christie, he still managed a fun filled handful of worthy chart entries. Perhaps the reason John never established a real identity of his own was due to his inclination towards remaking other artists' dog whistle efforts. Sometimes, as on his note-for-note cloning of the Tokens' THE LION SLEEPS TONIGHT, it paid off handsomely with a #3 hit. More often, he just seemed to be proving what an expert mimic he was on covers of HEY THERE LONELY GIRL and BREAD AND BUTTER. His only chart topper, the melancholy SAD EYES, was one he wrote himself, though the BEE GEES-like follow-up LONELY EYES, and John's inevitable take on the Four Seasons' SHERRY fared less spectacularly. Taken on its own merits, CLASSIC MASTERS is a pleasant journey showcasing an underrated belter whose hits are known to many...but whose name escapes all but the most devoted trivia fans.

RATING: THREE HIGH NOTES



BY GEORGE

GEORGE JONES-50 YEARS OF HITS:

Considered by many to be country's greatest singer as well as one of its most colorful characters, GEORGE JONES' earnest brand of hard livin' honky tonkers and emotion packed weepers pack this triple platter collection, highlighting one tune from each of fifty consecutive years. Kicking off with the rollicking rockabilly of early hits WHY BABY WHY, THE RACE IS ON and WHITE LIGHTNING, 50 YEARS blends in intimate belly-to-the-bar tear jerkers SHE THINKS I STILL CARE, THE GRAND TOUR and the astounding HE STOPPED LOVING HER TODAY, possibly his most coveted soul-baring ballad. Still sounding surprisingly spry in the eighties and beyond, ol' "Possum" pumped a lot of spirit into his later work as well...swooping to nail the funky bass notes of ONE WOMAN MAN, adapting a defiant "I'm still here" tone on I DON'T NEED YOUR ROCKIN' CHAIR, going toe to toe with GARTH BROOKS for the hangover novelty BEER RUN. 50 YEARS OF HITS covers the broadest territory of any GEORGE JONES set on the market, even if a few fan faves are missing and the quality of the material drops off on the third disc (HIGH TECH REDNECK, anyone?). That said, in today's world of cookie cutter, tradition-shunning country artists, a half decade in the business is certainly something to tip one's Stetson to.

RATING: FOUR "NO SHOWS"

SOUL SISTER

JANIS JOPLIN-THE ESSENTIAL JANIS JOPLIN:

As rock and roll's single most original, important and influential female belter, one of a kind caterwauler JANIS JOPLIN balled up raw blues, folk, gospel and psychedelia into a soul-shaking cornucopia that resonated with personal pain and street smart passion. From her legendary CHEAP THRILLS smash PIECE OF MY HEART and an aching rendition of the GERSHWIN standard SUMMERTIME, (with wonderfully ragged backing by BIG BROTHER & THE HOLDING COMPANY) to her posthumous chart-topping triumph ME & BOBBY MCGEE, JOPLIN proved the most riveting and unconventional of stars, pouring every ounce of her being into each greasy groove. Whether tackling a funky original like MERCEDES BENZ or nailing down definitive versions of BIG MAMA THORNTON's BALL & CHAIN and the STAX chestnut RAISE YOUR HAND, the Port Arthur, Texas chanteuse's smoking charisma and raspy no holds barred delivery was a measuring stick for every roots rock performer that followed in her wake. Weighing in with thirty achingly powerful tracks, ESSENTIAL covers the bulk of JANIS' criminally brief time in the spotlight.

RATING: FIVE PEARLS



MAN ALIVE!

LOUIS JORDAN-NUMBER ONES:

The history books may single out BILL HALEY and CHUCK BERRY as pioneers of rock & roll, but jive talkin'-sax wailin' jump blues band leader LOUIS JORDAN beat 'em all to it by at least a decade. As the wild-eyed, hyperactive leader of the TIMPANY FIVE, he boasted a humor-stoked catalogue of cocky heel-clickin' classics including CALDONIA, CHOO CHOO CH'BOOGIE, SATURDAY NIGHT FISH FRY, and AIN'T NOBODY HERE BUT AS CHICKENS. JORDAN's profound influence on CHUCK BERRY, LITTLE RICHARD, JAMES BROWN, B. B. KING, RAY CHARLES and an endless list of others is both legendary and immeasurable. Mischievous, campy, and above all swingin', NUMBER ONES captures the South of the Border ELLA FITZGERALD duet STONE COLD DEAD IN THE MARKET, sizzlin' platter BOOGIE WOOGIE BLUE PLATE, and WHAT'S THE USE OF GETTIN' SOBER (IF YOU'RE GONNA GET DRUNK AGAIN) for a non-stop party that knows no color or genre boundaries. LOUIS JORDAN is the missing link between big band boogie and house-rockin' soul...if you can't get up off your duff and cut a rug to this cat, then like the song sez: JACK, YOU'RE DEAD!

RATING: FIVE BLASTS

SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY

JOURNEY-GREATEST HITS/GREATEST HITS 2:

From their jazz-prog beginnings featuring ex-SANTANA guitarist NEAL SCHON and singer/keyboardist GREGG ROLLIE on through their arena rock hey day helmed by high pitched belter STEVE PERRY, JOURNEY has remained inexplicably popular via a long string of slickly crafted singles like WHEEL IN THE SKY, ANY WAY YOU WANT IT and DON'T STOP BELIEVIN'. Although they could pump out a bloozey thumper like LOVIN', TOUCHIN', SQUEEZIN' or the harder edged SEPERATE WAYS (WORLDS APART), these guys have always been defined by arena rock power ballads such as LIGHTS, OPEN ARMS and FAITHFULLY, their true meal ticket. GREATEST HITS racks up sixteen bombastic biggies, while GH 2 rolls out lesser known, equally tasty fare including FEELING THAT WAY, ANYTIME and JUST THE SAME WAY...three socko ROLLIE/PERRY duets that were among the band's first radio successes. This titanic "two-fer" is the way to go for fanatics who can never get enough of JOURNEY's highly commercial, multi-layered pop bombast.

RATING: FOUR HIGH NOTES



LEATHER CHAPS

JUDAS PRIEST-LIVING AFTER MIDNIGHT/THE BEST OF JUDAS PRIEST:

When it came to gut-wrenching, steel-studded, black leather rock & roll, few rode the ramrod harder or more successfully than JUDAS PRIEST. Provocative front man ROB HALFORD's menacing, guttural growl and ceiling-peeling screams, bolstered by KK DOWNING and GLEN TIPTON's meaty twin axe attack made them front row contenders in the highly influential New Wave of British Heavy Metal era (which also included GIRLSCHOOL and IRON MAIDEN). The celebratory sledge hammer shout-out LIVING AFTER MIDNIGHT and grit-fueled gate-crasher YOU'VE GOT ANOTHER THING COMIN' provided big radio hits, while unrecognizable makeovers of PETER GREEN's blooze-bustin' GREEN MANALISHI (WITH THE TWO-PRONGED CROWN) and JOAN BAEZ' folky DIAMONDS AND RUST pinpointed the band's nonconforming cover taste. Concert versions of BREAKING THE LAW and HEADING OUT TO THE HIGHWAY found on BEST OF may not replace the blitzkrieg studio takes, but certainly provide ample proof of their awesome power in a live setting. Made loud to play loud?...hell yes. JUDAS PRIEST invented the phrase.

RATING: FOUR STUDS

I DON'T THINK WE'RE IN KANSAS ANYMORE

KANSAS-THE BEST OF KANSAS:

Bombastic art rockers KANSAS, whose trademark sound incorporated ROBBIE STEINHARDT's violin much as JETHRO TULL utilized IAN ANDERSON's flute, will always be most closely identified by their big trio of radio classics...the tricky time signature stompers CARRY ON WAYWARD SON and POINT OF KNOW RETURN, plus the mellow seventies prom staple DUST IN THE WIND. Naturally, BEST OF rounds up those timeless chestnuts but wrongly ignores KANSAS' worthy second-tier "hits" such as PORTRAIT (HE KNEW), PEOPLE OF THE SOUTH WIND and WHAT'S ON MY MIND. Even worse, those underrated gems are passed over in favor of some fairly slick schtick warbled by STEVE WALSH fill-in vocalist JOHN ELEFANTE, namely the decent ringer PLAY THE GAME TONIGHT and the insipid FIGHT FIRE WITH FIRE (on which they sound uncomfortably close to STYX). Three "bonus" tracks tacked onto this remastered roundup add nothing but time to the disc. The wise consumer would be better off checking out vital albums like LEFTOVERTURE and POINT OF KNOW RETURN...that's where the REAL best of Kansas, in all their overwrought glory, lies.

RATING: THREE FIDDLES

EASY AS KBC

KBC BAND-KBC BAND:

Legendary sixties outfit JEFFERSON STARSHIP triggered more than its share of spin-offs including the folky blues act HOT TUNA, various mutations of JEFFERSON STARSHIP and low key solo careers for lead singers GRACE SLICK and MARTY BALIN. THE KBC BAND was the shortest lived off-shoot, (the generic name probably didn't help matters), releasing one respectable self-titled album in the mid eighties. Close in style to the slick corporate pop rock of JEFFERSON STARSHIP, guitarist PAUL KANTNER, bassist JACK CASADY and soulful bleater MARTY BALIN managed to garner moderate airplay for IT'S NOT YOU, IT'S NOT ME and would be anthem AMERICA, which soared on the sax work of KEITH CROSSAN and combined earthy vocals of BALIN and KANTNER. Lead guitarist MARK AGUILAR added muscular tone to the mix, while the eternally underrated BALIN got to rock a little harder than he did on MIRACLES or even VOLUNTEERS. Like the majority of supergroups, KBC had a predictably short shelf life, unfortunately never following up on their solid debut before returning to the relative safety net of former projects.

RATING: THREE TALENTS

DISCO BALL!

KC & THE SUNSHINE BAND-BEST OF:

Contrary to the guttural chant "Disco sucks!" that still emits occasionally from balding, potbellied metal-heads three decades after its hey day, KC & THE SUNSHINE BAND was a soulful, ear-resistible entry into the genre. Armed with a searing RNB-fueled horn section, Caribbean dance floor rhythms, and catch phrase song titles such as SHAKE YOUR BOOTY and THAT'S THE WAY I LIKE IT (You just went, "Uh-huh, uh-huh" didn't you?), HARRY WAYNE CASEY and company had a stranglehold on the pop charts bested only by the equally charismatic BEE GEES. SOUND YOUR FUNKY HORN's raw underground thrust, GET DOWN TONIGHT's indelible sped-up guitar intro, and PLEASE DON'T GO's atypical ballad groove meant the party rarely faltered for KCATSB. Unlike much of disco's faceless, static output, this stuff still holds up in a mindless, "that song sounds just like the last one, but I LOVE it" sort of way. If the small handful of non-hits here had been omitted, this would be the perfect late seventies time capsule of Disco's grandest group.

RATING: FOUR "UH-HUH"'s

BOOTY & THE BEAT

KC & THE SUNSHINE BAND-THE TK YEARS:

During the mid 70s, Miami's horn-heavy hit machine KC & THE SUNSHINE BAND churned out a series of interchangable party charters with an infectious Caribbean vibe and brutally simplistic good-time party lyrics repeated ad nauseam, a trademark of the oft-maligned DISCO era. Head honcho HARRY WAYNE CASEY gleefully sprayed his patented white boy funk like so much confetti over barely contained double entendre chants of GET DOWN TONIGHT, I LIKE TO DO IT and KEEP IT COMIN' LOVE, sexual metaphors hinged to a groove-humpin' thump. This double disc set encompasses the entirety of KCATSB's five albums, with the self-titled second LP and PART 3 being the obvious highlights; WHO DO YA LOVE is downright weak despite a cover of the FOUR TOPS' fool-proof IT'S THE SAME OLD SONG. Speakin' of which, THE T.K. YEARS amounts to a truly mind-numbing endeavor if taken all in one sitting, its booty shakin' pace interrupted all too rarely by a subtle ballad like PLEASE DON'T GO. This is far too much of a good thing for all but the most rabid platform wearin', bell bottom flarin', boom-box blarin' fan.

RATING: THREE AFROS

I'LL DRINK TO THAT

TOBY KEITH-35 BIGGEST HITS:

The double dippin' anthology 35 BIGGEST HITS is roughly divided into the two phases of KEITH's lengthy career...his moderately successful nineties stint as a straight country singer of mellow gems like the warmly nostalgic SHOULDA BEEN A COWBOY...and the new millennium era KEITH, who morphed into a redneck rockin' good ol' boy prone to political statements such as COURTESY OF THE RED, WHITE & BLUE and rowdy drinkin' ditties like I LOVE THIS BAR and GET DRUNK AND BE SOMEBODY. Whichever TOBY trips your trigger, most of his best loved biggies, from the melancholy HE AIN'T WORTH MISSIN' to the WILLIE NELSON assisted BEER FOR MY HORSES are unfurled in blessed chronological order, the better to witness his evolution from casual chart maker to bona fide superstar. A macho sense of humor, always a welcome country music trademark, shines through loud and clear in his earliest "roadhouse" hit YOU AIN'T MUCH FUN (SINCE I QUITE DRINKIN') as well as later singles I WANNA TALK ABOUT ME and AS GOOD AS I ONCE WAS. As this generous collection proudly affirms, TOBY KEITH's just about as good as he's ever been.

RATING: FOUR PULL TOPS

HEAD GAMES

THE KENTUCKY HEADHUNTERS-BEST OFTHE KENTUCKY HEADHUNTERS/STILL PICKIN'

THE KENTUCKY HEADHUNTERS were an unkempt, bar band boogie-lovin' bunch of yahoos that stood out from the nineties' crowded pack of cookie cutter country groups. Their irreverent, rompin'-stompin' style stood Music City on its ear as they pumped out southern rock rave ups of DON GIBSON's classic OH LONESOME ME and bluegrass godfather BILL MONROE's WALK SOFTLY ON THIS HEART OF MINE. DOUG PHELPS' nasally holler and the band's hard-edged guitar work also shot through reboots of WAYLON's ONLY DADDY THAT'LL WALK THE LINE and the seldom rejuvenated BALLAD OF DAVY CROCKETT. Even PHELPS' gruffer, bloozey-throated replacement MARK ORR got in some grand greasy shots via CARL PERKINS' rockabilly ditty DIXIE FRIED and the soulful HONKY TONK WALKIN'. Earthy takes on THE BEATLES, WILBERT HARRISON's RNB gem LET'S WORK TOGETHER, and NORMAN GREENBAUM's gospel-laced SPIRIT IN THE SKY nailed down even more of the HEADS' varied influences. Scoring either their flawless debut PICKIN' ON NASHVILLE or this rollicking roundup of career highs is "sound advice" for fans of JOHNNY CASH and SKYNYRD alike.

RATING: FOUR COW PATTIES

THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING

ALBERT KING-KING OF THE BLUES GUITAR:

Memphis soul label STAX/VOLT's biggest blues star, ALBERT KING honed a stylish trick book of passionate licks that has schooled roots lovin' guitar heroes for decades...CREAM, GARY MOORE and FREE dusted off BORN UNDER A BAD SIGN, OH PRETTY WOMAN and THE HUNTER respectively, while protégé STEVE RAVE ON guested on the instant classic IN SESSION album. The Mississippi born string bender, noted for earthy, low-key vocals (which STAX often inexplicably buried in the mix) and reflective monologues, unleashed funky standards such as CROSSCUT SAW and PERSONAL MANAGER...his best known album BORN UNDER A BAD SIGN is included in its entirety here. Ably supported by BOOKER T & THE MG'S and the MEMPHIS HORNS, the big man also flooded covers of WILBERT HARRISON's KANSAS CITY and IVORY JOE HUNTER's I ALMOST LOST MY MIND with heat sinking soul. Although it doesn't contain EVERY smoky chestnut...CALL MY JOB, CADILLAC ASSEMBLY LINE and THE SKY IS CRYING are available elsewhere...KING OF THE BLUES GUITAR stands as a powerful statement for rabid fans of roots rockin' royalty.

RATING: FIVE PIPES

STILL A THRILL

B.B. KING-GREATEST HITS:

Undoubtedly the most famous of all blues artists, and one of its longest lived practitioners, the former RILEY B. KING mixed his Mississippi Delta upbringing with a MEMPHIS tutelage, fostering a highly influential career that has lasted seven decades. Coaxing trademark bent string notes from his constant companion LUCILLE, (which is nearly as well known as he is) and bellowing with unbridled passion, KING brought a solid, often cheerful groove to the blues, with occasional forays into soul, pop and rock. No single disc collection can hope to convey more than a smidgen of B.B.'s legacy, but MCA's sixteen track sampler GREATEST HITS includes early concert versions of EVERY DAY I HAVE THE BLUES and SWEET LITTLE ANGEL (from the legendary LIVE AT THE REGAL), roadhouse standards PAYING THE COST TO BE THE BOSS and HOW BLUE CAN YOU GET, his lone across the board smash THE THRILL IS GONE, and rollicking collaborations with ROBERT CRAY and U2. Well liked by fans and his contemporaries alike, tirelessly touring well into his late eighties, B.B. KING has more than earned the undisputed title "Ambassador of the Blues".

RATING: FOUR LUCILLES

QUEEN OF POP

CAROLE KING-THE ESSENTIAL CAROLE KING:

Singer/tunesmith CAROLE KING, who honed her craft at the legendary BRILL BUILDING with then husband GERRY GOFFIN, not only released TAPESTRY, one of the biggest selling albums of the seventies, she can also lay claim to being the most successful female pop songwriter of all time. The stellar twin disc ESSENTIAL splits KING's success story evenly between her own adult contemporary chestnuts IT'S TOO LATE, I FEEL THE EARTH MOVE and JAZZMAN, and sixties classics she penned for THE DRIFTERS, THE MONKEES and ARETHA FRANKLIN. Her debut hit IT MIGHT AS WELL RAIN UNTIL SEPTEMBER and her final top ten single NIGHTINGALE rub shoulders with most of TAPESTRY's high points other than shotgun saga SMACKWATER JACK...HARD ROCK CAFE, her 1977 tribute to a night spot that existed long before the commercial chain, is also inexplicably missing. Sampling THE MONKEES crackling PLEASANT VALLEY SUNDAY, GENE PITNEY's EVERY BREATH I TAKE (from which THE POLICE cribbed lyrics), and winsome girl group pleas from THE COOKIES, THE SHIRELLES, and THE CHIFFONS will take you back to a truly glorious era when AM radio, not AMERICAN IDOL, ruled our musical taste.

RATING: FIVE PIANOS



KING ME

FREDDIE KING-ULTIMATE COLLECTION:

Although they all shared the same last name, Texas born six stringer FREDDIE KING's electric blues output was considerably rawer and harder-edged than B. B. or ALBERT's more refined Memphis vibe. An inspiration to guitar gods from ERIC CLAPTON and JEFF BECK to PETER GREEN and STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN, he was even name checked in GRAND FUNK's WE'RE AN AMERICAN BAND. KING's high pitched, impassioned vocal wail and swaggering fret board fireworks punctuated the earthy ballad HAVE YOU EVER LOVED A WOMAN with the same smokin' energy as fierce rocker GOING DOWN and the funk-fueled BIG LEGGED WOMAN (IN A SHORT, SHORT MINI SKIRT). Another KING trademark was a sanctifying series of hip instrumentals including HIDE AWAY and SAN-HO-ZAY, two of his biggest charters, which he tore off with sweet gusto. You'll also experience solid versions of the ancient standards TAIN'T NOBODY'S BIZNESS IF I DO, KEY TO THE HIGHWAY and an unplugged but highly effective DUST MY BROOM. ULTIMATE COLLECTION is a scintillating "something for every blues fan" look at this king-sized talent's far too brief time on Planet Roadhouse.

RATING: FIVE CROWNS

ALL THE KINGSMEN

THE KINGSMEN-BEST OF THE KINGSMEN:

Prior to becoming one of the most respected retro-issue labels in the business, RHINO RECORDS mainly courted releases by non-conforming acts like WILD MAN FISHER and SPIKE JONES; 1991's BEST OF THE KINGSMEN fits neatly into their original "off the wall" vision. One of the Pacific Northwest's best loved "one hit wonders" (they actually scored three, but who's countin'?), this outrageously seedy collection...recorded in glorious mono, natch...centers around that all time garage rock warhorse LOUIE LOUIE. This garbled, minimal chord classic has been tackled by acts as diverse as MOTORHEAD, OTIS REDDING, THE BEACH BOYS and ANIMAL HOUSE scene-smasher JOHN BELUSHI...the gritty opening riff can also be detected in hits from THE KINKS' YOU REALLY GOT ME to BOSTON's MORE THAN A FEELING. Wonderfully silly novelty THE JOLLY GREEN GIANT, greasy renditions of frat house faves MONEY and LITTLE LATIN LUPE LU, and throwaway instrumentals like HAUNTED CASTLE and LITTLE GREEN THING add to the loose limbed party-time atmosphere. This wonderful lo-fi sampler can be pretty much summed up by the title of the tenth track...THAT'S COOL, THAT'S TRASH.

RATING: FOUR LOUIE LOUIE'S

GETTING THE KINKS OUT

THE KINKS-ONE FOR THE ROAD:

Recorded at the peak of THE KINKS' late seventies comeback (just after their well received hat trick of albums SLEEPWALKER, MISFITS and LOW BUDGET), ONE FOR THE ROAD proved a sizzling live souvenir from a band who'd previously never been taken as seriously as their Brit Invasion counterparts THE STONES or THE WHO. Eternally underrated guitarist DAVE DAVIES' raw, muscular six string flash, coupled with brother RAY's quirky front man abilities and wry patter are a can't miss combination here, as they effortlessly reclaim heavy metal prototype YOU REALLY GOT ME from VAN HALEN, foster a teasing stop and start version of cross-dressing classic LOLA, and reinvigorate their peerless Hollywood ode CELLULOID HEROES...all in a night's work for THE KINKS. In a nod to then current styles, the band also punks up THE HARD WAY and cloaks 'TIL THE END OF THE DAY in a catchy ska beat, while replacing SUPERMAN's disco thump with a beefier rock groove. Coming off the heels of a decade rife with double album concert gems from BOB SEGER and LITTLE FEAT to DEEP PURPLE and SKYNYRD, ONE FOR THE ROAD matches 'em all thrill for thrill and note for note.

RATING: FOUR GAP TOOTHED GRINS



KINK-SIZED KOLLECTION

THE KINKS-ULTIMATE COLLECTION:

Easily the most "English" of the sixties' second wave of Brit Invasion bands, THE KINKS, driven by RAY DAVIES' wry, whimsical wordplay and brother DAVE's atom-smasher power chords, created an eclectic, cerebral body of work that still holds water half a century after the fact. After churning out YOU REALLY GOT ME and ALL DAY & ALL OF THE NIGHT, volcanic, metal-ized variations on garage trash classic LOUIE LOUIE's signature riff, RAY morphed into a cunning, society-skewing tunesmith serving up gemstones like WELL RESPECTED MAN, CELLULOID HEROES, and the kitschy cross-dressing saga LOLA. Fueled by the DAVIES boys' legendary sibling rivalry, THE KINKS experienced a welcome revival in the eighties...a handful of toe tappers such as COME DANCING, LOW BUDGET, and the disco-pulsed SUPERMAN compared favorably with the old anthems. Surprisingly few collections cover the band's entire run of hits, near misses and cult faves...ULTIMATE somehow misses late breaking singles JUKEBOX MUSIC, DESTROYER, and WORKING AT THE FACTORY...but at forty-four tracks, it's still the platter that really matters.

RATING: FIVE GAP-TOOTHED GRINS

DO IT AGAIN

THE KINKS-TO THE BONE:

The twin platter tribute TO THE BONE handsomely wraps up the DAVIES Brothers' four decade career by trotting out a nice cross section of their catalogue ranging from mega hits to cult faves, many rendered in an intimate acoustic atmosphere. From the low key nostalgic elegance of CELLULOID HEROES and VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY to YOU REALLY GOT ME's primitive LOUIE LOUIE riff (cranked up to its usual pile driving proportions), RAY and DAVE DAVIES still sound cocky and jubilant, considering they've done these tunes thousands of times. The still topical A GALLON OF GAS gets a funky/bluesy spin here and DO IT AGAIN is reimagined with nostalgic sound bites, while the always fun sing along APEMAN benefits from a zesty accordion backdrop. Interestingly, hard edged takes on GIVE THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT and STATE OF CONFUSION (virtually indistinguishable from the originals) don't come off as effectively as the stripped down fare of PICTURE BOOK or DEATH OF A CLOWN. A pair of new ditties, especially the rousing title track, show there's still life in the KINK-dom, capping off this nearly perfect swan song from one of rock and roll's most nearly perfect bands.

RATING: FOUR KINKS

100,000 BEERS

KISS-ALIVE!:

KISS' breakthrough double concert platter ALIVE! was a culmination of the hooky bubble-metal anthems and shoulda-been smashes from the gruesome foursome's first trio of studio albums, delivered with more energy, speed and volume this time around to adoring fans in Detroit and Cleveland (among other locales). Even though their "live" performances here were heavily doctored afterwards, it's pretty damned hard to not be taken in by swaggering stud declarations like STRUTTER, COLD GIN, and C'MON & LOVE ME, administered via PAUL STANLEY's caterwauling screams, GENE SIMMONS' macho growl and ACE FRHELEY's agressive guitar volleys. For hair-raising nirvana, PETER CRISS' paint-peeling screech on BLACK DIAMOND is second only to the ultimate dumb-fun party anthem ROCK & ROLL ALL NITE, which netted the band their first legit hit and paved the way for many years of platinum success. Even though you can't see the makeup, the smoke bombs, and the fireworks, ALIVE! is an over the top concert experience that should not bebe taken lightly.

RATING: FOUR MILLIONAIRES

SEARCH AND DESTROY

KISS-DESTROYER:

No hard rock outfit of the seventies harnessed the raw unbridled power of teen angst better than KISS, the freakish, market savvy New York foursome who reached a pinnacle via their slam bang fourth studio album DESTROYER. Under producer BOB EZRIN's guidance, GENE, PAUL, PETER and ACE bring a pace changing bag of tricks to the table this time, injecting sound effects from breakfast dishes to vehicular pandemonium into party pounder DETROIT ROCK CITY. Meanwhile, uncharacteristic love ballad BETH is PETER CRISS warbling alone bathed in a string section...their biggest ever single attracted as many new female fans as it turned off old male ones. Macho anthems FLAMING YOUTH and SHOUT IT LOUD are loud 'n proud singalongs of keg party proportions, while SIMMONS' GOD OF THUNDER nicely sums up his blood drooling bat-demon stage persona. A wall of sound barrage of grinding guitars, swaggering vocals and campy excess, DESTROYER (which also boasted their best cover art ever) proved the explosion that followed their fuse igniting concert breakthrough ALIVE.

RATING: FIVE PLATFORM BOOTS

KISS SMARMY

KISS-SMASHES, THRASHES AND HITS:

There's a ton of KISS kompilations on the market, and not a perfect one in the bunch, but at least SMASHES, THRASHES AND HITS mixes a smattering of their post-makeup years in with the dumb fun klassics of their salad days. Unfortunately, prom staple BETH, (from their high water mark album DESTROYER) is heard in an "alternate" version here, with drummer Eric Carr inexplicably replacing Peter Criss' vocals. The expected six-pack anthems ROCK AND ROLL ALL NITE and SHOUT IT OUT LOUD both made the cut, though the omissions of PETER CRISS-warbled chestnut HARD LUCK WOMAN and GENE SIMMONS' lusty rocker CHRISTINE SIXTEEN are penciled-in eyebrow raisers. Ultra-commercial disco stab I WAS MADE FOR LOVIN' YOU, boot stomper I LOVE IT LOUD and their last mighty gasp LICK IT UP are the cream of KISS' second phase, miles better than "new" tracks LET'S PUT THE X IN SEX and (YOU MAKE ME) ROCK HARD, which are even worse than their titles suggest. Perhaps this anthology shoulda been titled SMASHES, TRASHES AND FLOPS. To paraphrase the Gruesome Foursome themselves, "You wanted the best...ummm, this just ain't it."

RATING: THREE TONGUES



ONE LAST KISS?

KISS-THE VERY BEST OF KISS:

Shout it out loud kids...of the umpteen Kiss collections flooding the market, this is the closest the gruesome foursome ever came to getting it right. BLACK DIAMOND and COLD GIN aside, here's most of the band's bubble-metal chestnuts from the glory daze (STRUTTER, HARD LUCK WOMAN, CALLING DR. LOVE, ROCK AND ROLL ALL NITE, DETROIT ROCK CITY), on through their disco cash-in phase (I WAS MADE FOR LOVIN' YOU), Ace Frehley's funky solo smash NEW YORK GROOVE, and the make-up challenged years of LICK IT UP. Sure, BETH is a much better power ballad than FOREVER, and GOD GAVE ROCK 'N ROLL TO YOU should have stayed in Argent's catalogue...but at least they ignored the ill-fated concept disc THE ELDER and their stinker nineties single I JUST WANNA, which ties Billy Squier's SHE GOES DOWN for dumbest sex song of that decade. This won't be KISS' last greatest hits cash-in, but they'll probably never cough up a better party platter than this one.

RATING: FIVE MAKEUP MIRRORS

ATTACK OF THE KNACK

THE KNACK-RETROSPECTIVE/BEST OF THE KNACK:

Despite the Capitol Records hype machine that pushed 'em as the next FAB FOUR...which helped moved millions of copy of their debut album but ultimately crushed them...THE KNACK's music stood up as some of the frothiest power pop of the late seventies. Culling several key tracks from their debut GET THE KNACK, including ear worm classic MY SHARONA and the sleazy admonishment GOOD GIRLS DON'T, RETROSPECTIVE also digs up urgent covers of RAY DAVIES' THE HARD WAY and BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN's DON'T LOOK BACK, along with long forgotten singles BABY TALKS DIRTY and PAY THE DEVIL (OOH BABY OOH). Leader DOUG FIEGER's cartoonish yelp and simplistic song craft fuel ANOTHER LOUSY DAY IN PARADISE and especially the guitar driven ROCKET O' LOVE, a "crank it up" blast that shoulda been a big comeback hit. Curious commercial rock fans who never delved past GET THE KNACK or its follow up BUT THE LITTLE GIRLS UNDERSTAND may be pleasantly surprised at the energized, good natured vibe-ology that permeates the seventeen cuts on RETROSPECTIVE.

RATING: FOUR SHARONAS



KNIGHT TIME

GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS-ESSENTIAL COLLECTION:

The epitome of classy soul clans, GLADYS KNIGHT, her big brother and cousins (aka THE PIPS) began racking up radio play in the early sixties with the doo-wopping singles EVERY BEAT OF MY HEART and LETTER FULL OF TEARS (a decade after a seven year old KNIGHT aced TED MACK'S ORIGINAL AMATEUR HOUR). A move to MOTOWN netted the gritty original hit version of I HEARD IT THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE along with stark ballads IF I WERE YOUR WOMAN and NEITHER ONE OF US, but it wasn't until a 1973 signing to BUDDAH that the foursome became bona fide superstars. Chart topper MIDNIGHT TRAIN TO GEORGIA, one of the most stunning blasts of soul-pop ever waxed was followed by funk infested groovers I'VE GOT TO USE MY IMAGINATION and the CURTIS MAYFIELD-penned ON & ON, all fed by KNIGHT's passionate gospel-charged vocals and THE PIPS exuberant responses. A tight roundup of sublimely crafted chestnuts from all phases of their amazing career, (including a final run of hits at CBS), ESSENTIAL COLLECTION is a sparkling single platter tribute to one of RNB's leading lights.

RATING: FOUR PIPS

KNIT ONE

THE KNITTERS-POOR LITTLE CRITTER ON THE ROAD:

This tight, twangy little gem of an album was an underrated 1985 spin off featuring three quarters of L.A. punk upstarts X, plus BLASTERS axe master DAVE ALVIN, deftly blended folk, rockabilly, blues and a down home sense of humor. JOHN DOE and his ex EXENE tone down their hard core tendencies considerably, harmonizing like ROY and DALE on the loping TRAIL OF TIME and traditional delight WALKING CANE, while running down the gory glories of road kill on the hyperactive title track. This shrewd outfit also pays homage to its rootsy heroes by dusting off MERLE HAGGARD's gemstone SILVER WINGS and THE EVERLY BROTHERS' BABY OUT OF JAIL, underscored by ALVIN's tasty arsenal of six string licks and D. J. BONEBRAKE's subtle percussion work. The swinging LOVE SHACK (not the B-52's hit), a spare acoustic version of X fave THE NEW WORLD and a wacked out reading of LEAD BELLY's highly influential ROCK ISLAND LINE are just three more examples of the funky alt country treasures to be uncovered on POOR LITTLE CRITTER ON THE ROAD.

RATING: FOUR CHICKENS

GOIN' APE!

CUB KODA-ABBA DABBA DABBA-A BANANZA OF HITS:

Former BROWNSVILLE STATION front man CUB KODA's two dozen track free-for-all ponies up a kitschy cornucopia of nifty novelties, funky instrumentals and forgotten oldies, with every instrument and lead vocal provided by the "one man band" himself. Covering seemingly every pop music genre in the stratosphere, the Cubmaster moves effortlessly from rave up rockabilly (I'M A LOVER NOT A FIGHTER) to stone blooze (SO MANY ROADS, SO MANY TRAINS), from doo wop (YOU'RE THE ONLY GIRL, DELORES) to cartoon classics (MEET THE FLINTSTONES at half speed) with the flick of a pick. RANDOM DRUG TESTING and CHOLESTEROL CABIN are the most outrageous efforts here, tempered by tasty, mostly straight takes on FATS DOMINO, GARY LEWIS & THE PLAYBOYS, garage rocker ROKY ERICKSON, BILL HALEY, even a funky SHUFFLE OFF TO BUFFALO. The man who unleashed SMOKIN' IN THE BOYS ROOM on an unsuspecting public is still at it in full force two decades on, inserting that all important, sorely missing ingredient in rock & roll...pure, unfiltered FUN.

RATING: FIVE GORILLA MASKS

CUB'S KODA

CUB KODA-BOX LUNCH:

A stark, dark, and "outta the park" performance from ex-BROWNSVILLE STATION frontman CUB KODA, who cranks down the volume even as he turns up the pathos for this true solo effort; that trademark HOWLIN' WOLF-bred gutbucket rasp is accompanied only by his lonesome acoustic guitar and the occasional well placed harmonica tweak. Song titles such as DOUBLE BARREL HELL and MY LUCK'S GONE ALL TO BAD hint at the album's low-down 'n dirty blooze theme, a longtime KODA forte stamped with his craggy HOWLIN' WOLF-channeled delivery. WE WERE CRAZY BACK THEN is a yearning, nostalgic ode and GIMME TRASH the rare light-hearted counterpart, name checking TV LAND and greasy fries, while HOW COULD LIFE TURN OUT THIS WAY is a fitting epitaph for the CUBMASTER, who died shortly after this album's release. That a cat could be so "semi-mental" on a world famous barn burner like SMOKIN' IN THE BOYS ROOM and so sentimental on the folky/funky hidden treasure BOX LUNCH is truly something to marvel at.

RATING: FIVE FRONT PORCHES

KODA CHROME

CUB KODA-THE CUB KODA CRAZY SHOW (VINYL LP):

Among the many hats that roots rock historian CUB KODA wore...guitarist/singer for the underrated BROWNSVILLE STATION, author, music columnist and voracious record collector...the Ann Arbor native also hosted an irreverent New England radio program in the early eighties. The weekly CUB KODA CRAZY SHOW focused on the legendary pioneers of rock from THE EVERLY BROTHERS and LINK WRAY to HOWLIN' WOLF and ETTA JAMES, with scattered rockabilly, doo wop and RNB obscurities from his personal collection thrown in for good measure. The "Big Disc Jockey Show in the Sky", with KODA providing gravelly commentary, wry asides and humorous dee jay patter, would have fit in perfectly with today's celebrity satellite radio offerings lorded over by BOB DYLAN, STEVEN VAN ZANDT and RANDY BACHMAN. One listen to that famously tongue in cheek growl...the same one which opened the BROWNSVILLE staples SMOKIN' IN THE BOYS ROOM and KINGS OF THE PARTY back in the day...and you'll be sucked into CUB's strangely addicting, endlessly educational after hours "platters that matter" party.

RATING: FIVE 45'S

BLOOZEVILLE STATION

CUB KODA AND THE HOUSEROCKERS-THE JOINT WAS ROCKIN':

Roots rockin' blooze basher Cub Koda always walked it like he talked it. Rowdy, rude, raucous, raunchy and raw are just some of the adjectives (and at that, only the "r" ones) that describe this lo-fi live match-up of Brownsville Station's head honcho and late slide guitar ace Hound Dog Taylor's backing duo, the aptly named Houserockers. Rip-roarin' through a greasy grab bag of RNB standards including the Mar-Keys' mighty STAX instrumental LAST NIGHT, the Elmore James-associated SKY IS CRYING and DUST MY BROOM, and Hound Dog's own GIVE ME BACK ME WIG, Cub and company expertly channel Taylor's roadhouse pyrotechnics, dirty dawg attitude, and goodtime groove-ology. If you love yer blooze down 'n home-ground, not saccharine and streamlined, then pop open a PBR, slap this puppy on, set the volume to "PAIN KILLER", and let the houserockin' begin. Trust me...you can HEAR the sweat!

RATING: FOUR BEER CHASERS



FROM BROWNSVILLE TO BLUESVILLE

CUB KODA-WELCOME TO MY JOB/THE CUB KODA COLLECTION:

This funky, finely tuned compilation of CUB KODA's solo years is a salacious grab-bag of fun-lovin', roots rockin' originals covering seemingly every conceivable musical style short of rap, disco and opera. These heat-sinkers are intermingled with cool-arse covers of CUB's pioneering idols BO DIDDLEY, JUNIOR PARKER and LINK WRAY, plus the meatiest version of MOON MARTIN's CADILLAC WALK ever committed to wax. For you completists, there's a smattering of rare pre-BROWNSVILLE STATION solo stabs including a surf ditty, a ROY ORBISON obscurity, and a starkly executed ROBERT JOHNSON warhorse...even then, CUB KODA was both dues payin' AND amazingly versatile. Whether he was wailin' away on slide guitar, blowin' the bejusus outta his harp, or gruntin' a HOWLIN' WOLF-inspired line, KODA expertly carried on the well-tread tradition of "guts, grit, and an axe to grind" followed by fellow Detroit Rock City denizens MITCH RYDER, MC5 and ALICE COOPER. Welcome to his job...his music...his life.

RATING: FIVE GROWLS


TOO KOOL FOR OLD SCHOOL

KOOL & THE GANG-THE VERY BEST OF KOOL & THE GANG:

A large, horn propelled unit founded by bassist ROBERT "KOOL" BELL in the late sixties, these jazz influenced cats have seemingly done it all over the decades...raw, urban monster-groove-ology (JUNGLE BOOGIE, HOLLYWOOD SWINGING, FUNKY STUFF), laid back MOR soul-pop (CHERISH, TOO HOT, JOANNA), and in-the-designer-pocket dance floor anthems (CELEBRATION, GET DOWN ON IT, MISLED). KOOL & THE GANG's stock rose considerably when they dropped their rawboned, mostly instrumental ways in favor of contemporary vocalist JAMES "J. T." TAYLOR, losing a portion of their hard earned street cred en route. All their crowd-pleasing phases are wrapped up in THE VERY BEST, one nifty li'l party-hearty package...although chronological order and a few more of their earthy early classics wouldn't have hurt the flow any. There's a huge stylistic chasm between the guttural chant of JUNGLE BOOGIE and the streamlined disco-funk of LADIES NIGHT, but "Old School Kool" and "Taylor-made Kool" are both equally welcome here.

RATING: FOUR FANCY STEPS

STRANGE BREW

AL KOOPER-BLACK COFFEE:

Behind the scenes legend AL KOOPER may not be a household name (he's often mistaken for ALICE COOPER), but his impressive resume includes founding THE BLUES PROJECT and BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS, jamming on legendary DYLAN and STONES sessions, discovering LYNYRD SKYNYRD, and writing the entertaining tell-all BACK STAGE PASSES & BACKSTABBING BASTARDS. BLACK COFFEE, his first new recording in eons, is a piping hot blend of mellow blues, jazzy soul, and playful retro rock showcasing his trademark Hammond B3 organ and low-key, reedy vocals. Earthy, engaging originals like KEEP IT TO YOURSELF and COMIN' BACK IN A CADILLAC rub shoulders with a crafty cover of GET READY, which sports a completely different vibe than the TEMPTATIONS or RARE EARTH versions, and a scorching six minute live jam on BOOKER T & THE MG'S warhorse GREEN ONIONS. Eclectic, cerebral and infectious, BLACK COFFEE (followed by the equally pleasurable WHITE CHOCOLATE) stands as a tone-cool slab o' groove-ology as only a true master like KOOPER can brew it.

RATING: FOUR SAUCERS

SONIC BOOM!

SLEEPY LABEEF-A ROCKIN' DECADE:

Six foot seven (even taller in his Stetson), 300 pound guitar slinger/sonic boom singer SLEEPY LABEEF probably never met a rock, country, or RNB ditty he didn't like, judging from this generous 26 track roundup of careening covers recorded for SUN RECORDS in the seventies. Possessing an encyclopedic knowledge of all things roots rock, honed from decades on the unforgiving roadhouse circuit, SLEEPY effortlessly transforms the well-tread ROLL OVER BEETHOVEN into a volatile rockabilly rave-up, GOOD ROCKIN' TONIGHT becomes GOOD ROCKIN' BOOGIE to emphasize its piano-spiced delirium, and JOHN LEE HOOKER's stop-and-start bloozer BOOM BOOM becomes a honky tonkin' barn burner in his oversized mitts. Interpreters of SLEEPY's stature don't have to write their own songs; they make others' classics their own seemingly at the flick of a wrist. ROCKIN' DECADE unspools like the greatest sweat-soaked juke joint set you ever heard and is probably the next best thing to catching the big man live, where his lickety split licks and rumblin' volcano of a voice amplify an unstoppable mission to deliver real, unfettered slabs of Americana to the masses.

RATING: FIVE BARITONES

BAD ATTITUDE

PATTI LABELLE-GREATEST HITS:

Of the numerous PATTI LABELLE anthologies on the market, the sweet sixteen collection GREATEST HITS most accurately represents the legacy of this delicious diva's unbridled passion and multi-octave swooping pipes. Kicking off with her teenaged group PATTI LABELLE & THE BLUEBELLES' breathtaking version of OVER THE RAINBOW, the fun continues with that steamy Creole-fried funk masterpiece LADY MARMALADE...the trio LABELLE's lone hit, although their solid gospel take on CAT STEVENS' MOON SHADOW is certainly worth a listen. The slick dance floor groove-ology of her eighties smashes STIR IT UP and NEW ATTITUDE are tempered by the mellow adult contemporary strains of IF YOU ASKED ME TO (a bigger, but not better hit by CELINE DION) and the BURT BACHARACH/CAROLE BAYER SAGER belly rubber ON MY OWN, a smoldering duet with DOOBIE BROTHERS crooner MICHAEL MCDONALD. For casual admirers, this is the perfect PATTI LABELLE party package, a scintillating soundscape worthy of pop music's sassiest soul-bearer.

RATING: FOUR BELLES



AB-SALUTE!

kd lang-ABSOLUTE TORCH & TWANG:

Like her cerebral peer LYLE LOVETT, kd lang could swing in a myriad of musical styles and sound damn good doing them all, without being splashy or condescending...both artists began as somewhat reluctant country stars before heading for the greener pastures of adult contemporary. Writing most of her own material on ABSOLUTE TORCH & TWANG, lang pulled off aching ballads like WALLFLOWER WALTZ and radio fave PULLING BACK THE REINS (the "torch") with the same style and poise as bouncy tidbits with slightly skewed titles like BIG BONED GAL and WALKIN' IN AND OUT OF YOUR ARMS (the "twang"). Sounding mainstream and old fashioned at the same time is no easy trick, but even folks who claim to hate country music would be hard pressed to resist lang's rich, supple vocals and hear-tugging delivery. This follow up to the equally good OWEN BRADLEY-produced countrypolitan covers disc SHADOWLAND is quite simply the best album PATSY CLINE never got to make.

RATING: FIVE LARIETS

GETTIN' THE LED OUT

LED ZEPPELIN-REMASTERS:

The first and certainly most successful rock band to hammer old school blooze into molten metal, LED ZEPPELIN was forged by YARDBIRDS six stringer JIMMY PAGE as that group was disintegrating in the late sixties. Chronologically skimming the cream from every one of their classic LPs, the first half of REMASTERS is one of THE definitive histories of hard rock, from bombastic opener COMMUNICATION BREAKDOWN on through the last track, that eight minute FM radio juggernaut that need not even be mentioned here by name. In between you get the oily psychedelic drone of DAZED AND CONFUSED, stereo headphone freak-out WHOLE LOTTA LOVE, gargantuan crunch-fest IMMIGRANT SONG, and most of LED ZEPPELIN IV. The second portion represents the less interesting latter phase of their career, tho' the reggae-accentuated D'YER MAK'ER and hypnotic dirge KASHMIR are on a par with anything from the first four albums. LED ZEP's massive popularity, propelled by PAGE's arsenal of galvanized licks and ROBERT PLANT's soulful caterwauling, was mainly due to their epic albums, not singles...but at long last they gets a "greatest hits" treatment worthy of the legacy.

RATING: FOUR STICKS



SHORT FUSE

BRENDA LEE-ANTHOLOGY:

At only four foot nine, BRENDA LEE may have been short in stature but she was a true giant when it came to raw, unadulterated talent. LEE's early career unleashed a volley of gritty rockabilly blasters including BIGELOW 6-200, LET'S JUMP THE BROOMSTICK and HANK WILLIAMS' JAMBALAYA (ON THE BAYOU). She earned her lifelong nickname "Little Miss Dynamite" while barely a teenager, even though her mature, explosive delivery suggested a belter twice her age. The passionate, Number One weeper I'M SORRY, backed with JERRY REED boisterous rocker THAT'S ALL YOU GOTTA DO soon followed, paving the way for a long string of heartbreaker ballads and tough pop rockers. Backed by the cream of NASHVILLE session players, LEE charted regularly in the sixties via chestnuts like SWEET NOTHIN'S, DUM DUM and BREAK IT TO ME GENTLY...not to mention her most enduring chestnut, that perennial "cool yule" stocking stuffer ROCKIN' AROUND THE CHRISTMAS TREE. ANTHOLOGY collects forty of BRENDA's best efforts, including many she cultivated during a second career on the country charts...no matter what your taste in music, the little gal with the big voice had it covered.

RATING: FIVE FIRECRACKERS



PASSION PLAY

PEGGY LEE-BEST OF MISS PEGGY LEE:

As far as jazz pop songbirds go, no one came off sassier, classier or brassier than the former Norma Egstrom, known the world over as PEGGY LEE. Honing her snazzy chops in the big band of no less a legend than BENNY GOODMAN, LEE possessed an impeccable sense of rhythm, a voracious appetite for genre-hopping, and a uniquely sensual delivery that commanded every ear within range of her playful purr. Her biggest hits included the humorous Latino groover MANANA, a character study straight out of JOHN STEINBECK's novel TORTILLA FLATS, the sweetly swingin' ALRIGHT, OKAY, YOU WIN, and of course that heatsinkin' king-daddy of torch ditties, FEVER. LEIBER & STOLLER's tough talkin' tribute I'M A WOMAN and the melancholy narrative IS THAT ALL THERE IS also received the patented, passionate LEE treatment. A true fan could rightfully pine for any number of missing chestnuts like YEAH! YEAH! YEAH!, DON'T SMOKE IN BED, and BLACK COFFEE...nonetheless, BEST OF serves as a splendid introduction to the sophisticated musicianship and undeniable allure that was the essence of MISS PEGGY LEE.

RATING: FIVE BEAUTY MARKS

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN

JOHN LENNON-THE JOHN LENNON COLLECTION:

"The smart BEATLE"'s visceral solo career is summed up fairly effectively on this '89 compilation, retaining the majority of highlights from his mid seventies roundup SHAVED FISH. JOHN LENNON's poignant anthems GIVE PEACE A CHANCE, HAPPY XMAS (WAR IS OVER) and POWER TO THE PEOPLE still resonate today, and his starkly beautiful universal message of hope IMAGINE will probably outlive anything PAUL, GEORGE or RINGO ever did. In addition, the ELTON JOHN assisted chart topper WHATEVER GETS YOU THROUGH THE NIGHT, his ethereal #9 DREAM and that funky shout-along INSTANT KARMA! represent some of the most exquisitely crafted pop singles of the "me decade". LENNON's plaintive, passionate vocals and intimate song craft extended to his later work as well, as evidenced on the warmly rendered WATCHING THE WHEELS, WOMAN and (JUST LIKE) STARTING OVER from his final platter DOUBLE FANTASY, released just before the shot heard 'round the world.

RATING: FOUR EYEGLASSES

PLAY, BOYS!

GARY LEWIS & THE PLAYBOYS-BEST OF:

Maybe he wasn't the sixties' most versatile singer or drummer...who cares if most of his classics were written by pro tunesmiths...so what if his band was replaced by ace session musicians on their biggest recordings...GARY LEWIS (son of rubber-faced comic JERRY) & THE PLAYBOYS were one of the decade's most unabashed purveyors of pure pop nirvana. Their healthy two year string of Top Ten singles...notably the chart topping THIS DIAMOND RING, written by musical multi-tasker AL KOOPER and EVERYBODY LOVES A CLOWN, penned by equally talented LEON RUSSELL...sported melancholy themes belied by their bouncy delivery and glossy AM radio-ready arrangements. Fluffy fodder such as SHE'S JUST MY STYLE and COUNT ME IN was never meant to change the world...GARY LEWIS & THE PLAYBOYS may not have been as prolific as PAUL REVERE & THE RAIDERS or as beloved as THE MONKEES, but they provided a darned good, guilt-free time during their brief, charismatic reign.

RATING: THREE TOOTHY GRINS

HUEY LEWIS & THE BLUES

HUEY LEWIS & THE NEWS-FOUR CHORDS & SEVERAL YEARS AGO:

Golden state bar band HUEY LEWIS & THE NEWS laid their RNB cards on the table for this likable all covers album of gritty rock, swingin' soul, and fundamental roll. They may not better FATS DOMINO, LLOYD PRICE and BIG JOE TURNER at their own game, but sure as hell sound like they had a good time tryin'; some of this stuff comes off better than their own contemporary pop hits. In addition to obvious choices from the above pioneers, points are awarded for digging deeper into the "old school" songbook for THE CLOVERS' wry YOUR CASH AIN'T NOTHIN' BUT TRASH, SHORTY LONG's name-dropping MOTOWN chestnut FUNCTION AT THE JUNCTION, and songwriting legend DON COVAY's ultra obscure BETTER TO HAVE AND NOT NEED, all delivered via LEWIS' warm 'n bloozey rasp and THE NEWS' trademark polished musicianship. Oldies fans who feel a particular need to hear slickster updates of MOTHER IN LAW, LITTLE BITTY PRETTY ONE, and GOOD MORNING LITTLE SCHOOL GIRL could do much worse than this nifty little party platter.

RATING: FOUR CHORDS

ALL THE HITS THAT FIT

HUEY LEWIS & THE NEWS-GREATEST HITS:

The streamlined answer to Boston's J. GEILS BAND, San Francisco based HUEY LEWIS & THE NEWS deftly combined pop, doo-wop, rock and RNB, forging a good natured, sassy sound that appealed to yuppies and blue collar stiffs alike. Their hard charging party anthems I WANT A NEW DRUG, HEART & SOUL and WORKIN' FOR A LIVIN' and half speed love songs DOING IT ALL FOR MY BABY and DO YOU BELIEVE IN LOVE, featured LEWIS' raspy pipes and the band's barroom grooves and tight backing harmonies. Aside from HALL & OATES, few eighties acts played the white boy soul card more effectively; these cats even sounded cool covering J.J. JACKSON's underrated oldie BUT IT'S ALRIGHT. GREATEST HITS also offers up LEWIS' warm remake of SMOKEY ROBINSON's quiet storm classic CRUISIN' (a duet with actress GWYNETH PALTROW), a live take on TROUBLE IN PARADISE and one of their final hits SMALL WORLD featuring jazz legend STAN GETZ. This makes it a marked improvement over the 1996 collection TIME FLIES, which favored pedestrian "new material" over punchy missing singles like HIP TO BE SQUARE and BACK IN TIME.

RATING: FOUR LEWIS BOOGIES



KILLER ON THE LOOSE!

JERRY LEE LEWIS-THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION:

JERRY LEE LEWIS peppered his frenzied vocal delivery with mad man yelps and down 'n dirty testosterone-fueled boasts, backed by pumpin' freight train piano and a brash no holds barred attitude that took a backseat to no other performer. His early SUN Record smashes WHOLE LOTTA SHAKIN' GOIN' ON, BREATHLESS and GREAT BALLS OF FIRE were landmarks of early rock music, stoking the juices of honky tonk, RNB and gospel...his later forays into straight country yielded the classic drinkin' ditty WHAT'S MADE MILWAUKEE FAMOUS (HAS MADE A LOSER OUT OF ME) and roadhouse weepers like SHE EVEN WOKE ME UP TO GOODBYE. Eschewing songwriting (which he considered a "waste of energy"), LEWIS' broad interpretive skills allowed him to tackle any standard in any genre and KILLER-ize 'em all; CHANTILLY LACE and ME & BOBBY MCGEE ultimately belong to him as much as they do THE BIG BOPPER and JANIS JOPLIN. DEFINTIVE COLLECTION is a crisp, roadhouse-ready cross-section of the Louisiana wildcat's urgent antics throughout the decades...truly all KILLER and no filler.

RATING: FIVE IMPURE THOUGHTS



NO SMALL FEAT

LITTLE FEAT-WAITING FOR COLUMBUS:

This is the premiere concert collection by everyone's favorite party band, featuring their beloved front man, the late slide guitar guru/bloozey belter Lowell George. A crowd pleasing cornucopia of folk, country, RNB and rock, Little Feat was always at their bizarre-o boogie best in front of an audience. The group's patented trick-bag of twisted lyrics and righteous riffage is on display during a nine minute DIXIE CHICKEN workout, not to mention rollicking run-throughs of fan faves FAT MAN IN THE BATHTUB, OH ATLANTA and FEATS DON'T FAIL ME NOW. Kudos to occasional soulful lead vocal stabs by axe man Paul Barrere and piano tickler Bill Payne, proving George wasn't their only interesting singer, and the mighty Tower of Power horn section, who punctuate the funky festivities with patented sax/brass blasts. Unfortunately, the short sing along DON'T BOGART THAT JOINT (an old Fraternity of Man ditty) and the wry A APOLITICAL BLUES from the original double LP have been omitted from the single CD package. In spite of this minor quibble, WAITING FOR COLUMBUS stands head and Feat above the glut of live recordings released in the seventies.

RATING: FIVE FEAT UP

LITTLE BIG MAN

LITTLE MILTON-GREATEST HITS:

A fair number of RNB performers have sported the "LITTLE" nickname over the decades...LITTLE RICHARD, LITTLE WALTER and LITTLE ANTHONY to name a few...but no one sported a bigger, more sophisticated sound than swaggering guitar slinger/belter LITTLE MILTON. A veteran of legendary pioneering labels from SUN to STAX, JAMES MILTON CAMPBELL JR., who welded down home blues with urban boogie, achieved his greatest success via CHESS subsidiary CHECKER, home of BO DIDDLEY, SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON and LOWELL FULSON. The Mississippi native's sly electric axe work and expressive shout on WE'RE GONNA MAKE IT (which crossed over to the pop Top 30), GRITS AIN'T GROCERIES and IF WALLS COULD TALK were no nonsense, grit-saturated passion plays bearing messages and an infectious beat. THE CHESS 50TH ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION, one of the best re-issue series ever waxed, unleashes sixteen sweet 'n soulful slabs of incomparable LITTLE MILTON, a tireless, charismatic entertainer whose career deservedly spanned over five decades of "roadhouse cool".

RATING: FOUR BIG MEN



KING RICHARD

LITTLE RICHARD-18 GREATEST HITS:

If there was a more deliriously primitive call to arms during rock & roll's embryonic stages than "A wop bop a loop bop a lop bam boom!", certainly CHUCK BERRY, ELVIS, not even JERRY LEE LEWIS ever uttered it. Hoarsely screaming out the names of lascivious chicks in barnburners like GOOD GOLLY MISS MOLLY, LONG TALL SALLY, JENNY JENNY and LUCILLE, RICHARD PENNIMAN carved out an indelible name for himself. LITTLE RICHARD's hopped up LOUIS JORDAN update boasted over the top showmanship, blood-pumping attitude and eye-rolling leers, making him the wild man piano pumper that parents loved to hate...which explains best forgotten whitewashed covers of TUTTI FRUTTI and LONG TALL SALLY courtesy of squeaky clean crooner PAT BOONE. Unhinged gospel-meets-New-Orleans-RNB outbursts KEEP A KNOCKIN', SLIPPIN' AND SLIDIN' and THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT (the latter the theme for one of rock's better exploitation flicks) showcased this outsized, loudmouthed personality who actually had the raw talent to back up his boasts. 18 GREATEST HITS achieves the seemingly unthinkable, capturing the unhinged history of LITTLE RICHARD's gatecrashing work on a single "hotter than barbecue" platter.

RATING: FIVE "WOO!"'S

LITTLE BIG BAND

LITTLE RIVER BAND-GREATEST HITS:

Few groups this side of classic era CROSBY, STILLS, & NASH nailed down pristine three part vocal harmonies like Australia's hitmakers LITTLE RIVER BAND, who racked up a batch of slickly crafted classics that saturated the charts at the end of the "me decade". GREATEST HITS reels off all the biggies, from sublime, dreamscape opener IT'S A LONG WAY THERE on through the perky, thumping HELP IS ON ITS WAY and warmly nostalgic REMINISCING (complete with GLENN MILLER reference), highlighted by lead singer GLENN SHORROCK's spirited delivery. THE NIGHT OWLS and THE OTHER GUY, warbled by later members WAYNE NELSON and JOHN FARNHAM respectively, also shine brightly, blending in easily with the older stuff. If euphoric, hook-filled fare such as HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, LONESOME LOSER and COOL CHANGE doesn't tempt you to sing out loud and proud, maybe exquisitely crafted pop music just isn't on your radar. For the rest of us though, LITTLE RIVER BAND was the perfect antidote to the burgeoning strands of punk, rap and urban cowboy fodder that permeated late seventies/early eighties radio.

RATING: FOUR G'DAY MATES



BLOWIN' LIKE A HURRICANE

LITTLE WALTER-HIS BEST:

The blues has produced many impressive harp men, JUNIOR WELLS, JAMES COTTON, and CHARLIE MUSSELWHITE among them...but the undisputed king daddy of all harmonica howlers was LITTLE WALTER. Marion Walter Jacobs sowed his oats as a featured player in MUDDY WATERS' first and greatest band before moving on to solo pay dirt via the rollicking instrumental JUKE and RNB chart topper MY BABE, which featured WALTER's swaggering, street smart vocals. The first performer to successfully amplify the device, he blew like a freight train, coaxing out scratchy, squawling, spleen-splittin' sounds no one has fully mastered since. BOOM, BOOM, OUT GOES THE LIGHT may be familiar to modern music fans via hard rocker PAT TRAVERS' unsubtle cover, but WALTER's heavy influence on modern music also extended to every harp hot shot from the J. GEILS BAND's MAGIC DICK to JOHN POPPER of BLUES TRAVELER. LITTLE WALTER may not have the immediate name recognition of his CHESS RECORDS label mates MUDDY WATERS, CHUCK BERRY or ETTA JAMES, but HIS BEST is an unparalleled, ear-opening sampler of his most sought after Chicago roadhouse work.

RATING: FIVE DEEP BREATHS

WOLF TRACKS

LOBO-I'D LOVE YOU TO WANT ME:

There are several slightly different anthologies available from this mellow seventies singer/composer (who shared a band with JIM STAFFORD and GRAM PARSONS when he was still known as KENT LAVOIE), but this is the best of the bunch. RHINO RECORDS' more comprehensive BEST OF has too many tracks, while CURB's imperfect GREATEST HITS doesn't boast enough choice charters. The ten song sampler I'D LOVE YOU TO WANT ME (named for one of Lobo's biggest successes) is just enough of the good stuff, omitting only his last hit, the atypical dance track WHERE WERE YOU WHEN I WAS FALLING IN LOVE. His likable novelty debut ME AND YOU AND A DOG NAMED BOO, plus trademark laments HOW CAN I TELL HER, DON'T EXPECT ME TO BE YOUR FRIEND and IT SURE TOOK A LONG, LONG TIME will have all but the most jaded listener humming along. A remake of Cymarron's RINGS and the childlike ditty A SIMPLE MAN also fit in with LOBO's folky/pop vision. Although little more than a trivia question today, this unassuming performer was one of the classier entries in the soft rock sweepstakes.

RATING: FOUR STRUMS

FLIP BOOK

NILS LOFGREN-ULTIMATE COLLECTION:

Between high profile stints as sideman for NEIL YOUNG (he played on HARVEST and AFTER THE GOLD RUSH while still a teenager) and BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, virtuoso guitar slinger NILS LOFGREN has popped out a long string of satisfying platters during a four decade career. Former leader of the underappreciated GRIN, the likeable rocker is known both for his acrobatic stage flips as well as cult classics including the powerfully sentimental NO MERCY, rollicking Glimmer Twin tribute KEITH DON'T GO and interracial saga ACROSS THE TRACKS, all shimmering slices of Heartland rock. LOFGREN's reedy "every man" voice, coupled with an arsenal of catchy riffs and a keen pop sensibility should have made him a shoo in for stardom...inexplicably, he's never managed to gain strong radio support or sell much beyond his loyal fan base. In spite of a few missing faves (WALKIN' NERVE and BEGGAR'S DAY among them), ULTIMATE COLLECTION is an excellent starting point for fans of well crafted, under the radar rock & roll.

RATING: FOUR GRINS

LOGGIN' ON

KENNY LOGGINS-THE ESSENTIAL KENNY LOGGINS:

After a healthy early seventies run with ex-POCO country rocker JIMMY MESSINA, KENNY LOGGINS embarked on his own career, mixing charismatic pop ditties with breathy, sentimental ballads. ESSENTIAL starts off smartly with seven LOGGINS & MESSINA faves including YOUR MAMA DON'T DANCE and the stark original versions of DANNY'S SONG and HOUSE AT POOH CORNER (which became hits for ANNE MURRAY and NITTY GRITTY DIRT BAND). Next up are the mainstream solo singles WHENEVER I CALL YOU "FRIEND", THIS IS IT and a rockin' DON'T FIGHT IT, featuring cameos from STEVIE NICKS, MICHAEL MCDONALD and STEVE PERRY. LOGGINS also enjoyed an unusually buoyant streak with slick movie soundtracks, including CADDYSHACK classic I'M ALRIGHT, the infectious chart topper FOOTLOOSE, and TOP GUN's hard-edged DANGER ZONE. Synth-heavy tracks like KEEP THE FIRE and VOX HUMANA make this very "eighties" sounding, and two platters may prove a bit much for the casual listener...but ESSENTIAL will undoubtedly prove just that for KENNY LOGGINS' hard core fans.

RATING: FOUR LOVE SONGS

DYNAMIC DUO

LOGGINS & MESSINA-THE BEST OF FRIENDS:

Although singer/songwriter KENNY LOGGINS enjoyed the higher profile solo career after LOGGINS & MESSINA split up, producer/guitarist JIM MESSINA boasted the bigger pedigree going in, having worked on BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD's final album and founded country rock pioneers POCO with RICHIE FURAY. BEST OF FRIENDS is a tight (read: too short) showcase for the duo's scintillating blend of pop, country, and good old rock & roll, featuring both the big chart singles and a handful of fan faves. YOUR MAMA DON'T DANCE and MY MUSIC are both infectious singalongs featuring L&M's trademark razor sharp harmonies, while LOGGINS' soothing lullaby DANNY'S SONG and whimsical HOUSE AT POOH CORNER (hits for ANNE MURRAY and THE NITTY GRITTY DIRT BAND respectively) represent their sentimental side. Check out rollicking sea shanty VAHEVALA, the serenely rendered PEACE OF MIND and the castenets-enhanced THINKING OF YOU, all additional highlights of their six album career, for further proof of why LOGGINS & MESSINA was the most popular duo of the early seventies.

RATING: FOUR FRIENDS

X FACTOR

LOS SUPER SEVEN-HEARD IT ON THE X:

Named after ZZ TOP's raucous tribute to late fifties "border radio"...HEARD IT ON THE X is a tribute to the ultra-high powered, restriction-free Mexican stations that broadcast blues, country and RNB to American fans hungry for an alternative to mainstream pop music. This is where WOLFMAN JACK got his start, when he was a mysterious, irreverent voice on the airwaves, not the mainstream celebrity he became when he hosted MIDNIGHT SPECIAL in the seventies. Participants here include JOE ELY, MAVERICKS singer RAUL MALO, LYLE LOVETT, JOHN HIATT, CLARENCE "GATEMOUTH" BROWN, FREDDY FENDER, DELBERT MCCCLINTON and RODNEY CROWELL...how's THAT for a roots rock lineup??? The ghosts of BOBBY FULLER, BUDDY HOLLY, DOUG SAHM, WILLIE DIXON, BOB WILLS and BLIND LEMON JEFFERSON belly up to the bar at this slickly produced Tex-Mex fiesta, while guest musicians include guitarist CHARLIE SEXTON, organ legend AUGIE MEYERS and accordionist FLACO JIMINEZ (both of FENDER and SAHM's Tex-Mex supergroup TEXAS TORNADOS). Even if you're too young to remember the greasy, grandiose hey-day of border radio, HEARD IT ON THE X ain't nuthin' but a casa-party, amigos.

RATING: FOUR DOS EQUIS

LOVIN' CUP

THE LOVIN' SPOONFUL-ANTHOLOGY:

Charismatic hitmakers THE LOVIN' SPOONFUL, named after a ribald line from an old blues song, was helmed by former coffee house performer JOHN B. SEBASTIAN's wry sense of songwriting humor, warm, laid back vocals, and ZAL YANOVSKY's fluid guitar lines (both were immortalized in THE MAMAS & THE PAPAS saga CREEQUE ALLEY). Self-proclaimed practitioners of "jug band music", they folded folk, country-rock and "flower power" into smart tidbits of AM radio nirvana...witness their breezy singalong DAYDREAM (is there a more carefree lyric than "fall on my face on somebody's new mowed lawn"?), SEBASTIAN's autoharp-driven DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC and gritty chart burner SUMMER IN THE CITY. An infectious nostalgic groove ran through all their work, including the quick pickin' ditty NASHVILLE CATS, the sweetly sentimental RAIN ON THE ROOF, and winsome YOU DIDN'T HAVE TO BE SO NICE, making AM radio a fun place to visit in the late sixties. Although criminally short-lived, THE SPOONFUL was that true rarity in pop circles...a group that everyone, regardless of musical taste, seemed to dig.

RATING: FIVE PAIRS OF SPECTACLES

THE LOWE-DOWN

NICK LOWE-BASHER/THE BEST OF NICK LOWE:

Descended from BRINSLEY SCHWARZ, the same pub rocking outfit that spawned GRAHAM PARKER, singer/bassist NICK LOWE was most familiar for his lone Top 20 hit CRUEL TO BE KIND and for penning ELVIS COSTELLO's timeless protest WHAT'S SO FUNNY ('BOUT PEACE, LOVE & UNDERSTANDING). BASHER unspools with more than two dozen crackling classics from indispensible power pop platters like JESUS OF COOL and LABOUR OF LUST, including the spit-fire attack of SO IT GOES, the ska-rimmed (I LOVE THE SOUND OF) BREAKING GLASS and the twangy WITHOUT LOVE (which JOHNNY CASH turned into a hit). ROCKPILE, the rootsy quartet he co-led with six string king DAVE EDMUNDS, backed LOWE on those reckless early sides; he soon switched compadres but maintained his barbed wire wit via the wry declaration TIME WOUNDS ALL HEELS, instant party starter I KNEW THE BRIDE (WHEN SHE USED TO ROCK & ROLL) and catchy polka rocker HALF A BOY & HALF A MAN. Slam-bang shards of rockabilly, punk, and country ran through NICK LOWE's quirky best work, much of it captured on this generous, ear-opening romp and roller roundup.

RATING: FOUR LOWES

THE LOWE-DOWN

NICK LOWE-BASHER/THE BEST OF NICK LOWE:

Descended from BRINSLEY SCHWARZ, the same British pub rocking outfit that spawned GRAHAM PARKER, singer/bassist NICK LOWE was most familiar for his lone Top 20 stateside hit CRUEL TO BE KIND and for penning ELVIS COSTELLO's timeless protest WHAT'S SO FUNNY ('BOUT PEACE, LOVE & UNDERSTANDING). BASHER unspools with more than two dozen crackling classics from indispensable power pop platters like JESUS OF COOL and LABOUR OF LUST, including the spit-fire attack of SO IT GOES, the ska-rimmed (I LOVE THE SOUND OF) BREAKING GLASS and the twang-infested WITHOUT LOVE (which JOHNNY CASH turned into a hit). ROCKPILE, the rootsy quartet he co-led with six string king DAVE EDMUNDS, backed LOWE on those reckless early sides; he soon switched compadres but maintained his barbed wire wit via the wry declaration TIME WOUNDS ALL HEELS, instant party starter I KNEW THE BRIDE (WHEN SHE USED TO ROCK & ROLL) and perky polka rocker HALF A BOY & HALF A MAN. Slam-bang shards of rockabilly, punk and blue eyed soul connected NICK LOWE's quirky best work, much of it captured on this generous, ear-opening romp and roller roundup.

RATING: FIVE LOWES

THINNED OUT

PHILLIP LYNOTT-THE PHILLIP LYNOTT ALBUM:

Staunch fans of THIN LIZZY's hard rocking vision may be surprised by its charismatic leader's THE PHILLIP LYNOTT ALBUM, a sublime solo affair caught up in quiet pop grooves and an unexpected middle of the road delivery. CATHLEEN (A BEAUTIFUL IRISH GIRL) is a sweetly rendered piece that segues into the equally engaging GROWING UP, while ULTRAVOX leader MIDGE URE assists on YELLOW PEARL, a short but effective fast paced new waver. FATALISTIC ATTITUDE and GINO are punctuated by spoken word sound bites from mid-seventies American broadcasts (according to the liner notes), making them most challenging listens here. Instead of the screaming axe work of LIZZY's GARY MOORE or BRIAN ROBERTSON, DIRE STRAITS string slinger MARK KNOPFLER supplies the low key licks, while URE, HUEY LEWIS (on harmonica) and one time DIO bassist JIMMY BAIN are also on the guest list. Not surprisingly, LYNOTT's dark soulful pipes and songwriting flair shine through on every track of this surprising, yet ultimately rewarding change of pace platter.

RATING: FOUR BASS STRINGS



MOUTH OF THE SOUTH

LYNYRD SKYNYRD-GOLD & PLATINUM:

The market may be saturated with dozens of SKYNYRD compilations, but the original GOLD & PLATINUM is still the one to beat more than three decades after its release. While the tastelessly titled SKYNYRD'S INNYRDS spotlighted some mediocre tracks and the double disc THYRTY offered almost a whole CD of post-plane crash efforts, G&P is drenched in the band's Dixie-fried boogie rockin' hey-day. That grand NEIL YOUND slam SWEET HOME ALABAMA, roadhouse stomper GIMME THREE STEPS, and gargantuan DUANE ALLMAN tribute FREE BIRD are swampy seventies staples that show how seamlessly bad boy belter RONNIE VAN ZANT and SKYNYRD's triple axe army fused rock, RNB and country. Their final album STREET SURVIVORS boasted WHAT'S YOUR NAME, THAT SMELL, YOU GOT THAT RIGHT and I KNOW A LITTLE, (all included here) a more than fitting epitaph for their gritty good ol' boy legacy. The autobiographical WORKIN' FOR MCA and J. J. CALE's CALL ME THE BREEZE missed the cut here...but even without 'em, you'll wanna score this barn-burnin' platter (flask of Jack Daniels optional) and like the man sez, "Turn it up!"

RATING: FIVE BIRDS



REVOLUTIONS PER MINUTE

MC5-BACK IN THE USA:

Not only can Detroit Rock City lay claim to some of the finest soul (MOTOWN) and hard rock (BROWNSVILLE STATION, TED NUGENT, ALICE COOPER) ever produced, between THE STOOGES and MC5, that musical mecca is also one of the portals for heavy metal and punk. The ferocious followup to their politically charged blitzgrieg KICK OUT THE JAMS (notorious for its three minute napalm blast of a title track), BACK IN THE USA is a leaner, meaner, balistic gang-bang from a quintet so far ahead of the times they probably STILL are; it's also a helluva lot more fun. TEENAGE LUST and HIGH SCHOOL are frenzied slabs of high octane cock-rock with ROB TYNER's battle-scarred growl stompin' like GODZILLA over machine gun bursts of raw power from axe manglers FRED "SONIC" SMITH and WAYNE KRAMER. Incendiary covers of CHUCK BERRY and LITTLE RICHARD battle it out with radically revved up anti-war sentiments THE AMERICAN RUSE and THE HUMAN BEING LAWNMOWER, while the stark ballad LET ME TRY is a crowning flourish. This passionately powerful, revolutionary recording slams on by in just under 30 minutes...the better to play over and over until your speakers detonate or your ears bleed...whichever comes first.

RATING: FIVE FISTS UP

WINGING IT

PAUL MCCARTNEY & WINGS-WINGSPAN (HITS & HISTORY):

Before he succumbed to writing increasingly silly love songs and throwaway duets with The Gloved One in the early eighties, much of PAUL MCCARTNEY's output was on the same astral plane as his "other group". WINGSPAN is a double disc dip into his post-FAB FOUR career, which tallied more hits than JOHN, GEORGE and RINGO combined. Naturally, the string of effervescent smashes from his high water mark album BAND ON THE RUN are spotlighted, notably the title track and JET, possibly the most perfect pop singles he's ever unleashed. The very BEATLE-esque UNCLE ALBERT/ADMIRAL HALSEY, bombastic JAMES BOND theme LIVE AND LET DIE, aching ballad MY LOVE, and quirky concert ditty COMING UP are also here, but the omissions are almost as interesting as what made the final cut. 1985, ARROW THROUGH ME, I'VE HAD ENOUGH, LETTING GO, GIRLS SCHOOL, SALLY G, GETTING CLOSER (and that's just the short list) should not have been overlooked, especially on a set that boasts forty selections. A career as enduring and varied as SIR PAUL's deserves a more thorough tribute than this admittedly satisfying, but ultimately incomplete anthology.

RATING: FOUR WINGS



GIVIN' IT UP!

DELBERT MCCLINTON-ULTIMATE COLLECTION:

Delbert McClinton has seen it, done it, and sung it all...he played harmonica on Bruce Channel's early sixties white soul classic HEY BABY, saw his earthy compositions covered by everyone from Emmylou Harris (TWO MORE BOTTLES OF WINE) to the Blues Brothers (B-MOVIE BOX CAR BLUES) and Vince Gill (VICTIM OF LIFE'S CIRCUMSTANCES), scored his own funky Top 40 hit GIVIN' IT UP FOR YOUR LOVE, and won a Grammy for a duet with Bonnie Raitt. The Lubbock, Texas belter of all things rock, RNB and country has deservedly been given the "Ultimate" package treatment by retro-specialists HIP-O. Here are eighteen tasty as BAR-B-Q tracks of honky tonk sweat shouted out in the world weary rasp of a thousand smoke filled roadhouses. These meaty slabs of soul power include IT AIN'T WHAT YOU EAT BUT THE WAY HOW YOU CHEW IT, THE JEALOUS KIND, LOVE RUSTLER and patented takes on his songwriting successes for others. Like John Hiatt, Delbert McClinton may not be a household name even after lo' these many decades, but true believers in raw roots music will always know where to go for a satisfying fix.

RATING: FIVE HARPS



MACK ATTACK!

LONNIE MACK-ROADHOUSES & DANCE HALLS:

Flying V master LONNIE MACK, who scored the early sixties instrumental classics MEMPHIS (CHUCK BERRY's chestnut minus the lyrics) and WHAM! has been an influence on every axe slinger from CLAPTON on down through STEVIE RAY, cultivating a respectable, if low key career seamlessly welding meaty rock, greasy blues, and funky country into his own unique groove. After a well recieved series of 80s discs for ALLIGATOR, MACK recorded ROADHOUSES & DANCE HALLS for COLUMBIA subsidary LUCKY DOG, a continuation of his rowdy roots-wreakin' ways. Unlike many sizzlin' six stringers, MACK is a more than passable singer, delivering gravely vocals on what could be his theme song TOO ROCK FOR COUNTRY (TOO COUNTRY FOR ROCK & ROLL) co-written with Memphis legend DAN PENN; he also pays tribute to his RNB past via a HANK BALLARD medley, a spicey cover of HUEY "PIANO" SMITH's HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE, and the traditional COCAINE BLUES. This is real music...muscular meat 'n tators roots-rock made for real people who don't give a hang about the lastest flash-in-the-pan musical trend...exactly the right soundtrack for roadhouses and dance halls.

RATING: THREE FLYING V'S

MAD ABOUT SKA

MADNESS-ULTIMATE COLLECTION:

Along with THE ENGLISH BEAT and THE SPECIALS, MADNESS spearheaded a rollicking late seventies ska revival by mixing pre-reggae vibes with fresh blasts of punk and RNB for a rock steady house party. There was no mistaking this visually arresting, MTV-ready ensemble for the rest of the pack...not with their brush cuts, baggy trousers and shades...not to mention their quirky-jerky vocals, zig-zaggy rhythms and proudly flaunted Brit accents. Big pop charters included the funk-laden masterpiece OUR HOUSE, sparkling ballad IT MUST BE LOVE and instrumental pressure cooker ONE STEP BEYOND, although their non hits were every bit as much fun. THE PRINCE proved a spry, funky tribute to Jamaican music pioneer PRINCE BUSTER, while MICHAEL CAINE contained sound bites from the eloquent actor himself; such was the fun-loving attitude that fueled MADNESS' stylish vision. Righteous retro label HIP-O does its usual bang up job cherry-picking the very best MADNESS moments, presenting a tight, slinky nineteen track sampler that busts out some of the funkiest, hardest to resist dance grooves of the early eighties.

RATING: FOUR BRUSH CUTS

HIGH TIME

MAGIC DICK & JAY GEILS-BLUESTIME:

As a singer, MAGIC DICK is mostly an unparalleled harp player; then again, THE J. GEILS BAND boasted PETER WOLF, one of the most exhilarating soul spewing front men in all of rock & roll, so comparisons are probably unfair. Distancing themselves from their former group's party-hearty vibe, BLUESTIME plies the classic CHICAGO BLUES sound, reviving CHESS RECORDS chestnuts from BO DIDDLEY, LITTLE WALTER, and MUDDY WATERS. They accomplish this with less volume but more reverence for the subject matter and attention to detail; the lone original here is FULL COURT PRESS, a feisty instrumental cousin to the JGB barn-burner WHAMMER JAMMER. JAY GEILS is quite simply one of our most tasteful, non-flashy axe men, coloring without crowding, while MAGIC DICK's swingin' harmonica chops more than compensate for his journeyman vocals. For a quick lesson in jazzy sophistication and jump blues felicity, one could do far worse than scheduling some down time with BLUESTIME.

RATING: THREE JUKE JOINTS

FAMILY AFFAIR

THE MAMAS & THE PAPAS-THE BEST OF THE MAMAS & THE PAPAS:

Los Angeles vocal quartet THE MAMAS & THE PAPAS, leading purveyors of late sixties sunny folk-pop, was made up of founder/songwriter JOHN PHILLIPS, his then wife MICHELLE PHILLIPS, DENNY DOHERTY and "MAMA" CASS ELLIOT, one of the strongest, most charismatic belters in the history of pop music. The autobiographical CREEQUE ALLEY tells their coffee house giggin' back story, name-dropping JOHN SEBASTION and ROGER MCGUINN, while the sublime smashes MONDAY MONDAY and CALIFORNIA DREAMIN' were quite simply some of the most gorgeous four part harmony singles of their era. CASS' big solo hit MAKE YOUR OWN KIND OF MUSIC is included here as a bonus...her promising career, cut tragically short, was one of AM radio's great losses. While criminally brief at only eleven tracks, MAMAS & PAPAS fans looking for a basic starter kit containing every one their effervescent Top 40 gems will find BEST OF a pretty tough treat to beat.

RATING: FOUR MEMBERS

MANN ON TOP

MANFRED MANN-COMPLETE GREATEST HITS:

This is a good stab at anthologizing all phases of Manfred Mann's career...from his early sixties doo wah ditties to his seventies prog-rock phase with the Earth Band...but it can't truly be called "complete". Missing in action are two of the MMEB's earliest and best hits, Randy Newman's wondrous sonic slab LIVING WITHOUT YOU, and Bob Dylan's yearning PLEASE MRS. HENRY, obscure pop masterworks worth seeking out. There's still much to rejoice in here, from the rollicking classics DO WAH DIDDY DIDDY, PRETTY FLAMINGO and THE MIGHTY QUINN (DYLAN again) to the Earth Band's radical reinterpretations of Bruce Springsteen's tantalizing tongue-twisters BLINDED BY THE LIGHT and SPIRIT IN THE NIGHT. Even lesser known Earth Band memories DAVY'S ON THE ROAD AGAIN and DON'T KILL IT CAROL soar on the strength of Chris Thompson's bloozey rasp and Mann's always inventive synthesizer excursions. Throughout a career that saw numerous lineups (including at least four soulful lead singers), musical about-faces, and a major name change, Manfred Mann provided the pop world with a sonic palette of wholly worthwhile endeavors.

RATING: FOUR "WOW, MANN!"'S

THE MANHATTAN TRANSFER-THE VERY BEST OF THE MANHATTAN TRANSFER:

A scintillating potpourri of jazz, jump blues and early rock & roll, the wildly talented MANHATTAN TRANSFER successfully brought pristine four part vocal harmonies and swingin' big band melodies into modern times. Their debut hit, 1975's OPERATOR, was a stunning gospel throw down, from its acapella kick off to its goose bump-raising climax spotlighting JANIS SEIGEL's sanctified delivery. Other highlights included crafty covers of GLENN MILLER's TUXEDO JUNCTION and THE AD LIBS' BOY FROM NEW YORK CITY, the sterling CHARLIE PARKER tribute BIRDLAND, and the hot steppin' dance track TWILIGHT ZONE, complete with ROD SERLING inspired narration of actual plot lines from the iconic TV series. MH also turned in highly stylized revamps of that ultimate road trip ROUTE 66 and THE INK SPOTS' percolating JAVA JIVE, not to mention THE CAPRIS' underexposed doo wop ditty MORSE CODE OF LOVE (retitled BABY COME BACK TO ME). Always brimming with infectious energy, sass, class and style, THE MANHATTAN TRANSFER has been retro-pop music's ticket to fun for forty years.

RATING: FOUR VOICES

MANILOW-DOWN

BARRY MANILOW-GREATEST HITS:

BARRY MANILOW was perhaps the most maligned pop star of the seventies...rock fans naturally hated him, and critics gleefully harped on the fact that he didn't write ALL the songs, including his biggies MANDY, WEEKEND IN NEW ENGLAND and of course, the chart topping I WRITE THE SONGS. Even so, the former jingle writer/BETTE MIDLER accompanist was a laid back juggernaut who pumped out melancholy ballads and occasional up-tempo ditties that roped in millions of (mostly female) fans and multi-platinum album sales. The CHOPIN-inspired COULD IT BE MAGIC, BANDSTAND BOOGIE, a hot swing band version of DICK CLARK's theme song, and kitschy calypso classic COPACABANA were all buoyed by MANILOW's earnest vocals, tinkling ivories and meticulously crafted arrangements. His impressive hit streak (over a dozen consecutive Top Thirty singles) is well documented on GREATEST HITS, the first (and still best) of his many anthologies. "Soft rock" may be an oxymoron, but BARRY MANILOW was its undisputed king throughout the "me decade".

RATING: THREE TEARDROPS

THE ZION KING

BOB MARLEY & THE WAILERS-LEGEND:

Any roots/rock/reggae groove worth his roach clip owns the seminal albums CATCH A FIRE and UPRISING, but LEGEND seems to be the one compilation that virtually EVERYONE owns. After all, BOB MARLEY's universal message of love, hope, and understanding transcended race, gender, and musical taste. Most folks were first exposed to Jamaica's biggest star in the early seventies via JOHNNY NASH's hit cover of STIR IT UP and ERIC CLAPTON's chart-topping take on I SHOT THE SHERIFF; both lacked MARLEY's emotion-charged vocals, but captured his fiery spirit. Stark acoustic protest REDEMPTION SONG...slinky dance-floor fave COULD YOU BE LOVED (spotlighting BOB's female backing trio THE I THREES)...provocative singalong anthem GET UP STAND UP...these are as important and well loved as any ZEP or STONES staple from the same era. The mighty WAILERS, featuring future stars PETER TOSH and BUNNY LIVINGSTON figure prominently in the mix, but it's the master humanitarian himself that gets every message across with ear-grabbing grace and hypnotic beauty.

RATING: FIVE SPLIFFS

MEMORIES ARE MADE OF THESE

DEAN MARTIN-THE ESSENTIAL DEAN MARTIN:

"King of Cool" DEAN MARTIN approached pretty much everything he did with the same laid back finesse and tongue in cheek attitude. A popular movie star, genial TV personality and card carrying member of THE RAT PACK, he was perhaps most memorable in his role as suave singing idol. From Italian-punctuated easy listening fare such as VOLARE and THAT'S AMORE to the shuffling elegance of MEMORIES ARE MADE OF THIS and the spry AIN'T THAT A KICK IN THE HEAD, the Steubenville, Ohio native's warm baritone effortlessly oozed charm and charisma. Other career highlights include his swinging early sixties smash EVERYBODY LOVES SOMEBODY (which famously knocked THE FAB FOUR off the top of the singles chart) and from his country crooner phase, LEE HAZELWOOD's loping, lonesome saga HOUSTON...the man's no slouch covering the pop standards MAMBO ITALIANO, STANDING ON THE CORNER or GENTLE ON MY MIND either. Many woefully incomplete DINO collections have been marketed over the decades, but these thirty stylish tracks, evenly divided between hipster hits and romantic, evening by the fire balladry, more than justify the title ESSENTIAL.

RATING: FIVE WINKS

MOON ROCKS

MOON MARTIN-THE VERY BEST OF MOON MARTIN:

Perhaps best known for penning ROBERT PALMER's toughest hit BAD CASE OF LOVING YOU and the MINK DEVILLE cult classic CADILLAC WALK, four-eyed, BEATLE-coiffed new waver MOON MARTIN had a way with a wry, twisted lyric...even album titles like SHOTS FROM A COLD NIGHTMARE and ESCAPE FROM DOMINATION evoked dark, vivid imagery. Comparing favorably to better known nerd-rockers GRAHAM PARKER and ELVIS COSTELLO, MARTIN dished out aggressive, sinewy axe licks and oddball high-pitched vocals on the chugging, rhythmic ROLENE (his only TOP 40 hit), the skin-tingling sweat-fest HOT NITE IN DALLAS, and painkiller ballad NO CHANCE. The first half of VERY BEST reels off like a volley of power poppin' shotgun blasts form his peak period seventies platters, (including dandy versions of the PALMER and DEVILLE faves), tempered by a less acerbic set of eighties material. This is slick, catchy stuff delivered by a consummate artist with an ear fine tuned to harmonic hooks...it's a shame more people weren't exposed to these lunar samples.

RATING: FOUR ECLIPSES

MASON JAR

DAVE MASON-THE BEST OF DAVE MASON:

Underrated singer/guitarist/songwriter DAVE MASON has been around for so long, it's easy to take his myriad of accomplishments for granted. A founding member of jazz rock ensemble TRAFFIC with STEVE WINWOOD, he also jammed with everyone from CLAPTON to HENDRIX and wrote the staples FEELIN' ALRIGHT (covered by TRAFFIC, JOE COCKER, GRAND FUNK and RARE EARTH) and ONLY YOU KNOW AND I KNOW, a signature tune for DELANEY & BONNIE. Breaking through to a mainstream audience via the sublime hits WE JUST DISAGREE and SO HIGH (ROCK ME BABY AND ROLL ME AWAY), which showcased his reedy pipes and laid back delivery, BEST OF also offers solid reboots of ALL ALONG THE WATCHTOWER and WILL YOU STILL LOVE ME TOMORROW (featuring a scorching axe break) and live versions of FEELIN' ALRIGHT and ONLY YOU KNOW. Although it concentrates on only a small portion of his impressive career (his late seventies reign at Columbia), this solidly crafted collection of pop-rockin' soul power has something for just about everyone.

RATING: FOUR DAVES

THE ROAD LESS TAKEN

THE MAVERICKS-DEFINITIVE COLLECTION:

The definition of a maverick is "an independent individual who does not go along with a group or party" (think JAMES GARNER's iconic TV gambler). Miami's nineties-and-beyond foursome THE MAVERICKS is well named then, expertly plying a scintillating mix of Tex-Mex, pop-rock and western swing that always seemed at odds with country music's cookie-cutter playlists. Lead belter/main songwriter RAUL MALO's soulful, soaring ROY ORBISON-inspired wail is on full display for the haunting WHAT A CRYING SHAME, a cunning take on BRUCE SPRINGTSEEN's ALL THAT HEAVEN WILL ALLOW, and primo party starter ALL YOU EVER BRING ME DOWN featuring TEXAS TORNADOS member FLACO JIMENEZ' dazzling accordion work. Whether unleashing a double time take on HANK WILLIAMS, tackling the tin pan alley classic BLUE MOON, or peppering THE TREMELOS' CAT STEVENS-penned HERE COMES MY BABY with blaring brass blasts, THE MAVERICKS are truly a band that holds something special for all tastes.

RATING: FOUR HOMBRES

JUST IN TIME

THE MAVERICKS-IN TIME:

2013 saw no release more uplifting, exuberant or downright fun-packed than THE MAVERICKS' comeback effort IN TIME, the country-meets-every-other-genre group's first platter in a decade. Naturally, it was also one of the year's most underrated releases, but that "under the radar" vibe has always suited the band and their loyal, rabid fan base. Peerless front man RAUL MALO channels a creamy ROY ORBISON meets LOS LOBOS sound that floats above the guitars and accordions, He also wrote or co-wrote all fourteen tracks, from feisty kick off single BORN TO BE BLUE to the tasty VEN HACIA MI (also heard in its English version COME UNTO ME). Supple strains of Tex-Mex, RNB, western swing and rockabilly combine seamlessly, counteracting the soulless cookie cutter pop inherent in most of today's country music. As an instant party starter or a "chill out" listening experience, IN TIME is aptly titled...THE MAVERICKS are back and this is their time to shine.

RATING: FIVE TIME PIECES



MAY FIRST

IMELDA MAY-MAYHEM:

Retro rockin' roadhouse raver? Whopper-bopper show stopper? Swingin' sex kitten with a whip? Red hot Irish soul-mama IMELDA MAY fits all these descriptions and so many more on MAYHEM, a sultry, sleazy, slam-bang affair immersed in heavy doses of jumpin' jive, rowdy rockabilly, and cool country groove-ology. Fueled by MAY's ultra-expressive pipes and vivacious vitality, searing rave-ups such as PULLING THE RUG, JOHHNY GOT A BOOM-BOOM, and PSYCHO pulsate with twangy echo, surf guitar funk, playful RNB and everything else in the kitchen sink. Lower key excursions KENTISH TOWN WALTZ and TOO SAD TO CRY are very neccessary "smoke breaks" during an otherwise non-stop party, while a just-for-fun cover of TAINTED LOVE almost erases SOFT CELL's synth-wave smash from the memory banks. This sizzlin' platter should effortlessly hook fans of BRIAN SETZER, WANDA JACKSON and PEGGY LEE alike, a diverse rafter-raiser that demands repeated spins no matter what mood you're in. IMELDA MAY is probably far too talented to ever achieve mainstream status...but there's nothin' wrong with spreadin' around her dirty little secret.

RATING: FIVE YELPS

LEAVE A MESSAGE

CURTIS MAYFIELD-THE VERY BEST OF CURTIS MAYFIELD:

The ultimate architect of sixties Chicago Soul, CURTIS MAYFIELD wrote/produced early hits for MAJOR LANCE, JERRY BUTLER and GENE CHANDLER and led his vocal group THE IMPRESSIONS through a string of gospel-laced, message baring classics including PEOPLE GET READY, KEEP PUSHIN' and AMEN. Equally comfortable creating emotion charged love songs or black pride anthems, (not to mention seventies smashes for GLADYS KNIGHT, THE STAPLE SINGERS and ARETHA FRANKLIN), he also fostered a solo career that launched the landmark Blaxploitation soundtrack SUPERFLY. MAYFIELD's sweet, stinging falsetto was matched note for note by his sinewy, psychedelicized six string excursions, his socially relevant commentary putting him on a par with STEVIE WONDER's and MARVIN GAYE's later work. RHINO RECORDS' tight collection THE VERY BEST focuses on funky efforts like FUTURE SHOCK, (DON'T WORRY) IF THERE'S A HELL BELOW WE'RE ALL GOING TO GO and most memorably, MAYFIELD's essential anti drug masterstrokes PUSHERMAN, FREDDIE'S DEAD and SUPERFLY, hard hitting statements that resonate even today with street smart conviction and gloriously stylish grooves.

RATING: FIVE STATEMENTS



MEAT'S BALL

MEAT LOAF-BAT OUT OF HELL:

Mountain's Leslie West and Mama Cass aside, rock has produced precious few 300 pound icons like this one time Ted Nugent vocalist, unnoticed Motown artist, and ROCKY HORROR SHOW scene-stealer. Even if you've never heard a note of BAT OUT OF HELL (which is unlikely), this everything-INCLUDING-the-kitchen-sink masterpiece deserves legendary status for its jaw-droppin' cover art alone. Backed by a quirky cast including sax maniac Edgar Winter, soul-beltin' mama Ellen Foley, motormouth baseball legend Phil Rizzuto, and members of the E Street Band and Utopia, Meat Loaf's debut was a schlock-splattered tag team effort with bombastic, lyrically longwinded composer/pianist Jim Steinman. Crammed with SPECTOR-esque groove-ology and maniacal musical maneuvers, the seven sonic slabs of operatic slam-glam here are really mini-plays...in fact, boy-meets-girl barnburner PARADISE BY THE DASHBOARD LIGHT is divided into three subtitled acts. Super-producer/guitar guru Todd Rundgren lets rip like a Harley in heat on the crash 'n burn title track, the Loaf sweetly laments lost lust on TWO OUT OF THREE AIN'T BAD, and you can almost smell the sexual sweat on ALL REVVED UP WITH NO PLACE TO GO. He may be thinner now and sport a better hairstyle, but BAT OUT OF HELL will forever remain Meat Loaf's meal ticket to musical immortality.

RATING: FIVE BURGERS

HELLBOUND

MEAT LOAF-BAT OUT OF HELL II/BACK INTO HELL:

It took a decade and a half, but BAT OUT OF HELL II, the long awaited sequel to one of rock's most successful platters, allowed bombastic belter MEAT LOAF to escape the indignity of "one album wonder" status, mostly thanks to sprawling, over the top ballad I'D DO ANYTHING FOR LOVE (BUT I WON'T DO THAT). Unbeknownst to probably all but his most rabid fans, a good portion of BACK INTO HELL was lifted note for note from operatic songwriter JIM STEINMAN's only solo album, 1981's under the radar BAD FOR GOOD. The spoken word LOVE AND DEATH OF AN AMERICAN GUITAR is merely retitled WASTED YOUTH, while the campy ROCK & ROLL DREAMS COME TRUE (a Top 40 single for STEINMAN), LOST BOYS AND GOLDEN GIRLS and OUT OF THE FRYING PAN are revamped only slightly with MEAT on vocals; though not improved upon, they sound more at home on BAT II. While hardly as ambitious or unabashedly theatrical as their elaborately orchestrated debut, if you dug what the dynamic duo accomplished in 1977, you'll most likely relish their second turn at BAT.

RATING: THREE RETREADS

SCHLOCK OPERA

MEAT LOAF-BAT OUT OF HELL III/THE MONSTER IS LOOSE:

The "everything but the kitchen sink" cornucopia of components that made BAT OUT OF HELL a camp classic and a plutonium selling platter (not to mention its sequel BAT II) is sorely missing on this hot mess. Neither MEAT LOAF's song slinging partner JIM STEINMAN...who sued to block this release...nor uber-producer/guitarist TODD RUNDGREN are on board this time out, leaving song-doctor-to-the-stars DESMOND CHILD to fill in those roles. The former MARVIN LEE ADAY has to settle for covering old STEINMAN sagas like BAD FOR GOOD (the sprawling title track from JIM's only solo album, which provided much fodder for BAT II) and IT'S ALL COMING BACK TO ME NOW, a hit for Canuck queen CELINE DION. Another major problem is MEAT's once operatic, over-singing set of pipes, rendered all but unrecognizable in 2006. In spite of familiar comic book cover art, cameos from STEVE VAI, BRIAN MAY and JENNIFER HUDSON, and an obvious attempt to replicate the glam-fueled grandeur of the glory days, THE MONSTER IS LOOSE bears out the old adage "the bigger they are, the harder they fall."

RATING: TWO LEFTOVERS

"BAT" MAN

MEAT LOAF-HITS OUT OF HELL:

MEAT LOAF's gargantuan legacy will always be indelibly linked to BAT OUT OF HELL, his surpisingly successful mega-platinum debut disc helmed by uber-producer TODD RUNDGREN; the premature career compilation HITS OUT OF HELL ponies up every track on that platter except for two of its ballads. Next to the "everything but the kitchen sink" glam-slams ALL REVVED UP WITH NO PLACE TO GO, YOU TOOK THE WORDS RIGHT OUT OF MY MOUTH and PARADISE BY THE DASHBOARD LIGHT, the efforts from follow up discs DEAD RINGER and MIDNIGHT AT THE LOST & FOUND sound strangely watered down. The two biggest culprits are LOAF's noticably strained, weaker pipes and a lack of worthwhile songs from wordy svengali JIM STEINMAN. DEAD RINGER FOR LOVE, a PARADISE-like shout-fest between MEAT and everyone's fave queen of kitsch CHER is strangely engaging in its over the top badness, but the dramatic slow dancer READ 'EM AND WEEP actually sounded better in BARRY MANILOW's mitts. For the best of early LOAF, stick with the original BAT OUT OF HELL...everything else here is just so much HAMBURGER HELPER.

RATING: THREE MOTORCYCLES

THE MEAT OF THE MATTER

MEAT LOAF-THE VERY BEST OF MEAT LOAF:

If you crave a "greatest hits" collection as gargantuan as the big man himself and as longwinded as JIM STEINMAN's lyrical passages, this double dose of rock opera bombast is your meal ticket. Half of the eighteen the tracks clock in over the six minute mark and many...LIFE IS A LEMON AND I WANT MY MONEY BACK, OBJECTS IN THE REAR VIEW MIRROR MAY APPEAR CLOSER THAN THEY ARE and I'D DO ANYTHING FOR LOVE (BUT I WON'T DO THAT)...have overwrought titles to match. The nearly flawless single YOU TOOK THE WORDS RIGHT OUT OF MY MOUTH (HOT SUMMER NIGHT), humorously introduced by producer TODD RUNDGREN, and the "throw everything against the wall and see what sticks" CHER mash-up DEAD RINGER FOR LOVE are as much campy fun as ever, even if the equally glorious rocker ALL REVVED UP WITH NO PLACE TO GO is an inexplicable no show. Not at all surprisingly, three quarters of VERY BEST stems from MEAT's two BAT OUT OF HELL platters...his only major successes...no more and no less that what his rabid fan base could reasonably expect.

RATING: FOUR BOTTLES OF KETCHUP

HELL RAISERS

MEAT LOAF & FRIENDS:

This might just as accurately be called THE SONGS OF JIM STEINMAN, the eccentric tunesmith whose overwrought BAT OUT OF HELL material matched MEAT LOAF's operatic delivery note for note. In addition to career making classics including the PHIL SPECTOR-esque YOU TOOK THE WORDS RIGHT OUT OF MY MOUTH and the love it or hate it PARADISE BY THE DASHBOARD LIGHT, you'll also experience STEINMAN's own very LOAF-like epic BAD FOR GOOD and the MEAT/CHER match up DEAD RINGER FOR LOVE, sort of a poor man's PARADISE. ELLEN ("Stop right there! I wanna know right now...!") FOLEY's soulful tough chick wail pierces the TIMI YURO oldie WHAT'S THE MATTER BABY (the rare non-STEIMAN composition here) while BONNIE TYLER's hacksaw-rasp chart topper TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE HEART and her FOOTLOOSE throwaway HOLDING OUT FOR A HERO round out the proceedings. Too bad there's nothing from FOLEY's equally capable replacement KARLA DEVITO...but even without her, MEAT LOAF & FRIENDS is a lot of loud, campy fun...and rock and roll can never really have too much of that, can it?

RATING: HAMBURGER HELPERS

HONEST JOHN

JOHN MELLENCAMP-THE BEST THAT I COULD DO 1978-1988:

Heartland rocker John Mellencamp (aka John Cougar in his grass roots days) has such a rich back catalogue of above average story-songs and "every man" boot-stompers, it was inevitable that his first compilation would have to omit some serious fan faves...earthy early hit THIS TIME, effervescent singalong RUMBLE SEAT, and the thought provoking RAIN ON THE SCARECROW are all missing in action here. Mucho kudos to whip-crackin' time-keeper Kenny Aronoff, who lays down some of the ballsiest backbeats in modern music on the house-rockin' HURT SO GOOD and that loud 'n proud anthem R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A., which name checks cool sixties cats (and probable Mellencamp influences) including Mitch Rider, Bobby Fuller and James Brown. Tender small town anthems like JACK & DIANE and PINK HOUSES provide just the right amount of contrast, growled out in sublime folky style, making this one helluva "Saturday night soundtrack" for you and your beer-drinkin', chain-smokin', rubber-burnin' buddies.

RATING: FOUR HOOSIERS

BRAZIL NUTS

SERGIO MENDES & BRAZIL '66-'86-CLASSICS VOLUME 18:

Pianist/band leader SERGIO MENDEZ & BRAZIL '66's supple brand of romantic music encompassed jazz, RNB and easy listening, which proved a winning formula in the second half of the swingin' sixties. An early addition to HERB ALPERT's fledgling A&M label, they mined a formula similar to his phenomenally successful TIJUANA BRASS, punctuating their Latin pop with bi-lingual lyrics chirped by sexy senoritas and a tendency to cover already popular hits. The irresistibly catchy MAIS QUE NADA was an invigorating opening shot, while SIMON & GARFUNKEL's SCARBOROUGH FAIR and BACHARACH/DAVID's THE LOOK OF LOVE both made the Top Twenty, bathed in their trademark bossa nova style. After a quiet decade in the seventies, MENDES came back in a big way in 1983 via passionate ballad NEVER GONNA LET YOU GO and dance floor ditty ALIBIS, two contemporary smashes bearing scant resemblance to his original sound. A long familiar presence who adapted his band's name to BRAZIL '77, '88, etc. with each passing decade, CLASSICS is a strong career collection that should please fans old and new of this internationally popular performer.

RATING: FOUR SAMBAS

METER MADE

THE METERS-THE VERY BEST OF THE METERS:

New Orleans' answer to Memphis soul's BOOKER T & THE MG'S, THE METERS (whose membership included future NEVILLE BROTHERS keyboardist ART NEVILLE) were the cream of earthy down home instrumental ensembles, getting down behind Big Easy artists like LEE DORSEY and DR. JOHN as well as admirers such as ROBERT PALMER and PAUL MCCARTNEY. In between their much sought after session jams, the foursome also managed to score a handful of their own street smart singles including CISSY STRUT, LOOK-A PY PY, CHICKEN STRUT and HEY POCKY WAY, joyously gelling jams often produced by the legendary ALLEN TOUSSAINT. All were chunky, groove-saturated affairs, while FIRE ON THE BAYOU featured a rare, quite effective group vocal, spotlighting another side of their talents. As unsung and underrated as any RNB act of the sixties, THE METERS helped lay down the very foundation of the classic New Orleans sound, serving as an influence on countless artists in the fields of funk, soul and rock and roll.

RATING: FOUR NOTES



BOSTON BREWIN'

THE MIGHTY MIGHTY BOSSTONES-THE MILLENNIUM COLLECTION:

New England's premiere "party-till-it-hurts" ensemble THE MIGHTY MIGHTY BOSSTONES plied a hot shot mix of heatsinkin' metal/punk riffs, soul-splashed horn blasts, and hedonistic dance beats, easily the hardest hitting band of ska's so called "third wave" in the nineties. Head honcho DICKY BARRET's swaggering, suds 'n cigs-saturated growl and the band's trademark slinky, skanky grooves rode shotgun over rowdy drinkin' anthems and more sensitive subjects alike, forming an instantly identifiable sound. In the covers department, DETROIT ROCK CITY gets the patented "tear down these walls" treatment, rockin' it a helluva lot harder than even KISS imagined, while BOB MARLEY's SIMMER DOWN is a sublime, sanctifyin' tribute. MMB's originals are even better, notably wry sonic slabs such as THE RASCAL KING, SHE JUST HAPPENED, and their biggest hit, the exuberant shout out THE IMPRESSION THAT I GET. As "BEST OF" collections go, this one leaves out too many freewheelin' fan faves to be anything close to conclusive...but that's what indispensable albums like LET'S FACE IT and PAY ATTENTION were made for.

FOUR PLAID JACKETS

MILES TO GO

BUDDY MILES-THEM CHANGES:

Drummer BUDDY MILES wore many hats on the road to stardom; he backed up the likes of WILSON PICKETT and THE DELFONICS before embarking on higher profile gigs with JIMI HENDRIX's BAND OF GYPSIES, blues brass band ELECTRIC FLAG (with guitarist MIKE BLOOMFIELD) and his own BUDDY MILES EXPRESS. THEM CHANGES, his best known solo album, is a razzle-dazzle combo of RNB, funk and psychedelic rock fueled by brawny, soul-powered vocals and freewheeling sticks work. Kicking off with the oft-released title track (which appeared on the HENDRIX disc), MILES also integrated his gritty, organic personality into NEIL YOUNG'S DOWN BY THE RIVER, THE ALLMANS' DREAMS and RUFUS THOMAS' MEMPHIS TRAIN, which gained added heft from ex DETROIT WHEELS axe slinger JIMMY MCCARTY and the searing MEMPHIS HORNS. MILES would continue to record for decades, teaming up with everyone from CARLOS SANTANA to THE CALIFORNOA RAISINS, but the titanic tour de force THEM CHANGES will always be his personal high water mark.

RATING: FOUR MILES

SMASH HITS

ROGER MILLER-GOLDEN HITS:

Blessed with a sly sense of humor and a warm conversational singing style, distinctive entertainer ROGER MILLER's laid back delivery served him well in the mid-sixties, roping in country and pop fans with equal ease. Previously a hit songwriter for RAY PRICE, JIM REEVES and ERNEST TUBB, MILLER came into his own via sharp novelties like the playful, scat-fest DANG ME, the child-like singalong YOU CAN'T ROLLER SKATE IN A BUFFALO HERD and "been there done that" drinkin' ditty CHUG-A-LUG. Showcasing his more serious side, his sublime finger-snappin' hobo saga KING OF THE ROAD reigns as one of the greatest country singles to ever cross over to the pop charts...it even spawned JODY MILLER's (no relation) popular answer single QUEEN OF THE HOUSE, not to mention an eighties cover by jangle rockers R.E.M. A keen observational wit, uncluttered instrumentation (KING OF THE ROAD has little more than bass and drums backing it) and genuine charisma were the tools of ROGER MILLER's trade; his raw talent shines through on every track of SMASH RECORDS' delightful GOLDEN HITS.

RATING: FOUR CHUCKLES

CASE OF MILLERS

THE STEVE MILLER BAND-BOX SET:

Artists of STEVE MILLER's longevity and stature typically receive the four CD treatment, even though BOX SET only offers three. The first platter spotlights snippets from childhood guitar mentors LES PAUL and T-BONE WALKER and early psychedelic slabs like LIVIN' IN THE USA, SPACE COWBOY and MY DARK HOUR, with its very FLY LIKE AN EAGLE-like guitar intro. The middle disc is crammed with all those expertly crafted pop rockin' radio hits...THE JOKER, ROCK N ME, JUNGLE LOVE, ABRA-CADABRA...that made him a seventies superstar, a serious blast of "can't get 'em outta yer head" greatness. Disc number three concentrates on jazzy/bloozey chunks of MILLER's career (always his first love), including laid back versions of COME ON IN MY KITCHEN, GOD BLESS THE CHILD and MERCURY BLUES interspersed with reflective originals. It would have been nice to hear missing-in-action tracks such as HEART LIKE A WHEEL (a Top 30 hit) and CLOVERS warhorse YOUR CASH AIN'T NOTHIN' BUT TRASH, but BOX SET is a good bet for fans wanting to dig a bit deeper than TAKE THE MONEY & RUN and JET AIRLINER.

RATING: FOUR FLYING HORSES


IT'S MILLER TIME

STEVE MILLER BAND-GREATEST HITS 1974-1978:

As a youngster, STEVIE "GUITAR" MILLER learned a few licks from six string legends like LES PAUL and T-BONE WALKER, eventually pumping out folky, psychedelic RNB such as SPACE COWBOY and LIVING IN THE USA in his first band featuring future roots rock legend BOZ SCAGGS. He also conjured up the not so magical, lyrically shallow chart-stomper ABRACADABRA during his pedestrian eighties career, but the indispensable anthology GREATEST HITS collects the absolute cream in between from his mid-70s pinnacle years. THE JOKER ranks as one of the all time stoner sing-alongs, while the interchangeable car radio classics ROCK 'N ME and JET AIRLINER boast hooks big enough to land Jaws. MILLER also slides easily into THE STAKE, an oily blues workout, and tackles knee-slappin' country via the tasty twanger DANCE, DANCE, DANCE. Meanwhile, FLY LIKE AN EAGLE and SWINGTOWN display subtle, slowly building riffs so righteously hypnotic, the damn things'll fester in your head for days after you've put this collection away for the two hundredth time.

FIVE HORSE HEADS

TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN

STEVE MILLER-YOUNG HEARTS/COMPLETE GREATEST HITS:

COMPLETE GREATEST HITS probably won't tempt many die hard STEVE MILLER fans to replace their well-worn copy of GREATEST HITS 1974-1978, one of the pivotal anthologies of its era. That's because out of twenty-two tracks here, over half are from GREATEST; it's virtually the same record with a handful of lesser known tunes tacked on to reach compact disc length. Nothing MILLER recorded from the eighties onward netted him the airplay or acclaim of FLY LIKE AN EAGLE and ROCK 'N ME, save the un-magical stylistic detour ABRACADABRA. Later efforts WIDE RIVER and MAKE THE WORLD TURN AROUND are pleasant diversions at best, forgotten almost before they are over. The real meat of YOUNG HEARTS remains his classic catalogue of hippie era hits like LIVING IN THE USA and SPACE COWBOY, and of course, his euphoric pop-rockin' chartbusters THE JOKER, JET AIRLINER and SWINGTOWN. The obscurities merely weigh this collection down...YOUNG HEARTS may be "complete", but next to HITS '74-78, it can't compete.

RATING: FOUR JOKERS

DOWN BY THE OLD MILLS STREAM

THE MILLS BROTHERS-THE ANTHOLOGY 1931-1968:

During a career that spanned many decades and dozens of summery hits, the four MILLS BROTHERS were the epitome of old fashioned vocal harmony groups, a ground breaking influence on everyone from THE PLATTERS and THE DRIFTERS to DEAN MARTIN and THE BEE GEES. Whether sparsely accompanied by a lone acoustic guitar, accurately mimicking horn sections with their voices or backed by a full orchestra, the impeccable harmonies of JOHN, HERBERT, HARRY and DONALD stood out like a flashy, funky barbershop quartet. Comfortable letting fly with finger snapping, up tempo favorites like TIGER RAG, CAB DRIVER and GLOW WORM, mellowing out via PAPER MOON and DADDY'S LITTLE GIRL, or updating HOAGY CHARMICHAEL, IRVING BERLIN and DUKE ELLINGTON, the MILLS seamlessly blended jazz, pop, Broadway and swing for a sweetly sentimental sound that was undeniably their own. THE ANTHOLOGY packs four dozen winners onto two platters made to be spun again and again, a fitting tribute to one of pop music's most elegant, enduring legacies.

RATING: FIVE SETS OF PIPES

IVORY TICKLER

RONNIE MILSAP-16 BIGGEST HITS:

Country music's answer to RAY CHARLES, RONNIE MILSAP was that genre's best known sightless singer/pianist and surely one of its most soulful. 16 BIGGEST HITS ponies up a fair share of his urban cowboy chart-toppers, many of which also crossed over to pop radio. MILSAP's smooth, bluesy croon and slick, twang-free delivery served him equally well on smoldering romantic ballads (IT WAS ALMOST LIKE A SONG) and mid tempo ditties (SMOKEY MOUNTAIN RAIN). A vivid interpreter, EDDIE RABBIT's PURE LOVE and KRIS KRISTOFFERSON's PLEASE DON'T TELL ME HOW THE STORY ENDS soar in MILSAP's hands, while a cover of the CHUCK JACKSON's RNB chestnut ANY DAY NOW easily matches the original. STAND BY MY WOMAN MAN reels off like the amiable answer to TAMMY WYNETTE's best known song, and LOST IN THE FIFTIES TONIGHT (IN THE STILL OF THE NIGHT) is an irresistible slab of doo-woppin' nostalgia. Fans of adult contemporary loved this cat as much as the boot-scooters, making his earthy chestnut I'D BE A LEGEND IN MY TIME a stone fact rather than a casual boast.

RATING: FOUR PAIRS OF SHADES

COUP DEVILLE

MINK DEVILLE-SAVOIR FAIRE (A COMPILATION:

A gritty, funk-drenched pastiche of RNB, south of the border beats and fifties rock, New York City's MINK DEVILLE was all over the musical map during its late seventies/early eighties reign as the underground kings of unvarnished white boy soul. Pompadoured, pencil thin mustache-bearing vocal chameleon WILLIE DEVILLE unleashed a sinister yowl on MOON MARTIN's twisted narrative CADILLAC WALK (an FM radio hit) while affecting a playful Latino accent mid way through hip shaker SPANISH STROLL. He also injected the shimmering faux-oldies MIXED UP, SHOOK UP GIRL and THIS MUST BE THE NIGHT with swanky "last call" gusto, at times resembling indigenous charmer SOUTHSIDE JOHNNY minus the horn section. DEVILLE's malleable mojo and keen grasp of rootsy musical styles (MAZURKA even rides a catchy Cajun groove), make for an in depth listening experience as rare and billowy as the perfect smoke ring. Pulled from MINK DEVILLE's first three platters, the indispensable anthology SAVOIR FAIRE bears up to repeated spins, the better to absorb the subtle nuances and greasy beauty of the punk era's most seductive secret.

RATING: FIVE EARRINGS

CASHING IN

EDDIE MONEY-GREATEST HITS/SOUND OF MONEY:

Would be New York City cop turned raspy soul-rocker EDDIE MONEY is barely given his due on this surprisingly incomplete summary of career makers. Sure, many of the basic classics from his late seventies/early eighties chart hey-day are here...well crafted high water marks BABY HOLD ON and TWO TICKETS TO PARADISE, sultry RONNIE SPECTOR duet TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT and back seat window steamer SHAKIN'...however, too much space is given over to so-so non hits like WHERE'S THE PARTY and STOP STEPPIN' ON MY HEART. Funky pop contenders off his sturdy second album LIFE FOR THE TAKING should have made the final cut, namely the sax-driven RNB groover MAYBE I'M A FOOL (a Top 30 single) plus explosive efforts ROCK & ROLL THE PLACE and GIMME SOME WATER. The same could be said for his debut platter's superb SMOKEY ROBINSON cover YOU REALLY GOT A HOLD ON ME or the reflective TRINIDAD from his third disc. MONEY and his followers certainly deserve better than this quickie cash-in; save your pennies for the more definitive collection BEST OF.

RATING: THREE BILLS



BARRELFUL OF MONKEES

THE MONKEES-ORIGINAL ALBUM SERIES:

This straight release of the first five MONKEES albums, packed in cardboard mini-album sleeves with original artwork intact, represents the pre-Fab Four's most cohesive, enjoyable guilty pleasure grab bag of work...the follow ups, including the spotty soundtrack to their cult flick HEAD and a pair of TORK-less trio efforts weren't quite up to par. With material submitted by the cream of sixties pop tunesmiths, NEIL DIAMOND, CAROLE KING & GERRY GOFFIN and BOYCE & HART among them, THE MONKEES' frothy mash up of bubblegum, country, psychedelia and rock has held up remarkably well over the past half century. MICKEY's solid RNB-influenced yelp, MIKE's nasally twang and down home ditty-writing, DAVY's inviting show biz flair and PETER's underused, plaintive delivery propel radio friendly fare like PLEASANT VALLEY SUNDAY, VALLERI, (I'M NOT YOUR) STEPPIN' STONE, FOR PETE'S SAKE and DAYDREAM BELIEVER, which all sound as blissfully carefree and sparkling fresh today as when they were minted. This quintessential quintet of practically perfect pop platters deserves nothing less than a "high five".

RATING: FIVE WOOL HATS

TOO MUCH MONKEE BUSINESS

THE MONKEES-LIVE-1967:

Sure, it's ragged...it's raw...it's even a little wretched in spots. But at least it IS Mike, Mickey, Davy and Peter playing their OWN instruments (okay, Davy's only contributing maracas and tambourine), something they famously never got to do on their early LPs. Apart from a "solo" spotlight by each Monkee...Mike countrifies a blues chestnut, Peter gets down on banjo, etc...where the individual members are backed by a five piece group called the Sundowners, what you hear is what you get. Voices crack almost as often as their silly jokes and everything's drowned out by an almost Beatle-esque throng of screeeeeeeeeaming girls. Not even Nesmith and Tork, the band's true musicians, were ever gonna put Glen Campbell or Leon Russell outta work, but they make up in enthusiasm what they occasionally lack in technical ability. Peter gets to trot out his inevitable AUNTIE GRIZELDA schtick. Surprisingly, Davy DOESN'T get to do DAYDREAM BELIEVER. I'M NOT YOUR STEPPIN' STONE sounds as sloppy and unintentionally hilarious as the Sex Pistols' classic cover version. So what? At least the Pre-Fab Four was in there TRYING, and what have YOU done lately, anyhow?

RATING: THREE MILLI VANILLIS

MONKEE-IN' AROUND

THE MONKEES-BARRELFUL OF MONKEES: MONKEES SONGS FOR KIDS!:

The Pre-Fab Four were always wacky, charismatic, and yes, funny on their fast-paced TV series, so it makes sense that Kid Rhino, retro-label kings Rhino Records' small fry division, has released a roundup of Monkees tunes for tots. Several choices are delightfully demented, none more so than Mickey and Davy's call-and-response mad libs on GONNA BUY ME A DOG and the rare Peter Tork lead vocal on YOUR AUNTIE GRIZELDA (alas, his tongue-twister PETER PERCIVAL PATTERSON'S PET PIG PORKY is nowhere to be heard here). Bread head David Gates' SATURDAY'S CHILD and Mike Nesmith's countrified PAPA GENE'S BLUES sound considerably straighter, but are nifty pieces of pop craftsmanship nonetheless. Interestingly, their dreamy PORPOISE SONG appears in a solo version from the album MICKEY DOLENZ PUTS YOU TO SLEEP. Final cut PILLOW TIME may well encourage nodding off in a good "bedtime story" sort of way. Pop this CD in sometime instead of whatever soulless dance diva yer youngin's drooling to, and you might not be the only one smiling.

RATING: FOUR MONKEE FLIPS

BARRELFUL OF MONKEES

THE MONKEES-ORIGINAL ALBUM SERIES:

This straight release of the first five MONKEES albums, packed in cardboard mini-album sleeves with original artwork intact, represents the pre-Fab Four's most cohesive, enjoyable guilty pleasure grab bag of work...the follow ups, including the spotty soundtrack to their cult flick HEAD and a pair of TORK-less trio efforts weren't quite up to par. With material submitted by the cream of sixties pop tunesmiths, NEIL DIAMOND, CAROLE KING & GERRY GOFFIN and BOYCE & HART among them, THE MONKEES' frothy mash up of bubblegum, country, psychedelia and rock has held up remarkably well over the past half century. MICKEY's solid RNB-influenced yelp, MIKE's nasally twang and down home ditty-writing, DAVY's inviting show biz flair and PETER's underused, plaintive delivery propel radio friendly fare like PLEASANT VALLEY SUNDAY, VALLERI, (I'M NOT YOUR) STEPPIN' STONE, FOR PETE'S SAKE and DAYDREAM BELIEVER, which all sound as blissfully carefree and sparkling fresh today as when they were minted. This quintessential quintet of practically perfect pop platters deserves nothing less than a "high five".

RATING: FIVE WOOL HATS



STRONG FINNISH

MICHAEL MONROE-NOT FAKIN' IT:

Flamboyant Finnish fivesome HANOI ROCKS' secret weapon was bad boy belter MICHAEL MONROE, who spat out this loud 'n proud pop metal masterpiece at the dawn of the hair band era, but don't hold that against him. His blooze-saturated, brink of insanity sleazoid howl made BRETT MICHAELS and VINCE NEIL sound like wussies by comparison. E STREET BAND stalwart STEVEN VAN ZANT penned two standout ballbreakers here, the irresistible sneer-fest WHILE YOU WERE LOOKIN' AT ME and DEAD, JAIL, OR ROCK & ROLL, a slam-blam-thank-you-glam-freak-out which soars on co-writer MONROE's filthy, menacing yelp and scorching harp blasts. In a perfect headbanger world, this would be the national anthem of disenchanted youth everywhere. White knuckle fretwork drives home the title track, a name-dropping blitzkrieg from the equally underrated NAZARETH, while mucho macho originals SHE'S NO ANGEL and SHAKEDOWN maintain a ferocious jackhammer pace. You'll wonder how the hell you missed this sucker the first time around.

RATING: FIVE EYELINERS

WHAT'S IN A NAME?

MONTROSE-MONTROSE:

1973's MONTROSE is the hard rockin' platter that unleashed future Red Rocker SAMMY HAGAR and former EDGAR WINTER GROUP axe slinger RONNIE MONTROSE on the world, a rowdy composite of raw throated howling and six string versatility that influenced much of the hard rock that followed in that decade. The best known tracks are the sonic slabs of macho attitude BAD MOTOR SCOOTER, SPACE STATION #5 and ROCK CANDY, although a double speed version of jump blues shouter ROY BROWN's GOOD ROCKIN' TONIGHT (which ELVIS quickly revived to jump start his career) also goes a long way towards showing off the band's aggressive heavy metal attitude. Not every track jells quite like those four, but overall, this slam bang debut remains a confident, cohesive effort ready made for rock and roll road trips. After just two albums, HAGAR departed for a solo career, taking bassist PHIL CHURCH and drummer DENNY CARMASSI with him, eventually realizing superstardom a decade later with VAN HALEN...a loud, swaggering ensemble that was no stranger to the obvious influence of MONTROSE.

RATING: FOUR MOTOR SCOOTERS

BLUESY MOODS

THE MOODY BLUES-THE BEST OF THE MOODY BLUES:

Even detractors of contemporary art rock would be hard put to dispel the dreamy, commercially viable audio ambience that was THE MOODY BLUES. After their DENNY LAINE-warbled RNB debut GO NOW (a cover of a BESSIE BANKS hit), the MOODYS switched gears, employing Mellotron, RAY THOMAS' ethereal flute, and cosmic material to forge a lusher, more visceral sound. Singer/guitarist JUSTIN HAYWARD provided a mellow, almost surreal yin (NIGHTS IN WHITE SATIN, TUESDAY AFTERNOON) to bassist/vocalist JOHN LODGE's tougher edged yang (RIDE MY SEE-SAW, I'M JUST A SINGER IN A ROCK AND ROLL BAND), ringing up countless FM rock staples and slick concept albums in the process. Although their mainstreamed comeback efforts YOUR WILDEST DREAMS and E.L.O. knockoff GEMINI DREAM were slightly below par, HAYWARD's solo stab FOREVER AUTUMN is up there with the prettiest things he's ever done. After several flawed compilations, THE BEST OF THE MOODY BLUES is ultimately as meticulous and complete as the band's "psychedelic symphony" vision.

RATING: FIVE LOST CHORDS



GIMME MOORE!

GARY MOORE-STILL GOT THE BLUES:

After a brief stint with THIN LIZZY in the late seventies and a series of largely ignored solo albums during the eighties, Irish flash guitarist GARY MOORE finally hit real pay dirt as a hard rockin' bloozer on this scintillating mix of covers and originals released around the time of STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN's untimely demise. MOORE's searing gut-punch axe work and impassioned vocals infused his lone radio hit STILL GOT THE BLUES, a ballad cousin of PARISIENNE WALKWAYS, which he co-wrote with LIZZY's PHIL LYNOTT. Fans of those soaring dreamscapes will also appreciate his sublime, soulful readings of AS THE YEARS GO PASSING BY and MIDNIGHT BLUES. On the fast track, the name dropping efforts TEXAS STRUT and KING OF THE BLUES are exceptional noggin-knockers. He also pumps up the power on rough 'n ready remakes of signature tracks from RNB legends JOHNNY "GUITAR" WATSON, ALBERT KING and PETER GREEN...even GEORGE HARRISON's THAT KIND OF WOMAN gets the patented "more is MOORE" treatment. A virtual greatest hits collection unto itself, this bombastic, roadhouse party platter remains the sorely under appreciated GARY MOORE's shining hour.

RATING: FIVE ROADHOUSES

THE DEVIL MADE HIM DO IT

VAN MORRISON-PAY THE DEVIL:

Throughout the decades, a number of pop stars, from JERRY LEE LEWIS to B. J. THOMAS and BILLY JOE ROYAL have made occasional forays into country music with varying degrees of success. Of course, like RAY CHARLES, whose groundbreaking MODERN SOUNDS IN COUNTRY AND WESTERN MUSIC made inroads in the sixties, VAN MORRISON is no ordinary "pop star"...not with an output saturated in jazz, RNB and Celtic soul, to name but three genres. PAY THE DEVIL finds the Belfast Cowboy confidently tackling WEBB PIERCE's honky tonk standard THERE STANDS THE GLASS, HANK WILLIAMS' immortal weeper YOUR CHEATIN' HEART and RODNEY CROWELL's more recent TIL I GAIN CONTROL AGAIN, punctuating each with his reedy, impeccable set of world weary pipes. Sentimental steel guitar licks and OWEN BRADLEY styled strings lend atmosphere to every selection, including MORRISON's own boot tapping title track; this is a pop legend belting authentic country and western in the tradition of GEORGE JONES, as opposed to today's cookie cutter country stars who shamelessly peddle pop.

RATING: FOUR ROYALE FLUSHES

VAN-THOLOGY

VAN MORRISON-STILL ON TOP/THE GREATEST HITS:

Always a reluctant participant in the fame game, ethereal songwriter/bloozey growler VAN MORRISON's eclectic fusion of roots rock and Irish folk music has rendered him a fave of both fans and critics for over five decades. From GLORIA's early punk swagger and MOONDANCE's creamy ambience to the strutting tribute JACKIE WILSON SAID and WAVELENGTH's unbridled gospel buzz, the Belfast belter has churned up a body of work reigned in only by his own temperamental personality and notoriously perfectionist standards. The stunning triumvirate of BROWN EYED GIRL, DOMINO and WILD NIGHT are cornerstones of classic era AM pop radio, each one a testifyin' truth as only a blue eyed soul preacher like Morrison could administer it. Recent scintillating tidbits like HEY MR. DJ and BACK ON TOP demonstrate his continued commitment to rhythmic quality armed with a message. STILL ON TOP is available in single, double, and triple disc form, but any way you slice it, VAN's always been "the man".

RATING: FIVE DROPS OF TUPELO HONEY

WRECKING CRUE

MOTLEY CRUE-A DECADE OF DECADENCE:

As infamous for their drug-fueled bad boy antics (notably, front man VINCE NEIL's car crash that killed HANOI ROCKS drummer RAZZLE) as for their sleazy brand of dumb-fun party animal rock, MOTLEY CRUE's first "best of" platter A DECADE OF DECADENCE ranks as the pick of their countless compilations. Early upheavals SHOUT AT THE DEVIL and LOOKS THAT KILL were big bang slabs of swaggering punk-metal attitude, while "crank it up" covers of THE SEX PISTOLS' ANARCHY IN THE U.K. and BROWNSVILLE STATION's SMOKIN' IN THE BOYS ROOM pointed to the band's hell-raiser influences. Leather and stud clad smashes GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS, DR. FEELGOOD and KICKSTART MY HEART were only occasionally offset by subtler efforts like HOME SWEET HOME, one of eighties rock's less annoying power ballads. Coming across as a sort of crude KISS on steroids, the CRUE boasted four almost as well known personalities...not to mention a glam-filled grab bag of hedonistic, hook filled anthems for the brews 'n blue jeans crowd.

RATING: THREE ROCK 'N ROLL JUNKIES



HEAD STRONG

MOTORHEAD-THE BEST OF MOTORHEAD:

No metal trio ever pounded it out louder, faster or downright nastier than those London-bred bad boys of noise MOTORHEAD; the band's name came from a song penned by front man LEMMY while still a member of space rock troupe HAWKWIND. LEMMY's dastardly dark humor lyrics, strangled gargle and thundering bass lines propelled ugly, mind-numbing slabs like ACE OF SPADES, IRON FIST and ORGASMATRON, with immeasurable support from slam-bang drummer "PHILTHY ANIMAL" TAYLOR and the junkyard clang riffs of "FAST EDDIE" CLARKE, who eventually jumped ship to form the short-lived FASTWAY. BEST OF is a lava spewing forty track grab bag of hard core neck breakers that inspired legions of speed and thrash metal wannabes. No wimpy "power ballads" allowed here, but you do get blistering covers of garage rock anthem LOUIE LOUIE and the SEX PISTOLS' GOD SAVE THE QUEEN, plus the dirty duet PLEASE DON'T TOUCH with like-minded sinister sister group GIRLSCHOOL. MOTORHEAD's decades long legacy of molten sludge splattered with blood, sweat and beers, ain't for everybody...you know who "they" are and you never liked those people anyway.

RATING: FOUR WARTS

GOT MOTT?...

MOTT THE HOOPLE-GREATEST HITS:

At only a paltry ten tracks, this is the most basic of MOTT THE HOOPLE samplers, but at least it contains their handful of fabulous, flamboyant radio hits...notably the DAVID BOWIE-penned anthem ALL THE YOUNG DUDES and singer IAN HUNTER's rollicking stomp-fests ALL THE WAY FROM MEMPHIS and ROLL AWAY THE STONE. The acid croak of HUNTER, in tandem with future BAD COMPANY guitarist MICK RALPHS' meaty licks were at the core of MOTT's glam/folk/RNB/proto punk soundscape, making them one of rock & roll's most compelling, intelligent outfits (one containing colorfully named members like OVEREND WATTS and ARIEL BENDER at that). The joyous gospel-charged chorus of THE GOLDEN AGE OF ROCK & ROLL, FOXY FOXY's wall of sound whomp and the whimsical autobiography BALLAD OF MOTT THE HOOPLE may represent only the tip of the proverbial iceberg...almost all of their early platters are well worth a spin or three...but as a quickie introduction to one of the seventies' most woefully underrated bands, GREATEST HITS scores a big bull's eye.

RATING: FOUR HOOPLES



ROCKIN' MOUNTAIN HIGH

MOUNTAIN-THE BEST OF MOUNTAIN:

From the band's name to the gargantuan axe riffs and ungodly vocal assault of 300 pound front man LESLIE WEST, everything about MOUNTAIN was, to say the least, "heavy". Producer/bassist/co-singer FELIX PAPPALARDI was the honey-voiced yin to WEST's unhinged, rotgut yang, (documented in the ANIMAL TRAINER & THE TOAD) while drummer CORKY LAING held down their bruising backbeat, making them a harder rockin' answer to CREAM. MISSISSIPPI QUEEN, an immortal two and a half minute slab of sonic destruction, is counterbalanced by the ethereal beauty of THEME FROM AN IMAGINARY WESTERN and NANTUCKET SLEIGHRIDE, undisputed classics that will be familiar to anyone tuned into seventies FM radio. Other selling points on this short summary of an all too brief career include ROLL OVER BEETHOVEN reimagined as a brontasauric brawl, and sublime WOODSTOCK era fable FOR YASGUR'S FARM. WEST would pursue a bloozey solo career and innumerable band reunions (minus the late PAPPALARDI) for decades to come, but THE BEST OF MOUNTAIN harnesses the highlights of a band that was far too big to be contained for very long.

RATING: FIVE PEAKS

MOVING DAY

THE MOVERS-BLUES THAT MOVES:

A stone cold case of "truth in advertising", 90s upstarts THE MOVERS compared favorably to another New England bred set of boogie brothers, ROOMFUL OF BLUES, who also specialized in horn-vaccinated mash ups of swing, RNB and jazz. Led by earthy, energized belter DANNY VITALE and a trumpet/trombone/sax attack appropriately dubbed THE SMOKING SECTION, THE MOVERS deliver a tasty TGIF soundtrack, never letting up through fifteen tight tracks of dance party antics. Half the fun of BLUES THAT MOVES is the band's impeccable cover tune taste...JOHNNY "GUITAR" WATSON's oft-tackled TOO TIRED, THE FABULOUS THUNDERBIRDS' early morning tribute WHY GET UP, BIG JOE TURNER's rollicking BOOGIE WOOGIE COUNTRY GIRL and BOBBY "BLUE" BLAND's greasy AIN'T THAT LOVIN' YOU all get work outs that will inspire any listener to jump, jive and wail. To paraphrase that giddy godfather of swing blues LOUIS JORDAN, if you can't get up and move to THE MOVERS..."Jack, you're dead!"

RATING: FOUR MOVIN' GROOVES



MAMA, TALK TO YOUR DAUGHTER

JENNI MULDAUR-JENNI MULDAUR:

Let's face the music...Hank Jr. and Nancy Sinatra aside, precious few children of famous musicians end up becoming big stars themselves. Roots rock warbler Maria Muldaur, unfairly tagged a "one hitter" for MIDNIGHT AT THE OASIS, was (and still is) a sultry belter with roots in jazz, blues, and gospel. Daughter Jenni is that all too rare example of an offspring who is capable of carrying her mama's torch if only listeners were exposed to her sophisticated work. Muldaur's soaring waif-like voice wraps itself seductively 'round perky folk-pop, snazzy ballads, and most musical genres in between. She also pens many of the best numbers herself, with players-to-the-stars Chuck Leavell, Warren Haynes, Nathan East, and Waddy Watchel along for the ride. It's a travesty this early 90s effort made no inroads on the pop charts or adult contemporary radio...but trust me...the sweet, winsome music here matches that pretty face on the cover.

FIVE SWEET NOTES



DONUT WHOLE

MARIA MULDAUR-WAITRESS IN THE DONUT SHOP:

Between RNB, folk, soul, jazz, and gospel, former JUG BAND warbler MARIA GRAZIA ROSA DOMENICA D'AMATO (whew!) seemingly never met a roots rock genre she couldn't handle with grace and ease. Her second album WAITRESS IN THE DONUT SHOP is a treasure trove of styles administered via her rich, expressive pipes and slinky, carefree delivery; a who's who of session greats including ELVIN BISHOP, DOC WATSON, LOWELL GEORGE, PAUL BUTTERFIELD, and DR. JOHN contribute tasty cameos throughout. The funky LEIBER & STOLLER standard I'M A WOMAN and bawdy jumpin' jiver IT AIN'T THE MEAT IT'S THE MOTION are straight from the roadhouse, while FATS WALLER's jazzy SQUEEZE ME and SKIP JAMES' IF YOU HAVEN'T ANY HAY receive playful steam-heat treatments. New Orleans songsmith ALLEN TOUSSAINT's BRICKYARD BLUES gets a sly workout and TRAVELIN' SHOES is acapella gospel at its most righteous, allowing MULDAUR to weave her sweet 'n sultry web between the cracks. MARIA's long career found her delving deeper into modern music's earthy origins with each acclaimed album, eschewing the less challenging route of a pop star to meet the blues head on.

RATING: FOUR DONUTS

NOT GUMBY, DAMNIT!

EDDIE MURPHY-COMEDIAN:

Hot on the heels of his wildly successful SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE stint and a string of box office smashes like 48 HOURS and TRADING PLACES, the unforgettable cable concert DELIRIOUS (released on album as COMEDIAN) cemented EDDIE MURPHY's status as the early eighties' biggest comic superstar and heir apparent to RICHARD PRYOR. In spite of a dated opening bit about sexual preferences, this is the Brooklyn born maverick at his most aggressive, cockiest, and downright funniest, sounding off about childhood (cleaned up, ICE CREAM MAN could be a BILL COSBY piece), politics and racism. MURPHY's gift for sound effects and mimickry...his sassy, irreverent sendups of JAMES BROWN, MICHAEL JACKSON and STEVIE WONDER are hilarious...make the blistering routines SINGERS, BARBECUE and SHOE THROWIN' MOTHERS lively treats even without the visuals, namely EDDIE's playful facial expressions and swaggering body language. A quick comparison to the much harsher RAW (which was released theatrically) loudly confirms that DELIRIOUS is the best concert EDDIE MUPRHY ever threw down and indeed one the finest comedy showcases of all time.

RATING: FIVE BUCKWHEATS

NASH BRIDGES

JOHNNY NASH-I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW:

Guitar god ERIC CLAPTON is often credited with bringing BOB MARLEY to the masses via his chart topping cover of the gritty saga I SHOT THE SHERIFF in 1974; the fact is, stylish belter JOHNNY NASH beat him to it by a full two years with his smash rendition of MARLEY's slinky, sensual groover STIR IT UP. NASH's most popular album I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW, named after his own effervescent chart-topping composition, is a effortlessly bridges reggae, soul and pop, featuring additional percolatin' tracks from MARLEY's songbook like GUAVA JELLY and COMMA COMMA, some with backing from THE WAILERS themselves. NASH's sweet, clear pipes also soar over yearning lullabys such as IT WAS SO NICE WHILE IT LASTED and THERE ARE MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS as well as the horn-heavy dance track OOH BABY YOU'VE BEEN GOOD TO ME. Jamaica's second biggest star JIMMY CLIFF charted his greatest stateside success via a note-for-note remake of I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW...lest anyone doubt this breezey platter's influence.

RATING: RATING: FOUR BEATS

ALL THAT NAZ

NAZARETH-GREATEST HITS:

For loud 'n proud, unadulterated headsmashin' fun, few bands of their day could put the "raw" in rock like Scotland's bawdy Nazareth. Led by head shrieker Dan McCafferty, possessor of some of the nastiest vocal-shredding chords ever heard, they charged head long into blooze, ballads or bad boy ballbreakers with equal ferocity. Their lone across-the-board smash, a pleading remake of the Everly Brothers oldie LOVE HURTS was handsomely offset by the sheer gargantuan slam of RAZAMANAZZ, GO DOWN FIGHTING and FM staple HAIR OF THE DOG...known to most as "SON OF A BITCH". Kudos also for their thorough disembowelment of Joni Mitchell's THIS FLIGHT TONIGHT, which is as volcanic as Judas Priest's lethal stab at Joan Baez' DIAMONDS AND RUST. Sandwiched squarely between the hard and the soft sits HOLIDAY, one of the seventies' lost pop masterstrokes, with its cunning chorus, "Ma-ma-ma-ma please, no more deckhands-I don't know who my Daddy is." Yes, Nazareth had it all...the chops, the creativity, even exquisite taste when covering others...everything it seems, but radio airplay. Here's your chance to see what the fuss was all about.

RATING: FIVE THROAT LOZENGES

FULL NELSON

RICKY NELSON-GREATEST HITS:

TV star-turned pop heartthrob-turned country rock pioneer RICKY NELSON may not have enjoyed the unprecedented popularity of ELVIS (the only artist who outsold him in the pre-BEATLES era), but his good looks, non-threatening style, and sincere delivery made him one of the era's most likable performers. From the rockabilly punch of IT'S LATE and JUST A LITTLE TOO MUCH (written by ROCK & ROLL TRIO members JOHNNY and DORSEY BURNETT) to more sophisticated fare like TEEN AGE IDOL and the double sided smash TRAVELIN' MAN/HELLO MARY LOU, NELSON projected a warmth and maturity far beyond most of his contemporaries. 1972's autobiographical smash GARDEN PARTY proved a welcome comeback and memorable swan song for the enduring star who had by then shortened his name to "RICK" and formed the legendary STONE CANYON BAND featuring future members of THE EAGLES and LITTLE FEAT. GREATEST HITS is one of literally dozens of RICKY NELSON compilations on the market, but its smartly chosen selection of twenty-five bona fide classics make it a strong contender for the ultimate single platter tribute.

RATING: FOUR OZZIES

LONE STAR STATE OF MIND

WILLIE NELSON-THE ESSENTIAL WILLIE NELSON:

Organic Texas singer/songwriter WILLIE NELSON whipped out country standards like CRAZY, FUNNY HOW TIME SLIPS AWAY, HELLO WALLS and NIGHT LIFE long before hitting pay dirt as a performer in his own right in the seventies. "Shotgun Willie" not only kick-started the back to basics "outlaw" movement with running buddy WAYLON JENNINGS, he also released the landmark albums RED HEADED STRANGER and STAR DUST. He even managed to duet with seemingly every musician on the planet, from RAY CHARLES and DOLLY PARTON to MERLE HAGGARD and NEIL YOUNG. NELSON's reedy, laid back vocal style, unique phrasing and distinctive acoustic guitar work drove his own chestnuts BLUE EYES CRYING IN THE RAIN and ON THE ROAD AGAIN as well as masterful interpretations of GEORGIA ON MY MIND and CITY OF NEW ORLEANS. An artist for the ages, his plaintive, idiosyncratic groove, coupled with an uncompromising attitude and forays into pop, western swing, tin pan alley, gospel and blues, makes the double platter ESSENTIAL a worthy tribute that could have easily extended over twice as many discs.

RATING: FIVE BRAIDS

LIV IT UP!

OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN-MAGIC/THE VERY BEST:

Few middle of the road performers appealed to a wider audience than OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN, who blended country, pop and soft rock sounds for an unbroken string of hit singles throughout the seventies. Memorable tunes included the virtually interchangeable down home ditties LET ME BE THERE and IF YOU LOVE ME LET ME KNOW, her seductive belly rubbing ballad I HONESTLY LOVE YOU and the slickly rendered HAVE YOU NEVER BEEN MELLOW. Superstardom beckoned with the release of that unstoppable multi-generational juggernaut GREASE and its JOHN TRAVOLTA assisted soundtrack smashes SUMMER NIGHTS and YOU'RE THE ONE THAT I WANT. ONJ spiced up her wholesome girl next door image at the dawn of the eighties via the suggestively titled dance tracks MAKE A MOVE ON ME and PHYSICAL, her final chart topper, which was accompanied by a famously steamy video. The nearly perfect compilation MAGIC (named for the title track from her second musical) includes the bonus track GREASE MEGAMIX, a choppy medley fused to a disco beat that ends things on a kitschy high note.

RATING: FOUR COO'S



ALL DOLLED UP

NEW YORK DOLLS-ROCK 'N ROLL:

This aptly titled collection reigns in most of the NEW YORK DOLLS' initial two album career, a swaggering, staggering mash-up of sleazoid garage, brash white boy soul, and greasy glam rock...the very foundation of future punkers everywhere. This motley assemblage of rude 'n crude cross-dressers spotlighted gravel-gargling growler DAVID JOHANSEN, who later forged a kitschy career as pompadoured jumpin' jiver BUSTER POINDEXTER. His bloozey, bronto stomp bellow rode shotgun over the cockfighting guitars of JOHNNY THUNDERS and SYLVAIN SYLVAIN, anchored by JERRY NOLAN and KILLER KANE's slop bucket rhythm section. Strangely, the band's unhinged covers of BO DIDDLEY's PILLS and THE CADETS' cult classic STRANDED IN THE JUNGLE are missing in action, ignoring the muddy RNB vibe that was an essential part of their makeup. Original sonic slabs of sludge TRASH, PERSONALITY CRISIS and WHO ARE THE MYSTERY GIRLS, while too confrontational for early seventies FM radio, were an obvious influence on outrageous groups like KISS and THE RAMONES. Love 'em or loathe 'em, ROCK 'N ROLL is smeared with the indelible, glorious mess that was the NEW YORK DOLLS.

RATING: FOUR LIPSTICKS

JUST WILD ABOUT HARRY

NILSSON-ALL TIME GREATEST HITS:

HARRY NILSSON wasn't your ordinary "pop star"...possessing a droll wit, a quirky vocabulary of diverse styles, and a multi octave vocal range, few radio listeners tied Top 40 fare such as the funky island jam COCONUT, the childlike ME & MY ARROW and the hard charging JUMP INTO THE FIRE together under the same name. An eclectic tunesmith who provided ONE for THREE DOG NIGHT, CUDDLY TOY for THE MONKEES, and the winsome theme from TV's THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE'S FATHER, he also scored with sweetly tasteful, laid back covers of FRED NEIL's MIDNIGHT COWBOY classic EVERYBODY'S TALKIN and the lush, starkly beautiful BADFINGER track WITHOUT YOU. ALL TIME GREATEST HITS gathers up the important radio singles from SPACEMAN and DAYBREAK to I GUESS THE LORD MUST BE IN NEW YORK CITY, tossing in a pair of RANDY NEWMAN covers and an after hours rendition of the BOGIE-associated AS TIME GOES BY for extra atmosphere. NILSSON was always a musical enigma whose fans (at least those who knew his name, not merely his hits) found a rewarding challenge to unravel.

RATING: FOUR OCTAVES

HERE'S THE DIRT

THE NITTY GRITTY DIRT BAND-BEST OF:

In spite of numerous lineup changes, THE NITTY GRITTY DIRT BAND has been forging an easy to digest blend of pop, bluegrass and country-rock since the late sixties, when their lightly psychedelic BUY FOR ME THE RAIN became their first Top 40 hit. A former jug band boasting impeccable vocal harmonies, THE NGDB helped boost the careers of MICHAEL NESMITH and KENNY LOGGINS by covering SOME OF SHELLEY'S BLUES and HOUSE AT POOH CORNER, and especially JERRY JEFF WALKER, turning his sentimental saga MR. BOJANGLES into a massive hit. Flaunting their folky roots and multi-instrumental abilities, they also tackled JOHNNY HORTON's BATTLE OF NEW ORLEANS and HANK WILLIAMS' JAMBALAYA with vigor and authenticity. After the succulent 1980 pop hits AN AMERICAN DREAM and MAKE A LITLE MAGIC, notable for JEFF HANNA's warm delivery and sweet backup from LINDA RONSTADT and NICHOLETTE LARSON, the group found a comfortable niche in the country field for the next two decades. That batch of sparkling down home singles can be sampled on MORE GREAT DIRT.

RATING: FOUR SPECKS OF DIRT

CAT-ATONIC!

TED NUGENT-CAT SCRATCH FEVER:

The public at large only knows guitar guru TED NUGENT for that hit ode to communicable disease CAT SCRATCH FEVER (his lone Top 40 single, discounting JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE MIND from his AMBOY DUKES years)...which is a shame, because Guitarzan unleashes one of his most consistently enjoyable albums here, deftly avoiding the mediocore material that bogged down some of his later efforts. One of TED's secret weapons is arena-ready belter DEREK ST. HOLMES, who sings searing lead on the majority of tracks including WORKIN' HARD PLAYIN' HARD and LIVE IT UP, a smart counterpart to TED's more limited gravelly screech on the title hit and WANG DANG SWEET POONTANG. Throughout the frantically paced free-for-all, UNCLE TED's in your face licks on OUT OF CONTROL, SWEET SALLY and the smokin' instrumental HOMEBOUND are always the real star of the show anyway, making CAT SCRATCH FEVER the perfect showcase for the Motor City Madman's aggressive, outrageous hard rock theatrics.

RATING: FIVE CLAWS

STAGE FRIGHT

TED NUGENT-DOUBLE LIVE GONZO:

This is easily the most over the top twin concert platter of the seventies, and that's saying something in an era which saw powerful live releases from BOB SEGER, KISS and SKYNYRD. The soul-scorching souvenir DOUBLE LIVE GONZO serves as a proud reminder of what made TED NUGENT such an irreverent, cocky and gloriously loud guitar star...pretty much all the things good hard rock SHOULD be, but often ain't. A sizzling nod to his bloozey/psychedelic AMBOY DUKES past includes GREAT WHITE BUFFALO and BABY, PLEASE DON'T GO, while criminally under-utilized belter DEREK ST. HOLMES administers his crisp white soul bleat on JUST WHAT THE DOCTOR ORDERED and STRANGEHOLD, leaving UNCLE TED to screech out MOTOR CITY MADHOUSE, the gloriously juvenile YANK ME, CRANK ME and of course, that enduring ode to communicable disease, CAT SCRATCH FEVER. With hyperkinetic stage patter rivaled only by J. GEILS front man PETER WOLF, six string solos that could melt cement and the NUGE's infamous attitude, DOUBLE LIVE GONZO more than lives up to its title...this is TED's party and you're all invited.

RATIN: FIVE LOINCLOTHS

TAKING HIS LICKS

TED NUGENT-IF YOU CAN'T LICK 'EM...LICK 'EM:

Rock & roll predator TED NUGENT hit a rough patch during the eighties, tanking with the albums NUGENT and PENETRATOR after a star making run via the party pounding seventies platters CAT SCRATCH FEVER and FREE FOR ALL. One of the major problems with the tastelessly titled IF YOU CAN'T LICK 'EM...LICK 'EM is a second lead vocalist of DEREK ST. HOLMES' soulful caliber to help carry the weight; NUGENT's more limited range grates after a few tracks, let alone ten (his live INTENSITIES IN TEN CITIES similarly suffered). Uncle Ted famously abstains from drugs and booze, so cheap sex is about all that's left to bellow about on the title track, SPREAD YOUR WINGS and THE HARDER THEY COME (THE HARDER I GET), which are as ninth grade locker room level as they sound. Nothing here carries the trademark gonzo appeal of say, STRANGLEHOLD, SNAKESKIN COWBOYS or WANGO TANGO, perhaps explaining its complete lack of radio acceptance. Fortunately, NUGENT pulled himself up by the boot straps and brought back ST. HOLMES (not to mention BROWNSVILLE STATION bassist MIKE LUTZ) for his next shot SPIRIT OF THE WILD, easily his best effort in years.

RATING: TWO TONGUES

CITY LIMITS

TED NUGENT-INTENSITIES IN TEN CITIES:

The differences between the Motor City Madman's party platter DOUBLE LIVE GONZO and the concert follow up are painfully obvious...first off, soulful belter DEREK ST. HOLMES is long gone, leaving it up to Uncle Ted to put across every via with his own semi-grating vocals...that gets old fast, folks. Second, this outing trots out nine new originals (none destined to become classics) and a so-so cover of the oldie LAND OF 1000 DANCES, rather than revisiting his outrageous back catalogue...why not tackle sleazoid gems SNAKESKIN COWBOYS and WANGO TANGO, rather than sludgy fare like LOVE IS LIKE A TIRE IRON and I AM A PREDATOR? HOLMES' soundalike replacement, bloozey bellower CHARLIE HUHN (FOGHAT's current front man), is underused to the point of not even being there, even though TED has always come off better when he shares the spotlight with another singer. In spite of its boastful title, INTENSITIES IN TEN CITIES spits out ten tracks from ten different stages without a tenth of DOUBLE LIVE GONZO's over the top excitement and irreverent showmanship.

RATING: TWO TARZAN YELLS



TED BARE

TED NUGENT-THE MUSIC OF TED NUGENT:

Mixing blatant sexual metaphors with equally rock hard riffage, Detroit's favorite son crashes outta this three disc roundup with psychedelicized slabs of AMBOY DUKES magnitude, namely JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE MIND and BABY PLEASE DON'T GO. The bulk of his legendary debut solo platter follows, including signature screamers SNAKESKIN COWBOYS and JUST WHAT THE DOCTOR ORDERED, bellowed out by NUGENT's intermittent secret weapon, blue eyed soul-shaker DEREK ST. HOLMES. Uncle Ted, always a more arresting axe man than singer, capably handles the howling on sleazoid smash CAT SCRATCH FEVER and fist pumper/axe humper WANGO TANGO, an unbalanced stream of consciousness meltdown. ST. HOLMES' successor CHARLIE HUHN belts out a bloozey cover of GEORGE HARRISON's I WANT TO TELL YOU, while a trio of loin-clad classics from the lava-spewing concert album DOUBLE LIVE GONZO finishes off the final disc. This box set wisely clamps shut tight before delving into the free falling phase of the Motor City Madman's post-seventies career.

RATING: FIVE CROSSBOWS

SCRATCHING THE SURFACE

TED NUGENT-OVER THE TOP:

Followers of the Motor City Madman's heatsinking seventies hits CAT SCRATCH FEVER and WANGO TANGO might well be put off by this comparatively tame compilation of early AMBOY DUKES material from the sixties. However, open minded fans interested in what Uncle Ted was up to before the daze of screaming guitars and Tarzan caterwauling may embrace this clutch of psychedelia, RNB and garage rock featuring considerably less of his gonzo guitar work and in your face attitude. PETE TOWNSHEND's seldom covered IT'S NOT TRUE (on which THE DUKES do a passable WHO imitation) and a bloozey take on the ASHFORD & SIMPSON penned RAY CHARLES chestnut LET'S GO GET STONED, along with NUGENT's own spacey instrumental MIGRATION, are among the more noteworthy tracks. The group's best known number JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE MIND and the preposterously titled INEXHAUSTIBLE QUEST FOR THE COSMIC CABBAGE or WHY IS A CARROT MORE ORANGE THAN AN ORANGE may not be here...but as a peek into the humble beginnings of one of the rock & roll's more outrageous personalities, OVER THE TOP serves its purpose well enough.

RATING: THREE MANES

BORN TO BE WILD

TED NUGENT-SPIRIT OF THE WILD:

CAT SCRATCH FEVER notwithstanding, some of TED NUGENT's best music has often been the stuff that's not immediately recognizable as The Motor City Madman. What do JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE MIND, SNAKESKIN COWBOYS and HAMMER DOWN all have in common?...Uncle Ted leaves the caterwauling to AMBOY DUKES member JOHN DRAKE, the irrefutable DEREK ST. HOLMES and a pre-fame MEAT LOAF respectively. Too bad bassist/producer MIKE LUTZ, who previously belted out BROWNSVILLE STATION's cult classics BAREFOOTIN' and KINGS OF THE PARTY, doesn't get a lead vocal shot here...his bloozey growl, along with the welcome return of ST. HOLMES' soul-shredding peals, would have more than offset the NUGE's occasional star turn at the microphone. FRED BEAR, the closest thing TED's had to an anthem since the daze of WANGO TANGO shows off his dialed back LITTLE MISS DANGEROUS pipes, and a revamp of AMBOY DUKES warhorse TOOTH, FANG & CLAW likewise castrates the scream factor. Suffice to say that the best frontman moments belong, as always, to ST. HOLMES, leaving NUGENT free to do what he does so well on his finest platter in years...shut up 'n play.

RATING: FOUR HEADDRESSES

JUST WHAT THE DOCTOR ORDERED

TED NUGENT-TED NUGENT:

After exiting the psychedelic Detroit rock city outfit THE AMBOY DUKES, notable for the MOODY BLUES-like hit JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF YOUR MIND, savage six stringer TED NUGENT's aggressive self titled solo debut proved not only a much needed breakthrough but ultimately his most rewarding offering. A virtual greatest hits unto itself, TED NUGENT unleashed the hedonistic slam jams STRANGLEHOLD, SNAKESKIN COWBOYS, STORMTROOPIN' and JUST WHAT THE DOCTOR ORDERED on an unsuspecting world, assuming the role of savage gonzo metal king. Most of the nine mind-numbers here are bleated by unsung hero DEREK ST. HOLMES, whose sinewy RNB influence was NUGENT's mightiest weapon outside of his trusty GIBSON BIRDLAND...subsequent belters CHARLIE HUHN and BRIAN HOWE were merely fill-ins. TED NUGENT kicked off the Motor City Madman's hard rockin' hat trick that included FREE FOR ALL and CAT SCRATCH FEVER, capped off by the unrestrained mammoth show piece DOUBLE LIVE GONZO. 1999 re-issues include four bonus cuts...a trio of raw concert slabs and an outtake of the atypical MAGIC PARTY, one of Uncle Ted's least macho tunes.

RATING: FIVE HEAD BANDS

O'KAY!

THE O'JAYS-THE ESSSENTIAL O'JAYS:

Legendary producers/writers/label owners KENNY GAMBLE & LEON HUFF mentored an impressive stable of PHILLY SOUL stars, none mightier than THE O'JAYS, who seamlessly sweated pop, RNB and funk into a long list of seventies chestnuts. The vein-poppin' power of EDDIE LEVERT's macho growl was nicely counterbalanced by WALT WILLIAMS' slinky, grit-laced strains; most groups would kill for just ONE lead singer like these guys. Their breakthrough album boasted a "message in our music" hat-trick...the paranoia-pulsed BACK STABBERS, domestic downer 992 ARGUMENTS, and joyous world peace plea LOVE TRAIN...enough to cement a career right there. During the Disco era that killed off many black artists, FOR THE LOVE OF MONEY, LIVIN' FOR THE WEEKEND and I LOVE MUSIC proved smart follow ups, actually saying something AND filling dance floors. Their final chartbuster USED TA BE MY GIRL, complete with retro "shoop shoop" embellishments, showed they could also knock out hits while paying homage to their sixties roots. Incredibly, THE O'JAYS have been slingin' soul for over five decades, but ESSENTIAL displays their peak period on one precise, perfect party platter.

RATING: FIVE O'KAYS

THEY DON'T NEED YOUR ROCKIN' CHAIR

OLD DOGS-OLD DOGS:

In the early nineties GEORGE JONES had one of his final hits with the staunch anti-retirement protest I DON'T NEED YOUR ROCKIN' CHAIR. The 1998 super group OLD DOGS (JERRY REED, BOBBY BARE, MEL TILLIS and former HIGHWAYMEN member WAYLON JENNINGS, ) took that sentiment a step further, creating a new definition for "oldies" peppered with their collective grizzled zest and obvious camaraderie. Famously eclectic songwriter SHEL SILVERSTEIN contributes eleven mostly humorous sagas about aging and longevity (ironically, he died shortly after this release), including YOUNG MAN'S JOB, CUT THE MUSTARD and the mutts-as-metaphor title track. The bittersweet, thought provoking ROUGH ON THE LIVING, formerly a hit for BARE (always SILVERSTEIN's greatest interpreter), concerns posthumous respect accorded otherwise ignored Nashville legends, while the tributes ME & JIMMIE RODGERS prove ELVIS HAS LEFT THE BUILDING prove heartfelt and kitschy, respectively. Only enthusiastic "live in the studio" audience participation gets in the way of OLD DOGS being a nearly perfect purchase for fans of these seasoned pros...but maybe I'm just a geezer with nothing better to do than complain.

RATING: FOUR OLD DOGS

WATCH OUT FOR THE BOOGIE MAN!

OMAR & THE HOWLERS-ESSENTIAL COLLECTION:

Gravel-voiced blooze belter OMAR KENT DYKES has been howlin' like a banshee since the early eighties, greasing the rock & roll skids with a menacing WOLFMAN JACK-meets-BRIAN JOHNSON growl and funky guitar work for a wide variety of labels. ESSENTIAL COLLECTION captures two platters' worth of his grittiest gutbucket moments, including live versions of older material like MISSISSIPPI HOO DOO MAN and HARD TIMES IN THE LAND OF PLENTY (the original is a dead ringer for BRIAN JOHNSON era AC/DC); while not surpassing the originals, these are more than solid efforts. A fine tunesmith in his own right, DYKES naturally gravitates to his rootsy heroes for a hellzapoppin' swing band cover of THE PAUL BUTTERFIELD BAND's WORK SONG (complete with lyrics!), CLARENCE "GATEMOUTH" BROWN's rug-burner THAT'S YOUR DADDY YADDY YO and SCREAMIN' JAY HAWKINS' steamy swamp saga ALLIGATOR WINE, stamping each with swaggering soul power. The double disc ESSENTIAL ends on a high note, with a sprightly acoustic run-through of WILLIE DIXON's BUILT FOR COMFORT, a signature tune from one of DYKES' major vocal inspirations, HOWLIN' WOLF.

RATING: FOUR THROAT LOZENGES

HOWLIN' WOLFMAN

OMAR & THE HOWLERS-LIVE AT THE PARADISO:

Hailing from the same fertile Austin Texas blooze scene that introduced the world to STEVIE RAVE ON and THE FABULOUS THUNDERBIRDS, raw and rambunctious singer/axe slinger OMAR KENT DYKES sports a pretty neat gimmick...at regular intervals, he alternates a sinister swamp stompin' HOWLIN' WOLF growl with a gravel-pit screech reminiscent of AC/DC's BRIAN JOHNSON. The 1991 club gig LIVE AT THE PARADISO spits out titles like MISSISSIPPI HOO DOO MAN and BORDER GIRL that conjure steamy, swaggering southern imagery, making a gutbucket cover of CCR's BORN ON THE BAYOU seem almost inevitable. The charging anthem HARD TIMES IN THE LAND OF PLENTY (which enjoyed some radio play in the late eighties), the BO DIDDLEY-punctuated MAGIC MAN (which is not the HEART hit) and hot harp workout BIG CHIEF PONTIAC keep the party moving, bolstered by OMAR & THE HOLWERS' lean, swaggering style. DYKES is an electrifying showman who knows exactly what his fans crave...a hot night of uncompromising, down n' dirty rock, soul and RNB...LIVE AT THE PARADISO surely fills that bill.

RATING: FOUR HOWLS

FOR CRYING OUT LOUD

ROY ORBISON-FOR THE LONELY/18 GREATEST HITS:

Talk about bringing the pain. Though he started at SUN RECORDS crafting amiable rockabilly sides like OOBY DOOBY, ROY ORBISON was quite simply pop music's greatest balladeer, a near operatic belter capable of hitting notes that made your eyes well up and your spine crack. OH PRETTY WOMAN may have had a hard, thumping groove going for it, but it was his keen sense of pathos and bittersweet delivery that made CRYING, IT'S OVER and RUNNING SCARED among the most melodramatic sound bites ever waxed. While ORBISON wrote many of his own hits like the RNB-embedded gems UPTOWN and WORKIN' FOR THE MAN, he was also an exquisite interpreter, easily making WILLIE NELSON's PRETTY PAPER and the oft-covered MEAN WOMAN BLUES his own. Unlike most artists, "The Big O" possessed a set of pipes that never failed him, as any fan who saw him play live even into the late eighties will readily attest. That marvelous instrument was silenced far too soon, but ROY ORBISON undoubtedly went out on a high note.

RATING: FIVE SHADES



THE BREAK OF DAWN

THE BEST OF TONY ORLANDO & DAWN:

Before scoring big as the affable leader of one of the early seventies' slickest pop trios, TONY ORLANDO racked up the minor 1961 chart hits BLESS YOU and HALFWAY TO PARADISE. He recorded the fluke bubblegum biggie CANDIDA and its interchangeable follow-up KNOCK THREE TIMES under the anonymous moniker DAWN a decade later. In demand session vocalists TELMA HOPKINS (who provided the memorable "Shut your mouth" line in ISAAC HAYES' legendary SHAFT) and JOYCE VINCENT then joined him for a string of summery smashes...the love-it-or-hate-it anthem TIE A YELLOW RIBBON 'ROUND THE OLD OAK TREE, ragtime throwback SAY HAS ANYBODY SEEN MY SWEET GYPSY ROSE and chipper remakes of SAM COOKE's CUPID and CURTIS MAYFIELD's HE DON'T LOVE YOU (LIKE I LOVE YOU). Like all good disposable pop music of the era, there was nothing offensive and everything to like about TONY ORLANDO & DAWN...fifteen top 40 singles, including three number ones (all collected on THE BEST) sez so.

RATING: FOUR BIG SMILES

OLD ORLEANS

ORLEANS-DANCE WITH ME/THE BEST OF ORLEANS:

New York City's ORLEANS will always be best remembered for the hat trick of easy rocking hits they enjoyed during the second half of the seventies...the practically perfect singles DANCE WITH ME and STILL THE ONE (the latter which was drafted as a popular theme for ABC television) and the sweetly sentimental LOVE TAKES TIME. Led by songwriter/guitarist JOHN HALL and vocalist LARRY HOPPEN, the group's dreamily tight harmonies rode shotgun over a radio friendly soundscape of pop, country and white boy funk...other radio entries included the RNB-perforated REACH and shoulda-been-a-smash LET THERE BE MUSIC, which channeled early DOOBIE BROTHERS. For casual fans wishing to avoid their sometimes spotty albums (not counting LET THERE BE MUSIC, their uniformly excellent breakthrough platter), DANCE WITH ME/THE BEST OF ORLEANS is probably the best way to track their handful of genuinely golden moments.

RATING: THREE DANCES

BEEZLE-BOOB

OZZY OSBOURNE-THE OZZMAN COMETH:

During a decades long career marked by co-founding heavy metal, small critter decapitation and MTV's inexplicably popular "reality" stab THE OSBOURNES, OZZY OSBOURNE may be as surprised as anyone to be one of the last men standing. THE OZZMAN COMETH concentrates mainly on his post-SABBATH output, other than a demo of WAR PIGS and a fierce, double-speed concert take on PARANOID. RANDY RHOADES' axe-propelled juggernauts CRAZY TRAIN, MR. CROWLEY and I DON'T KNOW represent OZZY's best solo work...would he have even HAD a solo career without RHOADES?...but that era's hard rockin' power is sorely diminished by synth-intrusive power ballad dreck like MAMA I'M COMING HOME and IF I CLOSE MY EYES FOREVER. To make matters worse, radio staples STEAL AWAY, I DON'T KNOW and FLYING HIGH AGAIN aren't here at all. Smart shoppers may be better off spinning their well worn copies of BLIZZARD OF OZZ in lieu of picking up this "half a Greatest Hits" collection.

RATING: THREE RABIES SHOTS

GOLDEN IDOL

DONNY OSMOND-25 HITS:

DONNY OSMOND is that rare (maybe only) seventies teen idol who scored on the pop charts repeatedly in three configurations...with his older siblings, as a solo artist, and in tandem with sister MARIE. This cuddly collection avoids the OSMOND BROTHERS hits, none of which he sang lead on anyway. Other than the energized bubblegum blaster SWEET & INNOCENT, most of DONNY's Top 40 output relied on faithfully rendered oldies covers like STEVE LAWRENCE's GO AWAY LITTLE GIRL, a pair of PAUL ANKA ditties, THE FOUR SEASONS semi-rocker C'MON MARIANNE, and syrupy boy-girl duets including DEEP PURPLE and I'M LEAVING IT ALL UP TO YOU with MARIE. DONNY broke the "been there done that" mold with the surprise late eighties chart scalers SACRED EMOTIONS and SOLDIER OF LOVE, showcasing a matured, almost unrecognizable sound. 25 HITS is a worthy summation of a an impressive career, but it may be too much for all but the most rabid DONNY OSMOND fan (you know who you are) to digest in one sitting.

RATING: THREE TIGER BEATS

UTAH SAINTS

THE OSMOND BROTHERS-GREATEST HITS:

Curb Records is infamous for its endless output of stingy ten track anthologies, but this one probably contains just enough Osmond Brothers for most music fans. Jay, Merrill, Wayne, Alan, and breakout teen star brother Donny come across like a white version of the Jackson 5, which is hardly a terrible thing, upon re-sampling the energized bubble-soul of ONE BAD APPLE, HOLD HER TIGHT, and the JOE SOUTH-penned YO-YO. But it's the horn-vaccinated beat and testifying RNB vocals on DOWN BY THE LAZY RIVER and the hard rock hysteria of CRAZY HORSES that really obliterate your eardrums. Crank HORSES sometime for ANY unsuspecting music lover you know, and not one in a thousand will ever guess it's the work of the oft-maligned Osmonds. Overall, this concise collection is preferable to Donny's long string of sugary oldies covers as a solo artist...so keep this well crafted compilation handy and slip it on whenever you crave a fleeting flash of early seventies pop firepower.

RATING: FOUR MOLARS

WANTED!

THE OUTLAWS-BEST OF THE OUTLAWS/GREEN GRASS & HIGH TIDES:

THE OUTLAWS never achieved the name recognition enjoyed by fellow southern rockers ZZ TOP or THE ALLMAN BROTHERS, but this tough posse, led by singer/guitarists HUGHIE THOMASSON and HENRY PAUL was a force to be reckoned with during their mid seventies reign. Often favoring a three axe attack like fellow Floridians LYNYRD SKYNYRD, GREEN GRASS & HIGH TIDES was their answer to FREE BIRD, a subtly building, wall of noise super jam that ran ten minutes in the studio version and much longer on the concert stage. Fan faves HURRY SUNDOWN and THERE GOES ANOTHER LOVE SONG, steeped in THOMASSON's twangy vocals and earthy songwriting, could have been big country hits if marketed to the Stetson and boots set.. (GHOST) RIDERS IN THE SKY, a traditional cowboy classic formerly tackled by everyone from JOHNNY CASH to FRANKIE LANE, proved to be a notable parting shot for THE OUTLAWS, who packed it with all the fire and brimstone imaginable, scoring their biggest radio hit in the process. It's all wrapped up smartly on this crisp sixteen track sampler chronicling an underrated band with an over the top attitude towards downhome Dixie rock.

RATING: FOUR GUN BELTS



MORE BANG FOR YOUR BUCK

BUCK OWENS-THE BUCK OWENS COLLECTION 1959-1990 (BOX SET):

Folks who only know BUCK OWENS as co-host of the long running cornpone TV series HEE HAW are truly missing out. Along with MERLE HAGGARD, OWENS was king of California's fabulous BAKERSFIELD SOUND, a harder edged alternative to Nashville's overproduced sixties fodder. BUCK's long string of classics included TIGER BY THE TAIL, WAITIN' IN YOUR WELFARE LINE, and the self-effacing ACT NATURALLY (which an admiring Fab Four tackled), all indisputable cornerstones of country music. OWENS' ever present BUCKAROOS, led by right hand man DON RICH on tasty guitar and exquisite high harmony vocals, lent crack backing and camaraderie to the barn dance. OWENS, who made a pledge early on to "never go pop" was unafraid to put his honky tonk stamp on rock chestnuts like JOHNNY B. GOODE and COVER OF THE ROLLING STONE, retitled COVER OF THE MUSIC CITY NEWS; he also pulled off the feistiest rendition of bluegrass standard ROLLIN' IN MY SWEET BABY'S ARMS ever waxed. COLLECTION wraps in fine form with the joyous STREETS OF BAKERSFIELD, a chart toppin' duet with BUCK's heir apparent DWIGHT YOAKAM. At over sixty tracks, this twangy triple platter is undoubtedly the most bang for your BUCK.

RATING: FIVE BUCKS

CRUISE CONTROL

PABLO CRUISE-THE BEST OF PABLO CRUISE:

If you crossed the more serious side of JIMMY BUFFET with MICHAEL MCDONALD-era DOOBIE BROTHERS, you'd get a pretty decent idea of the carefree California soft rock PABLO CRUISE had to offer in the late seventies. Smooth, clear voiced crooner/guitarist DAVID JENKINS (who later turned up in the country super group SOUTHERN PACIFIC, which featured two actual DOOBIES) and soulful keyboardist CORY LERIOS share in helming the hits, from earnest smash LOVE WILL FIND A WAY and funky sing-along WHATCHA GONNA DO to disco throbber I WANT YOU TONIGHT and sunny throw down I GO TO RIO, one of PETER ALLEN's most popular compositions. BEST OF collects everything a casual PABLO CRUISE fan could want or need, marred only by a pair of instrumentals, one of which, ZERO TO SIXTY IN FIVE goes nowhere fast in spite of its title. Here's an almost perfect soundtrack to share with a pitcher of margaritas on a balmy "sick day" away from the rat race...PABLO CRUISE has you covered.

REATING: FOUR SUNBEAMS

HIGH TIME

ROBERT PALMER-RIDIN' HIGH:

Besides being an impeccable dresser and memorable MTV video mainstay, blue eyed soul slingin' king of suave ROBERT PALMER was also one of music's great chameleons, sliding effortlessly from funky RNB and reggae-rimmed pop to slithery new wave dance rock as the mood struck him. 1992's RIDIN' HIGH explores the same tin pan alley territory ROD STEWART plumbed so successfully a decade later, only PALMER does it that much better. BILLIE HOLIDAY's DON'T EXPLAIN, DUKE ELLINGTON's DO NOTHING TILL YOU HEAR FROM ME and FATS WALLER's HONEYSUCKLE are putty in PALMER's mitts as he extracts their subtle nuances and divine sophistication with sly intimacy, backed by jazzy big band arrangements. The CARNIE WILSON duet BABY IT'S COLD OUTSIDE is a sexy surprise and even PALMER's two smooth originals blend right in with the COLE PORTER and SAMMY CAHN chestnuts. Performers from LINDA RONSTADT to BRYAN FERRY have revived the American popular songbooks ad nauseum, but few put a more eloquent spin on it than ROBERT PALMER, who belongs in a category all his own.

RATING: FOUR WHITE DINNER JACKETS

BEST DRESSED

ROBERT PALMER-THE VERY BEST OF THE ISLAND YEARS:

Like a more accessible DAVID BOWIE, dapper Brit crooner ROBERT PALMER covered a wide spectrum of lush pop soundscapes, scoring successes with most every genre he touched upon. Always a tasteful interpreter, early faves included a blue eyed soul medley morphing LITTLE FEAT's SAILIN' SHOES with New Orleans tunesmith ALLEN TOUSSAINT's SNEAKIN' SALLY THROUGH THE ALLEY, as well as the sublime island vibe of HARRY BELAFONTE's MAN SMART WOMAN SMARTER and the definitive hard-edged take on MOON MARTIN's BAD CASE OF LOVIN' YOU. His own stylish compositions anchored the sterile new wave throb of LOOKING FOR CLUES, I DIDN'T MEAN TO TURN YOU ON's sinewy funk and the cold-chiseled dance rock juggernaut ADDICTED TO LOVE (plus its sound alike sequel SIMPLY IRRESISTIBLE, heard in a live version here). Unlike previous PALMER compilations marred by remixes and "new recordings" of old classics, THE ISLAND YEARS boasts the original versions of all his biggest solo triumphs (sorry, no POWER STATION hits), a whip-crackin' tribute to the eighties' most reliable, yet undervalued rock & roll chameleon.

RATING: FOUR TAILORED SUITS



HIT TREATMENT

GRAHAM PARKER-PASSION IS NO ORDINARY WORD/THE GRAHAM PARKER ANTHOLOGY 1976-1991:

Snarling pub rocker GRAHAM PARKER boasted some of the fiercest soul slinger pipes of the eighties...a slimy vinegar and saccharin cocktail that gave raspy hacksaw voice to his scathing sabre-pen and mash of punk, folk and island vibes. Opening salvos on this chronological career roundup include HEAT TREATMENT and HOLD BACK THE NIGHT, barnstormers dripping with roadhouse sweat and red hot RNB horn blasts, while DON'T ASK ME QUESTIONS lurches along on a shuffling ska plane. His peak period platter SQUEEZING OUT SPARKS boasts would-be smash LOCAL GIRLS and sardonic slasher DISCOVERING JAPAN, while I WANT YOU BACK packs a wallop unlike few MOTOWN classics ever tackled by a white man. PARKER's twisted wit and thorny wordplay probe MERCURY POISONING, an odious grenade lobbed at his old record label that's in sharp contrast to the harshed mellow of TEMPORARY BEAUTY and WAKE UP (NEXT TO YOU). Later efforts SOUL CORRUPTION and MUSEUM OF STUPIDITY are the scalding kiss-offs their titles imply, suggesting that PARKER has sacrificed precious little of his sardonic edge over the years.

RATING: FIVE GROWLS



JUNIOR ACHIEVEMENT

JUNIOR PARKER-RIDE WITH ME, BABY-THE SINGLES 1952-1961:

Although not nearly as well known as his Memphis counterparts B.B. KING and BOBBY "BLUE" BLAND, suave, silky voiced harmonica blower HERMAN "LITTLE JUNIOR" PARKER brandished a similar, sophisticated blend of urban blues, jazz pop, and sweetly sanctifyin' soul. PARKER pumped out a pair of landmark early sides for SUN RECORDS, who courted blues artists long before hitting paydirt with rockabilly. The raucous FEELIN' GOOD, which was influential enough to prompt numerous knock-offs (BROWNSVILLE STATION even referenced it in their late 70s cult classic MARTAIN BOOGIE), and his shuffling MYSTERY TRAIN, which ELVIS soon made his own, remain indelible roots of rock & roll standards. PARKER's subsequent work for the MODERN and DUKE imprints yielded slicker, more contemporary fare, including big RNB charters like the loping, horn-punctuated DRIVING WHEEL, a sly cover of SWEET HOME CHICAGO, the highly dancable BAREFOOT ROCK, and an occasional novelty like ANNIE GET YOUR YO-YO. The superb double platter RIDE WITH ME, BABY ponies up over fifty sublime tracks covering PARKER's peak period from 1952-1961, the most comprehensive collection available on this stylish, highly underrated bluesman.

RATING; FIVE DRIVING WHEELS

FUNK YARD DOGS

PARLIAMENT-FUNKED UP/THE VERY BEST OF PARLIAMENT:

One of the most visible elements of funk overlord GEORGE CLINTON's multi-faceted musical empire, PARLIAMENT, who started as vocal group THE PARLIAMENTS (scoring the 1967 RNB/pop hit I WANNA TESTIFY), combined loopy sci-fi themes, bizarre costumes and gonzo song material for their spaced out interplanetary party. In a freakazoid universe populated by loopy characters such as DR. FUNKENSTEIN and SIR NOSE (DEVOID OF FUNK), their elastic, eclectic musicianship was beyond reproach, spotlighting horn players MACEO PARKER and FRED WESLEY, bass funkateer BOOSTY COLLINS (all ex-JAMES BROWN band members), synth sorcerer BERNIE WORRELL, and guitar guru GARY SHIDER. Many also doubled up in CLINTON's even less conventional FUNKADELIC, who specialized in blooze-drenched "acid funk". PARLIAMENT's trippy jams GIVE UP THE FUNK (TEAR THE ROOF OFF THE SUCKER), FLASH LIGHT and AQUA BOOGIE may be the best known efforts here...but the titillating UP FOR THE DOWN STROKE, CHOCOLATE CITY and ALL YOUR GOODIES ARE GONE are packed with just as much raw boned viscosity, irreverent humor and CLINTON-esque craftiness.

RATING: FOUR MOTHER SHIPS

BIG PROJECT

THE ALAN PARSONS PROJECT-PLATINUM & GOLD COLLECTION:

THE ALAN PARSONS PROJECT represented a loose collection of musicians assembled for theatrical concept albums and a smattering of pop-meets-prog Top 40 singles. The "non-group" was the brainchild of recording engineer PARSONS, who toiled on groundbreaking albums like ABBEY ROAD and DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, and songwriting partner ERIC WOOLFSON. APP's opening shot was the eerie DR. TARR & PROFESSOR FETHER from their dark, EDGAR ALLEN POE-influenced debut platter, followed by I ROBOT, based on sci-fi writer ISAAC ASIMOV's work. Churning out increasingly radio-friendly singles like GAMES PEOPLE PLAY (not the JOE SOUTH hit), the PINK FLOYD ringer TIME, and "wall of sound" entry DON'T ANSWER ME, PARSONS employed a vast array of session players and singers (including JOHN MILES and THE ZOMBIES' COLIN BLUNSTONE). As a quickie sampler of stylish eighties soundscapes, PLATINUM & GOLD fits the bill nicely...more adventurous fans will want to explore APP's complex LP-length excursions in full.

RATING: FOUR SESSION MEN

BIRDS OF A FEATHER

THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY-COME ON GET HAPPY! THE VERY BEST:

What was it about THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY that made them the ultimate undeniable guilty pleasure, much more so than BOBBY SHERMAN or any combination of OSMONDS? Was it DAVID CASSIDY's G-rated sex appeal? SHIRLEY JONES' "coolest mom in the TV universe" persona? Or the simple fact that only those two sang on the albums? The semi-legendary status of I THINK I LOVE YOU is well deserved and unavoidable, but sophisticated bubblegum follow ups I WOKE UP IN LOVE THIS MORNING, DOESN'T SOMEBODY WANT TO BE WANTED and I'LL MEET YOU HALFWAY are not to be taken lightly, bathed in CASSIDY's coolly earnest vocals and the crisp studio perfection of THE WRECKING CREW, who played on approximately one million AM radio hits. If you've ever thumbed through a TEEN BEAT mag, argued the merits of THE PARTRIDGES vs. THE BRADYS, or blow dried your hair in vain hope of achieving the perfect shag, this is the collection for you.

RATING: FOUR PARTRIDGES

FOLK ROCKS

THE VERY BEST OF TOM PAXTON:

People who have never heard of folk singer/songwriter TOM PAXTON will certainly be familiar with his clever, often whimsical compositions that became big pop hits for other artists...he also penned the infectious jingle MY DOG'S BIGGER THAN YOUR DOG used in KEN-L-RATION ads. Honing his craft on the same early sixties Greenwich Village coffeehouse circuit that spawned BOB DYLAN and JOAN BAEZ, PAXTON had a casual, plain voice and a knack for simple, easy to digest lyrics and melodies. THE MARVELOUS TOY was a plucky hit for the CHAD MITCHELL TRIO while the wryly humorous "morning after" drinkin' sing-alongs BOTTLE OF WINE and WASN'T THAT A PARTY provided "smashed hits" for THE FIREBALLS and THE ROVERS respectively. Conversely, his much more serious THE LAST THING ON MY MIND, which everyone from PETER, PAUL & MARY to NEIL DIAMOND tackled, showed the introspective, sensitive side of PAXTON's work. Heard in their uncluttered original versions, THE VERY BEST distills but a small portion of TOM PAXTON's enormous catalogue of work...as good a place as any to start appreciating his considerable talent and low key appeal.

RATING: FOUR GUITAR STRINGS



PAYDAY

JOHHNY PAYCHECK-THE SOUL & THE EDGE/THE BEST OF:

At over twenty tracks, THE SOUL & THE EDGE is the first compilation worthy of sawed off rebel rouser JOHNNY PAYCHECK's legacy. THE SOUL refers to his early string of sentimental country hits SHE'S ALL I GOT, SOMEONE TO GIVE MY LOVE TO and SLIDE OFF OF YOUR SATIN SHEETS, while the EDGE checks out his rough 'n rowdy outlaw phase via 11 MONTHS & 29 DAYS, I'M THE ONLY HELL (MY MAMA EVER RAISED) and FIFTEEN BEERS. In the late seventies, PAYCHECK really hit pay dirt with DAVID ALLAN COE's bucolic blue collar anthem TAKE THIS JOB & SHOVE IT, making an "overnight sensation" of a performer who had paid his dues for two decades. COLORADO COOL-AID, a dark humored barroom brawler, and the rough 'n rowdy live tracks ME & THE I.R.S. and (STAY AWAY FROM) THE COCAINE TRAIN are also surefire crowd pleasers, all rendered in his ragged but righteous baritone. For a refreshing blast of hard core country from one of the true outlaws, THE SOUL & THE EDGE is the barn-burnin' platter to beat.

RATING: FIVE SAWDUST FLOORS



BLUE SUEDE BLUES

CARL PERKINS-ORIGINAL SUN GREATEST HITS:

One of rockabilly's most original cats, Tennessee born CARL PERKINS was a self-taught guitarist weened on the Grand Old Opry, and alongside THE KING, THE KILLER, and JOHNNY CASH, one of SAM PHILLIPS' pioneering SUN studio stars during the late fifties. As innovative a songwriter as a picker, PERKINS penned the enduring HONEY DON'T, MATCHBOX (appropriated from an ancient blues number), and EVERYBODY's TRYING TO BE MY BABY, all covered by a certain band of English mop tops. His landmark holler BLUE SUEDE SHOES topped the pop, RNB and country charts, even bettering ELVIS' identical cover version. PUT YOUR CAT CLOTHES ON, ALL MAMA'S CHILDREN and DIXIE FRIED also influenced every roots rocker that followed in his blue suede footsteps, from DAVE EDMUNDS and ROBERT GORDON to BRIAN SETZER and THE BLASTERS. The whole glorious scene, which PERKINS himself labeled "feel-good music", is captured on RHINO's excellent summary ORIGINAL SUN GREATEST HITS...pop it on and go, cat, go!

RATING: FOUR PAIRS OF PEGGED SLACKS



LET THE MUSIC DO THE ROCKIN'

THE JOE PERRY PROJECT-LET THE MUSIC DO THE TALKING:

AEROSMITH's ace axe abuser JOE PERRY split off for several solo albums in the early 80s, with LET THE MUSIC DO THE TALKING a welcome throwback to his old band's basic ball-bustin' bad boy boogie. Soul-screechin' singer RALPH MORMAN recalled ROD STEWART on steroids, his sleazy rasp a highlight of the hyper-paced title track propelled by PERRY's meathook guitar licks and defiant lyrics. MORMAN also spewed out the firecracker LIFE AT A GLANCE and funk-perferated ROCKIN' TRAIN, even as PERRY's more limited drone drove the bloozey stomper THE MIST IS RISING and none too subtle 'SMITH slap CONFLICT OF INTEREST; the pace rarely slackened, with no dreaded power ballads to gum up the works. There was even a brief but fiesty instrumental called BREAK SONG between album sides, back in the daze when you had to flip the record over. While the party lasted, THE JOE PERRY PROJECT was an underrated, lean and mean fighting machine whose smartly titled debut was more listenable than anything AEROSMITH accomplished between ROCKS and PERMANENT VACATION.

RATING: FOUR CIGARETTES

ROCK TALK

THE JOE PERRY PROJECT-THE MUSIC STILL DOES THE TALKING:

Always AEROSMITH's most interesting member, muscular axe slinger JOE PERRY's namesake band plowed through three lead vocalists in as many platters during his estrangement from the mother ship. Kicking off with almost all of their dynamic debut LET THE MUSIC DO THE TALKING (spiked with RALPH MORMAN's bloozey razor-gargling bleat), this comprehensive import racks up the bulk of JPP's entire output including later efforts fronted by long time Boston legend CHARLIE FARREN (although the funky remake of his BALLOON chestnut LISTEN TO THE ROCK is missing) and "COWBOY" MACH BELL on party pounder I'VE GOT THE ROCKS & ROLLS AGAIN. Although each lineup sounds almost like an entirely different band, PERRY's light speed licks and growling turns at the mike are the gritty glue that held this project together...an authentic meat 'n taters alternative to the streamlined, infamously ballad-heavy version of AEROSMITH that "came back" a few years later.

RATING: FOUR SNEERS

READY, PETTY, GO!

TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS-GREATEST HITS:

It's pretty tough to argue with the level of success that twang-rocker Tom Petty & his Heartbreakers have enjoyed over the past few decades. Unlike many less diverse artists, this anti-pretty boy actually deserves the accolades. Each snippet on this freewheelin' anthology, from the jangle-juice of AMERICAN GIRL (a Roger McGuinn tribute equaling any Byrds hit you care to name) and snarling breakthrough smash REFUGEE on through stoner classic LAST DANCE WITH MARY JANE is a pop perfect kick in the eardrums. Petty and non-flashy, underrated axe man MIKE CAMPBELL head up the early neo wave of I NEED TO KNOW, psychedelic buzz-fest DON'T COME AROUND HERE NO MORE and the Jeff Lynne-produced FREE FALLIN'...rarely has a "greatest hits" been so ultimately listenable and so refreshingly devoid of filler. Short of delving into the band's catalogue of quality albums, here's a blast from your past that still sounds vital in the present landscape of rock & roll.

RATING: FIVE HEARTS



SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES

WILSON PICKETT-THE VERY BEST OF WILSON PICKETT:

He wasn't called "the Wicked Pickett" for nuthin'...along with ARETHA and OTIS, former FALCONS belter WILSON PICKETT was an important cog in Atlantic Records stellar stable of heatsinkin' sixties hit makers. Recording in hot spots like Memphis and Muscle Shoals yielded eternally funky, scream-punctuated party platters like IN THE MIDNIGHT HOUR, co-written by PICKETT and six string legend STEVE CROPPER, slinky showstopper MUSTANG SALLY, and GAMBLE & HUFF's churning psychedelic jam ENGINE #9. The Wicked One also laid his unhinged soul stamp on SOLOMON BURKE's gospel-laced testament EVERYBODY NEEDS SOMEBODY TO LOVE and CHRIS KENNER's rhythmic LAND OF 1000 DANCES, turning in the volcanic definitive versions of both. PICKETT was versatile enough to take on rock & roll as well; he effortlessly tackled the FAB FOUR's biggest hit HEY JUDE, bubblegum chart topper SUGAR SUGAR, and the bloozey FREE standard FIRE & WATER, injecting all three with his grand, greasy groove. RHINO RECORDS' superb collection VERY BEST contains all these showstoppers and more from the most sanctifyin' soul shouter this side of JAMES BROWN.

RATING: FIVE SHRIEKS

THINK PINK

THE BEST OF PINK FLOYD/A FOOT IN THE DOOR:

PINK FLOYD's complex, sprawling body of work, which includes landmark conceptual albums like DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, WISH YOU WERE HERE and THE WALL was never meant to be sliced and diced into four minute sound bites. A FOOT IN THE DOOR offers some of their best known radio tracks such as HAVE A CIGAR (sung by non-group member ROY HARPER), the sludgy post-ROGER WATERS effort LEARNING TO FLY, and of course, ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL and MONEY, the group's lone Top 40 singles. Ultimately doomed original leader SYD BARRET is only featured on the winsome SEE EMILY PLAY, a first peek at FLOYD's quirky, psychedelic art rock, although he's also the subject of the five part suite SHINE ON YOU CRAZY DIAMOND. The FLOYD's trademark components...DAVID GILMOUR's stunning, liquid guitar blurbs, WATERS' cynical lyrics and edgy, gruff vocals, and RICHARD WRIGHT's space rock keyboard textures...are the main draws on A FOOT IN THE DOOR, which lacks samples from important albums like MEDDLE and ANIMALS. This one's mainly recommended to listeners who aren't interested or adventurous enough to purchase individual platters from FLOYD's vast, ethereal catalogue.

RATING: FOUR FLOYDS

BLUE GENE

GENE PITNEY-ANTHOLOGY 1961-1968:

ROY ORBISON may have been the undisputed King of Pain, but GENE PITNEY was no slouch when it came to angst-ridden, high pitched melodrama, racking up over a dozen Top 40 smashes throughout the sixties. Even though he penned the enduring hits HELLO MARY LOU for RICKY NELSON and HE'S A REBEL for THE CRYSTALS, PITNEY turned to BRILL BUILDING songwriters for most of his own catalogue; BURT BACHARACH and HAL DAVID alone came up with the pulsating TWENTY FOUR HOURS FROM TULSA, dramatic movie theme THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, and ultra tender ONLY LOVE CAN BREAK A HEART. Like ORBISON, PITNEY was equally comfortable with weepy ballads or earnest pop-rockers, pouring his heart out on I'M GONNA BE STRONG's soaring crescendo climax or toughening up for the perky pace of IT HURTS TO BE IN LOVE and SHE'S A HEARTBREAKER. Unlike his other helium voiced contemporaries FRANKIE VALLI and LOU CHRISTIE, PITNEY generally opted for theatrical passion rather than frothy, quasi-novelty pop. RHINO RECORDS' solid sixteen track roundup ANTHOLOGY is a tantalizing tribute brimming with his wide-ranging talents.

RATING: FOUR TEARS



PICKIN' UP THE PIECES

POCO-THE ESSENTIAL POCO:

POCO's trademark bluegrass licks and gorgeous harmonies can be traced to the demise of pioneering country rockers BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD. Former members JIMMY MESSINA's YOU BETTER THINK TWICE and RICHIE FURAY's GOOD FEELIN' TO KNOW are zesty twin towers of twang nirvana, although remakes of SPRINGFIELD gems KIND WOMAN and GO AND SAY GOODBYE seem superfluous, especially at the expense of bona fide missing POCO classics on ESSENTIAL. The band's lone constant, pedal steel/slide player RUSTY YOUNG came into his own during their more pop oriented middle phase via the stark ballad hit CRAZY LOVE, while sublime guitarist PAUL COTTON contributed the equally stylish HEART OF THE NIGHT (unfortunately his only writing or singing credit here). This so-so compilation comes full circle with a reunion of the original quintet offering the slick comeback single CALL IT LOVE as well as the autobiographical rocker WHEN IT ALL BEGAN, making ESSENTIAL nothing more than the barest of POCO starter kits.

RATING: THREE HOOFPRINTS

POINTS OF LIGHT

THE POINTER SISTERS-ENERGY:

Musical diversity has always been THE POINTER SISTERS' trademark...they originally mixed bebop, swing and RNB on jazz's BLUE THUMB label, even scoring a surprise number 13 country hit with FAIRY TALE. ENERGY was a transitional album for the trio, who jettisoned the floppy hats and print dresses along with their retro sound...JUNE, RUTH & ANITA came back in a big way via their passionate all-covers platter of contempory pop-rock material from THE DOOBIE BROTHERS, SLY STONE and LOGGINS & MESSINA. A seductive jam of BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN's FIRE gave them their biggest ever smash, while the worthy follow-up HAPPINESS proved as funky as their other ALLEN TOUSSAINT cover, 1973's YES WE CAN CAN. The non-obvious song choices here actually work in the girls' favor; STEELY DAN's bitter declaration DIRTY WORK and the slippery groove of BOB WELCH's HYPNOTIZED are injected with gritty, intertwining harmonies that only bona fide soul sisters can muster. A near equal sequel, PRIORITY, took the idea a step further before THE POINTER SISTER morphed into a popular dance act during their third incarnation in the eighties.

RATING: FOUR VOLTS

EXTRA POINTS

THE POINTER SISTERS-FIRE/THE VERY BEST OF THE POINTER SISTERS:

Coming out of the gate as a soulful retro swing answer to THE ANDREWS SISTERS in the early seventies, Oakland's POINTER SISTERS forged a long career by adapting to virtually every style of popular music, from bebop and blues to rock, country and disco. JUNE, RUTH, ANITA (and sometimes BONNIE, who left early on for a solo career) showed impeccable interpretive taste in their cover choices, capably tackling BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN's FIRE and(SHE'S GOT) THE FEVER, New Orleans legend ALLEN TOUSSAINT's YES WE CAN CAN and HAPPINESS, among others. They also penned a few classics of their own, namely the twangy FAIRYTALE (making them the only black female group to ever score a country Grammy), the ultra funky accusation HOW LONG (BETCHA GOT A CHICK ON THE SIDE) and the aptly titled dance track I'M SO EXCITED. The hits kept on comin' well into the eighties via perky pop nuggets SHOULD I DO IT and SLOW HAND, and club floor fillers JUMP, AUTOMATIC and DARE ME. It's all here in gorgeously rendered gal group glory on the superb double disc FIRE/THE VERY BEST, the most thoroughly satisfying POINTER SISTERS party package on the planet.

RATING: FOUR SOUL SISTERS

EXTRA POINTS

THE POINTER SISTERS-FIRE/THE VERY BEST OF THE POINTER SISTERS:

Coming out of the gate as a soulful retro swing answer to THE ANDREWS SISTERS in the early seventies, Oakland's POINTER SISTERS forged a long career by adapting to virtually every style of popular music, from bebop and blues to rock, country and disco. JUNE, RUTH, ANITA (and sometimes BONNIE, who left early on for a solo career) showed impeccable interpretive taste in their cover choices, capably tackling BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN's FIRE and New Orleans legend ALLEN TOUSSAINT's YES WE CAN CAN, among others. They also penned a few keepers of their own, namely the twangy FAIRYTALE (the only time a black female group ever scored a country Grammy), the funky diatribe HOW LONG (BETCHA GOT A CHICK ON THE SIDE) and the aptly titled dance track I'M SO EXCITED. The hits kept on comin' well into the eighties via perky pop nuggets SHOULD I DO IT and SLOW HAND, and club floor fillers JUMP, AUTOMATIC and DARE ME. Gorgeously rendered in all its gal group glory, the superb double disc FIRE/THE VERY BEST is the most satisfying POINTER SISTERS party package on the planet.

RATING: FOUR SOUL SISTERS



NO SHIRT, NO PROBLEM

IGGY POP-NUDE & RUDE/THE BEST OF IGGY POP:

Mere words have rarely been adequate to describe IGGY POP, but "Street walkin' cheetah with a heart full of napalm", the opening line from his early heatsinker SEARCH & DESTROY comes awfully close. The former JAMES NEWELL OSTERBERG, backed by the slam-bang STOOGES, splattered raw, sinewy punk on the map a full decade before THE NEW YORK DOLLS and THE RAMONES made any noise. Sleazy, playful and primitive, early STOOGES slabs I WANNA BE YOUR DOG, GIMME DANGER and NO FUN came equipped with a "knock your head off" attitude as ugly, scarred and twisted as POP's shirtless torso. A less abrasive (though no less intriguing) solo career offered a glimpse into the IG's psychotic soul via the percussive, impossible to ignore LUST FOR LIFE and the galvanized trash can clanger COLD METAL. From an unpredictable showman who rolled around in peanut butter and shards of glass to a mature vocalist who could comfortably duet with B-52'S singer KATE PIERSON on the slinky CANDY, IGGY POP proved amazingly vital and influential...NUDE & RUDE gathers up a platter's worth of careening career defining moments.

RATING: FIVE SCARS



KING-SIZED

ELVIS PRESLEY-30 #1 HITS:

Forget the twinkle in his stare, the curl in his lip, the swagger in his hip...as if anyone who ever heard or saw ELVIS could erase the indelible memory. Never mind the stellar songwriting contributions of LEIBER & STOLLER, OTIS BLACKWELL, and MAC DAVIS...sweep aside the stirring musical colorings of SCOTTY MOORE, JAMES BURTON, and THE JORDANAIRES...what really mattered was the testifying richness, the ear-bending clarity, and the soul-bangin' passion in that one of a kind VOICE. A rabid fan of all popular musical styles, ELVIS eagerly tackled rock & roll, RNB, country, gospel, and tin pan alley...and did 'em ALL well. Revisiting JAILHOUSE ROCK, HARD HEADED WOMAN, CRYING IN THE CHAPEL, SUSPICIOUS MINDS, and BURNING LOVE is like hot-wiring your brain to the greatest jukebox on the planet. Despite a lack of early heat sinkers from his SUN label rockabilly beginnings, and a trash-dance remix of A LITTLE LESS CONVERSATION that's a bit too hip for its own good, this is a timeless roundup that's truly fit for a KING.

RATING: FIVE JUMPSUITS

KEYS TO THE KINGDOM

BILLY PRESTON-THE MILLENNIUM COLLECTION:

Child prodigy, sideman to the superstars, seventies hit maker...all this and more applied to multi-talented, underrated soul-shaker BILLY PRESTON. Playing keyboards behind legends like MAHALIA JACKSON, LITTLE RICHARD, and his idol RAY CHARLES at a young age, he soon graduated to sublime session work on the landmark albums ABBEY ROAD, EXILE ON MAIN STREET and THE CONCERT FOR BANGLADESH. His rollicking freakazoid instrumentals OUTA-SPACE and SPACE RACE proved huge hits, as did WILL IT GO ROUND IN CIRCLES and NOTHING FROM NOTHING, playful combos of funk, RNB and pop rock. THE MILLENNIUM COLLECTION also rounds up the gospel-drenched anthem THAT'S THE WAY GOD PLANNED IT, his original version of YOU ARE SO BEAUTIFUL (a career maker for JOE COCKER), and whispery ballad WITH YOU I'M BORN AGAIN. Never one to confine himself to a single genre, BILLY PRESTON made a helluva joyous sound, and the millions who listened in always smiled with him.

RATING: FOUR GAP-TOOTHED GRINS

THE GREAT PRETENDERS

THE PRETENDERS-THE SINGLES:

An attitude laden eighties punk band helmed by sultry sounding, surly looking CHRISSIE HYNDE, THE PRETENDERS' jaw dropping debut platter flaunted raw rock riffs and pealing pop hooks highlighted by cerebral smash BRASS IN POCKET and killer KINKS cover STOP YOUR SOBBING. THE SINGLES rounds up a decade's worth of radio-friendly efforts from BACK ON THE CHAIN GANG and DON'T GET ME WRONG to a funky duet of I GOT YOU BABE, with UB40s' ALI CAMPBELL playing SONNY to HYNDE's CHER. Throughout the proceedings, the Ohio native's gutsy, "can't be mistaken for anyone else" sex kitten purr is the focal point, awash in jangly guitars and MARTIN CHAMBERS' throbbing back beat, giving THE PRETENDERS more stylish thrust than most acts of the new wave era. Although their string of hits would continue a few years past this album's cut off point of 1987, SINGLES stands as the best overall sampler of this enduring ensemble's ear-opening peak period.

RATING: FIVE EYELASHES

THE PRICE IS RIGHT

LLOYD PRICE-SINGS HIS BIG TEN:

Clocking in at well under half an hour, here's an all too typical offering from CURB RECORDS, infamous for releasing meager ten track compilations with shoddy cover art, inaccurate liner notes, and suspect song selection...albeit at a budget price. New Orleans' LLOYD PRICE eventually traded in the raw, earthy style of his early rhythm 'n blues classics LAWDY MISS CLAWDY and OOOH OOOH OOOH for a slicker, more accessible pop sound. He was rewarded with hip across-the-board smashes like PERSONALITY and STAGGER LEE (a resurrected Crescent City staple), joyous exercises in late fifties radio perfection. Matrimony provided sturdy subject matter for his rollicking showstopper WHERE WERE YOU ON OUR WEDDING DAY and the sophisticated I'M GONNA GET MARRIED, with LADY LUCK and JUST BECAUSE also competing in the "smooth grooves" category. PRICE was an upbeat, charismatic singer who no doubt deserves better than this quickie cash-in...but for those searching out a brief introduction, BIG TEN gathers up all the important hits.

RATING: THREE PRICE TAGS

JIVE TALKIN'

LOUIS PRIMA-COLLECTOR SERIES:

Those too young to remember New Orleans native LOUIS PRIMA's boisterous brand of big band boogie woogie firsthand have nonetheless been exposed to his tireless talent...ex-VAN HALEN wailer DAVID LEE ROTH hit with a note for note copy of JUST A GIGELO/I AIN'T GOT NOBODY and THE BRIAN SETZER ORCHESTRA started a swing revival covering JUMP, JIVE & WAIL. The Vegas lounge legend's swaggering, irrepressible style, enforced by his main foil SAM BUTERA's squonking tenor sax peals, propelled gonzo originals like BANANA SPLIT FOR MY BABY, OH MARIE and the sci-fi goof BEEP-BEEP. He was also the king of cocky cover duets like I'VE GOT YOU UNDER MY SKIN and THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC with his coolly detached spouse SMITH, who warbled everything perfectly straight in direct contrast to PRIMA's hammy, over the top delivery. CAPITOL RECORDS' excellent COLLECTORS SERIES provides exquisite liner notes, photos and song selection, a must own collection for fans of LOUIS PRIMA...whose music, like the man himself, was never any less than indescribably wild, swingin' and energetic.

RATING: FIVE BIG GRINS



PURPLE REIGN

PRINCE-THE VERY BEST OF PRINCE:

MICHAEL JACKSON may have gotten more press but the REAL visionary of the eighties was a sawed off Minneapolis funk whirlwind who dubbed himself PRINCE. Not only could this elusive, erotic multi-talent belt like STEVIE WONDER and step like JAMES BROWN, he also penned huge pop hits for THE BANGLES, TOM JONES, SINEAD O'CONNOR, SHEILA E and CHAKA KAHN. His falsetto-enshrouded debut ditty I WANNA BE YOUR LOVER and the one-two club-floor punch of 1999 and LITTLE RED CORVETTE set the table for mega-charters from the heat-sinking soundtrack PURPLE RAIN, (including the nine minute title saga) as well as sexually charged follow ups such as RASPBERRY BERET, the SHEENA EASTON duet U GOT THE LOOK, and CREAM. Were it not for his legendary eclecticism and highly experimental nature, PRINCE could have no doubt churned out radio smashes right into the new millenium...as it is, THE VERY BEST captures the master at the absolute peak of his purple powers.

RATING: FIVE SMIRKS



FLASH FROM THE PAST

PRIVATE LIGHTNING:

The late 70s Boston music scene boasted a heady blitz of noggin' knockin' riches, including THE REAL KIDS' slopbucket rock, THE FOOLS' schtick rock, and THE STOMPERS' good time retro rock...then there was the shimmering prog-influenced vibe of PRIVATE LIGHTNING, easily the most unique, yet unluckiest band in the bunch. In spite of leader/axeman PAUL VAN NESS' mind-shifting lyrics and the stage charisma split between sex symbol singer ADAM SHERMAN and perky fiddler PATTY VAN NESS, their debut album was bushwacked by bad production that was thinner than a broken guitar string. All eight tracks fairly glittered with "hit potential"; in fact, the high octane PHYSICAL SPEED and the ethereal strains of SONG OF THE KITE enjoyed heavy rotation on New England's hipper radio outlets. PRIVATE LIGHTNING never did strike twice, but their lone effort, in spite of flawed engineering, dispensed tight, airy pop that really snapped and crackled.

RATING: FOUR BOLTS

SHADES OF GENIUS

PROCOL HARUM-THE BEST OF PROCOL HARUM:

Bloozey British prog rockers PROCAL HARUM are mainly remembered for two things today...as the starting point for future guitar god ROBIN TROWER (who exited after a handful of albums) and monster smash WHITER SHADE OF PALE, their hypnotically gorgeous debut single/signature song. The band's brooding wall of sound catalogue, largely penned by lyricist KEITH REID (a non band member) and pianist GARY BROOKER spotlighted trippy anthems...the historical saga CONQUISTADOR, reflective HOMBURG and hard rock grenade WHISKEY TRAIN...all FM radio fodder at the turn of the psychedelic sixties. MATTHEW FISHER's fleshy organ textures, coupled with TROWER's intrinsic six string flourishes and BROOKER's rich, theatrical wail gave PROCOL HARUM a unique classical/jazz/RNB sound...they could hardly be mistaken for anyone else. Fans of thinking man prog anthems will want to own this brief but comprehensive collection...or better yet, stock up on PROCOL HARUM, A SALTY DOG and SHINE ON BRIGHTLY, their first three indispensable platters.

RATING: FOUR ORGAN RECITALS



CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT

QUEEN-GREATEST HITS I & II:

QUEEN...whose popularity has outlasted the untimely death of flamboyant belter FREDDIE MERCURY by a good two decades...mixed prog, crunching hard rock and classical studio-enhanced flourishes for a complex soundscape unlike any other seventies ensemble. BRIAN MAY's multi-tracked pyrotechnic axe work, MERCURY's careening soul-daddy wail, and the boom-bastic rhythm section of JOHN DEACON and ROGER TAYLOR anchored a long string of radio epics including undisputed arena anthems BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY and WE WILL ROCK YOU. The sparse, funk infested ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST, CRAZY LITTLE THING CALLED LOVE's retro rockabilly vibe, and KILLER QUEEN's flashy glam blaze across disc one, while QUEEN's highly underrated eighties output is exposed via I WANT IT ALL, HEADLONG, and HAMMER TO FALL on the second CD. Somehow, the key cult classics KEEP YOURSELF ALIVE and TIE YOUR MOTHER DOWN missed the final cut, but GREATEST HITS I & II goes a long way towards encapsulating the bulk of classic QUEEN.

RATING: FOUR KINGS

RABBITT EARS

EDDIE RABBITT-THE PLATINUM COLLECTION:

There's no such thing as a "perfect" EDDIE RABBITT collection...namely one that covers ALL of his hits for a variety of labels...RHINO's import effort wisely focuses on his peak late seventies/early eighties work. The Brooklyn born RABBITT, who penned the smashes KENTUCKY RAIN for ELVIS and PURE LOVE for RONNIE MILSAP (both included here in their original versions), proved more pop oriented than most of his peers, racking up a lengthy string of likable crossover smashes including the irresistible knee slappin' singalongs I LOVE A RAINY NIGHT and DRIVIN' MY LIFE AWAY. The Clint Eastwood movie theme EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE and saloon singles DRINKIN' MY BABY (OFF MY MIND) and TWO DOLLARS IN THE JUKEBOX are slickly rendered fare indeed, even if ROCKY MOUNTAIN MUSIC boasts some honest-to-goodness banjo and fiddle. While it would have been nice to hear his later (virtually twang-free) chartbusters STEP BY STEP, SOMEONE COULD LOSE A HEART TONIGHT and the CRYSTAL GAYLE duet YOU AND I, THE PLATINUM COLLECTION is still a solid tribute to this underrated URBAN COWBOY era performer.

RATING: THREE BUNNY HUGS

STRAIGHT RAITT

THE BEST OF BONNIE RAITT ON CAPITOL 1989-2003:

A dues paying soul mama brandishing a sizzling slide guitar and salty, emotionally charged vocals, BONNIE RAITT has spent her entire musical career hammering blues, folk and RNB into her own sophisticated pop rock groove. A tireless supporter of roots pioneers, she worked beside SIPPIE WALLACE, MISSISSIPPI FRED MACDOWELL and HOWLIN' WOLF during her apprenticeship, promoting fledgling songwriters from JOHN HIATT to DAVID GRAY along the way. RAITT released nine acclaimed, modest selling albums on WARNER BROTHERS prior to her Grammy garnering breakthrough on CAPITOL, the aptly titled NICK OF TIME. A funky cover of HIATT's THING CALLED LOVE proved her biggest radio success, but she also made head way with her original gems like the reggae colored HAVE A HEART and pulse pounding GNAWIN' ON IT. This eighteen track overview, which emphasizes her well deserved salad years, can best be enjoyed in conjunction with the equally fine BONNIE RAITT COLLECTION, which rounds up early cult faves like RUNAWAY and ANGEL FROM MONTGOMERY.

RATING: FOUR RED HEADS

CHANGING COLORS

RAINBOW-THE VERY BEST OF RAINBOW:

When famously temperamental axe handler RICHIE BLACKMORE bailed from DEEP PURPLE to form the equally hard rocking RAINBOW, they endured a similar number of lineup changes. Like PURPLE, three lead singers passed through the band's ranks, most notably macho powerhouse screamer RONNIE JAMES DIO, who knocked out fist pumpers MAN ON THE SILVER MOUNTAIN and LONG LIVE ROCK 'N ROLL before moving on to front a revamped BLACK SABBATH and his own group. Next up was a one album stint by the gripping growler GRAHAM BONNET on the more commercial rockers SINCE YOU'VE BEEN GONE (a RUSS BALLARD composition also tackled by HEAD EAST) and ALL NIGHT LONG. RAINBOW's final phase was helmed by JOE LYNN TURNER, whose STONE COLD and STREET OF DREAMS crept even further into mainstream rock territory, although charging anthems CAN'T HAPPEN HERE and POWER retained some of the hard rock grit of the early years. VERY BEST covers RAINBOW's convoluted history in handy chronological order, the better for fans to dissect their ever changing colors.

RATING: FOUR RAYS OF LIGHT



GABBA GABBA DO!

RAMONES-RAMONES MANIA:

The brevity, simplicity, and New Yawk-honed attitude that anchored the Ramones'' sardonic songwriting and slam-bang delivery paved a path soon to be littered by hundreds of far less original punkers. Joey Ramone's earnest, soul-powered bleat in tandem with Johnny Ramone's jackhammer "no solos" axe work begat two minute slabs of high octane cartoon rock that pummeled the senses. Thirty selections squeezed onto one disc may be too much of a good thing, especially since the later numbers lack the juiced-up energy and dumb-fun lyrics of early barnstormers BLITZKRIEG BOP, I WANNA BE SEDATED and ROCKAWAY BEACH. The glossier ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL and DO YOU REMEMBER ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO are joyfully nostalgic excursions boasting Phil Spector's production sheen and the band's trademark shout-along choruses. Gratifying takes on the 1910 Fruitgum Company's INDIAN GIVER and The Searchers' NEEDLES & PINS prove welcome peeks into the band's sixties influences, which included girl groups, bubblegum, surf music and good ol' garage rock. For the REAL best of the Ramones, check out ALL THE STUFF (AND MORE), VOL.'s 1 and 2, must-own re-issues of their first four indispensable albums.

Either way, you'll say: "Gabba Gabba Hey! Ho!! Let's Go!!!"

RATING: FOUR LEATHER JACKETS

ROCKET RIDE

RAMONES-ROCKET TO RUSSIA:

If such a thing as a "perfect punk" platter exists...which goes against the rough grain that defined the genre's very attitude...THE RAMONES' third effort ROCKET TO RUSSIA may very well be it. Slathered in JOHNNY's primitive six string slashings, JOEY's soul-papa yelps, and DEE DEE and TOMMY's lockjaw rhythm section, SHEENA IS A PUNK ROCKER's bubblegum bad-itude, the surf-glam sizzle of ROCKAWAY BEACH and a hyperdrive cover of BOBBY FREEMAN's DO YOU WANNA DANCE (all three garnered sufficient airplay to place on BILLBOARD's Hot 100 singles chart) gave late 70s radio a much needed kick in the blue jeans. The fearsome foursome's trademark sick humor is all over WE'RE A HAPPY FAMILY, CRETIN HOP and TEENAGE LABOTOMY, while a couple of hook-filled down-tempo ditties (dare i use the term "ballads"?) unspool in cool contrast to their slam-bang rip through THE TRASHMEN's slopbucket garage classic SURFIN' BIRD. Fourteen bone-crackin' tracks scream by like so many mis-guided missiles in a mere half hour; THE RAMONES' fun-filled formula was so blessedly irreverent and irresistible, you'll be trying to out shout JOEY on every track.

RATING: FIVE ZIPPERS

JUNGLE JAM

RAMONES-SUBTERRANEAN JUNGLE:

1983's SUBTERRANEAN JUNGLE continues the trek of a leaner, more accessible RAMONES, a change which started via their early masterpiece ROCKET TO RUSSIA, the cult flick ROCK & ROLL HIGH SCHOOL and the PHIL SPECTOR project PLEASANT DREAMS. The Queens quartet's insatiable love for sixties rock, from surf to the Brit Invasion, has never been in doubt, and they turn to the raw psychedelicized soul of THE CHAMBERS BROTHERS' TIME HAS COME TODAY and THE MUSIC EXPLOSION's irresistible bubble-garage goodie LITTLE BIT O' SOUL on two of the most obvious highlights here...neither would sound out of place on their later ACID EATERS platter of oldies covers. Smack-down DEE DEE originals OUTSIDER and PYSCHO THERAPY continue the troubled bassist's long string of solid contributions to the band, and who else but JOEY would come up with a title like EVERY TIME I EAT VEGETABLES IT MAKES ME THINK OF YOU? While nothing could ever top their first four campy, indelible punk platters, the hook heavy SUBTERRANEAN JUNGLE proves an infectious entry that's certainly nothing to sneer at.

RATING: FOUR PAIRS OF RIPPED JEANS




OLD TIME ROCK & SOUL

RARE EARTH-GREATEST HITS AND RARE CLASSICS:

Rare Earth was something of an oddity at Motown...an all white, self contained rock act that played with unadulterated soul. Starting with a grit-fueled revamping of the Temptations' Smokey Robinson-sired classic GET READY and following up with the similarly reworked Tempts gem (I KNOW) I'M LOSING YOU, they were powered by the drummer Peter Rivera's volcanic vocal eruptions and a tight, jam band work ethic. Other trademark biggies included earthy shout-along anthems I JUST WANT TO CELEBRATE and HEY BIG BROTHER, as well as the left field, Bee Gees assisted disco charter WARM RIDE. The non-hits deserve a spin too; BIG JOHN IS MY NAME is a funky, chunky slab of fuzz tone psychedelia, while HUM ALONG AND DANCE compels the listener to heed the call. Ex-Edgar Winter/White Trash belter Jerry LaCroix replaces Rivera on three tracks, hence the term "Rare Classics". At twenty cuts, GREATEST HITS is perhaps too much of a groovy thing for the uninitiated...but better too much Rare Earth than too little, I always say.

RATING: FOUR DRUM ROLLS

JAMMED TOGETHER

RARE EARTH-IN CONCERT:

An awesome concert capsule of MOTOWN's only white self-contained rockin' funk act, RARE EARTH had such an authentic lock on down 'n dirty RNB, many listeners assumed they were as black as the Temptations or the Four Tops. A natural misconception, given the supercharged influence of macho bloozey belter/drummer PETER RIVERA's gritty vocal chops, and the band's well-honed psychedelic soul instrumentation. Their earthy song cover choices were spot-on as well, from the classic 20 minute recasting of the Temptations' GET READY (which gave 'em all a chance to stretch out and solo their asses off) to tantilizin' throwdowns of WHAT'D I SAY and I KNOW I'M LOSING YOU. All the expected chestnuts, from the loud and proud anthem I JUST WANNA CELEBRATE to the jazz-stoked BORN TO WANDER (featuring GIL BRIDGES' tasty woodwinds) receive the patented Rare Earth treatment here, making IN CONCERT a more than worthy souvenir of this jam band's immense raw power in a live setting.

RATING: FIVE BIG BROTHERS



YOU RASCAL YOU

THE RASCALS-THE ULTIMATE RASCALS:

Honing their chops at the legendary Peppermint Lounge as members of JOEY DEE's STARLIGHTERS, THE RASCALS expertly fused the best elements of rock, pop and RNB for a healthy run of scintillating chartstoppers during the second half of the sixties. Helmed by FELIX CAVALIERE's churchy organ fills and passion-filled lead vocals, the summery GROOVIN', YOU BETTER RUN's dirty funk vibe, and joyous anthem PEOPLE GOT TO BE FREE were pure blasts of AM radio righteousness. Canny covers of THE OLYMPICS' obscurity GOOD LOVIN' and the ribald WILSON PICKETT staple MUSTANG SALLY were the exception more than the rule, since most of the band's best material was penned by CAVALIERE and EDDIE BRIGATI. THE RASCALS' final chapter found them embracing gospel and psychedelic overtones for less popular, though still admirable efforts including SEE and CARRY ME BACK. ULTIMATE gathers up twenty sonic slabs of passion-saturated blue eyed soul guaranteed to plaster a warm, nostalgic smile on any listener's mug.

RATING: FOUR SOULS



CARMEN GET IT!

THE RASPBERRIES-CAPITOL COLLECTOR SERIES:

Decked out in matching leisure suits and girly bouffants, the short-lived but highly influential RASPBERRIES expertly channeled an AM radio-ready collage of power pop, bubblegum and glam, spearheaded by tunesmith ERIC CARMEN's angst-riddled high-pitched pleas, WALLY BRYSON's ringing wall-of-sound guitars and air-tight group harmonies. Hook-filled cock-rockers GO ALL THE WAY and I WANNA BE WITH YOU were balanced by LET'S PRETEND's morning after glow, shooting star epic OVERNIGHT SENSATION (which contains the greatest "false ending" on record), and motorific anthems CRUISIN' MUSIC and DRIVIN' AROUND, easily the most authentic BEACH BOYS ditties BRIAN WILSON never wrote. This on-fire entry from CAPITOL RECORDS' highly recommended COLLECTORS SERIES (which also includes LOUIS PRIMA, THE KINGSTON TRIO and GRAND FUNK) offers up a generous twenty tracks and a pair of kitschy RASPBERRIES radio ads...bound to give you the biggest cheap thrill since you blew your hard earned allowance on that very first K-TEL album.

RATING: FIVE SEEDS

RECORD BREAKERS

THE RECORDS-SMASHES, CRASHES, & NEAR MISSES/THE BEST OF THE RECORDS:

A band clever enough to call themselves THE RECORDS could presumably come up with some good ones, right?...you bet your turntable! This coulda/shoulda/woulda been bigger Brit band boasted a catalogue fairly bursting with three minute slices of pure harmonic nirvana; it's hard to imagine finer early eighties singles than the pristine power popper STARRY EYES or its near-equal sequel TEENARAMA. Like BADFINGER and THE RASPBERRIES a decade before them, these guys pumped out underrated, catchy-as-hell singalongs of crackling cool just begging for radio exposure (even if deejays rarely listened). Not every track works, but ALL MESSED UP AND READY TO GO, GIRLS THAT DON'T EXIST, and a sparkling remake of the BAY CITY ROLLERS' ROCK & ROLL LOVE LETTER are all sharp examples of the group's jangly, hook-laden craftsmanship. If more artists were capable of putting out energetic records like...well, THE RECORDS...the world would be a much less depressing place to tune into indeed.

RATING: FOUR ALBUMS



TO THE BONE

REDBONE-GOLDEN CLASSICS:

Retro record label COLLECTABLES has done a bang-up job encapsulating the bloozey roots rock of Native American band REDBONE, combining two of their best seventies albums MESSAGE FROM A DRUM & POTLATCH, plus assorted singles on one disc. REDBONE's rich, murky sound was slathered in searing soul power, syncopated tribal rhythms, hook-laden guitar licks and vocal harmonies supplied by blood brothers/former session musicians PAT & LOLLY VEGAS. The swamp-stompin' jam MAGGIE, voo-doo chant WITCH QUEEN OF NEW ORLEANS, and scintillating RNB/pop smash COME & GET YOUR LOVE (even SOUL TRAIN played that one) are merely the best known tracks here; steaming funk chunk JUDGEMENT DAY and the percolating raunch of DRINKIN' AND BLO are not to be missed. The definitive double vinyl collection COME & GET YOUR REDBONE finally made it to CD in 2014, but GOLDEN CLASSICS, a virtual greatest hits platter, also goes a long way towards preserving REDBONE's criminally underrated legacy.

RATING: FIVE HEADDRESSES

DON'T GET SCALPED...!

REDBONE-GREATEST SONGS:

REDBONE fans (I know you're out there), BEWARE! Unfortunately, this is a batch of "new versions" which, while far from awful, are a far cry from the funked up RNB-heavy hits by America's greatest all-Indian rock group. Tribe leaders Pat and Lolly Vegas were quite capable of turning out a catchy ditty and their two biggest, the swamp-infested WITCH QUEEN OF NEW ORLEANS and soulful smash COME AND GET YOUR LOVE are both here; so is the lesser known jam band hit MAGGIE, a cover of POISON IVY, and the historical account WE WERE ALL WOUNDED AT WOUNDED KNEEIt's just a shame that REDBONE, like so many classic rockers a couple of decades past their expiration date, felt the need to re-record their catalogue for a quickie cash-in; the no-budget album cover art is a dead giveaway. Their legacy deserves better than GREATEST SONGS and the 23 track GOLDEN CLASSICS is just that. Seek it out instead...it's the most fun since the Heckowis ruled the roost on F TROOP!

RATING: TWO "UGH"S

DOUBLE YOUR PLEASURE, DOUBLE YOUR FUN

REDBONE/WET WILLIE-TAKE TWO:

This nifty "double artist" package spotlights two of the 70s' most accomplished, if underrated groups, Indian heritage swamp rockers Redbone, and Southern boogie boys Wet Willie. Each act is represented by five tracks apiece, which is a couple more radio hits than either had. The slicked up latter half of Wet Willie's career (no KEEP ON SMILIN' here) kicks off with the doo-wop delerium of STREET CORNER SERENADE, dance-beat party anthem WEEKEND, and blue eyed soul slam-dunker MAKE YOU FEEL LOVE AGAIN; all crackle with the charisma and passion of Jimmy Hall's powerful pipes. Likewise, Redbone's eerie funk stew WITCH QUEEN OF NEW ORLEANS and joyous blue eyed soul groover COME AND GET YOUR LOVE's showcase their tight vocal harmonies and instrumental prowess. As a bonus, you also get their harder to find version of NIKI HOKEY (a hit they wrote for P. J. Proby) and "shoulda been" swamp rock classics MAGGIE and WAVOKA. If you like these jam band contenders, but don't wanna pony up for a whole anthology disc by either, TAKE TWO is a budget-conscience alternative.

RATING: FOUR PAIRS



STAX O' SOUL!

OTIS REDDING-THE VERY BEST OF OTIS REDDING:

Had his short life not been snuffed out by a plane crash (the curse of many a budding legend from BUDDY HOLLY to SKYNYRD) OTIS REDDING would have emerged as the Memphis based STAX label's biggest superstar...his reflective anthem (SITTIN' ON) THE DOCK OF THE BAY topped the charts posthumously after BOOKER T & THE MGS guitarist STEVE CROPPER completed it. REDDING's work was stuffed with sanctified classics, from sweat-soaked showstoppers MR. PITIFUL and CAN'T TURN YOU LOOSE to the heart-strangling pleas THESE ARMS OF MINE and I'VE BEEN LOVING YOU TOO LONG. Dozens of admirers tackled his smokin' soul catalogue, most notably, ARETHA FRANKLIN's "sock it to me" take on RESPECT, but also THE BLUES BROTHERS, THE BLACK CROWES, ROBERT CRAY, TAJ MAHAL and THREE DOG NIGHT. "THE BIG O"'s heat-sinking interpretations of (I CAN'T GET NO) SATISFACTION (who else could go toe-to-toe with THE STONES?), LOWELL FULSON's TRAMP (a sassy duet with CARLA THOMAS) and SAM COOKE's booty-bumper SHAKE proved he could belt 'em as effortlessly as he wrote 'em. RHINO RECORDS' sixteen track sampler THE VERY BEST stands tall as a tantalizing tribute to one of the sixties' towering talents.

RATING: FIVE DROPS OF SWEAT



SON!-SATIONAL

JERRY REED-THE ESSENTIAL JERRY REED:

The Alabama Wild Man was a triple threat talent in the seventies, playing hotshot session guitar for everyone from Elvis on down, scoring his own swampy tall tale smashes AMOS MOSES and WHEN YOU'RE HOT YOU'RE HOT, and serving as Burt Reynolds' crony in good ol' boy flicks GATOR and SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT. THE ESSENTIAL JERRY REED is exactly what the title suggests...all the witty, gritty, southern fried antics you could ever ask for. Dig into trucker fave EAST BOUND AND DOWN, autobiographical saga GUITAR MAN, and the quick-pickin' instrumental THE CLAW...Reed adroitly covers all the bases. He hardly disappoints in the novelty category either...there's LORD MR. FORD, one of the wittiest "car-tunes" since Chuck Berry's NO MONEY DOWN, divorce ditty SHE GOT THE GOLDMINE (I GOT THE SHAFT), and the wheezy narrative ANOTHER PUFF, which is the SMOKE, SMOKE, SMOKE THAT CIGARETTE of its era. Make no mistake son, this is the best Jerry Reed your hard earned dollar can buy.

RATING: FOUR GUITAR PICKS



BIG BLUES MAN

JIMMY REED-THE VERY BEST OF JIMMY REED:

Delta legend JIMMY REED's lazy, loping rhythms and sleepy vocal style appealed to a wide range of music fans, making him one of the very few blues artists to score regularly on the pop charts. Plain 'n simple offerings like BIG BOSS MAN, BABY WHAT YOU WANT ME TO DO, and BRIGHT LIGHTS BIG CITY became deserved standards, inspiring tone-cool covers by everyone from ELVIS and ERIC CLAPTON to HANK WILLIAMS and THE STONES; KEEF RICHARDS in particular has cited him as an influence. REED's rudimentary, lo-fi harmonica and guitar work were actually his strengths, accompanied by that unmistakable mumble of a voice (usually augmented by his main squeeze MAMA REED) and highly accessible songwriting. Undisputed retro comp kings RHINO RECORDS have trotted out the definitive collection of REED's most memorable work, complete with informative liner notes and gritty black & white photos of the true master of laid back groovin'.

RATING: FIVE MUMBLES

ROCK ON THE WILD SIDE

LOU REED-ROCK & ROLL DIARY 1967-1980:

One of over two dozen LOU REED comps on the market, ROCK & ROLL DIARY may track only a smidgen of his five decade career, but it's as good a place as any to start appreciating New York City's cerebral, provocative godfather of punk. Divided between his stint as leader of the ANDY WARHOL sanctioned, avant garde VELVET UNDERGROUND and his prickly early solo career, REED's best known compositions are on display in all their angst-ridden, exploratory glory. VU's complex street sagas SWEET JANE, ROCK & ROLL and WHITE LIGHT, WHITE HEAT, not to mention the gloomy ballads FEMME FATALE and PALE BLUE EYES have been endlessly tackled (but seldom bettered) by everyone from MOTT THE HOOPLE and DAVID BOWIE to R.E.M and GARBAGE. On his own, WALK ON THE WILD SIDE REED's detached talk-sing vocals and controversial subject matter yielded a surprise Top 20 radio hit whose transvestite plotline sailed over the heads of many listeners. Even though similarly irreverent solo stabs SALLY CAN'T DANCE and VICIOUS are missing in action, this brief summary spotlights a highly influential, cynical street poet born to expose the seedy underbelly of sex, drugs and rock and roll.

RATING: THREE SHADES

STE-REO PHONIC

REO SPEEDWAGO-HIGH INFIDELITY:

A virtual greatest hits unto itself, the platter bearing REO's second best title (YOU CAN TUNE A PIANO BUT YOU CAN'T TUNA FISH nabs first prize) was both the Illinois quintet's breakthrough and their commercial peak after ten years and almost as many swings at bat. Highlights include the smartly rendered mega-ballads KEEP ON LOVIN' YOU and TAKE IT ON THE RUN, intermingled with the hook-laden pounders TOUGH GUYS (complete with classic LITTLE RASCALS sound bite) and SOMEONE TONIGHT, the latter belted by always reliable bass player BRUCE HALL. The ballsy BO DIDDLEY thump of DON'T LET HIM GO unfurls in sharp contrast to IN YOUR LETTER's unabashed bubblegum snap, but it all works out beautifully thanks to GARY RICHRATH's sinewy six string workouts, NEIL DOUGHTY's swirling organ breaks and CRONIN's radio-ready lead vocals. Fans are advised to check out REO's earlier collection of unsung classics A DECADE OF ROCK & ROLL...the logical companion to this flawless slab of pop 'n roll effervescence.

RATING: FOUR HIGH MARKS



MIDNIGHT RIDERS

PAUL REVERE & THE RAIDERS FEATURING MARK LINDSAY-THE LEGEND OF PAUL REVERE:

These prolific Pacific Northwest cats were America's best answer to the BRITISH INVASION...wild 'n witty entertainers with a keen eye on the pop charts and a sense of humor to boot. Their name notwithstanding, ponytailed lead belter MARK LINDSAY was the real star of the group, peppering his macho delivery with gritty soul conviction, as well as authoring/producing many of their later classics. The quintet's genre-jumpin' grab bag included good timey instrumentals LIKE LONG HAIR and BEATNICK STICKS, raw 'n greasy covers of RNB staples OOH POO PAH DOO and HIGH HEEL SNEAKERS, huge protest hits KICKS and INDIAN RESERVATION, psychedelic rave-ups LET ME and JUST SEVENTEEN, and even a decent twanger called COUNTRY WINE. This comprehensive double disc collects over fifty hits, misses, rarities, TV themes, and B-sides...a righteous, rollickin' ride that no rabid collector of sixties rock should live without.

RATING: FIVE REVOLUTIONS



HELLBILLY DELUXE!

REVEREND HORTON HEAT-SPACE HEATER:

The colorful cover art on THE REVEREND HORTON HEAT-SPACE HEATER's fifth platter resembles a klass-sick kitschy B-movie poster, complete with shreiking BETTY PAGE-like babe in distress...which is no doubt the point of SPACE HEATER...tongue in cheek fun administered via unhinged, raunchy psychobilly. The funky track COUCH SURFIN' kicks off with a classic retro BATMAN riff, the instrumentals unspool like CHET ATKINS on speed, and song titles like BABY I'M DRUNK, STARLIGHT LOUNGE, and TEXAS ROCKABILLY REBEL give a clear indication of the retro-roots-rock vortex where THE REVEREND HORTON HEAT hangs its twang-bangin' hat. This titanic trio pummels shards of THE RAMONES, SOUTHERN CULTURE ON THE SKIDS, BRIAN SETZER, ELVIS PRESLEY, THE CRAMPS and DICK DALE into their very own charismatic slabs o' mince-meat musicology. RHH's hopped up gonzo vision may not trip everyone's trigger...then again, the most challenging music never does.

RATING: THREE GEAR SHIFT KNOBS

SMASH HITS

CHARLIE RICH-THE COMPLETE SMASH SESSIONS:

Between his early rockabilly efforts for SUN RECORDS and his mellow country-politan hits BEHIND CLOSE DOORS and THE MOST BEAUTIFUL GIRL, pianist/singer CHARLIE RICH recorded almost thirty sides for the SMASH label, who also picked up JERRY LEE LEWIS after his SUN tenure. Although the swaggering MOHAIR SAM proved RICH's only hit from that period, this treasure trove of pop mastery also includes the gospel rocker I WASHED MY HANDS IN MUDDY WATER, funky southern fried boogies like HAWG JAW and MOONSHINE MINNIE and cool, cocky covers of ROY HAMILTON's YOU CAN HAVE HER and his own LONELY WEEKENDS. RICH could emote convincingly in any style, and on THE COMPLETE SMASH SESSIONS he covers a wide range of 'em...blue eyed soul, honky tonk, RNB, ballads...even an obvious novelty like SANTA CLAUS' DAUGHTER swings in his creative hands. Most everything here sounds like it could have been a hit, except that ELVIS was havin' 'em all during this period, belting in a manner virtually identical to RICH's earnest, playful style. That's as good a yardstick as any to measure CHARLIE RICH's boundless talents by.

RATING: FIVE SESSIONS



CHARLIE'S RICHES

CHARLIE RICH-ULTIMATE COLLECTION:

Best remembered for his early gospel rocker LONELY WEEKENDS, the funky swagger of MOHAIR SAM, and seventies countrypolitan smashes BEHIND CLOSED DOORS and THE MOST BEAUTIFUL GIRL, there was seemingly no musical style white soul belter/piano man CHARLIE RICH was afraid to tackle head on. An elegant cross between his SUN RECORDS stablemates The King and The Killer, his career also spanned jazz, ballads and smokin' RNB, as he turned in masterful covers of the gospel-heavy I WASHED MY HANDS IN MUDDY WATER and JIMMY REED's BIG BOSS MAN. He also penned a few classics of his own, from the barn-burner BREAK UP to the breathtaking weeper WHO WILL THE NEXT FOOL BE. ULTIMATE COLLECTION is perhaps the finest anthology of the dozens available, chronologically skimming the cream from a three decade career...eighteen tracks of the towering, testifying talent that was "The Silver Fox".

RATING: FIVE IVORIES

POMP-ADORE

BILLY LEE RILEY-RED HOT:

Unbridled rockabilly wildcat BILLY LEE RILEY may not garner the immediate recognition of fellow SUN label mates JERRY LEE LEWIS, JOHNNY CASH or ELVIS, but his best stuff was up there on the same astral plane. A gravelly caterwauler and multi-instrumentalist who backed many SUN stars with his crackerjack band THE LITTLE GREEN MEN, roots purists relish his brashly rendered cult classics RED HOT and FLYING SAUCERS ROCK & ROLL (both were covered note for note by revivalist belter ROBERT GORDON and guitar ace LINK WRAY). This generous 26 track compilation also dishes out the honky tonkin' and RNB aspects of BILLY LEE's repertoire, from a hoppin' boppin' DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE to a subdued (dare a say "mellow"?) version of LOUIS JORDAN's jump swing call to arms SATURDAY NIGHT FISH FRY. THE CLOVERS chestnut YOUR CASH AIN'T NOTHIN' BUT TRASH never sounded better than in RILEY's mitts and he administers a deep baritone groove to the bloozey DARK MUDDY BOTTOM. If you like your rock & roll raw, righteous, and real, RED HOT is one sizzlin' platter to tear up your sacroiliac to.

RATING: FOUR HEP CATS

UNDER COVER MAN

JOHNNY RIVERS-ANTHOLOGY 1964-1977:

Soulfully sincere song slinger JOHNNY RIVERS was the male counterpart to LINDA RONSTADT in that the majority of his biggest charters were socko cover versions of rock and RNB chestnuts stamped with a good deal of his own winning personality, occasionally beating the originals. Early WHISKEY A GO-GO era takes on CHUCK BERRY's MEMPHIS and MAYBELLINE, and smooth readings of MOTOWN's TRACKS OF MY TEARS and BABY I NEED YOUR LOVIN' rested comfortably beside jangly TV theme SECRET AGENT MAN and his own mellow creation POOR SIDE OF TOWN. Success extended well into the seventies, with New Orleans chestnut ROCKIN' PNEUMONIA and BEACH BOYS oldie HELP ME RHONDA providing more fodder for RIVERS' tasty interpretive powers, capped off by the lovely SWAYIN' TO THE MUSIC (SLOW DANCIN'), written by EAGLES collaborator JACK TEMPCHIN. Underrated as a vocalist, guitarist and talent scout (he was instrumental in fostering the careers of THE FIFTH DIMENSION and songsmith JIMMY WEBB), this double disc of smash hits, near misses and cult classics provides ample proof that JOHNNY RIVERS was virtually incapable of releasing a bad piece of music.

RATING: FIVE WHISKEYS



BEST OF THE WEST

MARTY ROBBINS-GUNFIGHTER BALLADS & TRAIL SONGS:

Had MARTY ROBBINS never recorded again after his self-penned four and a half minute saga EL PASO, his ticket to immortality would be assured...so vivid was this iconic tale of fierce gunplay and dying with your boots on, it topped both the pop and the country charts back in 1959. GUNFIGHTER BALLADS & TRAIL SONGS, one of the earliest concept albums, finds ROBBINS offering up a dozen authentic trips back to the Old West including the fast draw legend BIG IRON, SONS OF THE PIONEERS oldie COOL WATER, and STRAWBERRY ROAN, a bronc-bustin' winner. All are rendered in velvet smooth tones and organic acoustic guitar work, with unobtrusive backing vocals from THE GLASER BROTHERS, who became minor stars in their own right during country music's "outlaw" movement of the seventies. The expanded release of GUNFIGHTER BALLADS offers bonus tracks THE HANGING TREE from GARY COOPER's western of the same name, the loping singalong SADDLE TRAMP, and a longer version of EL PASO, a song so damned perfect you won't mind hearing it a second time. For lovers of good old fashioned cowboy songs, GUNFIGHTER BALLADS & TRAIL SONGS truly stands the test of time.

RATING: FIVE BULLSEYES

PARTY TILL YOU DUKE

DUKE ROBILLARD-DUKE'S BLUES:

Ace guitarist/renaissance man DUKE ROBILLARD has worn a number of hats during his multi-decade career...he founded Rhode Island's "little big band" ROOMFUL OF BLUES, served a spell as rockabilly revivalist ROBERT GORDON's sideman, and filled in after JIMMIE VAUGHAN's departure from THE FABULOUS THUNDERBIRDS. His ninth solo outing pays tribute to his old school heroes, a stylish goodtime grab bag of jump blues, boogie woogie, and swingin' jazz. Legendary innovators from LOWELL FULSON and T-BONE WALKER to MAGIC SAM and GUITAR SLIM are ripe for ROBILLARD's tasty, passionate interpretations; these aren't the well worn classics that everyone else seems to trot out on their own covers projects; DUKE wisely digs a bit deeper for BIG JOE TURNER's party platter MIDNIGHT CANNONBALL and an eleven minute workout on ALBERT COLLIN's DYIN FLU. ROBILLARD's serviceable, gruff vocals may not be on a par with his sizzling six string jam sessions, but this roots rockin' history lesson (rounded out by a handful of likeminded originals) is just the tonic for some lazy afternoon groovin' or late nite rug-cuttin'.

RATING: THREE DUKES



MIRACLES WORKER

SMOKEY ROBINSON & THE MIRACLES-GOLD:

Multi-talent SMOKEY ROBINSON was not only one of MOTOWN's most popular singing stars, he pulled double duty as that label's most prolific songwriter, penning most of THE TEMPTATIONS' first dozen or so hits, including their career maker MY GIRL, as well as chartbusters for MARY WELLS, THE MARVELETTES, and many others. Backed by the impeccable harmonies of THE MIRACLES, he racked up dance floor exciters like MICKEY'S MONKEY and GOING TO A GO-GO, breathless ballads including OOH BABY BABY and TRACKS OF MY TEARS, and wordplay masterstroke TEARS OF A CLOWN, a sublime slab of bubblegum-soul greatness. Unlike STEVIE WONDER and MARVIN GAYE's eventual political statements, SMOKEY always stuck to what he did best...timeless romantic pleas administered in that unique, velvety croon...his later "quiet storm" solo adult contemporary hits BEING WITH YOU and CRUISIN' provided a smooth footnote to an unparalleled career. It's all here on the flawless forty track double disc GOLD, the most powerful love letter to SMOKEY ROBINSON fans imaginable.

RATING: FIVE EMOTIONS



ROCK-IT!

THE ROCKETS-LIVE ROCKETS:

Detroit Rock City boasts an impressive rock & roll pedigree that includes ALICE COOPER, BOB SEGER, MC5, RARE EARTH, TED NUGENT and BROWNSVILLE STATION. LIVE ROCKETS is a slam-bang grab bag of boogie classics from that region's most underrated band, whose five album career has otherwise never been legitimized by a greatest hits compilation. DAVE GILBERT's raspy, "Saturday night out with the boys" screech, bolstered by ex DETROIT WHEELS legends JIM MCCARTY's careening axe salvos and JOHNNY "THE BEE" BADANJEK's solid stick-work, is augmented by guest sax blower CHUCK PERRAUT and a trio of soul-powered female backing vocalists; this is a made-loud-to-play-loud farewell party with class and sass. Crash 'n burn BADENJEK originals like CAN'T SLEEP, TURN UP THE MUSIC and ROLLIN' BY THE RECORD MACHINE mix seamlessly with a suitably funky cover of LOU REED's slinky SALLY CAN'T DANCE and a ballbustin' version of bloozer PETER GREEN's classic OH WELL; as one of their album titles suggested, there's NO BALLADS to get in the way of a good time. Brash, bloozey, and ballsy, once you give 'em a ride, LIVE ROCKETS is a hard platter indeed to take off your record machine.

RATING: FOUR LIFT-OFFS

ROCKET RIDE

THE ROCKETS-THE ROCKETS/NO BALLADS:

Formed from the remnants of blue eyed soul-soaked hitmakers MITCH RYDER & THE DETROIT WHEELS, the nucleus of THE ROCKETS included trash-mashin' guitarist JIM MCCARTY and sonic boom skin-pummeler JOHNNY "THE BEE" BADANJEK, who stamped out bad-ass jackhammer boogie fronted by razor blade-gargling shrieker DAVE GILBERT. Virtually ignored by late 70s radio, their lone smash proved to be a frantic update of early FLEETWOOD MAC staple OH WELL, minus the elongated dreamlike passages that identified PETER GREEN's bloozey original. "Shoulda been classics" included TURN UP THE RADIO, CAN'T SLEEP, and cantankerous covers of LOU REED's SALLY CAN'T DANCE and BOB SEGER's LONG LONG GONE, all break-neck slices of ballsy fortitude that radio inexplicably missed out on. THE ROCKETS/NO BALLADS celebrates the long awaited CD release of their two best albums together, a virtual "greatest hits" for this woefully underrated group whose volatile "meat 'n taters" attitude never managed to get 'em past mere cult status.

RATING: FOUR MOONSHOTS

AVALANCHE OF CLASSICS

ROCKPILE-SECONDS OF PLEASURE:

Rockpile made some of the late seventies' most satisfying power poppin' albums, among them REPEAT WHEN NECESSARY and LABOUR OF LUST, though under the individual names of leaders Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe. SECONDS OF PLEASURE is the only disc credited to this crack genre-surfing band, a joyous folk/rockabilly/RNB romp stuffed with covers of their musical heroes and goodtime originals. As always, Edmunds is in fine twanger vocal and guitar form as he rips through Chuck Berry's OH WHAT A THRILL and soul screamer Joe Tex's IF SUGAR WAS AS SWEET AS YOU. Lowe likewise packs a pop wallop on radio-ready ditties TEACHER TEACHER and WHEN I WRITE THE BOOK and second axe man Billy Bremner belts a gritty lead on cajun party-starter YOU AIN'T NOTHIN' BUT FINE. The album concludes with a quartet of "unplugged" Everly Brothers chestnuts lovingly interpreted by admirers Dave and Nick. Fans of the "everything old is new" ideal of retro-rock would be smart to lunge into this album ears-first.

RATING: FIVE TWANGS

HOW SWEET IT IS

TOMMY ROE-GREATEST HITS:

One of the most popular bubble gum artists of the sixties, TOMMY ROE was also one of the first to administer that sticky, addictive sound via his breakthrough smash SHEILA, a freewheeling concoction spotlighting rapid fire drum breaks and BUDDY HOLLY-channeled vocals. The hits came fast and frothy after that...the funky Muscle Shoals production EVERYBODY and his string of euphoric chick ditties (HEATHER HONEY, DIZZY, HOORAY FOR HAZEL) mostly penned by ROE himself, proving he was above teen idol categorization. The unabashedly effervescent SWEET PEA and the slightly risque JAM UP AND JELLY TIGHT alone are worth the price of admission on this eighteen track romp. It's too bad ROE's nifty cover of the CHUCK BERRY gemstone CAROL isn't here, but everything else important is, all in their glorious original versions...no lame re-recordings in this package. This stuff sticks in your cranium the way BAZOOKA JOE sticks to your face after a big ol' pink bubble explosion.

RATING: FOUR POPS



HOT ROCK

THE ROLLING STONES-40 LICKS:

The sleazily titled FORTY LICKS stands as the most comprehensive double disc roundup of classics since HOT ROCKS hit the streets back in the STONE age. The self-proclaimed "World's Greatest Rock & roll Band" spotlighted MICK JAGGER's slurry blooze growl, CHARLIE WATTS' behind the beat sticks-work, BILL WYMAN's slippery bass lines, and KEEF RICHARDS' chugging "rhythm as lead guitar" stance. Platter one is a stand alone masterstroke covering their greasy golden years, though undeniable staples such as TIME IS ON MY SIDE, LADY JANE and DOO DOO DOO DOO DOO (HEARTBREAKER) are inexplicably missing in action. The remainder spotlights too much of their so-so nineties and beyond output, but LICKS still contains a rump-load of sassy, brassy, bloozey, ballsy, raunchy rock satisfaction no other act ever came close to. Pulsating disco stab MISS YOU, HAPPY's crackling blast of hot horns, righteous riffs and KEEF's best ever vocals, psychedelia-soaked SHE'S A RAINBOW, and the risque bravado of BROWN SUGAR's add up to the only STONES compilation you'll probably ever need...it's only rock 'n roll, but you like it.

RATING: FOUR WRINKLES

STONE GROUND

THE ROLLING STONES-THE ROLLING STONES NOW!:

Considering that it's only one third JAGGER/RICHARDS originals, THE ROLLIN STONES' third platter NOW! is a surprisingly strong effort by a hungry as hell band. From the righteous kickoff of SOLOMON BURKE's EVERYBODY NEEDS SOMEBODY TO LOVE to the final MICK/KEEF effort SURPRISE, SURPRISE, this is a tight, swingin' affair spotlighting JAGGER's bad boy growl and KEEF's chugging guitar volleys. You'll sample the usual nods to their CHESS RECORDS heroes CHUCK BERRY (YOU CAN'T CATCH ME), BO DIDDLEY (MONA) and WILLIE DIXON/HOWLIN' WOLF's LITTLE RED ROOSTER (BRIAN JONES' slide work is particularly electrifying on this one), not to mention New Orleans mainstays ALLEN TOUSSAINT's aching PAIN IN MY HEART and ALVIN ROBINSON's funky DOWN HOME GIRL. The moody soul-crawler HEART OF STONE (a Top 20 single for the band) and the catchy rocker OFF THE HOOK proved to be MICK and KEEF's two best collaborations up to that point in their career, helping pave the way for THE LAST TIME and SATISFACTION on the very next album. STONES fans interested in the greasy roots of their rebellious rock should get NOW!...um, "now".

RATING: FOUR HOOKS

GIRL POWER:

THE ROLLING STONES-SOME GIRLS:

A last great greasy gasp from the longest lived of all Brit Invasion emsembles, 1978's SOME GIRLS had much to prove after the so-so BLACK & BLUE and lackluster LOVE YOU LIVE albums. Rising to the occasion, this pure party platter spawned three hit singles, the disco-laced chart topper MISS YOU, caustic kiss off BEAST OF BURDEN, and nasty noisemaker SHATTERED; gritty, street smart tracks such as WHEN THE WHIP COMES DOWN and RESPECTABLE also garnered ample airplay, the most the band had been on the radio in years. KEITH RICHARDS busted out one of his better vocal growls on BEFORE THEY MAKE ME RUN, while FAR AWAY EYES plotted briefly on the country charts, a humorous twanger awash in MICK JAGGER's wonderfully laid-back pseudo-hillbilly narrative. The album's cover art, featuring Hollywood types who didn't particularly want to be immortalized in such fashion, and the misogynistic title track provided the requisite STONES controversies, further boosting sales. Future STONES platters inevitably contained a shining moment or two, but never again jelled cohesively from start to finish quite like SOME GIRLS.

RATING: FIVE TONGUES

OH BABY, THAT'S WHAT I LIKE!

THE ROMANTICS:

Detroit's leather clad, carefully coiffed ROMANTICS practically defined power pop in the early 80s, welding the pristine vocal harmonies and jangly guitars of BADFINGER and THE RASPBERRIES to a hyperactive punk beat. Hard hittin' drummer JIMMY MARINOS also happened to possess a crackling, soulful shout of a voice, which, along with WALLY PALMAR's killer harmonica solo, helped propell supernova single WHAT I LIKE ABOUT YOU, a dance floor classic that's only grown more popular with each passing decade. Every track on their explosive debut disc boasts similar loud 'n clear high energy antics, from "shoulda hit big" band originals WHEN I LOOK IN YOUR EYES and TELL IT TO CARRIE to the lone cover tune, a catchy recasting of RAY DAVIES' SHE'S GOT EVERYTHING. THE ROMANTICS eventually veered off into a more mainstream direction and were rewarded with the lean, mid-tempo hit TALKING IN YOUR SLEEP...but they forged their fire-in-the hole reputation on this, their first and best self-titled party platter.

RATING: FOUR RED SUITS



HOW DO I REMAKE YOU?

LINDA RONSTADT-GREATEST HITS, VOL'S. 1 & 2:

Country-pop superstar LINDA RONSTADT was the "me decade"'s undisputed cover girl, putting her white soul stamp on BUDDY HOLLY, CHUCK BERRY and MOTOWN chestnuts via heavy dollops of sass, style and energy. Most of her tone-cool re-takes proved as entertaining as the originals, from the acoustic plunk of NEIL YOUNG's LOVE IS A ROSE and THE STONES' dirty casino classic TUMBLIN' DICE to ROY ORBISON's subliminal BLUE BAYOU and the incendiary MARTHA & THE VANDELLAS singalong HEAT WAVE. The robust cover queen also gave career boosts to a new breed of folkie tunesmiths including MIKE NESMITH, WARREN ZEVON (tackling several of his works, notably POOR POOR PITIFUL ME) and KARLA BONOFF. She may have been the female answer to sixties "king of the revival tunes" JOHNNY RIVERS, but LINDA RONSTADT was also helluva lot more...a charismatic talent boasting a dynamic pipes, "girl next door good looks", and impeccable interpretive taste. Who could ask for more in the innocent, uncluttered pop landscape of seventies AM radio?

RATING: FIVE FLIRTATIONS



ROOM AT THE TOP

ROOMFUL OF BLUES-THE BLUES'LL MAKE YOU HAPPY, TOO:

COUNT BASIE once called ROOMFUL OF BLUES the hottest blues band he'd ever heard, no small praise from a man well known for spotting talent. Rhode Island's decades old "little big band" launched the careers of elegant axe handlers DUKE ROBILLARD and RONNIE EARL, plus soul man belter extraordinaire SUGAR RAY NORCIA, to name but three of its more prominent members in an ever evolving lineup. This righteous, horn-vaccinated collection from roots label ROUNDER is an authentic grab bag of jumpin' jive, swingin' jazz and rockin' RNB with an emphasis on high energy, impeccable musicianship and above all else, blessed fun. Gutsy down to earth covers of BOBBY "BLUE" BLAND's POVERTY, MEMPHIS SLIM's THE COME BACK, and SHAKE, RATTLE & ROLL (with originator BIG JOE TURNER on guest vocals, no less) hold sway with tasty originals SHE'LL BE SO FINE, JUST LIKE DYNAMITE, and IF YOU KNOW IT, crackling roadhouse rhythms one and all. THE BLUES'LL MAKE YOU HAPPY TOO (a title cribbed from TURNER) is the pick of the few ROOMFUL compilations on the market, a showstoppin' party platter of retro-groovers custom made for cutting rugs.

RATING: FIVE BLASTS

BUNCH OF ROSES

ROSE ROYCE-THE VERY BEST OF ROSE ROYCE:

As so often happens where underappreciated, mid level artists like ROSE ROYCE are concerned, retro label champs RHINO offer up the most comprehensive career compilation on the market. Although a nine piece outfit, singer GWEN DICKEY...as synonymous with the group name as DEBBIE HARRY was with BLONDI...provided their sweet 'n soulful focal point. Former MOTOWN producer NORMAN WHITFIELD, who penned EDWIN STARR's WAR and all of THE TEMPTATIONS' later psychedelicized soul classics, also wrote the bulk of RR hits that kicked off with the funky, hand clapping soundtrack smash CAR WASH. I WANNA GET NEXT TO YOU (sung by band member KENNY COPELAND), WISHING ON A STAR and LOVE DON'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE proved a smooth hat trick of shimmering ballad mastery, while DO YOUR DANCE and OOH BOY were sophisticated dance floor efforts. ROSE ROYCE easily outdistanced the "disco tag" too readily attached to legitimate RNB ensembles in the late seventies.

RATING: FOUR OOH BOY'S

HARD FOR LIFE

ROSE TATTOO-THE BEST OF ROSE TATTOO:

They never achieved a smidgen of the worldwide attention accorded fellow Aussie barn burners AC/DC, but ROSE TATTOO's ballsy blueprint...loud, swaggering boogie rock sprayed with menace and galvanized slide guitar volleys...certainly made 'em partners in crime. Venom spewing belter ANGRY ANDERSON (who resembled a diminutive UNCLE FESTER) boasted a brawling, bloozey bleat that charged up voltage studded punk-metal anthems SCARRED FOR LIFE, BRANDED and ROCK & ROLL OUTLAW. While popular in their homeland, eighties American radio, awash in a comparatively serene sea of new wave and hair metal, all but ignored this chaotic quintet's brutal kick-axe assault. Luckily, rock fans made of sterner stuff lapped up the relentless power of spine snappers like SIDEWALK SALLY and ONE OF THE BOYS. The aggressive twenty track sampler BEST OF ROSE TATTOO is a smash-you-in-the-face collection of crash 'n burn calamity certainly worth howling about... nobody, least of all these guys, ever said rock and roll was pretty.

RATING: FOUR TATTS

ROTH & ROLL

DAVID LEE ROTH-THE BEST:

When DAVID LEE ROTH exited VAN HALEN's ranks in the mid eighties, he took his sense of humor with him; the band maintained sales with new recruit SAMMY HAGAR, but sacrificed its "fun" quotient. DLR's loudmouthed, snarky persona naturally carried over into a briefly potent solo career, serving him well on kitschy note for note remakes of jump blues legend LOUIS PRIMA's JUST A GIGELO/I AIN'T GOT NOBODY and THE BEACH BOYS' CALIFORNIA GIRLS,...about as far from hard rock as one could get. YANKEE ROSE and a sizzling take on TOBACCO ROAD featuring riff-master/future star STEVE VAI proved more along the lines of classic VH, while EASY STREET and SENSIBLE SHOES found DLR trading his patented shriek for a bloozey, conversational purr. Few rockers have garnered airplay by taking on The Chairman of the Board, so it's a shame ROTH's over the top version of THAT'S LIFE (not to mention the equally reflective DAMN GOOD) are missing in action here. In spite of its title, THE BEST could have been a lot better.

RATING: THREE LECHEROUS ASIDES

THE ROYAL TREATMENT

BILLY JOE ROYAL-THE BEST OF BILLY JOE ROYAL:

Twangy blue eyed soul wailer BILLY JOE ROYAL proved the best mouthpiece that tunesmith/ fellow southerner JOE SOUTH ever had, scoring repeatedly with his organic material. ROYAL's passionate lean 'n keen delivery propelled the earthy singalong DOWN IN THE BOONDOCKS, slick rocker HUSH (an even bigger hit for DEEP PURPLE), and swelling ballad I KNEW YOU WHEN onto the charts; his final hit, the steamy saga CHERRY HILL PARK was one of the few written by an outside source. Listeners are also treated to fine-as-wine interpretations of one of PAUL MCCARTNEY's lesser known ditties EVERY NIGHT, as well as ROSE GARDEN (also penned by SOUTH), an across the board early seventies smash for LYNN ANDERSON. ROYAL courted a successful career on the country charts throughout the eighties, barely altering his timeless delivery to fit that format...but BEST OF concentrates on a glorious period in the late sixties when a day without hearing a BILLY JOE classic on AM radio was truly like a day without sunshine.

RATING: THREE CROWNS

KAHN JOB

RUFUS FEATURING CHAKA KAHN-THE VERY BEST OF:

RUFUS stood apart from the crowded pack of seventies funk ensembles for a very good reason...they were fronted by one of the most dynamic belters of the era, scintillating soul mama CHAKA KAHN. Their career kicked off in fine form via STEVIE WONDER's TELL ME SOMETHING GOOD, which alternated CHAKA's raw, sensual peels with lusty panting backup vocals from the male members. RUFUS followed up with the equally grand groove-humpers YOU GOT THE LOVE and ONCE YOU GET STARTED, as well as summery ballads pace changers like SWEET THING and HOLLYWOOD. KAHN, whose sassy talent overshadowed the band from the start, eventually moved onto a hit or miss solo career highlighted by the anthems I'M EVERY WOMAN and I FEEL FOR YOU and high profile sessions with STEVE WINWOOD, ERIC CLAPTON and QUINCY JONES. THE VERY BEST is a practically perfect platter offering up the very essence of her raw soul power, racking up most of RUFUS' biggest charting singles...their last hurrah AIN'T NOBODY is a notable no-show...a righteous, celebratory sampling of hot steppin' dance magic.

RATING: FOUR SQUEALS

NO BOYS ALLOWED

THE RUNAWAYS-THE BEST OF THE RUNAWAYS:

As a springboard for the solo careers of tough eighties ladies JOAN JETT and LITA FORD, L.A.'s RUNAWAYS came across as a quintet of SUZI QUATRO clones slinging glam-influenced, leather clad rock and roll that made up in attitude what they lacked in technical perfection. CHERIE CURRIE's coolly detached front woman vocals and those of the more expressive JETT, coupled with FORD's unvarnished axe work stamped their best known anthem CHERRY BOMB, not to mention I LOVE PLAYIN' WITH FIRE, BLACKMAIL and YOU DRIVE ME WILD, teen angst teasers that radio wouldn't play but that their male fans bought anyhow, due in part to the novelty of teen aged bad girls mining quasi-KISS riffs. Criminally short lived, panned by critics and plagued by personnel switches, THE RUNAWAYS' sleazy street smart legacy lived on through reckless ensembles including GIRLSCHOOL and THE DONNAS, proving that hard rock was never merely a boy's club.

RATING: FOUR TOUGH CHICKS

TODD BALL

TODD RUNDGREN-THE VERY BEST OF TODD RUNDGREN:

Uber-talent TODD RUNDGREN's decades long musical resume is an impressive one indeed...blue eyed soul belter, multi-instrumentalist, hit songwriter, bandleader of both psychedelic garage rockers THE NAZZ and the more experimental UTOPIA, highly respected producer for artists as varied as the NEW YORK DOLLS, GRAND FUNK, and THE TUBES, cutting edge technology geek...This is one of the best single disc overviews of his earliest, smartly crafted pop hits WE GOTTA GET YOU A WOMAN and I SAW THE LIGHT, stark, exquisite ballads HELLO IT'S ME and CAN WE STILL BE FRIENDS, and freewheeling rockers COULDN'T I JUST TELL YOU and THE VERY LAST TIME. Later chestnuts include his quirky weekend party-starter BANG THE DRUM ALL DAY and THE WANT OF A NAIL, a searing Philly Soul slab on which RUNDGREN holds his own against RNB screamer BOBBY WOMACK. Straddling the grey area between cult artist and bona fide star, THE VERY BEST showcases the prolific, uncompromising rock & roll chameleon that has always been TODD RUNDGREN.

RATING: FOUR RUNTS

PIANO MAN

LEON RUSSELL-THE BEST OF LEON RUSSELL:

LEON RUSSELL has always been modern music's ultimate multi-tasker and one of its most criminally underrated talents. As a songwriter, he came up with THE CARPENTERS classic SUPERSTAR, the RITA COOLIDGE tribute DELTA LADY for JOE COCKER and GEORGE BENSON's fluid breakthrough THIS MASQUERADE, not to mention a few of GARY LEWIS' bubbly pop smashes. As a member of the legendary WRECKING CREW, he played on hundreds of sessions for everyone from THE MONKEES and THE BYRDS to PHIL SPECTOR's stable of acts, and as a smoky, soulful solo artist, he racked up eclectic radio fare such as the funky saga TIGHTROPE and lush slow burner LADY BLUE. BEST OF gathers up sixteen sizzling examples of RUSSELL's wide ranging abilities, including the rip-roaring CONCERT FOR BANGLADESH medley JUMPIN' JACK FLASH/YOUNGBLOOD, a twangy run-through of HEARTBREAK HOTEL (with WILLIE NELSON) and his recent ELTON JOHN collaboration IF IT WASN'T FOR BAD. Here's a flawless mix of rock, country, RNB and jazz from a poignant performer who apparently never met a genre he couldn't master.

RATING: FIVE TOP HATS


SEE SEE RYDER

MITCH RYDER & THE DETROIT WHEELS-REV UP!/THE BEST OF:

The mighty Motor City spewed forth an embarrassment of volcanic rockers in the sixties/seventies, from BROWNSVILLE STATION and TED NUGENT to RARE EARTH and IGGY POP...and the earliest savage contenders of 'em all, MITCH RYDER & THE DETROIT WHEELS. Wild man RYDER belted out hard core blue eyed soul effortlessly and authentically, the only white man with balls enough to cover JAMES BROWN...and not look silly doing it. MITCH's high octane RNB bravado was matched note for note by THE DETROIT WHEELS, led by axe punisher JIMMY MCCARTY and drum-pummeler JOHNNY "THE BEE" BAJANDEK, who later formed the equally gritty meat 'n taters group THE ROCKETS. RYDER's rowdiest hits were super-charged rave-ups of LITTLE RICHARD and MOTOWN staples such as JENNY JENNY and DEVIL WITH A BLUE DRESS, with an occasional slam-bang original like SOCK IT TO ME from star producer BOB CREWE also making chart headway. RHINO's stunning collection REV UP! tallies every quakin' classic plus a handful of decent, if derivative efforts from RYDER's solo career. For a brief yet glorious period in the late sixties, no one pounded 'em out faster and harder than MITCH RYDER & THE DETROIT WHEELS.

RATING: FIVE RAVE UPS



RYDER OF THE STORM

MITCH RYDER-NEVER KICK A SLEEPING DOG:

The underrated godfather of Detroit rock & roll, a fertile scene which spawned GRAND FUNK, BROWNSVILLE STATION and BOB SEGER, was soul-searing howler MITCH RYDER; backed by the incendiary DETROIT WHEELS, chart smashers like DEVIL WITH A BLUE DRESS, JENNY TAKE A RIDE, and SOCK IT TO ME BABY were some of the late sixties' biggest thrill-rides. The 1983 solo album aptly titled NEVER KICK A SLEEPING DOG unspooled as a sweaty testament to RYDER's hoarser but still powerful delivery and swaggering "take no prisoners" attitude. Lead off ass-kicker B.I.G.T.I.M.E, rough-hewn covers of PRINCE's WHEN YOU WERE MINE and SOLOMON BURKE's CRY TO ME, and a dark duet with whiskey-and-cigerettes-voiced contemporary MARIANNE FAITHFUL on A THRILL'S A THRILL were just some of the fiesty highlights. RYDER admirer JOHN MELLENCAMP produced this platter, providing his tight band (led by whipcracking drummer KENNY ARONOFF) and a couple of funky originals, RUDE DE TRAHIR and COME AGAIN. This near-perfect platter should have returned MITCH to the big time (ala THE BOSS' resurrection of GARY "U.S." BONDS); it certainly would have marked a loud 'n proud return to form for an all too often ignored sixties legend.

RATING: FOUR YELPS



LONE STAR STATE OF MIND

DOUG SAHM-TEXAS FEVER/BEST OF SIR DOUGLAS QUINTET:

This odds 'n sods roundup of live tracks, re-recordings, and rarities is still one helluva party platter once the listener realizes it isn't the original SIR DOUGLAS QUINTET, but a rather loose-limbed, rag-tag version assembled by roots rockin' leader DOUG SAHM; likewise, the Tex-Mex cult classics SHE'S ABOUT A MOVER and MENDICINO are replaced by freewheelin' bar band versions. Gritty, organic covers of T-BONE SHUFFLE, WOOLY BULLY, and WASTED DAYS & WASTED NIGHTS, staples of SAHM's live shows for many years, showcase his impeccable RNB, western swing, and hippie rock taste. Ratcheting up the fun quotient another notch are WHO WERE YOU THINKIN' OF and IS ANYBODY GOING TO SAN ANTONE, which both became americana hits for SAHM's 90s supergroup THE TEXAS TORNADOS with SDQ organist AUGIE MEYERS and FREDDY FENDER. There are no liner notes and the sound quality varies wildly, but SAHM's semi-famous lyric "You just can't play in Texas unless you got a lotta soul" is an astute summation of this hard to hate "everything but the kitchen sink" collection.

RATING: THREE TACOS

DYNAMIC DUO

SAM & DAVE-SOUL MEN:

Paraphrasing the title of their most successful hit, which also provided a blueprint for THE BLUES BROTHERS' enthusiastic (if note for note) tribute, SOUL MEN could apply to no cooler combination of blistering talent than SAM MOORE and DAVE PRATER. Their third punchy platter, backed as always by STAX house band BOOKER T & THE MG'S and THE MEMPHIS HORNS, is the usual swaggering, grit-choked affair, with MOORE's jubilant gospel-infused yowl facing off against PRATER's guttural back street growl. In addition to the prolific songwriting team of ISAAC HAYES and DAVID PORTER, who penned both SOUL MAN and its popular flipside MAY I BABY, solid material is provided by MG axe man STEVE CROPPER, whose BROKE DOWN PIECE OF MAN was memorably tackled by SOUTHSIDE JOHNNY years later and influential 5 ROYALES guitarist LOWMAN PAULING; there's even an affectionate run through of the sublime standard LET IT BE ME. The funky, sweat-soaked ride comes to an abrupt finale in just under half an hour (typical for sixties LPs)...a clear case of quality over quantity, something the incomparable SAM & DAVE always had to spare.

RATING: FOUR CALL AND RESPONSES



TWO FOR THE SHOW!

SAM & DAVE-THE VERY BEST OF SAM & DAVE:

Sweet soul music's mightiest duo SAM & DAVE had their share of influence on the rock and roll world too...THE BLUES BROTHERS nailed their biggest hit via a note-for-note cover of SOUL MAN, while Texas boogie trio ZZ TOP tackled I THANK YOU, and THE FABULOUS THUNDERBIRDS unearthed WRAP IT UP for a new generation to groove to. THE VERY BEST gathers up the original, never bested versions of all those classics, plus joyous barnburners HOLD ON I'M COMIN and YOU DON'T KNOW LIKE I KNOW, as well as sweet cream ballad WHEN SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH MY BABY...all exhibit how effortlessly SAM MOORE's searing gospel call interlocked with DAVE PRATER's husky baritone response. An impressive stable of STAX talents, including legendary backing ensemble BOOKER T & THE MG'S, the righteous MEMPHIS HORNS, and the songwriting team ISAAC HAYES and DAVID PORTER may have backed them up, but it was SAM & DAVE who gave these records their passion and brimstone. "Double Dynamite" was a more than fitting nickname for this titanic tag-team that sweated solid gold soul from their very pores.

RATING: FIVE PAIRS



SPIRITUAL AWAKENING

SANTANA-THE BEST OF SANTANA:

This solid compilation reigns in SANTANA's early seventies radio smashes and lesser known eighties games, a sanctifyin' grab bag of jazz, Latino rhythms and psychedelic rock. Smoky original singer GREGG ROLLIE stokes the shimmering EVIL WAYS, horn-lacerated fiesta EVERYBODY'S EVERYTHING, and PETER GREEN's fluid BLACK MAGIC WOMAN. ROLLIE's successor GREG WALKER brings a soulful vibe to ZOMBIES oldie SHE'S NOT THERE and OPEN INVITATION, which allows CARLOS SANTANA to throw down in otherworldly guitar god fashion, while underrated STEVE WINWOOD sound alike ALEX LIGERTWOOD can't be discounted on the turbo charged ALL I EVER WANTED and radio friendly pop hit WINNING. Passion-play instrumentals round out this sixteen track fiesta, notably EUROPA's bloozey dreamscape and SOUL SACRIFICE torrent of percussion-saturated solar flares. SANTANA would enjoy a further run of popularity in the new millennium, but BEST OF does a more than serviceable job of capturing the magic of those pre-SUPERNATURAL years.

RATING: FIVE FLICKS OF THE WRIST

SMOOTH MOVE

SANTANA-SUPERNATURAL:

This ain't your Dad's Santana. Named for original Fleetwood Mac guitarist Peter Green's breathtaking blooze instrumental (he also composed BLACK MAGIC WOMAN), here's the album that rescued the entirely deserving Carlos Santana from endless classic rock tour pergatory. Not since Tina Turner's "I've still got legs" comeback in the 80s has the music world witnessed such an unexpected and satisfying resurrection, thanks to the Clive Davis notion of pairing Mexico's guitar guru with a half dozen young disciples. The catalyst was SMOOTH, a blistering, funk-fried Rob Thomas collaboration that knocked doldrums-drenched radio on its keister at the turn of the century, culminating in the Grammy's most decorated album ever. Since Santana has always employed a wide palette of musical styles and vocalists (from Journey's Gregg Rolie to Buddy Miles to John Lee Hooker), hearing him jam on hip-hop, jazz-rock, and rap in tandem with Lauryn Hill, Dave Matthews, and Everlast is not such a far fetched notion. When the musical history books are written, SUPERNATURAL will remain proof positive that, yes Virginia, there really IS a Santana clause.

RATING: FIVE FIESTAS

BLUE BALL

SAVOY BROWN-BLUES, BALLS & BOOGIE:

A reissue of the British boogie bashers' GREATEST HITS LIVE double LP from 1981, (although their rousing take on WILLIE DIXON's oft-covered WANG DANG DOODLE is omitted), BLUES, BALLS & BOOGIE pretty much sums up what these cats were all about. While dozens of members went through SB's ranks (including most of FOGHAT), founder/axe slinger extraordinaire KIM SIMMONDS and raspy ex-JOE PERRY PROJECT screecher RALPH MORMAN are highlighted on this particular concert outing. This short-lived team-up, coming off the heels of SAVOY's hard-edged mainstream effort ROCK & ROLL WARRIORS, manages to sweat new life out of the gritty warhorses NEEDLE & SPOON, TELL MAMA and HELLBOUND TRAIN, with MORMAN's raspy yelp a shocking counterpoint to the subtler soul growls of CHRIS YOULDEN and DAVE WALKER. In spite of pedestrian liner notes and a tame studio cover of THE BEE GEES' RUN TO ME tacked onto the end, BLUES, BALLS & BOOGIE does not diminish SAVOY BROWN's multi-decade legacy; this is a greasy good time romp 'n stomp through the RNB roadhouse.

RAYING: FOUR BALLS

BROWN BLUES

SAVOY BROWN-THE MILLENNIUM COLLECTION:

The over half century history of British blooze bashers SAVOY BROWN was riddled with membership shuffles, including most of what eventually became FOGHAT. Guitar slingin' leader KIM SIMMONDS, the band's only constant, was also their heart, soul, and guts, whether unleashing a volley of rhythmic riff-raff or mounting a stinging slide attack. Top-hatted vocalist CHRIS YOULDEN penetrated I'M TIRED and MUDDY WATERS' LOUISIANA BLUES with slithering soul power, while bawdy belter DAVE WALKER, who later served in "blink and you'll miss it" stints with FLEETWOOD MAC and BLACK SABBATH, growled out the showstoppers TELL MAMA and HELLBOUND TRAIN with gravelly tenacity. The most basic of samplers, THE MILLENNIUM COLLECTION ponies up a mere eleven cuts from SB's peak late sixties/early seventies period, including careening cult classics from their high water platters RAW SIENNA, LOOKING IN, and STREET CORNER TALKING. For a deeper look into their enduring boogie legacy, the double disc SAVOY BROWN COLLECTION is the way to go; for casual fans, MILLENNIUM will no doubt suffice.

RATING: FIVE BAR BANDS

TALK OF THE TOWN

SAVOY BROWN-STREET CORNER TALKING:

This amazing blooze rockin' boogie-fest was waxed after DAVE PEVERETT, ROGER EARLE and TONY STEVENS exited SAVOY BROWN to form the similar FOGHAT, making its solid success all the more amazing. Gutsy new belter DAVE WALKER proved to be the band's best front man since the CHRIS YOULDEN days, while founder/guitarist KIM SIMMONDS busted out his usual six string razzle-dazzle on the feisty TELL MAMA (not the ETTA JAMES oldie) and LET IT ROCK (ROCK & ROLL ON THE RADIO), a freewheeling tribute which name checked STICK MCGHEE's legendary DRINKIN' WINE SPO-DEE-O-DEE. Their funky reshuffling of THE TEMPTATIONS' CAN'T GET NEXT TO YOU and searing seven minute jam of KOKO TAYLOR's WANG-DANG DOODLE spotlighted their exquisite cover tune taste, always a band trademark. Although their career has spanned half a century, few fans would argue that STREET CORNER TALKING, with its humorously seedy album artwork and grade A material was one of SAVOY BROWN's last truly important albums from its final legendary lineup.

RATING: FOUR CORNERS



BIG BOZ MAN

BOZ SCAGGS-HITS!

Smooth n' smoky white soul crooner Boz Scaggs' compilation HITS! features a frugal ten cuts, touching on only enough crucial bases for the most casual fan. The cream of session players are on board, including Dennis Coffey, Pete Carr and most of Toto, while Boz is no slouch himself on a six string (legend has it he taught his former band mate STEVE MILLER a lick or two). High points include the sophisticated, pop-perfect biggies LOWDOWN and LIDO SHUFFLE from his almighty breakthrough disc SILK DEGREES, plus fun 'n funky later charters JOJO and MISS SUN. There's also Scaggs' earthy, early cult classics DINAH FLO and YOU MAKE IT SO HARD (TO SAY NO), but unfortunately LOAN ME A DIME, his twelve minute blooze-drenched jam with slide guitar maestro Duane Allman doesn't fit the singles format here. That and other tone-cool epics are available on the double disc anthology MY TIME, which boasts over thirty-three testifyin' tracks of RNB, rock and jazz that clearly identify why BOZ will always be the boss of any genre he tackles.

RATING: FOUR BLUE EYED SOULS

SOUL POWER

BOZ SCAGGS-MEMPHIS:

Sparkling pop hits aside, indigenous singer/guitarist BOZ SCAGGS has always been most at home interpreting and reinventing strains of rhythm & blues, which he does effortlessly on the largely all covers project MEMPHIS, his finest platter since 1997's roots themed COME ON HOME. Bookended by a pair of likeminded SCAGGS originals, the big BOZ-man tastefully dusts off JIMMY REED, THE METERS and AL GREEN, injecting his nocturnal vocal style and obvious passion for the genre. SCAGGS adheres closely to MINK DEVILLE's dark imprint on MOON MARTIN's CADILLAC WALK, also tackling DEVILLE's own winsome chestnut MIXED UP SHOOK UP GIRL, but otherwise revisits the sixties era of sweet soul slams including LOVE ON A TWO WAY STREET, CAN I CHANGE MY MIND and RAINY NIGHT IN GEORGIA, an astounding, poignant reading of southern soul man TONY JOE WHITE's best known composition. Backed by a who's who of session aces from guitarist RAY PARKER JR. and legendary Memphis keyboardist SPOONER OLDMAN to bassist WILLIE WEEKS and drummer STEVE JORDAN, MEMPHIS flows like sweet molasses, oozing lush groove-ology and down home mojo every step of the way.

RATING: FOUR SWEET NOTES

BOZ & EFFECT

BOZ SCAGGS-SILK DEGREES:

After a half dozen critically acclaimed yet "under the radar" albums, SILK DEGREES proved to be the elegant pop, rock and RNB amalgamation that finally put BOZ SCAGGS across to a mass audience. Before that well deserved breakthrough, the rootsy singer was mainly known for the hell bent blooze jam LOAN ME A DIME with axe legend DUANE ALLMAN, a cult favorite back in FM radio's progressive era. Boasting four hit singles including the funky dance track LOWDOWN and the grainy saga LIDO SHUFFLE, SCAGGS' smooth RNB-saturated pipes, matched by tasty backing from the session players that would soon become TOTO, made this some of the mid seventies' finest radio fodder. Other slick highlights are a funky cover of New Orleans legend ALLEN TOUSSAINT's WHAT DO YOU WANT THE GIRL TO DO, JUMP STREET's boogie attitude and the sublime slow dancer WE'RE ALL ALONE, which became a smash for RITA COOLIDGE. SCAGGS fans know that he pumped out memorable, stylish albums long before and well after SILK DEGREES...but that gloriously hip, soulful trip will always be his heat sinking masterpiece.

RATIONG: FIVE SHADES


OH! NEIL!

NEIL SEDAKA-DEFINITIVE COLLECTION:

It's surprisingly difficult to find a platter tracking high-pitched warbler NEIL SEDAKA's two hit-making periods. DEFINITIVE COLLECTION initially LOOKS like such an anthology, but it's only halfway there. The first portion covers his chirpy, pre-BEATLES charters like OH! CAROL (a tribute to his fellow BRILL BUILDING songwriter CAROLE KING, who answered with the less popular OH! NEIL), CALENDAR GIRL, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY SWEET 16, but they are remakes...not bad ones, but remakes all the same. The rest of this roundup spotlights his solid seventies comeback via sublime smashes LAUGHTER IN THE RAIN, a ballad-ized BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO, and the soulful ELTON JOHN duet BAD BLOOD (all in their blessed original versions). Listeners are also treated to SEDAKA's takes on WHERE THE BOYS ARE and LOVE WILL KEEP US TOGETHER, huge hits he penned for CONNIE FRANCIS and THE CAPTAIN & TENNILE. Had DEFINITIVE solely focused on the "me decade" stuff and included missing mini-classics like THAT'S WHEN THE MUSIC TAKES ME, YOU GOTTA MAKE YOUR OWN SUNSHINE and LOVE IN THE SHADOWS, this would be a first rate listening experience from a master craftsman of pure pop nirvana.

RATING: THREE GRINS

PRETTY SEEDY

THE SEEDS-THE SEEDS:

Few garage rock singles penetrated mid sixties radio with a trashier attitude than THE SEEDS' PUSHIN' TOO HARD, the ultimate flower-power-meets-punk anthem propelled by pulsating organ stabs, fuzz tone guitar licks and head honcho SKY SAXON's snotty nasal yelp. Back in an era when the term "acid rock" actually meant something, this fearsome West Coast foursome, in spite of limited technical abilities (the trademark of all great garage rock groups), pumped out prickly laments like I CAN'T SEEM TO MAKE YOU MINE (their follow up hit), NO ESCAPE and a greasy cascade of similar sounding, trippy two minute slices of snarling attitude. Amazingly, THE SEEDS have never rated a concise compilation on CD, only a double length anthology that's about forty tracks longer than most listeners will probably want to endure. Although their other cult classic MR. FARMER (which, like the band's name, is a veiled reference to "mary jane") appears on their second album, this uncompromising, swaggering debut remains the best place for casual SEEDS fans to start diggin' their brooding psychedelic scene.

RAING: FOUR STEMS

FOR PETE'S SAKE

PETE SEEGER-CLEARWATER CLASSICS:

Whether warbling political protests or children's nursery rhymes, the tireless PETE SEEGER has probably taught more songs to more people than any other modern folk artist over his seven decade career. He authored IF I HAD A HAMMER, WHERE HAVE ALL THE FLOWERS GONE and GUANTANAMERA...huge hits for TRINI LOPEZ, THE KINGSTON TRIO and THE SANDPIPERS...along with TURN TURN TURN, his adaption of a Bible verse which THE BYRDS helped invent "folk-rock". SEEGER's laid back, plaintive vocals and subtle banjo shadings serve him well on his own versions of these beloved standards. Many tracks here are live concert recordings that demonstrate what SEEGER does best, namely prefacing numbers with a bit of history and encouraging audience participation on THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND, JOHN HENRY, MICHAEL, ROW THE BOAT ASHORE and others you probably have known the words to since grade school. From the timeless message of Civil Rights anthem WE SHALL OVERCOME to a rousing singalong of the traditional DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE, CLEARWATER CLASSICS is a very likable, well appointed collection of PETE SEEGER's greatest hits.

RATING: FOUR PROTESTS

BOB SEGER'S SYSTEM

BOB SEGER-EARLY SEGER VOL. 1:

It's downright mind boggling that an artist of Detroit Rock City's BOB SEGER's longevity and stature has never warranted a four platter box set; even harder to swallow is the almost complete unavailability of his raw, sweaty, RNB-stoked pre-SILVER BULLET BAND work. The ten track collection EARLY SEGER VOL. 1 trots out only a small fistful of the nitty gritty good stuff, notably soulfully solid covers of GREGG ALLMAN's MIDNIGHT RIDER and TIM HARDIN's IF I WERE A CARPENTER and the CHUCK BERRY ringer GET OUT OF DENVER. The original studio takes of RAMBLIN' GAMBLIN' MAN and TURN THE PAGE (more familiar today in their LIVE BULLET renditions) and the JAMES BROWN-meets-MITCH RYDER barnburner LUCIFER should obviously take precedence over the unreleased eighties material tacked onto the end of this platter. It took BOB SEGER eight albums and as many years to bust through to superstardom...his loyal fan base is entitled to much more than this would be treasure trove of lost classics.

RATING: THREE BOB AND WEAVES

WITH A BULLET

BOB SEGER & THE SILVER BULLET BAND-LIVE BULLET:

For many years the midwest's best kept secret (in spite of the nationally charting Top 20 single RAMBLIN' GAMBLIN' MAN) was Detroit's BOB SEGER, who finally broke through in a very big way via this rowsing stage show encapsulation of his early career. Double live platters approximating a rock concert's actual length were all the rage in the mid-seventies, with SEGER, KISS and PETER FRAMPTON among the beneficiaries. Trademark raspy vocals, meaty axe and sax hooks, and hard edged RNB propelled KATMANDU, BEAUTIFUL LOSER and road anthem TURN THE PAGE, which all became long deserving radio faves. Cool and cocky workouts of TINA TURNER's ribald NUTBUSH CITY LIMITS, BO DIDDLEY and CHUCK BERRY round out this ferocious, hard-churned concert experience. From the euphoric roar of the crowd, you'll wish you were right there when it happened...happily, LIVE BULLET's the next best thing, your front row ticket to sweat-saturated soul rockin' nirvana.

RATING: FIVE SHOTS

GOLD TIME ROCK & ROLL

BOB SEGER AND THE SILVER BULLET BAND-NINE TONIGHT:

Although his earlier breakthrough concert disc LIVE BULLET is a stone classic in rock music circles, NINE TONIGHT is the 1980 sequel that rounds up all the heartland soul man's undisputed biggies in one helluva party platter; nothing he did after this packed half as much punch, power or passion. Seger is in superb raspy voice throughout the festivities, his Silver Bullets back him with slick righteous power, and the fun threshhold is cranked to "ten". Signature anthem OLD TIME ROCK & ROLL is given a lengthy, crank-yankin' intro you'll never hear elsewhere, RNB nugget TRYIN' TO LIVE MY LIFE WITHOUT YOU cooks with feverish gospel backing vocals, and teen angst showpiece NIGHT MOVES sounds as crisp and poignant as it ever did. The only misstep is the finale, a cover of Chuck Berry's LET IT ROCK already done to better effect on LIVE BULLET. Housewives, bikers and businessmen alike all loved Bob Seger, and NINE TONIGHT is your front row ticket to remember why.

RATING: FIVE BULLETS



TARNISHED SILVER BULLETS

BOB SEGER-GREATEST HITS:

Considering how many stone soul classics Motor City rocker BOB SEGER racked up during the seventies and eighties, it's amazing how long it took for an official "best of" to surface...until this 1994 release, his energetic concert albums LIVE BULLET and NINE TONIGHT served as excellent summaries of peak performances. GREATEST HITS only gets it half right...many of the vital SEGER statistics, including young lust anthem NIGHT MOVES, TOM CRUISE career-booster OLD TIME ROCK & ROLL and yearning ode to the road TURN THE PAGE make the cut here. Unfortunately, so do several comparatively dull ditties led by the anemic LIKE A ROCK, which became an overplayed Chevy Truck ad, and a lukewarm remake of CHUCK BERRY's C'EST LA VIE (YOU NEVER CAN TELL). Bona fide, hard to find chestnuts from the raw, early RNB-fueled years, namely his first hit RAMBLIN' GAMBLIN' MAN, the gutsy KATMANDU and the JAMES BROWN-channeled heart stopper LUCIFER, are criminally ignored. This Heartland-rockin' head honcho, who boasts a list of hits as long as your Levi's, deserves better than what's served up here.

RATING: THREE O.P.'S



CAT SASS!

THE BRIAN SETZER ORCHESTRA-JUMP, JIVE AN' WAIL: BEST OF 1994-2000:

Genre-cruisin' guitar commando BRIAN SETZER jump started two important music revivals...the rockabilly riot of the early 8eighties with his trio THE STRAY CATS and big band boogie via his BRIAN SETZER ORCHESTRA in the late nineties. JUMP, JIVE AN' WAIL, named for his energetic swing-daddy cover of the one and only LOUIS PRIMA, collects primo tracks from every fun-lovin' BSO platter, including revved up versions of MACK THE KNIFE and PENNSYLVANIA 6-5000, and a new take on the STEVIE RAVE ON melt-down THE HOUSE IS ROCKIN'. SETZER also hotwires his old STRAY CATS barnburners RUMBLE IN BRIGHTON and ROCK THIS TOWN, fair game for his trademark growling pipes, super-charged six string work, and the BSO's sizzling hot horn punctuation. This retro workout swings like a pendulum do, a brassy blast of party-time perfection as only a hep cat like BRIAN SETZER can crank it out.

RATING: FOUR MARTINIS

YOUR GOOD GIRL'S GONNA GO BAD

THE SHANGRI-LA'S-THE BEST OF THE SHANGRI-LA'S:

Two sets of siblings from Queens (including identical twins) who formed the baddest girl group of the sixties, THE SHANGRI-LAS scored huge teen angst classics and proved an influence on every tough chick rocker in their wake, from SUZI QUATRO to JOAN JETT. Recording for JERRY LEIBER and MIKE STOLLER's RED BIRD label, they scored the ultimate motorcycle death hit LEADER OF THE PACK (parodied as LEADER OF THE LAUNDROMAT by ARCHIES singer RON DANTE) and the moody, haunting epic REMEMBER (WALKIN' IN THE SAND), both written by their producer GEORGE "SHADOW" MORTON. Covers of those trashy Top 5 treasures by AEROSMITH and TWISTED SISTER proved THE SHANGRI-LAS' sneering attitude and sleazy style extended far beyond the fairer sex. Memorable follow ups included the more upbeat GIVE HIM A GREAT BIG KISS and the darkly hypnotic I CAN NEVER GO HOME AGAIN ANYMORE before these sultry soul sisters swaggered off into the sunset. Bouffants, lipstick and leather...baby, that is rock and roll!

RATING: FOUR "MWAH!"'S



RUNAWAY HITS

DEL SHANNON-GREATEST HITS:

Early sixties chart mainstay DEL SHANNON influenced (among others) roots rocker TOM PETTY, who name checked both DEL and RUNAWAY in his own smash RUNNIN' DOWN A DREAM, and orchestrated SHANNON's eighties comeback album DROP DOWN AND GET ME. SHANNON, who brandished a mature, soulful vocal delivery peppered with a trademark falsetto at key junctures, also wrote much of his own material (unlike most pre-Brit Invasion stars). His healthy string of moody chestnuts were soaked in desperation, revenge and memorable gimmicks like RUNAWAY's groundbreaking musitron solo and KEEP SEARCHIN' (WE'LL FOLLOW THE SUN)'s eerie wailing coda. DEL also proved an interesting interpreter, tackling THE BEATLES' FROM ME TO YOU, BOBBY FREEMAN's DO YOU WANT TO DANCE (later covered by both THE BEACH BOYS and THE RAMONES), and ROGER MILLER novelty THE SWISS MADE with equal gusto. Not everything on GREATEST HITS works as well as bittersweet hits like HATS OFF TO LARRY and LITTLE TOWN FLIRT, but this collection (in glorious mono) succeeds as a satisfying tribute to one of pop 'n roll's most undervalued pioneers.

RATING: FOUR HATS

IT'S THE SAME OLD SONG

SHAW-BLADES-INFLUENCE:

SHAW-BLADES' 2007 all sixties/seventies covers release INFLUENCE came as a bit of a surprise, especially right on the heels of STYX' BIG BANG THEORY, a very similar classic rock tribute from just a couple years before. STYX guitarist TOMMY SHAW and NIGHT RANGER bassist JACK BLADES, who've partnered sporadically since the breakup of short-lived supergroup (is there any other kind?) DAMN YANKEES play this mostly middle of the road stuff close to the vest; if you aren't paying attention, you might think you're actually hearing the YES versions of YOUR MOVE and ELP's LUCKY MAN. These are not the radical, definitive reinterpretations that bloozey shouter JOE COCKER has built his career on, merely friendly reminders of the exquisite pop songcraft of SIMON & GARFUNKEL, STEELY DAN and THE HOLLIES as filtered through the high pitched vocal harmonies and flashy guitars of a couple of contemporary rockers. There's not a thing wrong with their vision, except for the fact that practically every one of their peers has already beat them to it.

RATING: THREE REPEATS

BABY, IT'S THE SHIRELLES

THE SHIRELLES-THE VERY BEST OF THE SHIRELES:

The first and one of the very best girl groups to achieve widespread popularity, New Jersey's THE SHIRELLES, led by and named after SHIRLEY OWENS, racked up a long string of mini-masterpieces starting with 1958's I MET HIM ON A SUNDAY on through the mid sixties. The sweetly harmonizing four-tet's smooth blend of doo-wop, BRILL BUILDING pop and RNB bolstered GOFFIN/KING's WILL YOU LOVE ME TOMORROW, SOLDIER BOY and THE 5 ROYALES' sweet DEDICATED TO THE ONE I LOVE, while sassy admonishments like MAMA SAID and FOOLISH LITTLE GIRL bore further chart fruit. An influence on everyone from THE BEATLES (who covered both BABY IT'S YOU and BOYS early in their career) to MOTOWN's many girl groups, THE SHIRELLES' sentimental catalogue of stylish classics still resonates with spunk and romantic charm a half decade after the fact.

RATING: FOUR GALS



SHOCKING BLUES

MICHELLE SHOCKED-CAPTAIN SWING:

Although her name implies punk, hard to pigeon-hole Texas folkie MICHELLE SHOCKED's third album is a charismatic cornucopia of western swing, big band, and slithery RNB. The cleverly annointed GOD IS A REAL ESTATE DEVELOPER gets the party started in style, draped in sassy brass and SHOCKED's seductive, understated vocals, followed by the equally engaging ON THE GREENER SIDE which features producer (and DWIGHT YOAKAM compadre) PETE ANDERSON's ringing six string work. SILENT WAYS plumbs a rootsy country vibe, STREET CORNER AMBASSADOR spotlights hip talk-singing and a succulent jazz arrangement, and MUST BE LUFF gives ragtime an enthusiastic whirl; in short, SHOCKED is all over the musical map and sounds confident and chic at every turn. (DON'T YOU MESS AROUND WITH) MY LITTLE SISTER rocks like the ELVIS oldie it shares its name with, while a hidden eleventh track unspools as a freewheeling toe tapper ala contemporary blues woman RORY BLOCK. A real anomaly in the late 80s wasteland of screeching hair metal, nerdy new wave and soulless dance pop, CAPTAIN SWING proved a tone-cool blast of retro righteousness.

RATING: FIVE SMILES

THE OLD SHEL GAME

SHEL SILVERSTEIN-THE BEST OF SHEL SILVERSTEIN/HIS WORDS HIS SONG HIS FRIENDS:

Uninhibited, imaginative author/illustrator of the famous children's books WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS and A LIGHT IN THE ATTIC, a frequent contributor to PLAYBOY magazine and a hit songwriter...just some of the many hats that wily SHEL SILVERSTEIN wore, always infusing his work with an eclectic wit and ribald humor. SHEL performs a few well loved, twisted pieces such as I GOT STONED AND I MISSED IT and SARAH CYNTHIA SYLVIA STOUT in his expressive, gravelly talk/sing voice on this long overdue tribute. Timeless chart makers by other artists included here are THE UNICORN, a huge smash for THE IRISH ROVERS and A BOY NAMED SUE, one of JOHNNY CASH's last (and most iconic) hits. SILVERSTEIN's greatest interpreters, the raunchy DR. HOOK & THE MEDICINE SHOW, are represented here by COVER OF THE ROLLING STONE, FREAKIN' AT THE FREAKER'S BALL and QUEEN OF THE SILVER DOLLAR, vividly descriptive sagas of quirky wordplay and trademark debauchery. They also get off the winsome ballad SYLVIA'S MOTHER, while country star BOBBY BARE performs the tearjerker DADDY WHAT IF, spotlighting the reflective side of SILVERSTEIN's vast catalogue. SHEL SILVERSTEIN claims to have had no songwriting influences at all...it may sound like another of his greasy tall tales, but after sampling BEST OF's irreverent treasure trove, one can almost believe that declaration.

RATING: FIVE COPIES FOR MY MOTHER!

VANITY PROJECT

CARLY SIMON-THE BEST OF CARLY SIMON:

Covering the first half of the seventies, a prolific era for reflective singer-songwriters like JACKSON BROWNE and JONI MITCHELL, THE BEST OF CARLY SIMON tracks ten of her most memorable folk-pop hits. The RNB-tinged NIGHT OWL and ATTITUDE DANCING, almost never included on other anthologies, are two rollicking lost gems that provide needed contrast to her introspective mellow classics THAT'S THE WAY I'VE ALWAYS HEARD IT SHOULD BE and HAVEN'T GOT TIME FOR THE PAIN. The real centerpiece here is her swaggering chart topper YOU'RE SO VAIN...its ominous opening bass line, SIMON's sly, provocative growl, testifying background yelps from MICK JAGGER and CAROLE KING, and RICHARD PERRY's crisp production make it the most scathing put down single of the decade. A funky duet of golden oldie MOCKINGBIRD with then husband JAMES TAYLOR and ketchup jingle ANTICIPATION provide further highlights, wrapping up this brief but effective collection in solid form. SIMON would continue to score occasional hits, often from outside sources, well into the next decade...but BEST OF smartly captures the intimate essence of her early legacy.

RATING: FOUR TEETH

SIMON SEZ

JOE SIMON-MUSIC IN MY BONES-THE BEST OF JOE SIMON:

Louisiana's best kept secret in the late sixties/early seventies was underrated RNB hit maker JOE SIMON, who often crossed over to the pop charts and was a featured performer on many a K-TEL compilation during that era (which may be the chief pipeline through which white audiences know him). SIMON's instantly identifiable baritone, awash in buttery soul conviction, propelled seductive jams like GAMBLE & HUFF's DROWNING IN THE SEA OF LOVE and Blaxploitation classic THEME FROM CLEOPATRA JONES, while his southern roots were on full display for stylish covers of KRIS KRISTOFFERSON's HELP ME MAKE IT THROUGH THE NIGHT and HARLAN HOWARD's THE CHOKIN' KIND. SIMON even tackled disco for his last big hit GET DOWN, GET DOWN (GET DOWN ON THE FLOOR), an obvious notch above anything else in that genre for the kick-ass vocals alone. MUSIC IN MY BONES racks up every important chart single and provides detailed liner notes with funky fashion statement photos...a "better late than never" tribute for a talent of JOE SIMON's scope and magnitude.

RATING: FOUR SOULS

RHYMIN' SIMON

PAUL SIMON-THE ESSENTIAL PAUL SIMON:

After a legendary folk pop fling with singing partner ART GARFUNKEL in the late sixties, prolific, cerebral songwriter PAUL SIMON embarked on a just as rewarding solo career that has spanned five decades. SIMON's exploratory tastes have encompassed ska (MOTHER & CHILD REUNION), percolating Latin rhythms (ME & JOOLIO DOWN BY THE SCHOOLYARD), sanctifying gospel (LOVES ME LIKE A ROCK, GONE AT LAST), and South African beats (the Grammy-winning album GRACELAND). Armed with plaintive vocals, an acoustic guitar and a DYLAN-like mastery of lyrics, he pumped out poignant albums and exquisitely crafted singles such as 50 WAYS TO LEAVE YOUR LOVER (an "escape clause" cousin to bluesman WILLIE DIXON's 29 WAYS), the funky, eclectic YOU CAN CALL ME AL and the quietly reflective STILL CRAZY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS. ESSENTIAL generously unspools thirty-six tracks of timeless SIMON...disc one rounds up the big hits (even though it leaves off ONE TRICK PONY), while the second platter focuses on the socially relevant second half of SIMON's career, kicking off with much of the indispensable GRACELAND.

RATING: FIVE FOLK SINGERS

DOUBLE VISION

SIMON & GARFUNKEL-ESSENTIAL SIMON & GARFUNKEL:

From their humble beginnings as a one hit wonder high school act called TOM & JERRY to the most recognized, influential duo in the world, SIMON and GARFUNKEL's five indispensable albums, including their flawless finale BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER were undisputed pinnacles of folk rock during the late sixties/early seventies. Prolific, reflective tunesmith PAUL SIMON's catalogue included the jubilant gospel crunch of CECELIA, stark anthems THE BOXER and SOUNDS OF SILENCE, and the whimsical AT THE ZOO, refined works put across with sparse instrumentation and the duo's pristine PHIL & DON EVERLY-influenced vocal harmonies. Although liner notes or at least a lyric sheet should have been included, ESSENTIAL takes everything that was so perfect about 1972's fourteen track sampler GREATEST HITS (which every music fan seemed to own back then), more than doubling the amount of splendid, timeless music, mixing vital album tracks in with all those shimmering AM radio classics.

RATING: FIVE BAD HAIRCUTS

SULTAN OF SWING

FRANK SINATRA-THE VERY BEST OF FRANK SINATRA:

As your basic Chairman of the Board starter kit, THE VERY BEST OF FRANK SINATRA pretty much lives up to its billing, though every fan will note missing favorites. After all, it's not easy squeezing a life time of ring-a-ding-ding American songbook standards onto just two platters. Since this is a Reprise anthology, his early Columbia sides from the forties are ignored and his Capitol chestnuts appear only via a few (decent) remakes. FRANK SINATRA's impeccably jazz-phrased "she shot me down" saloon songs...COME FLY WITH ME, LUCK BE A LADY, LOVE AND MARRIAGE, STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT, THAT'S LIFE, IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR and MY WAY...form the very back bone of American popular music. The swinging anthem THEME FROM NEW YORK, NEW YORK proved a fitting finale, capping off a half century career that put Ol' Blue Eyes, in terms of impact and influence, on the same astral plane as HANK WILLIAMS, ELVIS and THE BEATLES. It may not be rock and roll...a genre the RAT PACK leader claims to have personally detested...but you like it.

RATING: FIVE DOOBY DOOBY DOO'S



GETTING THE BOOT

NANCY SINATRA-THE HIT YEARS:

A slinky bottle-blonde kitsch-kitten custom made for the sixties pop music scene, NANCY SINATRA scored one of the most indelible smashes of the era. THESE BOOTS ARE MADE FOR WALKIN', the chart topping juggernaut with which she will always be linked, was a sassy, brassy romp dominated by her patented tough chick delivery. Far from a one trick pony, she scored several further Top Forty singles also penned by ex-DUANE EDDY collaborator LEE HAZELWOOD...inevitable BOOTS clone HOW DOES THAT GRAB YOU, DARLIN'?, sweet sing along SUGAR TOWN, the JAMES BOND theme YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, and SOMETHIN' STUPID, a heartfelt chart topper with her father. RHINO RECORDS' well appointed collection also ponies up the JOHNNY CASH chestnut JACKSON, a NANCY/LEE team-up driven by the latter's reedy, macho pipes, and the "get outta town by sundown" cowboy standoff LIGHTNING'S GIRL, making this a playful package wrapped in charm, camp and charisma...not unlike NANCY SINATRA herself.

RATING: FOUR BOOTS

TO SIR WITH LOVE

THE BEST OF DOUG SAHM & THE SIR DOUGLAS QUINTET 1968-1975:

This fun-packed collection begins after the SIR DOUGLAS QUINTET's quirky Tex-Mex breakthrough hits SHE'S ABOUT A MOVER and THE RAINS CAME, picking up with their slinky comeback smash MENDICINO and twenty-one other succulent slabs slathered in feel-good country, RNB and garage rock groove-ology. Between multi-genre genius DOUG SAHM's raw, reedy vocals, greasy guitar licks, and AUGIE MEYER's trademark cheesy organ stabs, the psychedelic YOU NEVER GET TOO BIG AND YOU SURE DON'T GET TOO HEAVY, spicy rave-up NUEVO LAREDO, and T-BONE WALKER's earthy PAPA AIN'T SALTY overflow with uncompromising soul power. Cunning covers of FREDDY FENDER's roadhouse weeper WASTED DAYS & WASTED NIGHTS and CHARLEY PRIDE's wistful IS ANYBODY GOING TO SAN ANTONE, plus SAHM's own rowdy workout I'M NOT THAT KAT ANYMORE sowed the seeds for SAHM and MEYER's later country super group THE TEXAS TORNADOS, a heaven-sent collaboration with FENDER and legendary conjunto accordionist FLACO JIMENEZ. Roots rock music this passionate and personal deserved to have lightning strike twice.

RATING: FIVE FARFISA ORGANS

SLADEST HITS

SLADE-WALL OF HITS:

No seventies band banged the glam drummer louder than SLADE, a massively popular English foursome that barely made a dent on American charts in their hey-day. Famous for their outrageous glitter garb, purposely misspelled song titles and a dozen Top 5 singles in their native country, it took hair metal (a late eighties mutation of glam) to make SLADE viable stateside...via QUIET RIOT's note for note remakes of CUM ON FEEL THE NOIZE and MAMA WEER ALL CRAZEE NOW. Wisely seizing on the moment, SLADE trotted out new material, including the dance-grooved RUN RUNAWAY, singalong power ballad MY OH MY, and their final masterpiece, 1991's RADIO WALL OF SOUND, the greatest hit DEF LEPPARD never had. The mastodon crunch of staples TAKE ME BAK 'OME, BANGIN' MAN and GUDBUY T' JANE, all helmed by NODDY HOLDER's hoarsely shouted vocals and DAVE HILL's slamming axe licks make WALL OF HITS the perfect excuse to catch up on SLADE's highly influential, loud 'n proud legacy.

RATING: FOUR BANGIN' MEN



THE FAMILY THAT PLAYS TOGETHER FUNKS TOGETHER

SLY & THE FAMILY STONE-ESSENTIAL:

Sexually and racially mixed ensemble SLY & THE FAMILY STONE pounded out pioneering, sweaty testaments mingling pop rock, social commentary and psychedelic RNB that helped make radio a freewheeling playground in the late sixties/early seventies. The brotherhood-message-wrapped-in-a-nursery-rhyme EVERYDAY PEOPLE (with its famous tag-line "Different strokes for different folks") rubbed shoulders with the raw-boned funk of THANK YOU (FALLETTINME BE MYSELF AGAIN), while the horn-lacerated stomper DANCE TO THE MUSIC alternated lead vocals from various group members (a ploy soon adopted by THE TEMPTATIONS). SLY also knew how to chill out via sublime slices of savory soul sunshine like HOT FUN IN THE SUMMERTIME, the provocative, slinky FAMILY AFFAIR, and IF YOU WANT ME TO STAY, the best song STEVIE WONDER never did. Whatever his well publicized personal demons, SYLVESTER STEWART was once a bandleader, songwriter and musician of extraordinary caliber, whose deep vision and even deeper grooves still possess the power to take you higher.

RATING: FIVE SMILES



JERSEY BOYS

THE SMITHEREENS-BLOWN TO SMITHEREENS/THE BEST OF:

Smart, lean, tight as a drum power pop at its most energetic, New Jersey's THE SMITHEREENS should have owned the airwaves in the late eighties/early nineties. Instead, they had to settle for cult status and critical acclaim for joyously rendered mini masterpieces such as A GIRL LIKE YOU and ONLY A MEMORY. Singer/leader PAT DINIZIO's meaty lyrics held both darkness and passion, propelled by JIM BABJAK's gutsy guitar licks on ear candy rockers TOP OF THE POPS and STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET, while slipping effortlessly into low gear for the shimmering ballads IN A LONELY PLACE and BLUE PERIOD. The 'REENS' influences were many...THE FAB FOUR, THE KINKS and THE WHO, for starters...not surprisingly, their sparkly rendition of THE OUTSIDERS oldie TIME WON'T LET ME is a standout here. BLOWN TO SMITHEREENS captures the best bits off their uniformly solid albums, the perfect party platter from a supremely underrated band.

RATING: FIVE BITS



IT TAKES TWO

SONNY & CHER-THE BEAT GOES ON:

Formerly the little known team of CAESAR & CLEO, songwriter/PHIL SPECTOR protege SALVATORE BONO and session singer CHERILYN SAKISIAN LAPIERRE hit pure pop pay dirt in the late sixties as the hiply attired duo SONNY & CHER. THE BEAT GOES ON, named after one of their most indelible ditties, generously gathers up twenty-one tracks of hits, near-misses and rarities from their chart-making hey-day on ATCO. Infectious sing along BABY DON'T GO, the sentimental WHAT NOW MY LOVE, and undisputed kitsch classic I GOT YOU BABE (also heard here in a mellower CHER-only version) are among the many highlights. SONNY also features on two solo tracks, the protest slam LAUGH AT ME and much lighter MY BEST FRIEND'S GIRL IS OUT OF SIGHT. Unfortunately, early seventies comeback singles for another label...the playful A COWBOY'S WORK IS NEVER DONE, WHEN YOU SAY LOVE (which morphed into a BUD beer commercial), and quasi-psychedelic jam MAMA WAS A ROCK & ROLL SINGER...are missing, but it doesn't spoil the overall feel-good vibe of THE BEAT GOES ON. Its wonderfully goofy groove is crystalized by the final track HELLO, a conversation between a teasing SONNY and an impossibly young sounding, surprisingly bashful CHER...worth the price of admission alone.

RATING: FOUR FUR VESTS




WHEN IT ALL GOES SOUTH

SOUTHERN CULTURE ON THE SKIDS-PLASTIC SEAT SWEAT:

Boasting one of the best band names ever, SOUTHERN CULTURE ON THE SKIDS is what you get when you dump CREEDENCE, JOHNNY CASH, THE B52S, JAMES BURTON, THE CRAMPS, WANDA JACKSON, and TONY JOE WHITE into a blender and hit "liquify". Creature Feature flicks, kudzu, seedy moonshine runners, go-go gals, self-inked tattoos, muscle cars, and greasy junk food all figure prominently in SCOTS' plug in cheek, redneckin'-rockin'-rollin' outlook on life. Good ole boy guitar slinger/singer RICK MILLER boasts an arsenal of licks that cross pollinates power chord pioneer (and fellow North Carolinan) LINK WRAY with surf rocker DICK DALE on DEJA VAROOM, 40 MILES TO VEGAS, and the slippery groove of BANANA PUDDIN'. Wigged out bassist MARY HUFF brings pronounced sex kitten kitsch to her lead vocal turns on LOVE-A-RAMA and titillatin' tiki lounge oldie HOUSE OF BAMBOO, while beatkeeper DAVE HARTMAN locks into a sawdust covered dance floor groove that decimates every number. Three cool cats far too good to be considered merely a trailer park parody, SCOTS bring a whole lotta COUNTRY FUNK to the pig party, bubba.

RATING: FOUR CHAWS

SOUTHERN CULTURE ON THE SKIDS-COUNTRYPOLITAN FAVORITES: SCOTS' rootsy tribute COUNTRYPOLITAN FAVORITES is all over the musical map...a dash of pop, a dollop of blues, a splash of rock and lots of tantalizin' twang. The North Carolina trio, who previously resurrected forgotten chestnuts THE NITTY GRITTY and HOUSE OF BAMBOO, maintains a taste in oldies is as funky as RICK MILLER's greasy six string sizzle/down homey vocals and MARY HUFF's soul-drenched, sex kittie pipes. On the Nashville side of the coin, RENO & SMILEY's NO LONGER A SWEETHEART OF MINE and LYNN ANDERSON's ROSE GARDEN get no nonsense work outs, while CLAUDE KING's saga WOLVERTON MOUNTAIN is kicked up a notch via the fragrant fire of HUFF's achingly gorgeous yodels. The rock repertoire runs deliciously deep...is there a KINKS track more suited to SCOTS' quirky sense of humor than MUSWELL HILLBILLY? Toss in T REX, BYRDS and JOHN FOGERTY obscurities and that swampy SLIM HARPO tongue-twister TE NI NEE NI NU and you've got one barn-burner of a roadhouse set list, Bubba! This is the most infectious, gol'darn party-hearty "South of the Border" tribute since DWIGHT YOAKAM's superb UNDER THE COVERS a decade before.
RATING: FIVE HOT SCOTS

RIDE THIS TRAIN

SOUTHERN PACIFIC-GREATEST HITS:

Rockers going country is hardly a new concept; ELVIS and JERRY LEE LEWIS straddled the line as far back as their early SUN sides, while a handful of later pop stars like DOUG SAHM and BILLY JOE ROYAL made successful forays into the twang arena. SOUTHERN PACIFIC was an eighties ensemble of former CREEDENCE and DOOBIES members, no strangers themselves to an occasional steel lick. Breakthrough hit THING ABOUT YOU was an amiable TOM PETTY remake bolstered by sweet siren EMMYLOU HARRIS, while the SPRINGSTEEN road trip PINK CADILLAC and the DEL SHANNON-penned I GO TO PIECES proved additional canny cover choices. Group originals RENO BOUND, ANY WAY THE WIND BLOWS and HONEY I DARE YOU (the latter two sung by PABLO CRUISE front man DAVID JENKINS) compare favorably to similar streamlined twangers peddled by SAWYER BROWN and HIGHWAY 101 during the same era. SOUTHERN PACIFIC proved to be a typically short-lived super group, but GREATEST HITS packages a baker's dozen of bouncy ear-catchers just beggin' to be taken on a road trip.

RATING: THREE RAILS

KICKIN' BRASS

SOUTHSIDE JOHNNY & THE ASBURY JUKES-THE BEST OF SOUTHSIDE JOHNNY & THE ASBURY JUKES:

The seventies' most sanctifyin' rock & soul outfit this side of THE J. GEILS BAND, Jersey's SOUTHSIDE JOHNNY & THE ASBURY JUKES never attained the same level of fame as PETER WOLF and company, in spite of a flashy repertoire mostly penned by kindred spirits BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN and MIAMI STEVE VAN ZANDT. I DON'T WANT TO GO HOME, TRAPPED AGAIN and their show stopping take on The Boss' THE FEVER were all "me decade" radio faves, at least on the hipper stations. Searing covers of SAM COOKE's HAVIN' A PARTY, SOLOMON BURKE's GOT TO GET YOU OFF OF MY MIND and CLARENCE CARTER's SNATCHING IT BACK also dripped with the RNB sweat of JOHNNY LYONS' muscular, street smart rasp, punctuated at every turn by crack guitarist BILLY RUSH and THE JUKES' bruising horn attack. Even though these eternal party boys churned out some fine music well into the eighties and beyond...notably their heady 1991 comeback BETTER DAYS, a reunion with SPRINGSTEEN and VAN ZANDT...BEST OF tracks the undeniable swing and sizzle of their early legacy.

RATING: FOUR HORN SECTIONS



SPINNING THE HITS

THE SPINNERS-FLASHBACK WITHE THE SPINNERS:

The brief but comprehensive FLASHBACK is a ten track sampler of scintillating seventies song craft, rounding up every huge slab of Philly Soul power THE SPINNERS recorded for ATLANTIC RECORDS. The creamy quintet boasted three monstrously talented lead belters during their peak period, namely smooth-as-silk BOBBY SMITH on I'LL BE AROUND and COULD IT BE I'M FALLING IN LOVE, master ad libber PHILLIPE WYNNE via the fun-packed RUBBERBAND MAN, and finally, powerful belter JOHN EDWARDS on dance floor updates of golden oldies WORKING MY WAY BACK TO YOU and CUPID. The always reliable DIONNE WARWICKE shows up for the group's lone pop chart topper THEN CAME YOU, while various SPINNERS trade off on lead vocals for GAMES PEOPLE PLAY (a different ditty than the JOE SOUTH chestnut), and GHETTO CHILD displays their socially conscious side. Behind the scenes legend THOM BELL's master production and impeccable songwriting skills are just as vital here as his work with THE STYLISTICS, providing pristine orchestration that complements but never overshadows the airtight vocal harmonies. Next time you crave an invigorating blast of AM radio's unparalleled soul/pop past, take FLASHBACK for a spin.

RATING: FIVE HEAVY ROTATIONS

SPUN GOLD

THE SPINNERS/VERY BEST OF THE SPINNERS:

THE SPINNERS were blessed with a strong frontline of charismatic lead singers including G.C. CAMERON, who busted out their lone MOTOWN biggie IT'S A SHAME; the sweet 'n soulful BOBBY SMITH and energetic PHILLIPE WYNNE helmed their most fruitful, THOM BELL-produced Philly Soul stint in the 70s. I'LL BE AROUND boasts one of pop radio's most breathtaking instrumental bridges, every bit as vital as SMITH's yearning vocals, while DIONNE WARWICKE radiates with SMITH on the chart topper THEN CAME YOU, bolstered by WYNNE's trademark ad libs at the climax. Only RUBBERBAND MAN, originally a funky WYNNE showstopper, gets short-changed here; inexplicably, the normally reliable RHINO RECORDS substitutes a dull remix version with most of the lyrics missing! VERY BEST wraps with "new kid" JOHN EDWARDS, who belted out their last pair of charters, unabashed disco remakes of THE FOUR SEASONS' WORKIN' MY WAY BACK TO YOU and SAM COOKE's sparkling CUPID. This "close to perfect" collection offers some of the smoothest groovers and finest rug-cutters that contemporary soul had to offer.

FOUR SPINS



THAT'S THE SPIRIT!

SPIRIT-THE BEST OF SPIRIT:

SPIRIT was an eclectic underground ensemble known to the general population for their lone Top 40 hit, the rhythm driven anthem I GOT A LINE ON YOU. The west coast quintet was comprised of HENDRIX-influenced guitar guru/singer RANDY CALIFORNIA and his jazz-trained stepdad drummer ED CASSIDY, co-vocalist JAY FERGESON, bassist MARK ANDES and keyboardist JOHN LOCKE. CALIFORNIA and CASSIDY faithfully kept the SPIRIT alive for two decades after the others migrated to bands like JO JO GUNNE and FIREFALL (FERGESON also scored the solo pop smash THUNDER ISLAND). THE TWELVE DREAMS OF DR. SARDONICUS was their psychedelic masterstroke platter, and social commentary keepers like 1984, NATURE'S WAY and FRESH GARBAGE provided ethereal FM radio fodder for the times. One spin through BEST OF demonstrates why SPIRIT contained too much raw, uncompromising talent to be last longer than their often brilliant four album career. During their all too brief reign, the band brought brains, bravado and soul-boring beauty to the late sixties' rock & roll landscape.

RATING: FIVE NOT SO EASY PIECES

SPIRITUALITY

SPIRIT-CHRONICLES 1967-1992:

An underrated L.A.-based band evolved from folky trio THE RED ROOSTERS, SPIRIT's CHRONICLES 1967-1992 serves as the perfect companion piece to their original BEST of compilation. Always a sonic amalgamation of numerous roots rock styles, this is truly a "something for everyone" anthology...demo tapes, bloozey covers of HEY JOE and KOKOMO, proggy jazz instrumentals, hard rockin' freak-outs, even attractive reworkings of their ecological classics NATURE'S WAY and FRESH GARBAGE, culled from various lineups in the group's long and storied career. The sound quality varies from low-fi to just fine, not surprising given this album's "odds 'n ends" makeup; most of this stuff is not available elsewhere, offering rare glimpses into leader RANDY CALIFORNIA's alternately seductive/searing six string excursions and former RISING SUNS drummer ED CASSIDY's impeccable sticks work. At 22 tracks, culminating with the twelve minute space jam ELIJAH, this is a lot of SPIRIT to injest...and their rabid fan base wouldn't have it any other way.

RATING: FOUR GROOVES



GOLD DUST

DUSTY SPRINGFIELD-ULTIMATE COLLECTION:

From her early sixties hit SILVER THREADS & GOLDEN NEEDLES with folk group THE SPRINGFIELDS to her smash eighties comeback WHAT HAVE I DONE TO DESERVE THIS with THE PET SHOP BOYS, ULTIMATE COLLECTION lives up to the soaring legacy of sweet 'n smoky chanteuse DUSTY SPRINGFIELD. The former Mary Isabel Catherine Bernadette O'Brien (whew!) racked up an impressive string of pop chestnuts including the effervescent I ONLY WANNA BE WITH YOU, BACHARACH/DAVID's breathless WISHIN' AND HOPIN', and that incomparable southern soul slab SON OF A PREACHER MAN. Whether dishing out raw emotional sass or crooning in a seductive purr, DUSTY was a one woman girl-group whose sublime interpretive skills did justice to VAN MORRISON, CAROLE KING and MOTOWN alike. Sexy, sophisticated and oh so stylish, decked out in in platinum blonde beehives and heavy mascara, there was never another like her...not that our hearts could have taken it.

RATING: FIVE SMOOCHES

ROCK & ROLL DOCTOR

RICK SPRINGFIELD-GREATEST HITS:

Aussie poster boy/soap throb ("Calling Dr. Noah Drake to treat a case of heartbreak!") RICK SPRINGFIELD rocked a little harder than your average DAVID CASSIDY or DONNY OSMOND, and unlike those teen idols, wrote most of his own material and played his own guitar. Eons after 1972's banjo-punctuated breakthrough hit SPEAK TO THE SKY, Rick's WORKING CLASS DOG album spawned a number of expertly crafted radio-ready moments, notably the lust-for-your-best-friend's-babe anthem JESSIE'S GIRL and a crisp cover of SAMMY HAGAR's I'VE DONE EVERYTHING FOR YOU. Later singles mostly sounded like sideways versions of those radio faves, culminating with last great gasp LOVE SOMEBODY from the soundtrack to his dead-on-arrival movie vehicle HARD TO HOLD. The dozen track sampler GREATEST HITS (unfortunately, his early power pop gem TAKE A HAND is missing in action) is a safe alternative to SPRINGFIELD's occasionally spotty albums...just enough of a good thing for the short time it lasted.

RATING: FOUR SWOONS



WHO'S THE BOSS?

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN-GREATEST HITS:

The Garden State's answer to BOB DYLAN held off longer than most artists (over twenty years) before issuing a "best of" compilation, which is commendable...his most rabid fans coveted all his original albums anyway. Unfortunately, GREATEST HITS ignores The Boss' first two platters completely, opening with his everything-but-the-kitchen-sink breakthrough BORN TO RUN. Just one track from DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN appears here...thankfully, it's BADLANDS, with its rich lyrical imagery, raggedly perfect guitar solo, and wailing CLARENCE CLEMONS sax break...in short, all the trademark elements of classic SPRINGSTEEN. Not surprisingly, BORN IN THE U.S.A. is represented by four solid tracks, but the remainder of this sampler is given over to lesser fare...several so-so new tracks from a reunited E STREET BAND, at the expense of genuine showstoppers like SPIRIT IN THE NIGHT, ROSALITA, PROMISED LAND and famed B-side PINK CADILLAC. The triple play ESSENTIAL SPRINGSTEEN is a much more thorough examination of the "Glory Days", racking up almost every important hit, cult classic and rarity....something GREATEST HITS barely hints at.

RATING: THREE FIVE O'CLOCK SHADOWS

SQUEEZE PLAY

SQUEEZE-SINGLES/45'S AND UNDER:

One of England's more sophisticated musical entries, SQUEEZE mined an exquisitely crafted sound that was equal parts blue eyed soul, new wave and BEATLES-esque pop led by the wry, cerebral wit of songwriting team CHRIS DIFFORD and GLENN TILBROOK. TILBROOK's high clear tenor boosted PULLING MUSSSELS' catchy vibe and UP THE JUNCTION's witty wordplay while DIFFORD's underutilized gruff, funky vocals fed the pulsating COOL FOR CATS. These cult successes paved the way for their stateside breakthrough TEMPTED, belted by short term member PAUL CARRACK, also known for his soulful lead vocal work on ACE'S HOW LONG and MIKE & THE MECHANICS' SILENT RUNNING. Although SQUEEZE forged ahead on and off for the next three decades, SINGLES/45'S AND UNDER chronologically assembles their peak period of shoulda been smashes, an even dozen helping of sublime, whimsical mini masterpieces.

RATING: FOUR BLACK COFFEES IN BED

A FAIR SHAKE

BILLY SQUIER-16 STROKES/THE BEST OF BILLY SQUIER:

In the late seventies, BILLY SQUIER fronted power poppers PIPER, whose two underrated albums yielded "shoulda been" classics CAN'T WAIT and BLUES FOR THE COMMON MAN. The Boston born singer/guitarist came into his own during the early days of MTV, where his macho brand of radio-friendly rock served him better as a solo artist. Although SQUIER's first single, the ROBERT PLANT dead ringer YOU SHOULD BE HIGH LOVE, doesn't appear here, his massive breakthrough album IN THE DARK is represented by that sexual innuendo classic THE STROKE, MY KINDA LOVER and the title track. Other successes, all written by SQUIER, include funky statement EVERYBODY WANTS YOU, the synth-heavy ROCK ME TONIGHT and SHE GOES DOWN, a lecherous throwaway that makes THE STROKE sound like high art by comparison. Had this set been pared down to say, twelve cuts, replacing some of the lesser material with YOU SHOULD BE HIGH LOVE and LONELY IS THE NIGHT (and perhaps a PIPER obscurity or two), it would be all that most BILLY SQUIER fans could reasonably ask for.

RATING: THREE STROKES

JIM DANDY

JIM STAFFORD-JIM STAFFORD:

Charismatic pop/country/novelty star JIM STAFFORD scored three huge story-teller smashes in the mid seventies...all came from his self-titled debut album, making it a virtual greatest hits package unto itself (he only released one other full length disc). SPIDERS & SNAKES was an irresistible down home ditty spotlighting both his shuck 'n jive sense of humor and sly guitar work. MY GIRL BILL's "surprise" ending made it a delightful follow up, and WILDWOOD WEED spun a "wacky tobacky" yarn worthy of JERRY REED or early DR. HOOK & THE MEDICINE SHOW. STAFFORD proved he had a somber side as well...the minor hit SWAMP WITCH reeked of serious juju and dank bayou funkiness, while JERRY JEFF WALKER's gemstone MR. BOJANGLES was transformed into a heart-tugging narrative complete with JIM's convincing "old man" asides. With I AIN'T SHARIN' SHARON and 16 LITTLE RED NOSES AND A HORSE THAT SWEATS amounting to agreeable filler material, it's hardly a shock that he never bettered this dynamic debut disc...much less tried.

RATING: FOUR SMIRKS



I FEEL SANCTIFIED!

THE STAPLE SINGERS-STAX PROFILES:

THE STAPLE SINGERS, who were the leading gospel group of the sixties, were relative latecomers to STAX RECORDS' Memphis hit factory, the home of OTIS REDDING, BOOKER T & THE MG'S, and ISAAC HAYES. This funky family act spotlighted POPS STAPLES' fluid guitar lines and rubbery, laid back vocals, set against daughter MAVIS' gruff powerhouse pipes on a joyous string of hits that packed positive messages without being preachy. The urgent call-and-response groover IF YOU'RE READY (COME GO WITH ME), I'LL TAKE YOU THERE's seductive loose jam atmosphere, and their ultimate social commentary RESPECT YOURSELF were RNB/pop gemstones of the highest order. A powerful live rendition of OH LA DI DA sounds exactly like a tent revival showstopper, while their exuberant take on ROBBIE ROBERTSON's THE WEIGHT matches THE BAND's very own for earthy, soul-stoked passion. THE STAPLES would enjoy only sporadic success after leaving STAX, notably their CURTIS MAYFIELD-penned chart topping final hit LET'S DO IT AGAIN and a gutsy cover of TALKING HEADS' SLIPPERY PEOPLE. The bulk of their sanctified legacy can be found on STAX PROFILES...as compilations go, this is a blessed event.

RATING: FOUR STAPLES



STARR COLLECTOR

RINGO STARR-BLAST FROM YOUR PAST:

When the Fab Four decided to become the Wonderful Ones, few expected their amiable beat keeper Ringo to accomplish much, let alone score chart topping hits. The "Funny Beatle" with the every man voice proved naysayers wrong as he resurfaced during the first half of the seventies with a grab bag of charmers, some co-written with George Harrison, the other "under-used" mop-top. Hoyt Axton's cheeky ode to bad habits THE NO NO SONG, robust oldie rehash YOU'RE SIXTEEN, and the stunning, exquisitely rendered PHOTOGRAPH more than held their own against many of John and Paul's solo efforts of the period. EARLY 1970 is an account of the big breakup, while OH MY MY and BACK OFF BOOGALOO were ear-resistible excursions into Ringo's funhouse. Given his natural charisma and underdog stigma, it's a pity he couldn't sustain the momentum...but BLAST FROM YOUR PAST captures Richard Starkey's surprisingly robust solo shot on a perky little platter that will truly matter to fans of unabashed, good time pop 'n roll.

RATING: FIVE STARRS

LOADED 45

STARS ON 45-GREATEST STARS ON 45:

Praise (or blame) for the early eighties medley craze goes to Dutch producer/former GOLDEN EARRING member JAAP EGGERMONT, whose disco-punctuated mega-mix of Fab Four chestnuts, sung and played by uncanny sound-alikes, topped the charts and spawned rival efforts centering on CCR, JAMES BROWN and THE BEACH BOYS, among others. The 16 minute, twenty-nine song BEATLES MEDLEY, from which the hit single was derived, is the obvious calling card here, although similar ABBA, STEVIE WONDER and ROLLING STONES song-mixes are almost as much kitschy fun. The everything-but-the-kitchen-sink dance floor roundup STAR WARS AND OTHER HITS plays like a classic K-TEL platter, with bits of BETTE DAVIS EYES, LAYLA, YMCA and even the M*A*S*H theme thrown in. A SUPREMES medley spotlights their perky brand of bubblegum soul, although perhaps a monster mash-up of all the great MOTOWN acts would have fared even better. GREATEST STARS ON 45 is a solid gold guilty pleasure, an attention deficit party platter boasting more hits and more beats per minute than you can shake a booty to.

RATING: FOUR SNIPPETS

SPACE SHUTTLE

STARSHIP-GREATEST HITS (TEN YEARS AND CHANGE):

STARSHIP, that slicked up (no pun intended) ensemble formerly known as JEFFERSON AIRPLANE/JEFFERSON STARSHIP shuttled through more name changes, musical styles and lineups than almost any other act in rock history. The final mutation concentrated on radio-ready pop fare, soldiering on without the sultry, blue eyed soul pipes of MARTY BALIN and briefly, GRACE SLICK. Torchy belter SLICK and ex-ELVIN BISHOP singer MICKEY THOMAS over-emoted on just about every tune they touched, chief among them that bombastic biggie WE BUILT THIS CITY and middle of the road smashes SARA and NOTHING'S GONNA STOP US NOW, their most successful string of singles ever. This collection kicks off with THOMAS' debut (JEFFERSON) STARSHIP hit JANE, an undeniably catchy, paint-by-numbers arena rocker that might have been TOTO or any other faceless eighties band. However, the appropriately titled follow up ROCK MUSIC is nowhere to be heard here, nor are the gang's other semi-hits BE MY LADY or WINDS OF CHANGE. MARTY BALIN shoulda stuck it out and GRACE SLICK shoulda sang a lot more...but for fans of this particular no frills version of STARSHIP, TEN YEARS AND CHANGE is right on the money.

RATING: THREE LIFTOFFS

STARZ TREK

STARZ-BRIGHTEST STARZ/ANTHOLOGY:

The rock & roll landscape is littered with acts like ANGEL, PRISM and PIPER...slick seventies ensembles that never quite made it out of the trenches. STARZ is one such band, despite a winning power pop/pre-hair metal blend bolstered by helium voiced harmonies, ringing guitars, and hooky hit contenders touting the time honored themes of sex and partying. Not surprisingly, ANTHOLOGY fires off half a dozen semi-classic tracks from their most popular platter VIOLATION, including the near biggie CHERRY BABY (which was released on a bright yellow single) and the kitschy sci-fi title piece. Mid-tempo effort (ANY WAY THAT YOU WANT IT) I'LL BE THERE, VOODOO CHILI inspired instrumental COLISEUM ROCK, and the bloozey, controversial-for-its-time PULL THE PLUG showed off the group's melodic vibe to good advantage, and their obvious influences...a KISS intro here...a CHEAP TRICK vocal there...are easy to identify. In a perfect world, ear-catching workouts (SHE'S JUST A) FALLEN ANGEL, SING IT SHOUT IT and SO YOUNG SO BAD would have put these guys on the map...for rock lovers who missed 'em the first time around (an easy thing to do), BRIGHTEST STARZ will let 'em in on the fun.

RATING: FOUR STARZ



SUPER STARZ

STARZ-VIOLATION:

This high octane 70s rock quintet, an influence on the big hair glam sound to come in the 80s, featured one time pop idol Rex Smith's brother Michael on heatsinkin' lead vocals, as well as former members of STORIES (BROTHER LOUIE) and LOOKING GLASS (BRANDY); unfortunately STARZ never became as big as their name implied. That's a pity, because VIOLATION, their second album and hands-down hottest party platter was chock full of slick 'n sleazy dumb-fun boot stompers tailor made for "crankin' to 11". Harmony-soaked radio hit CHERRY BABY, the futuristic title tune, and would be arena anthem SING IT, SHOUT IT were possibly too heavy for AM radio yet too "mainstream" for FM rock stations. Starz may have boasted one of rock's a coolest logos and a great grabbag of righteous singalong hooks, but this band fell through the cracks in the record racks, deserving far better status than a mere footnote in music encyclopedias...that's a "VIOLATION" indeed.

RATING: FOUR STARZ

STEELY FAN

STEELY DAN-DEFINITIVE COLLECTION:

Failed Brill Building songwriters, one time touring musicians for JAY & THE AMERICANS, and unabashed DUKE ELLINGTON fans, college buddies WALTER BECKER and DONALD FAGEN founded STEELY DAN, whose snarky attitude towards rock stardom fueled a seven platter career (and two comeback albums) tat mixed prickly jazz-pop with obtuse subject matter and tricky time signatures. Originally a proper band featuring guitar wiz JEFF "SKUNK" BAXTER among others, BECKER/FAGEN eventually eschewed both touring and a permanent lineup in favor of flawless studio production and faceless cream of the crop session players. Catchy Top 40 singles like REELING IN THE YEARS, RIKKI DON'T LOSE THAT NUMBER and PEG rub shoulders on this sixteen ditty anthology with deeper album tracks DIRTY WORK (the one gem not warbled by FAGEN), BODHISATVA and BABYLON SISTERS. Casual STEELY DAN fans who only pine for the big hits may find this collection "DEFINITIVE"...but for fanatics, (you know who you are) this is merely an advertisement for their series of "must-own" original albums.

RATING: FOUR QUESTION MARKS

THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY

JIM STEINMAN-BAD FOR GOOD:

One can hardly blame longwinded, eclectic songwriter JIM STEINMAN for releasing BAD FOR GOOD, his only solo album in the wake of the MEAT LOAF juggernaut BAT OUT HELL, for which he penned all seven titanic mini-operas. Miffed at lack of name recognition and tired of waiting for his partner's shredded vocal chords to heal, he trotted what would be BAT OUT OF HELL II by any other name (over a decade later, MEAT LOAF's official career saving sequel salvaged almost half of this platter). While STEINMAN's lead vocals prove a less powerful facsimile of MEAT's, a cast of regulars including TODD RUNDGREN, RORY DODD and ELLEN FOLEY return to help BAD FOR GOOD maintain much of BAT's grandiose groove, notably on the eight minute title track and the less convoluted Top Forty single ROCK & ROLL DREAMS COME THROUGH. The man who also composed decidedly non rock hits for AIR SUPPLY, BONNIE TYLER and BARRY MANILOW shot his indulgent, uncompromising wad on BAD FOR GOOD...which was, if nothing else, a marked improvement over MEAT LOAF's sophomore effort DEAD RINGER.

RATING: THREE GOODS



STEPPEN FETCH IT

STEPPENWOLF-ALL TIME GREATEST HITS:

Borrowing their name from a HERMAN HESSE novel, Canadian-American quintet STEPPENWOLF crammed down 'n dirty RNB, frank folk rock, and swirling psychedelia into their swaggering jackhammer mix. Gut-punch biker boogie anthem BORN TO BE WILD lifted its "heavy metal thunder" lyric from author WILLIAM BURROUGHS' NAKED LUNCH...who sez rockers aren't literate? Leather-jacketed, shades wearing gravel-pit howler JOHN KAY sounded as sinister as he appeared bellowing out DON COVAY's soul shaker SOOKIE SOOKIE, sublime mind-tripper MAGIC CARPET RIDE, and the percussive jam ROCK ME. HOYT AXTON's twin drug protest spins SNOWBLIND FRIEND and THE PUSHER, coupled with the band's own dark, politically charged MONSTER showcased the group's more serious side. Even the atypical, brass-vaccinated soul shouter STRAIGHT SHOOTIN' WOMAN worked as a last gasp single in 1974. Loud, proud, and always with something to say, STEPPENWOLF, as this fine tuned anthology proves, were one of the late sixties' finest "heavy mental" ensembles.

RATING: FIVE WOLF CALLS

CAT SCAN

CAT STEVENS-GREATEST HITS:

Before turning his back on pop stardom to embrace a less commercial identity as Muslim YUSAF ISLAM, CAT STEVENS was one of the seventies' quintessential folk-pop singer/songwriters. His reedy, unmistakable voice and socially relevant material were behind some of that decade's biggest hits. STEVENS' early compositions HERE COMES MY BABY and THE FIRST CUT IS THE DEEPEST became smashes for THE TREMELOS and ROD STEWART respectively...but his reputation as a laid back troubadour was cemented via the shimmering plea for hope PEACE TRAIN, the thoughtful WILD WORLD and his lovely musical adaptation of traditional hymn MORNING HAS BROKEN. CAT's final Top 40 entry (REMEMBER THE DAYS OF THE) OLD SCHOOLYARD and lesser known later efforts BAD BRAKES, BANAPPLE GAS and the curiously titled WAS DOG A DOUGHNUT didn't make this edition of GREATEST HITS, but they aren't really missed. As is, it's hard to imagine a more perfect "quick fix" for STEVENS' legions of fans.

RATING: FOUR CATS

EVEN STEVENS

RAY STEVENS-THE BEST OF RAY STEVENS:

Unbelievably, there are over FIFTY compilations on the market bearing RAY STEVENS' name, more than a few that contain so-so re-recordings of the old chestnuts. As usual, the retro experts at RHINO get it exactly right, ponying up twenty all original tracks...nifty novelties and straight up hits the charismatic singer/songwriter racked up throughout the sixties and seventies. On the better known "gonzo" side, there's the funky audio cartoon AHAB THE ARAB, fad jumping chart topper THE STREAK, hilarious ode to excess SHRINER'S CONVENTION and IN THE MOOD, GLENN MILLER's signature piece rendered entirely in chicken clucks. On a bouncy bluegrass cover of fifties standard MISTY, the gospel driven TURN YOUR RADIO ON and the uplifting, children's choir enhanced EVERYTHING IS BEAUTIFUL, STEVENS is a completely different performer, shelving the silliness and sound effects for soul searching country-pop nirvana. Fans of any or all of STEVENS' colorful personalities should appreciate this practically perfect testament to his creative muse and raw talent.

RATING: FOUR "DON'T LOOK, MARGARET!"S



LIGHTNING ROD

ROD STEWART-THE DEFINITIVE ROD STEWART:

Counting DAVID RUFFIN, OTIS REDDING and SAM COOKE among his influences, white soul slinger ROD STEWART's unmistakable rasp netted him hits for three decades...his never equaled debut smash MAGGIE MAY, leering rocker HOT LEGS, much maligned disco stab DA YA THINK I'M SEXY, and signature belly rubber TONIGHT'S THE NIGHT peppered the seventies alone. ROD's exquisitely rendered covers of TOM WAITS' DOWNTOWN TRAIN and VAN MORRISON's HAVE I TOLD YOU LATELY proved definitive, while his underrated saga THE KILLING OF GEORGIE, rowdy FACES anthem STAY WITH ME, and euphoric tribute MOTOWN SONG are solid tracks which haven't always graced earlier anthologies. The staunchest STEWART fanatics will still be able to point to personal faves (PEOPLE GET READY, BROKEN ARROW) that failed to make the final cut...but the double dip DEFINITIVE is well named, standing as the best of his many compilations.

RATING: FIVE THROAT LOZENGES

HOT ROD

ROD STEWART-STORYTELLER/THE COMPLETE ANTHOLOGY 1964-1990:

STORYTELLER racks up four disc's worth of mostly solid efforts from frog throated tartan rocker ROD STEWART including huge hits, near misses and a few obscurities. This ambitious tribute chronicles the raw RNB-fueled "hungry years" tackling SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON and HOWLIN' WOLF, his acclaimed folk phase that begat EVERY PICTURE TELLS A STORY and the morning after saga MAGGIE MAY, and later triumphs including passion pit ballad TONIGHT'S THE NIGHT, bawdy party starters STAY WITH ME and HOT LEGS, and controversial DA YA THINK I'M SEXY. A very fine interpreter given the right material, ROD takes on THE STONES' STREET FIGHTING MAN, SAM COOKE's TWISTING THE NIGHT AWAY and the honky tonk standard WHAT'S MADE MILWAUKEE FAMOUS (HAS MADE A LOSER OUT OF ME) with equal finesse; in fact, his last two chart singles at the time were MOTOWN oldie THIS OLD HEART OF MINE (in a duet with RONALD ISLEY) and an earnest, definitive reading of TOM WAITS' DOWNTOWN TRAIN. While far from perfect (LOVE TOUCH anyone?), at over sixty tracks, STORYTELLERS proves to be an in-depth, fun packed collection.

RATING: FOUR CROAKS



ROMPER STOMPER SHOW STOPPER!

THE STOMPERS-THE STOMPERS:

THE STOMPERS, helmed by gritty soul-shoutin' singer/guitarist/songwriter SAL BAGLIO, was the ultimate Boston bar band...no mean feat from a region that also spawned THE REAL KIDS THE FOOLS, and THE LYRES. The well named foursome conjured images of smoke filled night spots, Pabst Blue Ribbon brewski's and sweat-soaked party rock riddled with vibrant audience participation choruses. This major label debut showcased their in-yer-face sixties vibe via local blue collar anthems AMERICAN FUN, SHUT DOWN and COAST TO COAST, plus shoulda-been national hit NEVER TELL AN ANGEL (WHEN YOUR HEART'S ON FIRE); BAGLIO cheerfully claimed BILLY JOEL's nostalgic TELL HER ABOUT IT borrowed their melody. The title of ROCK, JUMP & HOLLER outlined the band's exuberant "no-wave" intentions, while ONE HEART FOR SALE mixed doo-wop backing vocals with unabashed sentiment, and LEAVE IT IN MOTION finished the whole shindig on a funky, boot-kickin' high note. Had they gotten a few more breaks in the business, perhaps THE STOMPERS would have reached the heights of fellow roots rockin' Beantowners THE J. GEILS BAND, instead of remaining New England's best kept Saturday night secret.

RATING: FOUR BEER NUTS

STOMP IT OUT!

THE STOMPERS-STOMPILATION!: In a perfect world, gung ho Boston party boys THE STOMPERS would be mentioned in the same breath as fellow rockin' soulsters THE J. GEILS BAND...or at least DUKE & THE DRIVERS. The cleverly titled STOMPILATION! racks up 18 of their best known (at least to New Englanders) gritty ditties including COAST TO COAST, SHUTDOWN and AMERICAN FUN, no-frills mini anthems honed from years on the club gig scene, bathed in shout-it-out "oh-oh-oh-oh!" choruses, SAL BAGLIO's sweaty rasp and energetic axe licks. The slightly more refined pop-rockers NEVER TELL AN ANGEL (WHEN YOUR HEART'S ON FIRE) and ONE HEART FOR SALE, THE STOMPERS' most obvious bids for stardom, are joyous, unbridled bursts of energy, while ROCK, JUMP & HOLLER is a keeper akin to BIG JOE TURNER's original call to arms SHAKE, RATTLE & ROLL. Although they were best experienced in a rowdy barroom, THE STOMPERS's RNB-meets-good old rock & roll vibe is well represented on STOMPILATION...this is the coolest way to get all their goodies in one place, so whatta ya waitin' for, boobie?...Last call?

RATING: FOUR REGULAR GUYS

THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES

STONE TEMPLE PILOTS-THANK YOU:

Crashing out of the early nineties grunge gate with an intensely aggressive attack virtually indistinguishable from PEARL JAM, L. A.'s STONE TEMPLE PILOTS quickly forged their own unique soundscape, combining psychedelic hard rock and shards of brooding punk with hooky BEATLE-esque pop. SCOTT WEILAND...the classic lead-singer-as-news-making-basket-case...had a theatrical BOWIE-meets-metal delivery which, morphed with DEAN DELEO's gargantuan guitar volleys made instant radio highlights of VASOLINE, CREEP, WICKED GARDEN and PLUSH (rendered here in both its heat sinking original version and a sublime acoustic take). STP's musical diversity accounted for the high quality of their first five albums; the melodic reflections LADY PICTURE SHOW and SOUR GIRL, two of the era's most memorable singles, sounded like a different band entirely. It's all wrapped up tidily on THANK YOU, a cathartic collection that should whet any casual fan's appetite for their finely tuned individual releases.

RATING: FOUR SEX TYPE THINGS



IT'S MARTY TIME!

MARTY STUART-THE MARTY PARTY HIT PACK:

Lumped in with the so called hunky "hat acts" of the early nineties, twanger rock traditionalist MARTY STUART didn't even wear a stetson...in fact, he sported the best head of hair in all of country music. Possessing a serviceable voice, his real key to the kingdom was his feisty six stringer abilities on axe and mandolin; he cut his teeth with bluegrass great LESTER FLATT and JOHNNY CASH before going solo. THE MARTY PARTY HIT PACK collects a dozen rollicking chestnuts, from his TRAVIS TRITT "buddy song" duets THIS ONE'S GONNA HURT YOU and THE WHISKEY AIN'T WORKIN' to irresistible line dance starters HILLBILLY ROCK and WESTERN GIRLS. STUART also tackles THE BAND's masterstroke THE WEIGHT with glorious gospel backing from THE STAPLE SINGERS, as well his own NOW THAT'S COUNTRY, which smartly elaborates exactly where he's coming from. This twelve pack goes down as easily as Lone Star beer...leave it to MARTY to get the party started.

RATING: FOUR HAIRSTYLES



JUST STYLIN'

THE STYLISTICS-THE BEST OF THE STYLISTCS:

No seventies soul ensemble rocked the sweet, high falsetto lead singer quite like THE STYLISTICS; TEMPTATIONS vocalist EDDIE KENDRICKS ran a close second, but even he took a backseat to gutsy main belter DAVID RUFFIN. RUSSELL THOMPKINS JR. oozed angelic peals on every STYLISTICS classic, forging their sublime trademark sound in tandem with producer THOM BELL's "cream of Philly Soul" arrangements. With the exception of the high spirited ROCKIN' ROLL BABY and mid-tempo mindblower I'M STONE IN LOVE WITH YOU, the rest of BEST OF swells with soaring smooth ballad sophistication, from breathless early hit YOU ARE EVERYTHING to their final biggie YOU MAKE ME FEEL BRAND NEW, the only single on which THOMPKINS shares leads with AARON LOVE. Most of this silky nirvana was provided by BELL and songwriting partner LINDA CREED, (a service they also provided for THE SPINNERS), punctuated by THOMPKINS' heartbreaking delivery and THE SYLISTICS' lush, to the hilt backing harmonies. This may well be the most passionate platter you'll ever own or need.

RATING: FIVE LONG STEMMED ROSES

THEIR BEST OF TIMES

STYX-GREATEST HITS:

Love 'em or loathe 'em, STYX' slickly rendered brand of prog-influenced arena rock, led by singer/writers DENNIS DEYOUNG and TOMMY SHAW, was an inescapable guilty pleasure during their late seventies/early eighties reign. Big, bombastic radio hits like DEYOUNG's crisp pop sagas LADY (heard here in a decent '95 remake) and COME SAIL AWAY were offset by SHAW's harder rocking BLUE COLLAR MAN and RENEGADE, while deeper album tracks such as LORELEI and CRYSTAL BALL proved underground favorites. The churning axe work of SHAW and J.Y. YOUNG (whose gruff shout-out MISS AMERICA became a cult fave), buoyed by DEYOUNG's keyboard-laden theatrics, gave the band a commercially viable, if familiar sound in the hey day of JOURNEY and FOREIGNER. Bland power ballad BABE and the futuristic faux pas MR. ROBOTIC were much maligned later singles efforts, but GREATEST HITS racks up just about everything the casual STYX fan could want...even though true enthusiasts will want to explore their elaborate concept albums EQUINOX, GRAND ILLUSION and PARADISE THEATER.

RATING: FOUR PIECES OF EIGHT

SUMLIN'S SUMMIT

HUBERT SUMLIN'S BLUES PARTY:

When it comes to unsung heroes on the blues landscape, HUBERT SUMLIN's name belongs at the very top of the list. Having anchored the lead guitar chair CHESS RECORDS' legendary HOWLIN' WOLF for over twenty years, his spidery roadhouse licks provided the backbone for SITTIN' ON TOP OF THE WORLD, I AIN'T SUPERSTITIOUS and SPOONFUL, which influenced countless Brit Invasion artists. 1986's earthy BLUES PARTY, produced by former ROOMFUL OF BLUES axe slinger RONNIE EARL, rounds up a "Who's Who" of crack musicians for a smoky after hours jam session that sticks to the ribs like good southern barbecue. SUMLIN, always a reluctant front man, lends his raspy pipes to the "seen it, done it" ode LIVING THE BLUES, while gospel-honed shouter SAM MCLAIN bellows a gravelly cover of WOLF's DOWN IN THE BOTTOM and ROOMFUL alumni RON LEVY and GREG PICCOLO contribute their own funky lead vocals. A pair of saucy instrumentals, BLUE GUITAR and WEST SIDE SOUL, keep this platter stoked with solid grooves, making BLUES PARTY a righteous, rollicking, sho' 'nuff reason to celebrate.

RATING: FOUR HOT LICKS



SUMMER TIME

DONNA SUMMER-ENDLESS SUMMER/GREATEST HITS:

Undisputed Disco Queen DONNA SUMMER was one of the few artists that lent honest-to-God personality and substance to an emotionally bereft style, even though her talents placed her miles above that tag. While the vast majority of players were rightfully forgotten one hit wonders, SUMMER racked up an amazing tally of sophisticated dance floor classics that are beloved to this day. Whether the song cruised along on the skin-flick moaning of LOVE TO LOVE YOU BABY, I FEEL LOVE's synth-trance foundation (courtesy of producer GIORGIO MORODER) or HOT STUFF's muscular rock vibe, her soaring pipes flew above it all, awash in passion and playfulness. Pulse-quickening remakes of JIMMY WEBB's MACARTHUR PARK and BARRY MANILOW's COULD IT BE MAGIC proved interesting additions to her soul-baring catalogue, while THIS TIME I KNOW IT'S FOR REAL was a welcome comeback smash in the late eighties. Had Summer come along during a different era, her shimmering talent might have made her a huge RNB star...as it happened, she gave a very good name to an oft-maligned genre.

RATING: FOUR BAD GIRLS



DIVA-LICIOUS!

DIANA ROSS & THE SUPREMES-ICONS

MOTOWN called itself the "Sound of Young America" with good reason...they made soul safe for the masses, rounding off most of the rough edges to get there. Penned by the famed team of HOLLAND/DOZIER/HOLLAND and backed by MOTOWN's legendary in-house orchestra, WHERE DID OUR LOVE GO, BACK IN MY ARMS AGAIN and YOU CAN'T HURRY LOVE were boisterous paeans of the heart that lacked raw urban grooves, polished as brightly as the trio's gleaming smiles for AM radio playlists. It's hard to imagine a more perfectly executed pop single than STOP! IN THE NAME OF LOVE or a more fitting swan song than SOMEDAY WE'LL BE TOGETHER (which ironically left FLO BALLARD and MARY WILSON off the recording). After DIANA ROSS' inevitable departure for solo pastures, THE SUPREMES soldiered on with replacements, ringing up respectable facsimiles FLOY JOY, STONED LOVE and UP THE LADDER TO THE ROOF in the process. The double dipping delight ICONS gets it all together under one umbrella...a stylish, fitting tribute to the greatest girl group of 'em all.

RATING: FIVE WIGS

ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE

SURVIVOR-BEST OF:

Lacking the name recognition or longevity of JOURNEY or FOREIGNER, SURVIVOR mined the same mainstream rock territory, combining melodic vocals, ringing guitars, and bubbling keyboards for a hooky handful of eighties hits. The Chicago group was founded by former IDES OF MARCH leader JIM PETERI, whose lone biggie was the solid BLOOD SWEAT & TEARS knockoff VEHICLE, although he later wrote several hits for 38 SPECIAL). SURVIVOR went through two phases defined by two lead singers...powerful original vocalist DAVE BICKLER belted soulfully on debut hit POOR MAN'S SON, AMERICAN HEARTBEAT and smash ROCKY III anthem EYE OF THE TIGER...the slicker JIM JAMISON pealed with arena rock finesse via HIGH ON YOU, I CAN'T HOLD BACK and obligatory power ballad THE SEARCH IS OVER. Not unlike TOTO, SURVIVOR's half dozen radio staples will always be better remembered by the public at large than the band itself.

RATING: THREE TIGERS

HOW SWEET IT IS

SWEET-THE BEST OF SWEET:

Of all the great glam acts (Slade, Suzi Quatro, Gary Glitter) that wham-bammed their way through the early seventies, Sweet arguably glittered the brightest. Mashin' up bubblegum with hard rock hooks and the highest pitched vocals this side of Queen, Sweet's best singles...the "sticky-but-not-icky" LITTLE WILLY, percussive shout-fest BALLROOM BLITZ, and the proggy LOVE IS LIKE OXYGEN...were guilty-pleasure slabs of wailing wall-o'-sound glory. Lesser known hits WIG-WAM BAM, the best Indian love song since RUNNING BEAR, and ACTION, which lives up to its title in a hyperactive freak-out sort of way, are equally stunning. Ultra rare early effort IT'S LONELY OUT THERE (barely available outside of an ancient K-Tel vinyl album) can't be found here, but that's a minor quibble. Hard rockers Joan Jett, Ace Frehley, Girlschool and Krokus have all tackled a tune from the Sweet songbook, but no one ever came close to besting the boys at their own overwrought game.

RATING: FIVE GUM SMACKS



SWING OUT SISTERS

SWEETHEARTS OF THE RODEO-ANTHOLOGY:

Pulling their name from the rootsy, seminal BYRDS album featuring GRAM PARSONS, SWEETHEARTS OF THE RODEO burst onto the late eighties country scene like a female EVERLY BROTHERS, harvesting a pristine twang pop sound awash in impeccable vocal harmonies and new traditionalist delivery. JANIS OLIVER's husky leads & KRISTINE GILL's high, angelic responses intertwined as only siblings can on PHIL and DON's bittersweet SO SAD (TO WATCH GOOD LOVE GO BAD) and the jumpin' jive of THE CLOVERS' HEY DOLL BABY, as well as sprightly LOS LOBOS and BEATLES interpretations. These perky buffalo gals also penned originals like SATISFY YOU and GOTTA GET AWAY that were every bit as much fun as the covers. Sexy splashes of bluegrass, rockabilly and good ol' western swing dominated the SWEETHEART's slickly charismatic sound, netting them a handful of charters including SINCE I FOUND YOU, MIDNIGHT GIRL/SUNSET TOWN, and BLUE TO THE BONE. ANTHOLOGY is a welcome roundup of one of the most criminally underrated duos in any genre in the music business.

RATING: FIVE HEARTS

RODEO DRIVE

SWEETHEARTS OF THE RODEO-SWEETHEARTS OF THE RODEO/ONE TIME, ONE NIGHT:

Even country music's most boisterous detractors would be hard pressed to discount sonic swing sisters KRISTINE OLIVER and JANIS GILL, full-throated thrushes who earnestly skirted the fringes of pop and rock during the slicked up twang revival of the late 80s. This blessed pairing of their early chart-bustin' albums reels off contemporary hot-steppers like SINCE I FOUND YOU and HEY DOLL BABY, not to mention chirpy covers of LOS LOBOS' ONE TIME, ONE NIGHT and the FAB FOUR's I FEEL FINE; the better known JUDDS had absolutely nothing on this tempting team. Tacked on for good measure are a trio of down home ditties (including their final hit THIS HEART) from their undervalued later albums BUFFALO ZONE and SISTERS; regardless of your musical tastes, if you can't tap your foot and warble along with wild abandon to these heavenly harmonies and chugging rhythms, a hearing exam is most likely in order.

RATING: FIVE PETTICOATS



HEAD GAMES

TALKING HEADS-POPULAR FAVORITES 1976-
1992/SAND IN THE VASELINE:

Spawned from the fledgling Big Apple punk scene that also nurtured BLONDIE and THE RAMONES, TALKING HEADS were a cerebral mind-meld of RNB, funk and world beats squirming with slippery dance grooves, quirky-jerky vocals, and avant garde subject matter. HEAD honcho DAVID BYRNE's jittery, detached yelp and anxious guitar patterns were ably bolstered by JERRY HARRISON's keyboard stabs and the hyperkinetic rhythm section of CHRIS FRANTZ and TINA WEYMOUTH. From PSYCHO KILLER's stark, twisted opening through wry parting shots like (NOTHING BUT) FLOWERS, the band increasingly pushed for musical growth, at times augmenting their lineup to include FUNKADELIC keyboard whiz BERNIE WORRELL, soul mama NONA HENDRYX, and axe ace ADRIAN BELEW. A group of many moods, they transformed AL GREEN's joyous TAKE ME TO THE RIVER into a sludgy dirge, BLIND boasted a freewheeling groove ripped from the JAMES BROWN trick book, and surprise hit BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE swelled on percolating instrumental blurbs. The superb double disc anthology POPULAR FAVORITES is a flawless, chronologically sequenced sampler for casual fans and "HEADS-heads" alike.

RATING: FIVE HEAD SHOTS

SOULED AMERICAN!

TAVARES/THE BEST OF TAVARES:

Formerly known as CHUBBY & THE TURNPIKES, New Bedford, Massachusetts' soul slingin' siblings TAVARES enjoyed a respectable run of late seventies hits, even though their harmonic brand of contemporary RNB rose high above the disco label they were sometimes tagged with. Joyous dance floor fillers HEAVEN MUST BE MISSING AN ANGEL and the BEE GEES-penned MORE THAN A WOMAN shared chart space with the gritty IT ONLY TAKES A MINUTE and WHODUNIT, a nifty novelty that name checked legendary detectives from CHARLIE CHAN to DIRTY HARRY. Surprisingly, the quintet also effortlessly tackled white rockers, turning in electrifying versions of the EDGAR WINTER GROUP's FREE RIDE and HALL & OATES' SHE'S GONE that damn near toppled the blue eyed soul originals. THE BEST OF TAVARES rounds up ten tantalizing tracks from the "me decade" certain to agree with fans of catchy, well crafted hot-steppin', pop-rockin' soul.

RATING: FIVE BROTHERS

TAYLOR MADE

JAMES TAYLOR-THE BEST OF JAMES TAYLOR:

As an update of the seventies troubadour's original GREATEST HITS release, THE BEST OF JAMES TAYLOR reproduces the bulk of that much loved anthology, sprinkling in a handful of later laid back gems for extra good measure. An introspective writer possessing a warm, relaxed delivery on his own folky material FIRE AND RAIN, CAROLINA ON MY MIND and MEXICO, TAYLOR also proved an effective interpreter of others, scoring big hits with CAROLE KING's YOU'VE GOT A FRIEND, MARVIN GAYE's HOW SWEET IT IS and THE DRIFTERS' UP ON THE ROOF. His growling, bluesy live performance of STEAMROLLER (which ELVIS memorably tackled in his own funky fashion) showed off a more playful side, worth the price of admission alone here. Fans may carp about missing preferences...MOCKINGBIRD and HER TOWN TOO, his respective duets with ex wife CARLY SIMON and J. D. SOUTHER spring to mind. Even so, it's pretty hard to hate an album that unloads gemstones as soothing as SOMETHING IN THE WAY SHE MOVES, SWEET BABY JAMES and COUNTRY ROAD within the first fifteen minutes.

RATING: FOUR ACOUSTIC GUITARS

PLUS-SIZED TALENT

KOKO TAYLOR-WHAT IT TAKES/THE CHESS YEARS:

CHESS RECORDS is known for two Queens of the Blues, the saucy ETTA JAMES and her leather lunged soul sister KOKO TAYLOR. The latter was discovered by WILLIE DIXON, who not only scouted talent for the label, he was also one of their top session men/songwriters, penning and producing virtually all of TAYLOR's material. WHAT IT TAKES basically replicates her dynamic debut (which no true blues fan should be without), including her signature party stomper WANG DANG DOODLE, the greasy escape clause TWENTY-NINE WAYS (TO MY BABY'S DOOR) and INSANE ASYLUM, a dazzling, downright disturbing duet with DIXON. TAYLOR's commanding, throaty bellow and gutsy personality...coupled with a who's who of players from BUDDY GUY, LAFAYETTE LEAKE and FRED BELEW to MATT "GUITAR MURPHY, BIG WALTER HORTON and MUDDY WATERS...make this a tour de force collection. She continued to forge a career on the ALLIGATOR imprint, but WHAT IT TAKES/THE CHESS YEARS is all the early proof you'll need...they didn't call her "The Blues Wailer" for nothin'.

RATING: FIVE SHOUT OUTS




GET READY!...

THE TEMPTATIONS-ULTIMATE COLLECTION:

At last, a little truth in advertising! This comes fairly close to being the "ultimate" career spanning collection from the best and baddest soul group ever, Motown or otherwise. The temptin' Temptations were blessed with a trio of powerhouse lead belters, from David Ruffin's pleading, sexy growl to Eddie Kendricks' otherworldly falsetto to Dennis Edwards' mighty macho screams. Motown maestro Smokey Robinson provided them with an embarrassment of lyrically creamy masterpieces such as GET READY, THE WAY YOU DO THE THINGS YOU DO, and of course MY GIRL. Likewise, the prolific composing team of Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong enabled the Tempts to keep scoring hits (albeit grittier ones), via topical funk masterpieces such as PAPA WAS A ROLLIN' STONE and BALL OF CONFUSION, as well as stone cold dance tunes like AIN'T TOO PROUD TO BEG. Though their lineup was constantly altered by personal turmoil (four of the original quintet eventually died tragic deaths), the Temptations were always song slingin', hot-steppin' performers of the highest magnitude, leaving behind a wellspring of timeless chart fruit to prove it. Thanks to a few omitted gems like PSYCHEDELIC SHACK and BEAUTY'S ONLY SKIN DEEP, this anthology just misses doing their legacy justice.

RATING: FOUR TEMPTATION WALKS

TOP 10

10cc-THE VERY BEST OF 10cc:

It was entirely possible for the novice to sample a trio of this cerebral, eclectic British pop ensembles' biggest songs and assume it was three different bands. The lush, multi-layered hypnotic epic I'M NOT IN LOVE was worlds apart from DREADLOCK HOLIDAY's paranoid reggae-funk rhythms, with THE THINGS WE DO FOR LOVE's unabashed pop strains sandwiched smack in between. Formerly hired guns for anonymous bubblegum groups like CRAZY ELEPHANT and OHIO EXPRESS, the whole of 10cc was greater than the sum of its parts. HOLLIES and YARDBIRDS songwriter GRAHAM GOULDMAN, former MINDBENDERS member ERIC STEWART, and session stalwarts LOL CREME and KEVIN GODLEY deftly blended humor, sarcasm, tricky time signatures, and oddball subject matter on witty ditties like WALL SREET SHUFFLE, GOOD MORNING JUDGE, and RUBBER BULLETS. The more experimental CREME & GODLEY eventually jumped ship to produce ground-breaking videos and score their own ethereal hit CRY (included on VERY BEST), while STEWART and GRAHAM soldiered on for a few more albums and singles. 10cc may not have fit every taste, but for listeners who "got it", the rewards were richly stimulating indeed.

RATING: FOUR SCORE

DON'T MESS WITH TEX!

JOE TEX-THE VERY BEST OF JOE TEX:

Sassy soul preacher JOE TEX was one of modern music's most dynamic, yet woefully underrated performers, best known for a handful of testifying, exuberant singles that crossed over to the pop charts during the sixties and seventies. An inexhaustible live performer in the vein of JAMES BROWN and SAM & DAVE, who penned almost all of his own material, TEX inserted humorous dialogue into some of his best hits including the lively party tracks MEN ARE GETTIN' SCARCE and SKINNY LEGS AND ALL, while holding down a freewheeling groove on dance ditties I WANT TO DO (EVERYTHING FOR YOU) and SHOW ME. His later triumphs included the number two smash I GOTCHA, a truly monstrous slab of maniacal, raunchy, gutbucket funk that was the most dangerous sounding single of 1972 and his final workout AIN'T GONNA BUMP NO MORE (WITH NO BIG FAT WOMAN), a playful nod to the disco scene. JOE TEX' untimely death in the early eighties silenced one of southern soul's most beloved stars, whose incendiary spirit is captured admirably on RHINO RECORDS' career spanning comp THE VERY BEST.

RATING: FOUR GOTCHA!'S



TEX MEX MAX MIX

TEXAS TORNADOS-THE BEST OF TEXAS TORNADOS:

Unlike its rowdier cousin rock & roll, country music has produced precious few super groups...the criminally underrated TEXAS TORNADOS boasted a lineup of guitarist/singer DOUG SAHM and keyboardist AUGIE MEYERS from sixties hit makers the SIR DOUGLAS QUINTET, one time Hispanic pop star FREDDY "BEFORE THE NEXT TEARDROP FALLS" FENDER and accordion legend FLACO JIMINEZ. Culled from an all too brief early nineties career, BEST OF samples the band's roots rockin' collage of Americana, tex-mex and traditional conjunto styles. Irresistible radio hits included WHO WERE YOU THINKIN' OF and IS ANYBODY GOIN' TO SAN ANTONE (a kick-ass CHARLEY PRIDE cover) while FENDER's old smash about getting smashed, WASTED DAYS & WASTED NIGHTS, is a no-brainer inclusion here. The funky dance floor fillers GUACAMOLE, ADIOS MEXICO and UNA MAS CERVEZA are additional south-of-the-border delights, bolstered by MEYERS' garage rock organ, FLACO's sublime squeezebox punctuation, and earthy bi-lingual vocals by SAHM, MEYERS and FENDER. Here's a spicy party platter tastier than any you'll find in your fave Mexican watering hole...and you won't hate yourself in the morning for overindulging.

RATING: FOUR TACO SUPREMES



GETTING YOUR PHIL

THIN LIZZY-DEDICATION/THE VERY BEST OF THIN LIZZY:

Although an impressive array of future guitar stars including GARY MOORE, SNOWY WHITE, and BRIAN ROBERTSON passed through THIN LIZZY's ranks, the band's real secret weapon was macho black Irish front man/songwriter PHIL LYNOTT, who bashed out swaggering vocals and thundering bass lines as if every lick might be his last. Casual fans will recognize signature radio slashers THE BOYS ARE BACK IN TOWN and JAILBREAK, but greasy RNB groover DANCING IN THE MOONLIGHT, sinister saga CHINATOWN and balls-out boogie assault DO ANYTHING YOU WANT TO reveal a depth and dark maturity far beyond most hard rocker's catalogues. Ringing twin guitar volleys and LYNOTT's soul-powered, throaty belt were the group's trademarks, whether on their own organic material COWBOY SONG and BAD REPUTATION or havoc-wreaking covers of traditional folk ditty WHISKEY IN THE JAR and BOB SEGER's gemstone ROSALIE. DEDICATION's title tour de force, completed after LYNOTT's untimely demise in the mid eighties, provides an explosive epitaph for this unsung ensemble of raucous rebel-rousers.

RATING: FIVE AFROS

TAKE YOUR BEST SHOT

38 SPECIAL-FLASHBACK:

38 Special was one of the more pop-oriented Southern rock outfits, due mostly to co-lead singer/guitarist Don Barnes' ability to pen and sing righteous radio-friendly hooks, rather than the grittier contributions of Donnie Van Zant, brother to Ronnie and Johnny of Lynyrd Skynyrd renown. On rough housin' early classics ROCKIN' INTO THE NIGHT and WILD EYED SOUTHERN BOYS the two shared vocal duties, but the group soon fared better chart wise (losing some of their edge in the process) when Barnes took over as their main front man. Resulting big hits FANTASY GIRL, CAUGHT UP IN YOU and HOLD ON LOOSELY were all streamlined, nearly interchangeable hit singles that steered clear of stereotypical redneck sentiments. FLASHBACK, which arrived before the band's atypical ballad smash SECOND CHANCE (featuring blue eyed soul singer MAX CARL), is the casual fan's best bet, stoked with sweaty, rebel-rousin' fun...even if those Southern Boys ain't quite as wild as they used to be.

RATING: FOUR SLUGS

ODE TO BILLY JOE

B.J. THOMAS-GREATEST HITS:

Retro kings RHINO RECORDS have done their usual bang-up job, gathering up the peak period singles of late sixties/early seventies singer BILLY JOE (B.J.) THOMAS. The Oklahoma born crooner's early covers of HANK WILLIAMS' winsome I'M SO LONESOME I COULD CRY and I CAN'T HELP IT (IF I'M STILL IN LOVE WITH YOU) brought a little chunk of country to the pop charts, while his follow-ups DEEP IN THE EYES OF A NEW YORK WOMAN and HOOKED ON A FEELING (the latter covered memorably by BLUE SWEDE) were blue eyed soul slices of soft rock heaven. The hits didn't stop there, as THOMAS continued his winning ways with the soothing ROCK & ROLL LULLABY (featuring cameos by THE BEACH BOYS and DUANE EDDY), and the chart topping smashes RAINDROPS KEEP FALLIN' ON MY HEAD and ANOTHER SOMEBODY DONE SOMEBODY WRONG SONG. The latter did so well on the country charts that B.J. spent a successful decade courting that crowd after his pop hits dried up. His final Top 40 effort, a cover of THE BEACH BOYS' DON'T WORRY BABY, is the only major omission here, making GREATEST HITS one stop shopping for fans of THOMAS' stylishly laid back groove.

RATING: FOUR FINGER SNAPS



TOP OF THE STAX

RUFUS THOMAS-THE VERY BEST OF RUFUS THOMAS:

Vaudeville comic, legendary Memphis radio jock, outrageous RNB belter, and "the world's oldest teenager"...all these titles applied to RUFUS THOMAS during his over half century in the music biz. The former RABBIT FOOT MINSTRELS comic scored the first hits for two of roots rock's most influential labels, SUN and STAX. THE VERY BEST covers his good-natured catalogue for the latter, kicking off with a spate of canine-related hits including WALKING THE DOG (covered by both THE STONES and AEROSMTH), followed by MEMPHIS TRAIN's irresistible chugging head of soul steam, and the first of many boisterous novelty dance steppers, DO THE FUNKY CHICKEN. THOMAS' wild 'n greasy delivery was punctuated with sly spoken word passages, nursery rhyme lyrics, and a refreshing lack of self consciousness that listeners found irresistible. STAX RECORDS' impressive stable of soul slingin' stars included BOOKER T & THE MG'S, OTIS REDDING and his own daughter CARLA...but no one could throw a party quite like RUFUS THOMAS.

RATING: FOUR DANCE STEPS

I GOT THE SIX

HANK THOMPSON-A SIX PACK TO GO:

It's not for nothing that the crowd pleasing HANK THOMPSON fostered a country music career that lasted over half a century...no singer embodied the spirit of honky tonk hangovers and after hours saloon sing alongs quite like him. The mid sixties concept album A SIX PACK TO GO, named after one of his most memorable sudsers, was assembled by Capitol a few years after he parted ways with the label. From the haunting strains of DRUNKARD'S BLUES (ST. JAMES INFIRMARY by any other name) to a bouncy cover of BOB WILLS' BUBBLES IN MY BEER, the BRAZOS VALLEY BOYS, MERLE TRAVIS' electric six string leads and HANK's engaging "been there" vocals make this platter an irresistible treasure. A decent update of his own 1952 career maker WILD SIDE OF LIFE, the stylish ANYBODY'S GIRL and a rollicking run through of BEER BARREL POLKA help keep the steel guitar 'n fiddle party flowing with boot scootin' effervescence, every heartache drowned in blasts of Lone Star beer and blessed western swing nirvana.

RATING: FIVE PULL TOPS



BAD FOR GOOD!

GEORGE THOROGOOD & THE DESTROYERS-THE BADDEST:

My good ol' party-hearty buddy "Wild Bill" used to keep only three CDs in his Corvette for cruisin' down the beach on sultry summer evenings: THE BEST OF THE BLUES BROTHERS, JIMMY BUFFET'S GREATEST HITS, and this anthology of Delaware's best known hammer headed boogie basher. "What else do ya REALLY need?", he'd grin, Ray-Bans perched atop his noggin and an ever present Marlborough clenched between his teeth. What else indeed?...For no frills, pedal-to-the-metal rock n' roll meant to be cranked to ozone shattering volumes, GEORGE THOROGOOD has always been the man with the plan. Equal parts cocky gravel-pit vocalist, slippery slide grrr-tar mangler, and overgrown frat boy, his musical approach was always, to quote a DAVE EDMUNDS album title, SUBTLE AS A FLYING MALLET. Rip-off-the-knob takes on HANK WILLIAMS' MOVE IT ON OVER and JOHN LEE HOOKER's barstool burner ONE BOURBON, ONE SCOTCH, ONE BEER groove grandly alongside slam-bang originals BAD TO THE BONE, GEAR JAMMER and I DRINK ALONE, making THE BADDEST OF GEORGE THOROGOOD one of the loudest, proudest, party till dawn excuses ever committed to record. Just ask my pal Wild Bill...if you can catch up with him.

RATING: FOUR BREWSKIS

LET IT SLIDE

GEORGE THOROGOOD & THE DESTROYERS-MOVE IT ON OVER:

Delaware bad boy GEORGE THOROGOOD's second platter is loaded with raw 'n rambunctious roadhouse righteousness...there's not an original composition in sight (those would come later), and that's perfectly okay, given the no frills party-till-it-hurts vibe in evidence here. The brash title track alone is well worth the cover charge, the fiestiest, most soulful interpretation of HANK WILLIAMS since JOHN FOGERTY tackled JAMBALAYA (ON THE BAYOU) under the monicker BLUE RIDGE RANGERS. Slide guitar guru ELMORE JAMES is paid tribute three times, notably on a slinky, stone cold rendition of THE SKY IS CRYING, which STEVIE RAVE ON also unearthed a few years later. Rock and roll godfadda CHUCK BERRY gets a nod too, via the relatively obscure IT WASN'T ME, not the umpteenth take on JOHNNY B. GOODE or ROLL OVER BEETHOVEN, while "shave and a haircut" stomper WHO DO YOU LOVE is perhaps the meatiest rendition since BO DIDDLEY himself. THOROGOOD seldom strayed from the basic blooze rock template served up here for the next thirty years...for fans of brawling, in your face boogie, that's hardly bad news.

RATING: FOUR COLD ONES Comment | Permalink

SLAP THESE PUPPIES ON!

THREE DOG NIGHT-BEST OF:

Few seventies groups scored as many top notch AM radio chestnuts as Three Dog Night...even fewer are represented by a "greatest hits" roundup this comprehensive and enjoyable. No pop rock act covered as many fledgling songwriters as 3DN...Paul Williams' OLD FASHIONED LOVE SONG, Leo Sayre's THE SHOW MUST GO ON, Randy Newman's MAMA TOLD ME NOT TO COME, Laura Nyro's ELI'S COMING, John Hiatt's SURE AS I'M SITTIN' HERE, Russ Ballard's LIAR, Nilsson's ONE, Allen Toussaint's PLAY SOMETHING SWEET, Dave Loggins' PIECES OF APRIL, and Hoyt Axton's NEVER BEEN TO SPAIN and JOY TO THE WORLD...all tunesmiths who benefited from the exposure. Of course, great songs ain't nothin' without great singers, and Cory Wells, Danny Hutton and Chuck Negron each had blue-eyed soul/gospel/rock chops to spare; the four piece band that completed the lineup was also a high grade, creative ensemble. This well crafted compilation is twenty tracks long and there's nary a (you should pardon the expression) "dog" among them.

RATING: FIVE GOLDEN BISCUITS



MICRO-PHONIES:

THE THREE STOOGES-THE NONSENSE SONGBOOK:

Okay, so it ain't Curly, or even Shemp for that matter, but this STILL stands as the one and only Stooges album out there. The last lineup of every red blooded male's fave knuckleheads recorded a bunch of kiddie classics, complete with the requisite mayhem that is all things Stooges. Moe, Larry, and Curly Joe, stars of full length movies, comic books, and cartoon shorts of the sixties blunder their way through such dumb ditties as Looney Tunes theme THE MERRY-GO-ROUND BROKE DOWN, MAIRZY DOATS, ABA DABBA HONEYMOON, even OLD MACDONALD. Youngsters will probably get the most out of this, even as we so-called "grown-ups" pine longingly for a REAL Stooge retrospective spotlighting audio clips from their Columbia shorts' musical highlights with Curly and Shemp. What we'd REALLY like is the original SWINGIN' THE ALPHABET ("B-A-BAY, B-E-BEE, B-I-BICKEY-BI, B-O-BO, BICKEY-BI-BO..." (reprised here to lesser effect with Curly Joe), OH ELAINE, COME OUT, even something from WOMEN HATERS, their all-sung debut. And howsabout shovin' in that Jump in the Saddle Band hit tribute THE CURLY SHUFFLE for extra good measure? The title for this "wish-list" album of amalgamated morons?...THE THREE STOOGES' GREATEST "HITS"! Why, coitenly!!!

RATING: THREE N'YUKS

FOR PETE'S SAKE

PETER TORK-STRANGER THINGS HAVE HAPPENED:

This is a much better platter than anyone had a reasonable right to expect, given the general "LARRY of THE THREE STOOGES" indifference PETER TORK has been accorded over the years. In spite of being THE MONKEES' best instrumentalist (when they were allowed to play, that is), he was rarely called upon for lead vocals or songwriting, his chief memorable contribution to the band's catalogue being the novelty YOUR AUNTIE GRIZELDA. TORK capably revisits their old hit GIANT STEP, transforming the GOFFIN/KING fave into a bare bones folkie excursion, but that's the lone concession to his Pre-Fab Four days. He also puts his own earthy spin on RICHARD THOMPSON's road tripper MGB-GT, MARTIN BRILEY's kinky MILKSHAKE and the mighty JACKIE WILSON's HIGHER & HIGHER, transforming that soul chestnut into a banjo driven hoedown with feisty gospel underpinnings. It's a bit synth-heavy, but MIKE NESMITH and MICKEY DOLENZ are on board for a couple of backup vocals, and TORK's originals and amiable pipes aren't half bad, making this solo debut from "the quiet MONKEE" an undeniable under the radar treat.

RATING: THREE BANJOS

TOTO RECALL

TOTO-THE ESSENTIAL TOTO:

TOTO was the very definition of faceless pop, a clutch of in demand L.A. based session musicians (who played on BOZ SCAGGS' breakthrough album SILK DEGREES) that bonded to create well-crafted, if critically panned radio fodder for the masses. Blue eyed soul belter BOBBY KIMBALL's earnest, high-pitched wail carried off the punchy early rockers HOLD THE LINE and I'LL SUPPLY THE LOVE, while less histrionic band members handled the lead vocals on ear candy like 99, ROSANNA and AFRICA (the latter two with KIMBALL chiming in on the chorus). After their Grammy-laden peak platter IV, the group was plagued by a high turnover of lead singers as well as a lack of direction, resulting in diminishing returns. For fans that wanted it though, TOTO's slick mix of mainstream rock, mellow RNB and pseudo prog was a more than welcome alternative to the punk, rap, and hair metal that invaded the charts in the eighties.

RATING: FOUR SESSIONS

YES HE CAN CAN

ALLEN TOUSSAINT-THE ALLEN TOUSSAINT STORY:

Subtitled EVERYTHING I DO GONH BE FUNKY-THE HIT SONGS AND PRODUCTIONS 1957-1978, THE ALLEN TOUSSAINT STORY tracks fifty pop and RNB classics from the most prolific multi-tasker in the history of New Orleans music. Disc one concentrates on the songwriter/producer/arranger/pianist's early groups ALLEN & ALLEN and THE STOKES, whose peppy instrumental versions of JAVA and WHIPPED CREAM were templates for the AL HIRT and HERB ALPERT smashes. The second platter trots out a veritable treasure trove of freewheeling gems such as THE SHOWMEN's rock & roll tribute IT WILL STAND, ERNIE K-DOE's joyous put down MOTHER IN LAW and LEE DORSEY's hearty WORKING IN A COAL MINE and HOLY COW, not to mention solid sides from THE METERS, IRMA THOMAS and AARON NEVILLE. Much of this material was covered by admirers like the THE STONES, THE YARDBIRDS, ROBERT PALMER, THE FLESHTONES and DEVO, pointing to TOUSSAINT's indelible influence on the rock and roll crowd...his rich, soulful legacy offering truly something for everyone.

RATING: FIVE IVORIES

BLAST FROM THE PAST

TOWER OF POWER-VERY BEST/THE WARNER YEARS:

Oakland's undisputed first family of funk, the almighty TOWER OF POWER has been dropping a heat sinking mix of soul-searing ballads and greasy club-hoppin' grooves since the late sixties. Their most successful belter LENNY WILLIAMS pulled out every vocal stop imaginable on sophisticated smoothies SO VERY HARD TO GO and TIME WILL TELL, turning on a dime to shout along with the raw, syncopated throb of SOUL VACCINATION and WHAT IS HIP. Of course, the band's REAL weapon was its legendary five member horn section helmed by founder/songwriter/tenor sax man EMILIO CASTILLIO...besides perforating every aspect of the TOP sound with bad-ass brass tactics, they also moonlighted behind innumerable admirers like LITTLE FEAT, SANTANA and AEROSMITH. THE WARNER YEARS covers TOWER OF POWER's early seventies chart dominance, missing only their final tone-cool classic YOU OUGHT TO BE HAVIN' FUN. That still leaves a helluva platter that matters, crammed to the brim with party-poppers, head-boppers and show-stoppers.

RATING: FIVE TOOTS

TRAFFIC JAM

TRAFFIC-FEELIN' ALRIGHT/THE VERY BEST OF TRAFFIC:

STEVE WINWOOD was the linchpin in a number of fine bands, including THE SPENCER DAVIS GROUP and BLIND FAITH, but the trippy, jazz-influenced prog-rock ensemble TRAFFIC was his shining hour, spotlighting his multi-instrumental prowess (guitar, organ, harpsichord, etc.) and searing, soulful pipes. Future star DAVE MASON, whose tenure with the group was relatively brief, is represented here by HOLE IN MY SHOE (a mash-up of SGT. PEPPER era BEATLES and SYD BARRET era PINK FLOYD), the timeless FEELIN' ALRIGHT (which was covered by JOE COCKER, GRAND FUNK and RARE EARTH) and the folksy sing along YOU CAN ALL JOIN IN. TRAFFIC was always much more than the sum of its parts...CHRIS WOODS' lusty, ethereal woodwinds and the tasty sticks-work of JIM CAPALDI, (who both co-wrote much of the band's material with WINWOOD) helped flesh out their sound. Cult classics such as DEAR MR. FANTASY, PAPER SUN and FORTY THOUSAND HEADMEN were perfect for late sixties/early seventies FM formats. Appropriately, FEELIN' ALRIGHT closes out with the intricate twelve minute sprawl LOW SPARK OF HIGH HEELED BOYS, the title track from TRAFFIC's last completely satisfying album.

RATING: FOUR FREAK-OUTS



TRAVELIN' MEN

THE TRAVELING WILBURYS-VOL. 1:

The quiet Beatle, folk's greatest poet, ballad pop's best singer, a roots rocker, and the head of ELO...supergroups seldom if ever worked out as well as the TRAVELING WILBURYS, who pooled their inestimable resources for a romp through the back streets of folk rock, RNB, and middle of the road pop. Working under nicknames like Lefty, Otis and Charlie T. Jr., harmonic hits HANDLE WITH CARE, spotlighting GEORGE HARRISON and ROY ORBISON's angelic peals, and the shuffling singalong END OF THE LINE were two of the late 80's heartiest adult contemporary singles. JEFF LYNNE's rockabilly rave-up RATTLED, the hypnotic drone of BOB DYLAN on MARGARITA, and TOM PETTY's calypso-colored LAST NIGHT rank right up there with the five lads' solo offerings; in fact ORBISON's swan song MYSTERY GIRL, HARRISON's comeback CLOUD NINE, and PETTY's first solo effort were albums made around the same time with various WILBURYS chipping in. VOL. 1, an apparently ego-free collaboration amongst friends, is a marvel of effervescence, blessed organic fun and playful comraderie.

RATING: FIVE WILBURYS

STANDING PAT

PAT TRAVERS-BLUES TRACKS:

PAT TRAVERS has never taken a subtle approach to the blooze; his signature seventies tunes included a smoke 'n mirrors regurgitation of LITTLE WALTER's BOOM BOOM! OUT GO THE LIGHTS and his own hard edged ode to excess SNORTIN' WHISKEY (DRINKIN' COCAINE). Like his contemporaries RICK DERRINGER and LESLIE WEST, TRAVERS unleashed a string of rootsy, ball busting platters starting in the nineties, paying over the top homage to his RNB heroes. Soulful cornerstones such as BLIND WILLIE MCTELL's STATESBOROUGH BLUES (best known as an ALLMAN BROTHERS staple) and several gritty HOWLIN' WOLF ditties get the patented slash 'n burn TRAVERS treatment, pumped chock full of his well worn arsenal of riffs, licks and growling JOHNNY WINTER-like vocals (he even tackles the WINTERS-associated MEMORY PAIN). Impressively, OTIS RUSH's mournful crawl I CAN'T QUIT YOU and JUNIOR PARKER's tantalyzing trip MYSTERY TRAIN both become hell bent romper-stompers in TRAVERS' capable mitts; if you like your blues loud, rowdy and screechin', pull up a barstool and let TRAVERS kick out the jams.

RATING: THREE MOJO HANDS

TREAT SMART

TREAT HER RIGHT-TREAT HER RIGHT:

BOSTON and THE CARS may have made more auspicious debuts, but Massachusetts' TREAT HER RIGHT, named for ROY HEAD's gritty RNB one shot, burst out of the gate with just as much confidence and street smart style in 1988. Featuring three members who could handle lead vocals...especially notable was MARK SANDMAN's dark, slinky talk-sing moan (matched note for note by his low slung bass work)...this eclectic ensemble also boasted scorching harp blasts from JIM FITTING and the no frills beat keeping of BILLY CONWAY, who played a cocktail drum. THR's retro-modern mash-up of gutbucket blooze, swamp rock and punk-a-billy rode shotgun over New England bar room fave I THINK SHE LIKES ME, the edgy I GOT A GUN and murky covers of HARLAN HOWARD's EVERGLADES (a hit for THE KINGSTON TRIO) and JAMES BLOOD ULMER's WHERE DID ALL THE GIRLS COME FROM. A one of a kind platter from a one of a kind ensemble (SANDMAN and CONWAY morphed into avant garde jazz-prog hipsters MORPHINE a few years later), TREAT HER RIGHT was probably TOO good to make the big time...but don't let that deter you from sampling this stunning mini-masterpiece of funky roots rock nirvana.

RATING: FOUR TREATS

ROCKIN' THE COUNTRY

TRAVIS TRITT-THE ROCKIN' SIDE:

When hatless honky tonker TRAVIS TRITT emerged in the 90s with PUT SOME DRIVE IN YOUR COUNTRY, he wasn't just blowing smoke; the earthy southern rock and RNB sides of ZZ TOP, THE ALLMANS, and ELVIS permeated much of his best work. Although TRITT enjoyed a handful of big ballad hits (gathered on his companion compilation THE LOVIN' SIDE), the soul man belter was most effective goin' full throttle on a boisterous blaster like T-R-O-U-B-L-E or THE WHISKEY AIN'T WORKIN with his buddy MARTY STUART. TRITT's influences are earmarked with a tasty version of TAKE IT EASY that almost outdoes THE EAGLES, not to mention ATLANTA RHYTHM SECTION's jaunty jailbreak jingle BACK UP AGAINST THE WALL...although it would have been twice as nice if his hard-edged cover of ARS' HOMESICK had also been included. Two co-writes with last surviving SKYNYRD member GARY ROSSINGTON, and the fire and brimstone barnburner BIBLE BELT (with a blistering backing assist from LITTLE FEAT) up the ante, making THE ROCKIN' SIDE a gutsy purchase for country fans who wanna kick up their boots a little.

RATING: FOUR REBEL YELLS

WHAT'S IN A NAME?

TRNZPRNT-ICED:

ICED, the ear-catching platter from TRNZPRNT, goes down like a cold beer on a sweaty summer day. Reedy singer JIM VILLANI brings adult alternative pop star PETE DROGE to mind, a refreshing change from the nut-numbing, off-key caterwauling of many a bad boy belter. JIMI AMBROSE's feisty axe work and the overall band groove transport me immediately back to my fave musical time zone, the hard rockin' 70s. Snatches of later period acts, including EXTREME's metal funk and CRACKER's rootsy charm also bubble under the surface. The first couple o' tracks, boasting chunky riffs, high harmony vocals, and hook-laden charm, sound like "lost classics" of the sort that good rock radio stations occasionally trot out on the weekends in between far too many spins of BAD COMPANY and BOB SEGER juggernauts. ICED has the kind of vibe where the listener pricks up his ears and declares, "Crap! Why the hell can't they play more of THIS and less OLD TIME ROCK & ROLL?"

Yep, as refreshing and as welcome as a frosty mug o' suds...and drunk or sober, I still wouldn't attempt to pronounce the group's name.

RATING: THREE VOWELS

TROGG HEAVEN

THE TROGGS-THE BEST OF THE TROGGS:

Seldom mentioned in the upper echelon of Brit Invasion bands, THE TROGGS will always be most closely identified with their mid sixties garage rock juggernaut WILD THING, surely the only sex anthem ever to feature an ocarina solo. Songwriter CHIP TAYLOR's towering ode to lust has been regularly resurrected over the decades...JIMI HENDRIX's bloozey meltdown, FANCY, whose orgasmic singer HELEN CAUNT upped the raunch factor by several notches, and punk outfit X represent but a few admirers. Popular follow ups found THE TROGGS charting a very different musical course, via the semi psychedelic ballad LOVE IS ALL AROUND and the bah-bah-bah-bah-bubblegummy WITH A GIRL LIKE YOU, featuring leader REG PRESLEY's lo-fi vocals and the band's uncomplicated, radio-ready instrumentation. Nothing else on BEST OF stands out quite as loudly and proudly as that hat-trick of hits, even though THE RAMONES paid tribute by remaking their horny cult classic I CAN'T CONTROL MYSELF on their all covers ACID EATERS platter...a further example of THE TROGGS' enduring influence.

RATING: THREE TROGLODYTES

ROCKIN' ROBIN

ROBIN TROWER-ESSENTIAL:

Former PROCOL HARUM axe slinger ROBIN TROWER, who appeared on groundbreaking albums such as A SALTY DOG and SHINE ON BRIGHTLY, pumped out a popular series of HENDRIX-inspired blooze-rock spouting platters under his own name throughout the seventies. Like so many guitar gurus, TROWER left the vocals to others, notably JAMES DEWER, whose ominous growl charges through the intense six string synergy of SHAME THE DEVIL, TOO ROLLING STONED and MESSIN' THE BLUES. Legendary CREAM singer/bassist JACK BRUCE turns up to inject INTO MONEY with his signature blue eyed soul, but the main focus falls naturally on TROWER's cosmic forays into hard rock, prog, psychedelia and RNB that made him a tasteful guitar hero for the ages. Hardcore fans have long ago worn out their copies of TWICE REMOVED FROM YESTERDAY and BRIDGE OF SIGHS...but for casual listeners who just need a taste, the sixteen track ESSENTIAL is a fine appetizer.

RATING: FOUR STRINGS

ALLMAN OTHER

THE DEREK TRUCKS BAND-OUT OF THE MADNESS:

Young blooze upstart Derek Trucks is the nephew of Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks, as well as a member of that legendary band; he's also hitched to white soul mama Susan Tedeschi. Why he isn't constantly mentioned in the same breath as more celebrated guitar prodigies Jonny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd is a major puzzle. Deftly channeling improvisational jazz, funk and RNB, non-singer Trucks occasionally leaves that task to guests such as Warren Haynes of Gov't. Mule...though his axe does plenty of talking. Whether tackling Son House, Howlin' Wolf, the Meters, or one of his own worthy compositions, he executes like a roadhouse veteran, creating a hypnotic listening experience via searing slide and impassioned jam-band pyrotechnics. Here at last is a kid who's not rapping over a heavy metal beat or dancing and chirping in sync with a bunch of cookie cutter clones...this is REAL music, and Derek Trucks is the real deal.

RATING: FIVE BROKEN STRINGS

THE MARSHALL PLAN

THE MARSHALL TUCKER BAND-GREATEST HITS:

South Carolina's well loved MARSHALL TUCKER BAND was helmed by bluesy growler DOUG GRAY and gritty good ol' boy guitar slinger/singer TOY CALDWELL, (but no one named MARSHALL TUCKER), injecting more country licks and tasty twang into their groove-ology than any southern rock outfit this side of CHARLIE DANIELS. GREATEST HITS nearly doubles the amount of music from their original late seventies compilation, even though the single length versions of radio chestnuts like CAN'T YOU SEE and HEARD IT IN A LOVE SONG are featured. MTB effortlessly blended laid back folk, hard-edged boogie, jazz and high falutin' RNB for their unique "cowboy rock" sound, with woodwinds player JERRY EUBANKS adding exuberant solos to an already sublime mix. Freewheelin' faves such as FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN, SEARCHIN' FOR A RAINBOW, and TAKE THE HIGHWAY rule the roost here, but for fans who prefer a deeper selection of tracks and the group's famed extended jams, the double disc MILLENNIUM COLLECTION offers up a heapin' helpin' of both.

RATING: FOUR RAINBOW RIDES



TURNER UP!

BIG JOE TURNER-THE VERY BEST OF BIG JOE TURNER:

One of ATLANTIC RECORD's earliest cash cows, BIG JOE TURNER was so named due to his physical size, his immense talent, and a soulful, booming set of pipes, so powerful he could fill a room without benefit of a microphone if necessary. In a career spanning six decades, his bellowing, boastful takes on jumpin' jive, boogie woogie and rhythm 'n blues begat the immortal SHAKE, RATTLE & ROLL, FLIP, FLOP & FLY and HONEY HUSH, musical cornerstones which have been mined ever since by the likes of BILL HALEY, THE BLUES BROTHERS and FOGHAT. TURNER also had a sweet 'n soft side, as evidenced on expressive, high caliber ballads such as CHAINS OF LOVE and SWEET SIXTEEN, and his unflagging spirit allowed for jamming with everyone from COUNT BASIE to ROOMFUL OF BLUES. There was no mistaking BIG JOE for anyone else, a legend in both life and death for his undisputed pioneering contributions to that nifty little genre known as Rock and Roll.

RATING: FIVE BIG ONES

SOUL SURVIVOR

TINA TURNER-ALL THE BEST:

The former ANNA MAE BULLOCK possessed more than an uncanny will to survive the unbearable lows and sky scraping highs of her half decade in show business...she was also one of modern music's most expressive, sensual belters, not to mention the owner of the best set of gams in rock 'n soul. IKE & TINA's signature hit, a ribald remake of CCR's PROUD MARY, remains one of the rawest, nastiest sides ever waxed...unfortunately, what's featured here is a so-so alternate version that lacks the original's gutbucket punch. At least her autobiographical anthem NUTBUSH CITY LIMITS is rendered in its original greasy glory. This double compilation might have worked better as a single "all killer no filler" platter, although it touches down on all her solo gemstones. The funky strutter WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT, stylish rocker WHAT YOU GET IS WHAT YOU SEE (with its retro EDDIE COCHRAN guitar riff), MAD MAX theme WE DON'T NEED ANOTHER HERO, and shimmering statement THE BEST expertly highlight the comeback queen's many moods. No one deserved superstardom more than TINA TURNER or worked harder to attain it...the proof lies within the gritty RNB grooves and slick pop perfection of ALL THE BEST.

RATING: FOUR LEGS

SLOW MOTION

THE TURTLES-20 GREATEST HITS:

Led by heavenly harmonizing vocalists MARK VOLMAN and HOWARD KAYLAN (also known as FLO & EDDIE), THE TURTLES fostered a sunny, lightly psychedelic folk-pop sound that spawned a number of AM radio-ready hits in the second half of the sixties. Mostly relying on outside songwriters, they effortlessly channeled DYLAN's caustic IT AIN'T ME BABE, the dark OUTSIDE CHANCE (penned by a then unknown WARREN ZEVON) and GENE CLARK/ROGER MCGUINN's winsome YOU SHOWED ME, stamping each with earnest, reflective groove-ology. In addition to the obvious keepers like HAPPY TOGETHER, this stellar sampler also trots out comparatively unknown treasures such as the theme from the celluloid comedy GUIDE FOR THE MARRIED MAN, HARRY NILSSON's THE STORY OF ROCK & ROLL and the protest chestnut EVE OF DESTRUCTION. These deep tracks make 20 GREATEST HITS a much better than average collection spotlighting one of the more underrated ensembles in modern pop music.

RATING: FOUR SHELLS

UNIDENTIFIED FLYING V

UFO-THE BEST OF UFO:

Even though they never broke into the upper echelon of hard rock royalty, England's heavy hitting outfit UFO scored a clutch of rebellious radio hits and a sizable live following during their late seventies heyday. Initially plowing through a number of lead guitarists, their fortunes improved considerably with the addition of fret board virtuoso MICHAEL SCHENKER. Formerly of German metal mongers THE SCORPIONS (which also featured his axe wielding brother RUDOLPH), SCHENKER proved a towering figure on their best known albums PHENOMENON, OBSESSION and the live classic STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT. Macho vocalist PHIL MOGG, bassist PETE WAY and beat keeper ANDY PARKER rounded out UFO's classic lineup, busting out melodic ozone blasters SHOOT SHOOT, DOCTOR DOCTOR and ONLY YOU CAN ROCK ME, along with the comparatively restrained CHERRY. SCHENKER eventually went the way of most guitar gurus, departing for his own successful band MSG, while WAY briefly turned up in the super group FASTWAY...but it was UFO's metal mastery that helped paved the way for these and many other bruising bands that followed in their wake.

RATING: FOUR DOCTORS

ULL-TIMATE

THE BEST OF TRACEY ULLMAN:

Comedic chameleon Tracey Ullman may be best known for the wacked out array of characters she played on TV, but her talent hardly ends there. As BEST OF amply illustrates, this British songbird is a one-woman-girl-group...through the modern miracle of multi-tracking, her sunny voice evokes the sweet 'n sassy era of the Chiffons, the Crystals and Lesley Gore. Bona fide hit THEY DON'T KNOW, from her debut disc YOU BROKE MY HEART IN 17 PLACES, is as close to pure, sweet bubblegum nirvana as any single of the eighties. It's chock-full of infectious hooks, ringing wall of sound instrumentation, and above all, Ullman's yearning, tough-but-vulnerable chick delivery. Faithful remakes of Marcy Blane's BOBBY'S GIRL, Connie Francis' WHERE THE BOYS ARE, and the Blondie sparkler I'M ALWAYS TOUCHED BY YOUR PRESENCE DEAR add oodles of fun to the mix. Who else but Ullman would have the guts (let alone the ability) to tackle Reunion's motor mouthed golden oldie tribute LIFE IS A ROCK (BUT THE RADIO ROLLED ME)? Few songbirds could pull off twenty tracks this titillating and retro-sensitive.

RATING: FIVE HIGH NOTES

RE-UNION

UNION-ON STRIKE:

For BTO gearheads who simply couldn't get enough of RANDY BACHMAN's tasty guitar licks and FRED TURNER's mountain man bellow, the one off project UNION made for a welcome, if somewhat flawed comeback. MAINSTREET USA, which coasts on pop rockin' hooks and RANDY's talk-sing vocals...a crafty cross between his RNB-laced LOOKIN' OUT FOR NUMBER ONE and YOU AINT SEEN NOTHIN' YET...might have achieved hit status had it been released during BTO's mid seventies hey-day. PACIFIC NORTHWEST BLUES boasts a similar carefree vibe and KEEP THE SUMMER ALIVE naturally invokes images of THE BEACH BOYS, while STAY AWAY FROM THE HONKY TONKS and TEXAS CANNONBALL unleash TURNER's bruising, JOHN FOGERTY-on-steroids assault. Two factors mar UNION's impact considerably...the CD is slightly sped up compared to the original vinyl version, and grating third lead vocalist FRANK LUDWIG adds absolutely nothing to the mix (even TIM BACHMAN was better). In spite of these flaws, BTO completists (you know who you are), will undoubtedly find ON STRIKE essential listening.

RATING: THREE STRIKES

TAKIN' IT UPTOWN

THE UPTOWN HORNS-THE UPTOWN HORNS REVUE:

THE UPTOWN HORNS may never be a household name (session groups seldom are), but their sizzling resume reads like a who's who of rock, soul and funk...THE STONES, J. GEILS BAND, JAMES BROWN, THE B-52'S, BUSTER POINDEXTER and ALBERT COLLINS are just a few of their big name employers. A couple of those legends pay back the favor by guesting on THE UPTOWN HORNS REVUE, their lone album under their own name. Blues six string legend COLLINS lets loose with the feisty party tracks SUGAR MELTS WHEN IT'S WET and I'M DEALIN', while KEEF RICHARDS lends a few slick licks to PETER WOLF's TRUST ME, which is on a par with his greasy GEILS work. Virtual unknowns who turn in dazzling work include singer BEN HOUSTON, who does the best ROBERT CRAY vocal imitation ever on NEVER GOIN' DOWN THAT ROAD AGAIN, and swingin' soul mama SOOZIE TYRELL, whose jump blues vocal on MARYLOU's is a wopper-bopper-showstopper. The rest of REVUE doesn't quite stack up to these heavenly heights, but it's all entertaining and well worth sampling for fun-lovin' fans of RNB-based retro rock that doesn't take it self too seriously.

RATING: THREE SORE LIPS

SOUTH OF THE BORDER

RICHIE VALENS-LA BAMBA & OTHER HITS:

Having perished at the tender age of seventeen in the same 1959 plane crash that killed the more influential BUDDY HOLLY and the less talented BIG BOPPER, Mexican-American belter/guitarist RICHIE VALENS is primarily known for his summery hat trick of hits...traditional folk song LA BAMBA, tender ballad DONNA and euphoric party call COME ON LET'S GO. All those gemstones were covered note for note by LOS LOBOS, one of VALENS' most obvious protégés, on the soundtrack to his highly fictionalized life story LA BAMBA (whose star LOU DIAMOND PHILLIPS, bore little resemblance to the beefy artist). RHINO's budget line collection contains a scant ten tracks, mostly taken from his self titled debut platter, which range from exciting (HURRY UP) to non essential (the instrumental BLUES SLOW)...OOH MY HEAD, one of his most powerful rockers is inexplicably missing in action. The unpolished, energetic soul of RICHIE VALENS brimmed with obvious talent and boundless potential, the trailblazer for a long line of "south of the border" pop stars from CARLOS SANTANA to LOS LONELY BOYS.

RATING: THREE FIESTAS

SLAM HALEN

VAN HALEN-VAN HALEN:

This is truly ground zero for many hard rock guitar heads, a blistering, monolithic opening shot that hipped the masses to EDDIE VAN HALEN's mind-bending furnace-blast of slam bang six string pyrotechnics. VAN HALEN's self-titled debut kicked off with a hellzapoppin' hat-trick...the ominous RUNNIN' WITH THE DEVIL, volcanic guitar showcase ERUPTION and a metal-ized cover of the KINKS' YOU REALLY GOT ME (which RAY DAVIES and company answered with their own mind numbin' version on their next concert disc). JAMIE'S CRYIN' and AIN'T TALKIN' 'BOUT LOVE, both bolstered by bass player MIKE ANTHONY's piercing high harmony vocals, proved further ferocious radio fodder, while a melt-down of the JOHN BRIM bloozer ICE CREAM MAN oozed sexual innuendo tailor-made for lead growler DAVID LEE ROTH's swaggering bravado and snarky asides. This brontosauric breakthrough stomped over all contenders in '78 (granted, a lot of the "competition" was disco and punk), an ultimately unforgettable, highly influential party-poundin' platter never topped by VAN HALEN...or damned few other bands for that matter.

RATING: FIVE HAMMER-ON'S

II LITTLE

VAN HALEN-II:

When VAN HALEN's sophomore album landed in 1979, an astute critic labeled the content: "...about as original as its title". He had a point, since VH II was about half as good as the band's trend-setting, pyrotechnic debut, mostly sounding like warmed over outtakes (shades of BOSTON's second effort DON'T LOOK BACK). Once the novelty of EDDIE's warp-speed fret board solos, lead caterwauler DAVID LEE ROTH's bloozey shtick, and MICHAEL ANTHONY's pristine high vocal harmonies (the best in hard rock) wore off, fans were left with another cover (YOU'RE NO GOOD), another instrumental showcase (albeit an acoustic one called SPANISH FLY), and a few decent party rockers like DANCE THE NIGHT AWAY. Trouble is, none of 'em could touch YOU REALLY GOT ME, ERUPTION, or RUNNIN' WITH THE DEVIL for overall swagger and sheer outrageous execution. While the first album was tight as a drum head, with a noticeable dearth of filler, II offered a few throwaways in the second half, redeemed by macho stomp-fest BEAUTIFUL GIRLS at the tail end. VH's returns diminished via each succeeding singer (GARY CHERRONE, anyone?), and nothing ever toppled their monstrous opening shot...at least II got part of the way there.

RATING: THREE LEERS

HATS OFF

RICKY VAN SHELTON-16 BIGGEST HITS:

He may have typified the "hunks in hats" era of late 80s/early 90s country, but RICKY VAN SHELTON had a lot more going for him than a dazzling smile and a twinkle in his eye...an honest to goodness, authentically expressive set of pipes that served him well on a hit batch of sprightly honky tonkers and bitterwseet ballads. Like his non-songwriting contemporary GEORGE STRAIT, RVS made the most of material from outside contributers, including legendary tunesmiths ROGER MILLER and HARLAN HOWARD. Whether tackling well loved oldies such as NED MILLER's FROM A JACK TO A KING and JACK GREENE's STATUE OF A FOOL or kicking up his heels for modern day barn burners WILD MAN and CRIME OF PASSION, his passionate Virginia-bred baritone and energetic delivery was always front and center. VAN SHELTON racked up nine chart-topping singles and many more top tens during his hey-day, most of which are collected on 16 BIGGEST HITS, an indispensable offering for fans of "in the pocket" new traditionalist country.

RATING: FOUR STETSONS

SIBLING REVELRY

JIMMIE VAUGHAN-STRANGE PLEASURE:

As a tastefully restrained guitarist for the Austin, Texas-based FABULOUS THUNDERBIRDS, JIMMIE VAUGHAN laid down a roots-wranglin' vibe that spearheaded a most welcome blues rock revival in the eighties along side ROBERT CRAY, ALBERT COLLINS and VAUGHAN's axe slingin' sibling STEVIE RAY. After his departure from the T-BIRDS, JIMMIE's highly anticipated solo debut STRANGE PLEASURE showcased a stunning set of solid originals including the chugging BOOM-BAPA-BOOM, upbeat instrumental TILT A WHIRL, and the stark, acoustic SIX STRINGS DOWN, a soul-stirring tribute to departed blues heroes like FREDDIE KING, MUDDY WATERS, GUITAR SLIM and of course SRV. VAUGHAN's multi-faceted six string runs and lean, purposeful vocals propel sublime slices of boss soul and roadhouse-honed RNB with nary a weak track within earshot; in a perfect world, HEY-YEAH, FLAMENCO DANCER, and JUST LIKE PUTTY might have been adult contemporary radio hits. JV's output has been frustratingly slim over the past two decades, but STRANGE PLEASURE fired off an opening shot that few debuts can ever hope to stack up against.

RATING: FIVE POMPADOURS



STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN & DOUBLE TROUBLE-THE REAL DEAL/GREATEST HITS:

Stevie "Rave On" was the celebrated Texas six stringer who almost single-handedly spearheaded a blooze-rock revival in the eighties, assisted by older bro JIMMIE's band THE FABULOUS THUNDERBIRDS and soul man ROBERT CRAY. In sharp contrast to 1995's GREATEST HITS, a mediocre career spanner, THE REAL DEAL is an aptly named package worthy of the smokin' legacy. Standout ripsnorters spotlighted here include originals PRIDE AND JOY and THE HOUSE IS ROCKIN', while he carves out a slinky, "after hours" side via passionate covers of TIN PAN ALLEY and ELMORE JAMES' THE SKY IS CRYING. Obvious inspiration JIMI HENDRIX's signature jam VOODOO CHILE, which sounded so fresh and vibrant all over again in VAUGHAN's capable mitts, somehow goes missing in this otherwise fine collection. Like the Seattle slasher, SRV crashed and burned far too early, but the roots rich catalogue he left as his epitaph will serve as a template for generations of guitar slingers to come.

RATING: FIVE SOUL PATCHES

RAVE ON?

STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN-GREATEST HITS:

Stevie Rave On may have been one of blooze-rock's most celebrated guitar slingers, but this is far from a truly "great" greatest hits package. Too much fire and smoke is left off in favor of lukewarm readings of George Harrison's TAXMAN and JIMI HENDRIX's LITTLE WING, when the latter's VOODOO CHILE would have been a smarter choice. Small wonder THE REAL DEAL: GREATEST HITS VOLUME 2 comes off as a sequel with no equal. Car crash classic WILLIE THE WIMP, turbo-driven instrumental PIPELINE with surf godfather DICK DALE, and HANK BALLARD's funk-fest LOOK AT LITTLE SISTER all should have easily made the first GREATEST HITS, but amazingly had to wait for that second outing. At least standout SRV piledrivers PRIDE AND JOY, TEXAS FLOOD, and THE HOUSE IS ROCKIN' are present and accounted for on this skimpy collection. Do yourself a favor...check out the late 90's re-issues of his four original four platters that matter, with bonus tracks and rare takes tacked on. This commonplace collection just gives me the blues.

RATING: THREE COLD SHOTS

SIDE JOBS

STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN & FRIENDS-SOLOS, SESSIONS & ENCORES:

Blooze rock guitar god STEVIE RAVE ON may have only released a small handful of albums during his short career, but thankfully, he also pumped out sidewinding licks behind an impressive list of like minded performers on his way to the top. SOLOS, SESSIONS & ENCORES collects relative rarities and greasy guest gigs, including searing live versions of ELMORE JAMES' THE SKY IS CRYING and OREO COOKIE BLUES with respective mentors ALBERT KING and LONNIE MACK. The passionate declaration YOU CAN HAVE MY HUSBAND, belted out by whiskey-voiced hot patootie LOU ANN BARTON (DOUBLE TROUBLE's original singer) and MARCIA BALL's party-packed rendition of SUGAR PIE DESANTO's SOULFUL DRESS add to the funky fun, while dive-bombing duels with surf guitar pioneer DICK DALE and the pyrotechnic JEFF BECK show off SRV's rock & roll mojo. Also on hand are swamp boogie queen KATIE WEBSTER, JIMMIE VAUGHAN and a seven minute version of DAVID BOWIE's commercial smash LET'S DANCE, which first hipped the masses to SRV's power. As both a six string slinging sideman and a solo superstar, SRV packed chops, charisma and Texas-sized talent to spare.

RATING: FOUR GIGS

VEE FOR VICTORY

BOBBY VEE-LEGENDARY MASTERS SERIES:

The sixties' pop radio landscape is littered with a liberal dose of singers named "BOBBY"...BOBBY RYDELL, BOBBY VINTON and BOBBY DARIN to name a few...but none more underrated than the pride of Fargo, North Dakota, BOBBY VEE. Filling in at the last minute for BUDDY HOLLY "the day the music died", VEE (who sounded uncannily like THE CRICKETS leader) watched his career take off via a string of perky singles including his remake of THE CLOVERS' DEVIL OR ANGEL, the GENE PITNEY composition RUBBER BALL and GOFFIN/KING's TAKE GOOD CARE OF MY BABY, his lone chart topper. VEE's easy going, sunny delivery (often backed by THE JOHNNY MANN SINGERS) served him well as he progressed from teen idol to a mature, well rounded performer. AM radio staples RUN TO HIM, COME BACK WHEN YOU GROW UP GIRL and THE NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES (the closest he ever came to rockin' out) are among the twenty-five sugary samplers on EMI's superb LEGENDARY MASTERS SERIES. The package concludes with a vintage ad for (what else?)...a BOBBY VEE greatest hits album.

RATING: FOUR VEES

LIGHT LOAD

THE VELVET UNDERGROUND-LOADED:

Easily THE VELVET UNDERGROUND's most accessible album, their fourth effort LOADED jettisons the dark, druggy, sexually charged imagery of their earlier work, replacing it with (dare I say it?) radio friendly pop rock. It also contains two of head honcho LOU REED's most popular, hook laden and often covered slices of perfection, the sublime anthems SWEET JANE and ROCK & ROLL. Long gone is former group member JOHN CALE's avant garde instrumentation; LOADED plays off straight forward guitar/bass/drums volleys and REED's improved attempt to actually sing rather than "talk" his way through most selections. The lightly psychedelic WHO LOVES THE SUN and carefree LONESOME COWBOY BILL (punctuated by REED's funky "yodel-lay-ee-o"'s) sound almost like another band completely, while I FOUND A REASON unspools as a lovely, ethereal ballad. If this triumphant swan song had been their debut platter rather than the uncompromising VELVET UNDERGROUND & NICO, VU might well have become a commercially viable entity...instead they had to settle for being an incalculable influence on virtually every underground artist that followed in their wake.

RATING: FOUR LOADS

WORDS CAN'T DESCRIBE 'EM

THE VENTURES-WALK DON'T RUN/THE BEST OF THE VENTURES:

The early sixties was peak period for funky instrumental smashes, although the majority of 'em were cranked out by one hit wonders like THE SURFARIS (WIPEOUT), THE ROUTERS (LET'S GO) and BOOTS RANDOLPH (YAKETY SAX). The big daddy of all such acts was internationally famous guitar group THE VENTURES, who released over one hundred albums during their long career and notched up Top Ten singles like the surfer's wet dream WALK DON'T RUN and the volcanic TV theme HAWAII FIVE-O. Led by sonic six stringers NOKIE EDWARDS and DON WILSON, the combo formerly called THE VERSATONES unleashed tasty, well crafted covers of virtually every popular single of the era, from BATMAN to SECRET AGENT MAN, effortlessly nailing genres ranging from rock and surf to country. This fool-proof compilation offers their twangin' hits PERFIDIA, SLAUGHTER ON TENTH AVENUE and RAM-BUNK-SHUSH, nifty novelties such as THE 2000 POUND BEE and DRIVING GUITARS (VENTURES TWIST), plus kitschy radio ads...no words can describe the amount of unbridled talent and pure fun packed into these twenty nine tracks.

RATING: FOUR GUITARS



THE BEATER GOES ON

BILLY VERA & THE BEATERS-BY REQUEST:

White soul man BILLY VERA had been knockin' around the music scene since the sixties when the 1987 belly-rubber AT THIS MOMENT made him an "overnight star". Besides composing material for the likes of RICKY NELSON and FATS DOMINO, he scored his own 1967 hit STORYBOOK CHILDREN in a duet with STAX singer JUDY CLAY. BY REQUEST is basically a reissue of his lost 1981 horn band album BILLY & THE BEATERS...it might have remained "lost" had TV series FAMILY TIES not appropriated the poignant ballad AT THIS MOMENT a few years later, giving VERA a belated chart topper. The rest of BY REQUEST is a mix of smooth-but-not-sticky love songs mixed with fun and funky fare like VERA's own MILLI MAKE SOME CHILI and I CAN TAKE CARE OF MYSELF, plus a nifty remake of THE MARATHONS oldie PEANUT BUTTER. He has continued as a working musician, actor, occasional TV jingle singer (the agreeable KING OF QUEENS theme), and oldies historian, providing liner notes for CD reissues not unlike the late CUB KODA did. As a multi-tasking musical talent, BILLY VERA's pretty hard to "beat".

RATING: FOUR MOMENTS



VILLAGE PEEP-HOLE

VILLAGE PEOPLE-THE MILLENNIUM COLLECTION:

Vying with their CASABLANCA label-mates KISS as the most famous costumed group of the seventies, THE VILLAGE PEOPLE outlasted the glut of disco's faceless one hitters via a campy trio of "buddy" anthems that still fill dance floors several decades later. The humor-laced brainchild of flamboyant producer/songwriter JAQUES MORALI, gruff lead singer VICTOR WILLIS (the "cop") was backed by a struttin' chorus line of manly stereotypes that included a cowpoke, an injun, a G.I., a biker, and a construction worker. MACHO MAN, YMCA and IN THE NAVY were unabashed shout-along smashes reeking of sweat, brotherhood, and fist-pumpin' beats, while their lesser known odes to exotic locales SAN FRANCISCO, KEY WEST and IN HOLLYWOOD coasted on similar gleeful bombast. Things petered out quickly by the time new lead singer RAY SIMPSON joined the fray for the overconfident dud READY FOR THE EIGHTIES and the title theme to their much maligned cash-in flick CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC. But while it lasted, THE VILLAGE PEOPLE provided a swaggering, kitsch-encrusted, wink-wink nudge-nudge soundtrack to a non-stop "you had to be there" party.

RATING: THREE COSTUMES



ABOVE AVERAGE JOE

JOE WALSH-LITTLE DID HE KNOW:

Whether fronting his underrated power trio the JAMES GANG, pursuing an intermittently successful solo career, or adding heft to THE EAGLES' country-rock output, a twisted, self-depreciating sense of humor and meaty six string hooks have always been the linchpins of JOE WALSH's signature sound. On the cleverly titled compilation LITTLE DID HE KNOW, earthy JAMES GANG jams FUNK #49 and WALK AWAY segue way righteously into the vocoder-enhanced groover ROCKY MOUNTAIN WAY and the tongue in cheek celebrity saga LIFE'S BEEN GOOD, his best loved seventies efforts. WALSH's nasally, one of a kind vocals are a perfect match for the campy sing along ORDINARY AVERAGE GUY and THE CONFESSOR, a menacing, proggy guitar jam of histrionic proportions. No EAGLES tunes are present here, not even the sublime cult classic IN THE CITY they purloined from JOE (it originally appeared on THE WARRIORS soundtrack)...no matter, with cleverly crafted ditties like LIFE OF ILLUSION and ALL NIGHT LONG on board, LOOK WHAT I DID is really a collection to brag about.

RATING: FOUR WINKS

"THIS MEANS WAR"

WAR-THE HITS:

Surprisingly, this is the first CD collection to gather up virtually every one of WAR's organic jazz-funk-rock hits on a single platter...previous efforts including THE BEST OF WAR AND MORE wrongly omitted stone classics like GYPSY MAN and THE WORLD IS A GHETTO in favor of filler. The 2010 release THE HITS unfurls eleven of their even dozen Top 40 singles, (in blessed chronological order to boot), the lively instrumental BELLARO being the only missing hit. It's not easy to pick highlights from a band this consistent, but their spicy ERIC BURDON collaboration SPILL THE WINE, the reflective chant SLIPPIN' INTO DARKNESS, and the disco-laced final chart entry GALAXY are all powerful contenders. WAR was a democracy, with everyone sharing vocal and songwriting duties...PAPA DEE ALLEN's expressive percussion workouts, LEE OSKAR's slinky harmonica blasts and CHARLES MILLER's sublime woodwinds were but three important components of the band's unique rhythmic vibe. In lieu of the more comprehensive, but more expensive double set THE VERY BEST OF WAR, THE HITS is exactly what it says...which is all most fans of this street-smart, celebratory ensemble will need to get their jam on.

RATING: FIVE JAM BANDS


WAR! ONE THING IT'S GOOD FOR...

WAR-THE VERY BEST OF WAR:

WAR was one of the leading ensembles of the 70s, a multi-talented group of diverse players who seamlessy mixed RNB, jazz, rock, and funk for their unique slab o' sunshine vibe, scoring huge radio hits in the process. Their ERIC BURDON-helmed debut smash SPILL THE WINE is a master-slice of laid back island soul, irresistible singalong CISCO KID percolates with raucous Latino festiveness, and the reflective anthem WHY CAN'T WE BE FRIENDS finds all seven members of the group trading off on freewheeling vocals. Not convinced yet? How 'bout the gritty social relevance of THE WORLD IS A GHETTO, the ominous jam band splendor of GYPSY MAN, and that all time groove-humper/booty-bumper LOW RIDER? This very necessary double disc collects all of these WAR-horses and too many other cult classic cornerstones to name, in chronological order no less...the better for the listener to soak up their earthy, party-hearty vibe and gasp at regular intervals, "Wow, they did THAT one TOO?"

RATING: FIVE FIESTAS

HEART & SOUL

DIONNE WARWICK ANTHOLOGY 1962-1969:

RHINO RECORDS's expertly assembled ANTHOLOGY 1962-1969 covers Jersey chanteuse DIONNE WARWICKE's peak years, when her soulful pop chops were in perfect alignment with BURT BACHARACH and HAL DAVID's endless batch of lushly romantic compositions. Always that prolific duo's most effective mouthpiece, WARWICK's emotionally intense, elegant delivery put across bittersweet ballads DON'T MAKE ME OVER (her first biggie), WALK ON BY and ALFIE. She also excelled at upbeat blockbusters like DO YOU KNOW THE WAY TO SAN JOSE and I'LL NEVER FOLLOW IN LOVE AGAIN, AM radio gemstones bathed in lush, muted arrangements. Although she made occasional comebacks via the brilliant SPINNERS duet THEN CAME YOU (her lone chart topper) and MOR eighties hits penned by BARRY MANILOW and ISAAC HAYES, DIONNE WARWICK's legendary association with BACHARACH/DAVID remain high water marks for both parties.

RATING: FIVE MESSAGES TO MICHAEL

WAS UP!

WAS (NOT WAS)-PICK OF THE LITTER 1980-2010:

It's no surprise that the parenthetically named WAS (NOT WAS) hail from Detroit, land of THE FOUR TOPS, IGGY POP and BROWNSVILLE STATION (whose guitarist BEEZER NAZARIAN also played in WNW)...after all, their avant garde, quirky-jerky brand of funk rock was an amalgamation of all those artists and more. Lorded over by the irreverent DAVID and DON WAS, these cats pumped out sardonic narratives and blistering grooves featuring soul blaring belters SWEET PEA ATKINSON and SIR HARRY BOWEN, as well as cameos from the likes of OZZY OSBOURNE and MEL TORME. Slyly engaging tidbits include the irresistible KNOCKED DOWN MADE SMALL (TREATED LIKE A RUBBER BALL) from the sorely underrated BORN TO LAUGH AT TORNADOS, club hit SPY IN THE HOUSE OF LOVE and effervescent dance track WALK THE DINOSAUR. Too bad the compilers left off blue eyed soul smasher MITCH RYDER's incendiary BOW WOW WOW WOW WOW though. The WAS brothers' insatiable bizarre-o world vision may not suit every taste...but it's a hoot to belly up to the smorgasbord.

RATING: FOUR WAS'S

MUD SLINGER

MUDDY WATERS-THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION:

Discovered in 1941 Mississippi by music historian ALAN LOMAX, MUDDY WATERS' career spanned five decades...his prowess as a singer, songwriter, slide guitarist, and bandleader proved an incalculable influence on everyone from ERIC CLAPTON and THE ALLMANS to PAUL RODGERS and JOHNNY WINTER. A cursory scan of the titles on CHESS RECORDS' DEFINITIVE COLLECTION, most penned by MUDDY or top tunesmith WILLIE DIXON, reveals a greasy treasure trove of endlessly covered acoustic and electrified chestnuts...ROLLIN' STONE (from which MICK & KEEF coined their band's very name), HOOCHIE COOCHIE MAN, FORTY DAYS & FORTY NIGHTS, I JUST WANT TO MAKE LOVE TO YOU and YOU SHOOK ME, a slow burner that LED ZEPPELIN appropriated as their own. Many musicians that passed through MUDDY's top notch bands eventually achieved success on their own...LITTLE WALTER, JIMMY ROGERS, OTIS SPAN, PINETOP PERKINS, JUNIOR WELLS, JAMES COTTON...but it's the undisputed mojo man himself whose staggering legacy virtually defines Chicago Blues.

RATING: FIVE MOJOS WORKIN'

"MOTHER LODE"

JOHNNY GUITAR WATSON-THE BEST OF JOHNNY GUITAR WATSON/GANGSTER OF LOVE:

Long before transforming himself into a popular pimp-dressing funk star during his successful seventies reincarnation, JOHNNY GUITAR WATSON was best known for the psychedelicized blues lick-spewing instrumental SPACE GUITAR, his cocky cult classic GANGSTER OF LOVE (a phrase that RNB fan STEVE MILLER copped from him), and the belly-rubbing ballad CUTTIN' IN. JGW's engaging talk-sing style and down 'n dirty, raw-boned axe work found an even bigger audience via 1977's monster single (and scathing social commentary) A REAL MOTHER FOR YA, which netted him his first Top Twenty album on the pop charts. Swaggering comparisons to THE LONE RANGER, TARZAN and SUPERMAN permeate other playful BEST OF tracks, while the comic rap TELEPHONE BILL, jazzy I NEED IT, and disco-laced BOOTY OOTY all mine fields above and beyond the call of funk. Suffice to say that an innovator like JGW never got stuck in any one groove for very long, always experimenting to satisfy both himself and his fan loyal base via his trick-bag of highly creative, mind-blowing excursions.

RATING: FOUR SCATS

DON'T RUSH THE GOOD THINGS

BOB WELCH-GREATEST HITS:

Six stringer/soulful singer Bob Welch bridged the musical gap betwixt Fleetwood Mac's Peter Green-helmed blooze-saturated beginning and the snappy, crackly pop of the Lindsey Buckingham/Stevie Nicks mega-years. Best remembered for Big Mac's mesmerizing chestnut HYPNOTIZED and the sublime original version of SENTIMENTAL LADY, WELCH scored straight out of the solo chute via the ethereal album FRENCH KISS. That exquisitely crafted debut boasted a smartly streamlined LADY remake (featuring warm vocal colorization from Christine McVie, who also figured prominently on the original), plus the infectious follow up hits EBONY EYES and HOT LOVE, COLD WORLD. Later discs yielded diminishing returns, although the irresistibly hook-laden THREE HEARTS and the Pop 40 shoe-in PRECIOUS LOVE remain pristine highlights in his catalogue of coolly rendered chestnuts. Welch may be a "Where Are They Now" candidate these days, but this all too brief anthology showcases an underrated rebel rouser who had integrity, charm, and chops to spare.

RATING: THREE HEARTS

THE WETTER THE BETTER

WET WILLIE-THE BEST OF WET WILLIE:

One of southern rock's best kept secrets, the blooze/rock/country/gospel/(insert musical genre here) ensemble Wet Willie never scaled the commercial heights of their Capricorn label-mates the Allman Brothers or Marshall Tucker...but not for lack of talent. The pleasurable reggae-tinged romper KEEP ON SMILIN' is the only bona fide smash on this rowdy roundup, but don't let that phase you. Sanctifyin' lead vocal wailer, sax/harp blaster Jimmy Hall gooses these boogie boys through savory STAX-channeled RNB shouters like Otis Redding's frantic SHOUT BAMALAMA and LITTLE MILTON's GRITS AIN'T GROCERIES with unfiltered, authentic soul power. Their own earthy compositions such as instrumental workout RED HOT CHICKEN, twanger-banger DIXIE ROCK, and funk infested stew EVERYTHING THAT 'CHA DO WILL COME BACK TO YOU help keep the party hale 'n hearty. Though they scored a couple of slick minor hits (STREET CORNER SERENADE, WEEKENDS) a few years later for another record company, BEST OF is still the best place to start Wettin' your appetite for Willie.

RATING: FIVE WET ONES



THE WETTER THE BETTER

WET WILLIE-GREATEST HITS:

One of southern rock's best kept secrets, the blooze/rock/country/gospel/(insert musical genre here) ensemble known as Wet Willie never scaled the commercial heights of their Capricorn label-mates the Allman Brothers or Marshall Tucker...but not for lack of talent! The pleasurable reggae-tinged romper KEEP ON SMILIN' is the only bona fide smash on this rowdy roundup, but don't let that phase you. Sanctifyin' lead vocal wailer, sax/harp blaster Jimmy Hall gooses these boogie boys through savory STAX-channeled RNB shouters like Otis Redding's frantic SHOUT BAMALAMA and LITTLE MILTON's GRITS AIN'T GROCERIES with authentic soul power. Their own earthy compositions such as instrumental workout RED HOT CHICKEN, twanger-banger DIXIE ROCK, and funk infested stew EVERYTHING THAT 'CHA DO WILL COME BACK TO YOU keeps the party hale 'n hearty. Though they scored a couple of slicker minor hits (STREET CORNER SERENADE, WEEKENDS) a few years later for another record company, GREATEST HITS is still the best place to start Wettin' your appetite for Willie.

RATING: FIVE WET ONES

ALL WET

THE WET WILLIE BAND-HIGH HUMIDITY:

Many of the rock's greatest acts are literally defined by their frontman. Imagine the mighty J. GEILS BAND minus PETER WOLF; they tried it for one crash-and-burn album and it wasn't pretty. An apt comparison is the WET WILLIE BAND, who are rudderless on this live outing without sassy soul preacher JIMMY HALL, a triple threat on lead vocals, sax, and blues harp. Although siblings JACK and DONNA HALL are still present on bass and righteous backing vocals, along with a couple of other legit WET WILLIE members, it don't mean a thang if it ain't got the "tang". New guitarist/singer RIC SEYMOUR can't compete with the master on funky classics STREET CORNER SERENADE, LEONA and KEEP ON SMILIN', so they come off like a competent bar band, which is what they probably would have remained without HALL's flash and riveting persona in the first place. Incidentally, JIMMY HALL, who's jammed with evreybody from DICKIE BETTS and HANK JR. to JEFF BECK, still performs with WET WILLIE on occasion...but without him, there's no mojo workin'. If you wanna hear what these cats could accomplish on a stage in their hey-day, stick with DRIPPIN' WET LIVE or LEFT COAST LIVE, tasty time capsules of WET WILLIE's signature blues, rock and southern soul mix.

RATING: TWO DRIPS

GET WET!

WET WILLIE-KEEP ON SMILIN':

The most musically diversified of the entire southern rock brethren, Mobile, Alabama's criminally underrated WET WILLIE (named for the children's prank of moistening a finger and sticking it in a playmate's ear) plied an endless good time groove that incorporated down 'n dirty blooze, good time gospel and country twang. Best remembered for their lone Top Ten single, the reggae-spiced anthem KEEP ON SMILIN', their third studio album of the same name also boasted the fiery funk slice LUCY WAS IN TROUBLE, churchy rave up TRUST IN THE LORD and "shoulda been a hit" COUNTRY SIDE OF LIFE, all rendered in crisp, majestic style by JIMMY HALL (who doubled on hot sax and harmonica), one of the seventies' most talented front men. The aptly titled SOUL SISTER, belted out by THE WILLIETTES (which included JIMMY's salty sibling DONNA), and the jazz stoked instrumental IN OUR HEARTS are further down home delights; if nothing else, KEEP ON SMILIN's short 'n sweet slices of blue eyed soul provided a nifty alternative to the more predictable good ol' boy boogie jams of THE ALLMANS and SKYNYRD.

RATING: FOUR SMILES



PILLOW TALK

BARRY WHITE-ALL TIME GREATEST HITS:

Plus-sized soul maestro BARRY WHITE, who pumped out numerous chart-humpers in his seventies hey-day, was a writer/conductor/singer/musician boasting a rumbling, deeper-than-the-night set of pipes just made for seducing the fairer sex (you got it, baby). Besides helming the lush chart topping instrumental LOVE'S THEME with his LOVE UNLIMITED ORCHESTRA, WHITE oozed out a steady stream of silk-funk bearing long winded titles like I'M GONNA LOVE YOU JUST A LITTLE MORE BABY and YOU'RE THE FIRST, THE LAST, MY EVERYTHING, salacious boot-knockers dripping with stylish arrangements and his trademark spoken intros (that's right, darlin'). Even as the onslaught of disco nudged lighter weight RNB artists aside, WHITE kept scoring with the dance floor passion plays IT'S ECSTACY WHEN YOU LAY DOWN NEXT TO ME and YOUR SWEETNESS IS MY WEAKNESS. ALL-TIME GREATEST HITS lays out twenty sensuous bedtime stories from the one and only "Maestro of Love"...who could ask for more? (uh-huh, let's get it on).

RATING: FOUR MUMBLED ASIDES

HERE THEY GO AGAIN

WHITESNAKE-THE DEFINITIVE COLLLECTION:

A DEEP PURPLE spin-off featuring that group's third lead singer DAVID COVERDALE, WHITESNAKE began life as bloozey hard rockers, long before hair metal embraced their gradual changeover to a more chauvinistic, streamlined style. Their early, sublime treatment of BOBBY "BLUE" BLAND's aching AIN'T NO LOVE IN THE HEART OF THE CITY was stylistically a world away from the commerical belly-rubbing flash of HERE I GO AGAIN. Pretty boy belter COVERDALE, the band's only constant, unleashed ROBERT PLANT-inspired sex kitten purrs and macho wallbanger screams, backed by a faceless, big-haired "who's who" of lead guitarists on swaggering arena headknockers like FOOL FOR YOUR LOVING, SLOW AN' EASY and STILL OF THE NIGHT. However, it was the band's blatant, bombastic power balladry that became their real bread and butter; the video image of COVERDALE's ex-wife model TAWNY KITAEN splayed atop a sports car remains as indelible as any MTV moment. THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION lives up to its claim, spewing cock-rock of the highest order from a band who wasn't called WHITESNAKE for nuthin'.

RATING: FOUR HISSES



WHO'S BEST?

THE WHO-MY GENERATION/BEST OF THE WHO:

Britain's fave foursome of highly influential mods has released way more anthologies than they ever did studio albums, but this is one of their best single disc career roundups. Almost everything a casual Who fan might crave is here...peerless, stutter-perforated youth anthem MY GENERATION...Pete Townshend's wry word wrangler SUBSTITUTE...the vivid adolescent imagery of I'M A BOY and PICTURES OF LILY...twin hard rock peaks BABA O'REILLY (aka TEENAGE WASTELAND) and WON'T GET FOOLED AGAIN (featuring rock's best prolonged shriek ever) from the indispensable album WHO'S NEXT...and noble last gasp efforts WHO ARE YOU and YOU BETTER YOU BET. All the famed trademarks penetrate loudly and clearly here...Roger Daltry's strangled macho man howl...Pete Townshend's heatsinker power chording and intricate acoustic flourishes...the late, great, and never sedate rhythm section of John Entwistle and Keith Moon anchoring a sound akin to when dinosaurs roamed the planet. "LONG LIVE ROCK" was this band's unabashed motto, and what better anthology than the twenty track tease MY GENERATION/BEST OF THE WHO to pull off their cocky, theatrical, angst-riddled vision?

RATING: FIVE WINDMILLS



CHERRY PICKIN'

WILD CHERRY-WILD CHERRY:

Proof positive that white boys actually COULD play funky music, albeit briefly, WILD CHERRY's autobiographical smash single anchored this delightful debut of rockin' RNB and hard edged funk. Sassy female backing choruses and a four piece horn section fanned the flames of the core quartet, which boasted two gritty guitar slingers, lecherous lead belter/songsmith ROB PARISSI, and BRYAN BASSETT, who turned up down the road in new versions of MOLLY HATCHET and FOGHAT. Stone soul covers of WILSON PICKETT, MARTHA & THE VANDELLAS, and THE COMMODORES might sound silly in other hands, but WILD CHERRY slashed through 'em all with crass class, even if most of their originals didn't quite measure up. If ever the term "one hit wonder" defined an act, WILD CHERRY was it...but PLAY THAT FUNKY MUSIC was the "mutha like no other" in that vapid DISCO-drenched wasteland known as 1976.

RATING: FOUR HONKY CATS

CHERRY ON TOP

WILD CHERRY-PLAY THE FUNK:

This awkwardly titled compilation obviously shoulda been called PLAY THAT FUNKY MUSIC, after WILD CHERRY's soulful slab of a monster hit that even rock & roll fans could groove to. About half of their first (and best) album is here, grandly grinding against lesser known follow ups, notably the inevitable PLAY THAT FUNKY MUSIC cash-in BABY DON'T YOU KNOW (sample line: "Baby don't you know that the honky's got soul!"). Horny horns, THE CHERRY SISTERS' hot call-and-response backup, ROB PARISSI's macho growl and squealin' guitar licks defined this band's patented brand of so called "electrified funk"...to lump it in with disco would be an insult to their meatier, more venomous vibe. Even gutbucket covers of THE FOUR TOPS' IT'S THE SAME OLD SONG and WILSON PICKETT's 99 AND A HALF hit the mark here. The party peters out by the last two tracks, but hey...you can always go back and spin that indispensable "greatest hit"!

RATING: THREE CHERRY STEMS



JUNIOR HIGH

HANK WILLIAMS JR.-20 HITS:

Although not as expressive a belter or prolific a tunesmith as his legendary father (hell, who WAS?), HANK WILLIAMS JR. was, along with WILLIE and WAYLON, one of the most beloved components of country's so-called "outlaw" movement. 20 HITS is an imperfect hodgepodge of outspoken classics from HANK JR.'s rebel-rousin' reign, starting with a few syrupy ballads from his pre-kick ass era before jumping abruptly into BOCEPHUS barnburners like MOBILE BOOGIE, the banjo-punctuated DIXIE ON MY MIND, and the humor-laced lament ALL MY ROWDY FRIENDS HAVE SETTLED DOWN. Throughout his career HANK JR. proudly name checked his long gone daddy in tales like FAMILY TRADITION and WHISKEY BENT AND HELL BOUND, also tackling many chestnuts from his peerless songbook. Trouble is, too many big hits are missing here, including macho sing alongs HONKY TONKIN', THERE'S A TEAR IN MY BEER, and ALL MY ROWDY FRIENDS ARE COMIN' OVER TONIGHT. These spirited twang-soul shots should have gotten the nod over the mellow, string-laden ditties he tackled as a young man, on which he sounds like a completely different artist (and he was).

RATING: THREE BULLETS

SONNY DAZE

SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON-HIS BEST:

Large, imposing and notoriously ill-natured, SONNY BOY WILIAMSON II (who infamously appropriated his identity from the original SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON) fostered a dirty down home country blues sound that butted playful humor up against outright menace. Nestled somewhere between MUDDY WATERS' laid back delivery and HOWLIN' WOLF's coarse shout, the former RICE MILLER's primitive talk-sing growl and repertoire of harmonica squawls and bleats bolstered the moody gems FATTENING FROGS FOR SNAKES, HELP ME and DONT START ME TO TALKIN'. A marked influence not only on RNB harp blasters from JUNIOR WELLS to JUNIOR PARKER, SONNY BOY also permeated the rock & roll set, jamming (sometimes reluctantly) with staunch admirers THE ANIMALS and THE YARDBIRDS, while THE ALLMANS and ZEPPELIN tackled ONE WAY OUT and BRING IT ON HOME from his vast catalogue. WILLIAMSON may not always be mentioned in the same breath as MUDDY and THE WOLF, but this well appointed collection from the CHESS vaults proves he possessed just as much power and conviction as his legendary label mates.

RATING: FIVE CONFRONTATIONS

WINTER OF OUR DISC'S CONTENT...

EDGAR WINTER-ANTHOLOGY:

As a quickie introduction to jazz/rock/blooze maestro Edgar Winter's 70s output, this is a servicable collection, tracking most of his best loved numbers including jam band juggernaut FRANKENSTEIN and the RNB-saturated screamfest TOBACCO ROAD, which effectively blots other (very good) versions by LOU RAWLS, WAR and RARE EARTH from memory. Winter has always been generous about sharing the spotlight with other band members; two lesser known Dan Hartman-sung tunes, RIVER'S RISIN' and HANGIN' AROUND, are decent successors to the better known blue eyed soul classic FREE RIDE, while leather-lunged WHITE TRASH belter JERRY LACROIX churns out a truly explosive cover of OTIS REDDING's sweat-heavy showstopper CAN'T TURN YOU LOOSE. In lieu of the longer, more comprehensive EDGAR WINTER COLLECTION, this budget-priced ANTHOLOGY is a budget-minded avenue to for casual fans to pursue Winter's lifelong credo...KEEP PLAYIN' THAT ROCK 'N ROLL.

RATING: THREE FUNKY WHITE BOYS

OH YOU KID

EDGAR WINTER-NOT A KID ANYMORE:

EDGAR WINTER's first album of the 90s (after an eight year lay-off, during which he concentrated on session work), is a decent, if hardly essential entry on the Texas talent's lengthy resume, featuring an oddly sterile looking album cover and music to match. On the plus side, the passionate ballad BROTHER'S KEEPER is dedicated to his geetar-slingin' sibling Johnny, the bloozey BIG CITY WOMAN reels off with acoustic front porch ease, and WAY DOWN SOUTH is a funky ditty from the JOE PESCI film fave MY COUSIN VINNY. On the downslope, I WANTA ROCK comes off as an arena anthem wannabe (possibly Def Leppard lite?), and an anemic retread of Winter's chart topping creature-feature FRANKENSTEIN seems an unwise resurrection of former glories. Much of what's left lacks the gritty soul power of his horn driven White Trash hey-day or the slam bang conviction of the hard rockin' Edgar Winter Group. Winter's obviously released much better work over the years...but hey, none of us are kids anymore.

RATING: TWO FREE RIDES

UP WITH "PEOPLE"

EDGAR WINTER-PEOPLE MUSIC:

Hers's a real rarity in the overcrowded world of Edgar Winter compilations...no FRANKENSTEIN or FREE RIDE to be found within these grooves. Eschewing his most obvious efforts, the budget collection PEOPLE MUSIC gathers up lesser known gems from this multi-talent's highly regarded 70s albums. ROUND AND ROUND is a pure country twanger bestowed with a clean, convincing vocal from Winter, GIVE IT EVERYTHING YOU GOT showcases his WHITE TRASH days with funk-infested RNB grease and grit, and LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL is a rip-snortin' snootful of rockin' soul with blooze brother JOHNNY WINTER. The rollicking title piece, belted by EDGAR WINTER GROUP member DAN HARTMAN, is a seldom heard "keeper", even if the ballad SOMEONE TAKE MY HEART AWAY goes on a bit too long. The musical variety on display here (including gospel, jazz and even disco) adds up to a first class listening party; PEOPLE MUSIC is an appropriate title for listeners who are ready, willing, and able to think outside the Top 40 box.

RATING: THREE SMOOTH MOVES

STAR TREK

EDGAR WINTER-STANDING ON ROCK:

By the dawn of the 80s, genre-fusing Texan EDGAR WINTER had already scored critical notices via his horn-blasted RNB band WHITE TRASH and chart-topping commercial success with the harder rocking EDGAR WINTER GROUP, whose members included six string slammers RONNIE MONTROSE and RICK DERRINGER. Showcasing one of his best album covers ever, STANDING ON ROCK finds him employing a sci-fi/outer space stance, seemingly a logical showcase for his high tech synthesizer excursions. Trouble is, WINTER has always shone brightest when balanced in the writing and singing departments by a fellow blue eyed soulman like JERRY LACROIX or DAN HARTMAN. STAR GARBAGE may be a dumb-fun funk-fest laden with kitschy soundbites and ROCK & ROLL REVIVAL an earthy throwback, but MARTIANS is merely his solid gold jam FRANKENSTEIN played sideways, an even more blatant retread than the instrumental CHAINSAW on a previous album. A guest cameo or two from DERRINGER or bloozey brother JOHNNY WINTER might have goosed the proceedings into the stratosphere...but as is, STANDING ON ROCK remains frustratingly earthbound.

RATING: THREE SATELLITES



WHITE HOT WINTER!

EDGAR WINTER/WHITE TRASH-ROADWORK:

Recorded live at legendary venues the Apollo Theater and the Whiskey a Go-Go, ROADWORK is a raw, blistering, white hot collection of rock/R&B/jazz/gospel barnburners as only the horn-heavy Edgar Winter's White Trash could administer it. Sax/keys soulman Winter trades screamin' call and response with co-vocalist Jerry La Croix, while ace axeman Rick Derringer conjures up riff after righteous riff. Unbelievably, the party gets even better when Edgar utters the immortal line, "People keep askin' me...where's your brother?" That signals the entrance of Johnny Winter, the whitest man to ever play the blooze, and a ballsy rip through ROCK AND ROLL HOOCHIE KOO. Other tone-kool covers include a particularly maniacal BACK IN THE USA, on which Derringer erases umpteen other versions from memory with the flick of a pick, and Jerry La Croix out-Otis-ing Otis Redding himself on the frantic CAN'T TURN YOU LOOSE. But the real wopper-bopper-show-stopper is Edgar's 17 minute scat-fest annihilation of TOBACCO ROAD, a sweat-soaked showpiece from his early days working in Johnny's band. The highlights are rewarding and constant on ROADWORK...the only time the fun stops is during the the brief spaces between tracks!

RATING: FIVE JIVE, JIVE, JIVES

WHITE LIGHTNING

EDGAR WINTER/RICK DERRINGER-TAKE TWO:

Here's a perfectly natural pairing of musical semi-legends; axe whiz Derringer served time in the Edgar Winter Group and White Trash, both helmed by multi-instrumentalist blooze rocker Edgar Winter. This budget minded "two acts for the price of one" platter is a decent, if far too brief sampling of each artists' biggest hits...monster jam FRANKENSTEIN, the earphone melting ROCK & ROLL HOOCHIE KOO, and blue eyed soul smash FREE RIDE are merely the best known among them. Like most compilations, this one isn't perfect...Winter's raw RNB-drenched epic TOBACCO ROAD is the short studio version instead of the legendary live jam from the incendiary WHITE TRASH disc ROADWORK, and Derringer's chart topping HANG ON SLOOPY, orignally done with his teenaged band the McCoys is replaced by a strange reggae-fied take instead. These are minor quibbles; TAKE TWO is an affordable, concise roundup of two of the better players in the 70s rock 'n roll game.

RATING: THREE HOOCHIE KOOS

SHOCK & ROLL

THE EDGAR WINTER GROUP-SHOCK TREATMENT:

After the platinum success of their dynamic debut THEY ONLY COME OUT AT NIGHT, THE EDGAR WINTER GROUP fought off the dreaded "sophomore slump" with SHOCK TREATMENT, an almost as powerful sequel. Featuring some of the most glam-inspired cover art of its day, their second album was (like its predecessor) actually a potpourri of styles ranging from gritty RNB and sparkling pop to hard charging boogie rock. Astute axe handler RICK DERRINGER, who'd produced and played on the debut, proved a more than ample replacement for the departed RONNIE MONTROSE. Another secret weapon was multi-instrumentalist/blue eyed soul belter DAN HARTMAN, who wrote and sang lead on many of the best tracks including the rockin' warning sign RIVER'S RISIN'(which just nicked the Top 40) and the smooth SUNDOWN. Sax wailin' band leader EDGAR WINTER weighed in with jazzy, laid back vocals on EASY STREET, the polar opposite of the speaker-distorting screamer ANIMAL, a creature-feature cousin to his chart topping jam FRANKENSTEIN. Criminally ignored by early seventies radio, the underrated SHOCK TREATMENT is probably the best early seventies album that many folks never got to hear.

RATING: FOUR ZAPS

THE HOTTEST WINTER ON RECORD!

THE EDGAR WINTER GROUP-THEY ONLY COME OUT AT NIGHT:

The EDGAR WINTER GROUP amounted to a "supergroup", even though no one knew it at the time. Multi-instrumentalist WINTER had previously led the horn-accentuated RNB outfit White Trash, notably on the classic concert jamfest ROADWORK. Guitarist RONNIE MONTROSE was soon to form popular hard rock outfit MONTROSE with future star SAMMY HAGAR. Producer/axeman/former MCCOYS member RICK DERRINGER had tenured with both EDGAR and JOHNNY WINTER in various bands. Bassist/co-lead vocalist DAN HARTMAN went on to enjoy solo smashes INSTANT REPLAY and I CAN DREAM ABOUT YOU, as well as creating JAMES BROWN's eighties comeback LIVING IN AMERICA. With all that talent in one lineup, it's hardly a shock that THEY ONLY COME OUT AT NIGHT netted the catchy cult classic HANGIN' AROUND...slick blue eyed soul smash FREE RIDE, belted and composed by HARTMAN...and the million selling monster instrumental hit FRANKENSTEIN, so christened due to its much edited/"stitched together" properties. These genre-hoppin' cats also knew their way around a Latin-tinged tune like ALTA MIRA, the country twang of ROUND AND ROUND, and rock and roll boogie woogie blues, naming one ditty exactly that. WINTER's blooze-on-fire wail of a voice, searing sax, and inventive synth riffs fused smartly with HARTMAN's pop sensibilities and RICK and RONNIE's guitar hero antics, making NIGHT impossible to top. None of them, alone or together, ever did.

RATING: FIVE STIFFS

MONSTER MASH

EDGAR WINTER-THE EDGAR WINTER COLLECTION:

Blooze rockin' Texan Edgar Winter's COLLECTION only contains a pair of bona fide hit singles, the chart topping instrumental freak-out FRANKENSTEIN and the catchy blue eyed soul gem FREE RIDE (composed and sung by Edgar Winter Group member Dan Hartman)...but that's hardly the point. The highly respected keyboardist/sax man dabbles easily in country (ROUND & ROUND) high grade RNB (the 17 minute workout TOBACCO ROAD), brass-kickin' rock (KEEP PLAYIN' THAT ROCK & ROLL), earthy funk (WE ALL HAD A REAL GOOD TIME) and other genres on this generous compilation. After sampling this flashy potpourri of rootsy musical styles, new fans are advised to check out the original albums ROADWORK, a blistering live outing by Edgar's legendary soul revue White Trash, and the glam-jammin' seventies milestone THEY ONLY COME OUT AT NIGHT. There's so much more to Winter than his top 40 hits, and the fifteen slabs of good time groove-ology found on COLLECTION make for a fitting tribute to the depth and breadth of his talents.

RATING FIVE SYNTHS

PAIR OF ACES

EDGAR & JOHNNY WINTER-TOGETHER:

Stone soul siblings JOHNNY and EDGAR WINTER's lone album length project as a duo, 1976's incendiary TOGETHER ranks as one of the era's most enjoyable concert capsules in an era crammed with 'em. Blasting out of the gate via the funky BOB & EARL gemstone HARLEM SHUFFLE, the original "blues brothers" also bang their way through SAM & DAVE's crack STAX slab SOUL MAN in a manner JAKE & ELWOOD could only dream about. Another party peak is reached via the massive ROCK & ROLL MEDLEY, a nine snippet roots of rock brouhaha which cuts lickety split between the boys belting their brains and hearts out on LITTLE RICHARD, CHUCK BERRY and ELVIS oldies. With various alumni (notably RICK DERRINGER, RANDY JO HOBBS and DAN HARTMAN) backing up EDGAR's searing sax volleys and JOHNNY's guitar guru histrionics, the undeniable spirit and infectious fun of TOGETHER culminates with the Crescent City classic LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL, DON COVAY's quintessential MERCY, MERCY and a juiced to the hilt eleven minute jam on JIMMY REED's BABY, WHAT YOU WANT ME TO DO. This is a rip snortin' rock & soul review from two Texas sized talents that will stomp flat any listener in its wake.

RATING: FIVE WHITE MANES



GREAT WHITE HOPE

JOHNNY WINTER-A ROCK N' ROLL COLLECTION:

Balls-out slide guitar slinger/whiskey voiced shouter JOHNNY WINTER has been around for so long it's easy to forget that he was a true blooze rock superstar long before fellow Texan STEVIE RAVE ON crashed onto the scene. A ROCK N' ROLL COLLECTION is a dynamic double dip into his landmark COLUMBIA platters such as SECOND WINTER, THE PROGRESSIVE BLUES EXPERIMENT and the scorchin' concert outing CAPTURED LIVE. Cover tunes heavily outweigh the originals, but WINTER's bread 'n butter has always been his soul-puncturing, neck-breakin' interpretations...the RAY CHARLES weeper DROWN IN MY OWN TEARS, an eleven minute juggernaut duet with brother EDGAR on JIMMY REED's BABY, WHATCHA WANT ME TO DO, and the wry DYLAN saga HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED. The raw, original version of ROCK & ROLL HOOCHIE COO (soon to become a hit for perpetual Winter Brothers collaborator RICK DERRINGER) and a rough 'n tumble romp through CHUCK BERRY's THIRTY DAYS also provide hyper blasts of six string nirvana. JOHNNY WINTER would later record more traditional roots music for respected labels like ALLIGATOR, but it's his CBS catalogue of bone-crunchin' classics on which his legacy will always rest.

RATING: FIVE TOP HATS

ONE MAN BAND

STEVE WINWOOD-REVOLUTIONS/THE VERY BEST OF STEVE WINWOOD:

Fans of STEVE WINWOOD's passionate blue eyed soul-rock will appreciate this solid collection that touches down upon his most successful projects, including three major bands and a string of solo smashes. British Invasion hit makers THE SPENCER DAVIS GROUP are represented by their two biggest singles, the oft covered chestnuts I'M A MAN and GIMME SOME LOVIN', on which the then teenaged WINWOOD emoted with the raw passion of RAY CHARLES. Next, TRAFFIC wrought grandiose jazz-prog glory via FM staples like DEAR MR. FANTASY and FORTY THOUSAND HEADMEN, while a one album liaison with ERIC CLAPTON yielded super group BLIND FAITH's lovely CAN'T FIND MY WAY HOME. The second half of REVOLUTIONS concentrates on STEVE's multitude of elegant eighties hits...euphoric chart topper HIGHER LOVE (with a lithe vocal assist from CHAKA KHAN), laid back beer commercial DON'T YOU KNOW WHAT THE NIGHT CAN DO and rollicking dance floor filler ROLL WITH IT. A gifted songwriter, guitarist and organist, STEVE WINWOOD has never offered anything less than his personal best during a half century in the limelight...REVOLUTIONS proves a stellar souvenir worthy of one of rock's greatest white soul men.

RATING: FIVE SOUL MEN

BILL COLLECTOR

BILL WITHERS-GREATEST HITS:

BILL WITHERS laid down a tone-cool music bag what was atypical of black seventies artists...his "folk-soul" showcased a stark, descriptive storyteller whose earnest voice was uncluttered by sweet backup singers and complicated studio arrangements. LEAN ON ME, AIN'T NO SUNSHINE and USE ME were thought-provoking bastions of AM radio bereft of fluff or blatant commercialism, while the lesser known GRANDMA'S HANDS and WHO IS HE WHAT IS HE TO YOU were equally poignant exercises in serenity and simplicity. WITHERS' later efforts included the smooth funk hit LOVELY DAY and JUST THE TWO OF US, a blockbuster romantic duet with jazz sax great GROVER WASHINGTON. CLUB NOUVEAU later scored a huge dance smash by remaking LEAN ON ME, while THE ISLEY BROTHERS, AL JARREAU, MESHELL NDEGEOCELLO, and various rappers covered or sampled his sublime songbook. GREATEST HITS serves as a basic BILL WITHERS sampler, ponying up all the tracks you know and love, plus a few nifty surprises from a wholly underrated artist.

RATING: FOUR MESSAGES



"EVERYTHING'S ALRIGHT!"

STEVIE WONDER-THE ULTIMATE COLLECTION:

Any STEVIE WONDER anthology that doesn't include IF YOU REALLY LOVE ME, DON'T YOU WORRY 'BOUT A THING and I AIN'T GONNA STAND FOR IT can't really be labeled "definitive", but the man has far too many hits to be contained to one platter anyway. This one does a pretty fair job reigning in most of the soul/pop genius' high points...including his teenaged breakthrough FINGERTIPS, the sixties classics UPTIGHT (EVERYTHING'S ALRIGHT) and MY CHERIE AMOUR, his poignant seventies social commentaries HIGHER GROUND and YOU HAVEN'T DONE NOTHIN', and eighties smashes THAT GIRL and I JUST CALLED TO SAY I LOVE YOU. WONDER's multi-instrumental prowess, urgent vocal pleas, and prolific songwriting (he tossed off biggies for THE SPINNERS, ARETHA, RUFUS, among others) shine vividly on the joyous SIGNED SEALED DELIVERED I'M YOURS, funk anthem SUPERSTITION, and name dropping swing era tribute SIR DUKE. If only the small handful of lesser tracks like HEY LOVE and OVERJOYED had been replaced with those missing hits, DEFINITIVE COLLECTION would be one stop shopping for casual STEVIE WONDER fans.

RATING: FIVE HARMONICA SOLOS



WOOD-SHEDDING:

RONNIE WOOD-ANTHOLOGY/THE ESSENTIAL CROSSEXION:

Guitar slinger RONNIE WOOD ("WOODY" to his mates) played bass in the influential JEFF BECK GROUP (where ROD STEWART got his singing break), helmed the rag-tag party band THE FACES with STEWART, and has been a ROLLING STONE since the eighties...he also kicked off a low key solo career with '74's aptly titled I'VE GOT MY OWN ALBUM TO DO. ANTHOLOGY's first disc scoops up groove-heavy covers of BOB DYLAN's SEVEN DAYS and GEORGE CLINTON's TESTIFY, the balls out JOSEPHINE, and reggae funk track I CAN FEEL THE FIRE, sparkling slabs featuring his coarse but engaging vocal croak, six string chops and exuberant slide work. The second CD showcases slam-bang psychedelicized bloozers with BECK, THE FACES' ribald cock-rocker STAY WITH ME and reflective OOH LA LA, ROD's superlative MAGGIE MAY and EVERY PICTURE TELLS A STORY, and a pair of ROLLING STONES obscurities. As an underrated side man or grinning band leader, RONNIE WOOD's tireless output over the past half decade is smartly summed up on THE ESSENTIAL CROSSEXION, a gloriously rewarding affair for fans and newcomers alike.

RATING: FIVE SHAG HAIRCUTS

STING-WRAY

LINK WRAY-RUMBLE! THE BEST OF LINK WRAY:

Behind his ever present dark shades and greased pompadour, LINK WRAY was the ultimate guitar hero of the fifties His incredibly raw and startlingly innovative instrumental work made him one of rock's biggest influences on six stringers from PETE TOWNSHEND and JEFF BECK to CUB KODA and JIMI HENDRIX. Slicing effortlessly into rockabilly, RNB and country, often during the same song, his signature thumper RUMBLE, had ominous, distorted power chord effects achieved by poking holes in an amp. WRAY's grungy echo-laden chops, stripper tempo selections and wry sense of humor (check out the kitschy spoken sound bites on BATMAN THEME) made ACE OF SPADES, JACK THE RIPPER and RAW-HIDE...his only Top Twenty single outside of RUMBLE...cult classics of the highest order. RHINO's gut punch tribute racks up slam bang sides from half a dozen labels, the better to display LINK WRAY's darkly hypnotic version of what early rock & roll sounded like in the mitts of one of its few true visionaries.

RATING: FIVE EARTHQUAKES

BLONDE AMBIITION

TAMMY WYNETTE-ANNIVERSARY/20 YEARS OF HITS:

The former VIRGINIA WYNETTE PUGH wrenched even more pure "been there done that" emotion and honky tonk heartache out of a song than her closest competition in the sixties/seventies, the considerably perkier LORETTA LYNN. Being hitched to GEORGE JONES (her frequent duet partner), proved the source of much angst, not to mention a stack of bar room weepers mostly penned by producer BILLY SHERRILL. JOHNNY PAYCHECK's first successful composition APARTMENT #9 was an early WYNETTE hit, followed by her career defining juggernauts STAND BY YOUR MAN and D-I-V-O-R-C-E, outstanding laments that virtually define the female twanger era. The popular phrases KIDS SAY THE DARNDEST THINGS and I DON'T WANNA PLAY HOUSE provided titles for other smashes that played on less than perfect domestic situations, while JONES injected a man's point of view on TWO STORY HOUSE and GOLDEN RING. The aching catch in that peerless voice, her depth of perception and an uncanny ability to spill her heart out at the drop of a Stetson more than earned TAMMY WYNETTE the title "First Lady of Country Music".

RATING: FIVE TEARDROPS

"X" MARKS THE SPOT

X-BEYOND & BACK/THE X ANTHOLOGY:

West coast alt rock pioneers X bordered on the fun side of the punk scene, right down to its band members' colorful names...aggressive axe annihilator BILLY ZOOM, bruising beatkeeper D. J. BONEBREAK and quirky, sneering leaders/vocalists JOHN DOE and EXENE CERVENKA. Mashing up a potent potion of psychobilly, RNB and twang, X's take-no-prisoners attitude pierced cult faves such as HUNGRY WOLF, RIDING WITH MARY and WE'RE DESPERATE, spearheaded by ZOOM's rapid fire riffs and the eclectic, gorgeously detached harmonies of CERVENKA and DOE. On the tasty covers side of things, the band's manic renditions of WILD THING (an arena-ready take that sounds exactly like JOAN JETT dropped it), The Killer's BREATHLESS and THE DOORS' SOUL KITCHEN were nods to their raucous roots. THE X ANTHOLOGY is riddled with outtakes, demos and live versions, making this double platter as much a rarities collection as a "greatest hits"...not that X, in the true tradition of punk, ever had any hits big enough to get sick of.

RATING: FIVE X'S

GRATING HITS

WEIRD AL YANKOVIC-THE ESSENTIAL WEIRD AL YANKOVIC:

No relation to polka king FRANK YANKOVIC, pop's supreme parodist WEIRD AL, who got his start sending homemade tapes to DR. DEMENTO's radio program, has enjoyed a career that's lasted longer than most bona fide rock stars. Disc one of ESSENTIAL is the real keeper, covering his outrageous eighties/nineties hey-day, including gate crashing cult classic ANOTHER ONE RIDES THE BUS, the gluttonous MICHAEL JACKSON retreads EAT IT and FAT, plus hilarious grunge slam SMELLS LIKE NIRVANA. What ISN'T funny is how many faves are inexplicably missing here...knuke the KNACK tribute MY BOLOGNA, the DESI ARNAZ-channeled RICKY, GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE LUNCH, LIVING WITH A HERNIA...especially considering there's over three dozen selections. On the second platter, the irrepressible, irreverent accordion mangler reboots everything from rap to eBay...a little of this stuff can go a long way, but for WEIRD AL fans (you know who you are), ESSENTIAL unleashes a double dose of unapologetic, junior high school level insanity as only the master can bring it.

RATING: THREE POODLE HATS



BLUES BIRDS

THE YARDBIRDS-GREATEST HITS VOL. 1/1964-1966:

Brit Invasion rockers THE YARDBIRDS spun off a titanic trio of future guitar gurus...blues purist ERIC CLAPTON, freak-out king JEFF BECK, and JIMMY PAGE, who launched LED ZEPPELIN from the band's ashes. Swaggering lead singer/harpist KEITH RELF's gravelly yowl stamped their two biggest pop hits FOR YOUR LOVE (dominated by guest BRIAN AUGER's slashing harpsichord rather than CLAPTON's axe work) and the menacing HEART FULL OF SOUL, both penned by 10cc's GRAHAM GOULDMAN. The quintet's dark, trippy soundscape also brandished freewheeling rave ups of HOWLIN' WOLF's SMOKESTACK LIGHTNING, BO DIDDLEY's I'M A MAN and TINY BRADSHAW's TRAIN KEPT A ROLLIN' (which 'BIRDS disciples AEROSMITH later tackled). It's a pity this otherwise superb RHINO compilation misses their landmark album ROGER THE ENGINEER and its seminal, group-penned singles OVER UNDER SIDEWAYS DOWN and HAPPENINGS TEN YEARS TIME AGO. More than any other sixties ensemble, THE YARDBIRDS bestowed the growling gusto of down 'n dirty RNB upon the masses, filtered through their hard rockin' psychedelic kaleidoscope.

RATING: FIVE FEATHERS

JUST SAY YES

YES-HIGHLIGHTS/THE VERY BEST OF YES:

One of the most successful and longest lived of all British prog rock acts, YES was a highly conceptual, album oriented group bent on tricky time signatures, elongated jams and cerebral subject matter. Complex early epics ROUNDABOUT, I'VE SEEN ALL GOOD PEOPLE and STARSHIP TROOPER are all here in their full length versions...beware though, LONG DISTANCE RUNAROUND fades out before its instrumental FISH coda...along with the band's streamlined later efforts OWNER OF A LONELY HEART, LEAVE IT and RHYTHM OF LOVE. Front man JON ANDERSON's elfin peals, RICK WAKEMAN's swirling space-rock keyboard solos and STEVE HOWE's theatrical guitar bursts set YES apart from the pack, although their lineup changed at least a dozen times over the decades. HIGHLIGHTS has the thankless task of sweating down their massive catalogue to only their best known radio staples, inevitably leaving out various fan faves, from their ethereal take on PAUL SIMON's AMERICA to their final hit LIFT ME UP. Rabid followers of YES will probably want to spring for their box set, which provides a much more complete picture of their sprawling, orchestrated rock & roll vision.

RATING: FOUR NODS

YOUNG MAN'S BLUES

NEIL YOUNG-DECADE:

NEIL YOUNG has been around forever it seems, pumping out albums in a wide variety of styles (everything from the rootsy HARVEST to TRANS' synthesized rock). This triple album set (two CDs) gathers crystalline moments from BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD, CROSBY, STILLS, NASH & YOUNG and his early solo career. DECADE encompasses straight country (HELPLESS, LOVE IS A ROSE), stark folk (I AM A CHILD, AFTER THE GOLD RUSH) and surging protest rock (OHIO, SOUTHERN MAN). YOUNG's only Top 40 hits, the winsome sagas HEART OF GOLD and OLD MAN are here, although many FM favorites, such as the harrowing THE NEEDLE AND THE DAMAGE DONE and roaring LIKE A HURRICANE are equally well known and loved. Tracking more or less chronologically from the SPRINGFIELD chestnuts BROKEN ARROW and MR. SOUL on through 1973's CINAMMON GIRL and finally, the short-lived STILLS/YOUNG BAND's LONG MAY YOU RUN, DECADE stands tall as one of the pivotal anthologies of its, or any era.

RATING: FIVE NASALLY TONES



DIE LAUGHING

GENIUS-THE BEST OF WARREN ZEVON:

Fans can carp about what's missing from this tight anthology (FRANK & JESSE JAMES, MOHAMMED'S RADIO, and I'LL SLEEP WHEN I'M DEAD off his incomparable debut alone), but GENIUS is still a fairly accurate barometer chronicling WARREN ZEVON's death-obsessed legacy of macabre mambos. Across-the-board biggie WEREWOLVES OF LONDON, exquisitely corroded master-stroke CARMELITA, and scalding SKYNYRD diss PLAY IT ALL NIGHT LONG bear up to repeated spins, the better to decipher ZEVON's darkly humorous, deliciously twisted wordplay. ROLAND THE HEADLESS THOMPSON GUNNER, DETOX MANSION and THINGS TO DO IN DENVER WHEN YOU'RE DEAD are as much sick fun as their titles imply, while covers of ALLEN TOUSSAINT's A CERTAIN GIRL and PRINCE's RASPBERRY BERET (the latter under the guise of would-be supergroup HINDU LOVE GODS) are fun, funky side trips. The best way to really appreciate ZEVON's seedy world view is via his dozen or so original albums, of course...but for the budget-minded, morbidly curious listener...GENIUS is a no-brainer.

RATING: FOUR GRIMACES

TOP DAWGS

ZZ TOP-CHROME SMOKE & BBQ:

This "big as Texas" box set, cleverly packaged in a dilapidated roadhouse (topped with a corrugated cardboard "tin roof" no less) ponies up an ear-grabbing cross-section of must-have moments from the bawdy boogie trio's multi-decade career. Undisputed down 'n dirty blooze saturated radio staples such as LA GRANGE, JUST GOT PAID, TUSH and I THANK YOU (the old SAM & DAVE ditty) rule the roost here, while GIMME ALL YOUR LOVIN' and SHARP DRESSED MAN represent the MTV-era pinnacle of their cheap sunglasses 'n biker beard popularity. The lesser known funky roots rockers SHE LOVES MY AUTOMOBILE, MEXICAN BLACKBIRD and FRANCINE are further swaggering slabs of southern soul sleaze awash in rotgut vocals and slippery axe work. Stylistically it's a long (albeit interesting) haul between BILLY GIBBONS' early garage/psyche band MOVNG SIDEWALKS to the synthetic dance floor groove of VELCRO FLY...but for fans who have never explored ZZ TOP beyond keystone albums like FANDANGO or ELIMINATOR, this four disc instant gratification kit is a platinum invitation to their beer drinkin'/hell raisin' "Planet Lone Star" throw down.

RATING: FIVE STETSONS

THAT'S JUST CRAZY

ZZ TOP-EL LOCO:

"That little ol' band from Texas"' sixth long-player EL LOCO continued the tradition of "south of the border" album titles, but little else familiar remained from the hard-churning blooze rock vision of TRES HOMBRES, FANDANGO or even the previous platter DEGUELLO. In place of the greasy bad-boy gravy ladled over previous staples TUSH and BEER DRINKERS AND HELL RAISERS are the sterile new wavey rhythm patterns of TUBE SNAKE BOOGIE, PEARL NECKLACE and PARTY ON THE PATIO, which are mostly devoid of BILLY GIBBONS' trademark sludge-axe solos and DUSTY HILL's funky southern rock vibe. Titles like HEAVEN, HELL OR HOUSTON, GROOVY LITTLE HIPPIE PAD and I WANNA DRIVE YOU HOME may have maintained TOP's wry sense of humor, but pointed less to the past than the slick MTV-ready direction taken on ELIMINATOR, which kicked off an unprecedented phase of popularity for the power trio. As a prequel to that gimmick-heavy, streamlined era, EL LOCO works...but for staunch fans of ZZ TOP's boogie-belchin' "old daze", everything makes a lot less sense.

RATING: THREE HOMBRES

ZZ'S TOP

ZZ TOP-FANDANGO!:

Although "That little old band from Texas" netted their first radio hit with the JOHN LEE HOOKER inspired boogie LA GRANGE a year before, FANDANGO!'s the pulsating blooze-rock platter that really put 'em on the map. A half live, half studio masterstroke, the stetson wearing power trio packs more wallop into fifteen minutes of stage time than most seventies bands achieved across a double album. Crushing covers of JAILHOUSE ROCK and the party hearty THUNDERBIRD are keepers, but the real highlight is a nine minute medley of ZZ's own BACKDOOR LOVE AFFAIR mind-melded to a jam packed throw down of LITTLE WALTER's MELLOW DOWN EASY featuring BILLY GIBBONS' hyperkinetic scatting. Side two offers up BILLY GIBBONS' sludgy as the Mississippi mud vocals on the humor-rimmed MEXICAN BLACKBIRD and DUSTY HILL's hoarse shout on funky border radio tribute HEARD IT ON THE X and that bawdy booty ode TUSH, rock & roll's mightiest two and a half minute slab since MOUNTAIN's MISSISSIPPI QUEEN. In the smoky haze of pre-MTV southern rock, ZZ TOP were already bona fide stars without having to resort to visual aids such as foot long beards, wrap around shades and tricked out hot rods.

RATING: FIVE HIGH'S



ZZ TOPPLES

ZZ TOP-GREATEST HITS:

Originally "That Li'l Ol Band From Texas" was a greasy power trio steeped in gutbucket southern bloozer rock which served their legions of fans admirably. Starting with the mega-selling ELIMINATOR, those infernal curses of rock and roll, the dreaded synthesizer and the sequencer, began to dominate their sound. A red hotrod, dark shades, gyrating "Top-ettes", and Rip Van Winkle beards completed their schtick in trade. If any or all elements of this MTV makeover appalls the RNB purist in you, then pick up a copy of THE BEST OF ZZ TOP, crank up JESUS JUST LEFT CHICAGO or BEER DRINKERS AND HELL RAISERS, and pretend these cats called it quits in 1982. Otherwise, read on...GREATEST HITS offers the interchangable SHARP DRESSED MAN and GIMME ALL YOUR LOVIN' as the best of their musical metamorphesis, while the nadir is represented by new wavey duds SLEEPING BAG and VELCRO FLY (the latter thankfully missing here). The classic booty ode TUSH, JOHN LEE HOOKER chug-fest LA GRANGE, and funky fashion statement CHEAP SUNGLASSES are welcome "oldies", but where's their soul-searin' cover of SAM AND DAVE's STAX chestnut I THANK YOU? A new version of VIVA LAS VEGAS, complete with Elvis soundbites, is either good or awful, depending on your tolerance for such stuff. In short, if you like your ZZ over the Top, GREATEST HITS is a no-brainer.

RATING: THREE RAZORS

VARIOUS ARTISTS COMPILATIONS...


MCCARTNEY-OKIE

THE ART OF MCCARTNEY-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

PAUL MCCARTNEY's legacy as one of rock's premiere songwriter/performers has long been established...in fact, there have been many decent interpretations of his work over the decades by artists such as ARETHA FRANKLIN, JOE COCKER and FATS DOMINO. THE ART OF MCCARTNEY is far too long, predictable and star-studded to be effective as a tribute, and might have come off better if it zeroed in on all BEATLES or all WINGS material, instead of both. Unabashed Fab Four disciples like JEFF LYNNE and CHEAP TRICK turn in faithful, but utterly faceless performances, this double platter's most common issue; only roots rock icons TOOTS HIBBERT, B. B.KING, WANDA JACKSON and WILLIE NELSON approach their assignments with anything resembling "re-boot". ALICE COOPER comes off surprisingly unrecognizable on ELEANOR RIGBY, BILLY JOEL has never sounded shabbier on his pair or turns at bat, and STEVE MILLER, while passable on JUNIOR'S FARM, transforms HEY JUDE into a drawn out, dung-encrusted joke. It's hard to accuse BOB DYLAN, DEF LEPPARD or KISS of anything other than mediocrity here...suffice to say, no one betters SIR PAUL at his own game...at least no one resurrected any MICHAEL JACKSON duets.

RATING: THREE WINGS

THAT'S THE SPIRIT!

ATOMIC COCKTAILS-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

As much a part of RNB's makeup as the "horizontal mambo", drinkin' ditties have always had a purpose. ATOMIC COCKTAILS serves up gleeful jump blues tributes to the wrath of grapes perfect for bending an elbow to at your favorite hole in the wall. Ivory tickler AMOS MILBURN's enduring anthem ONE BOURBON, ONE SCOTCH, ONE BEER was memorably appropriated by GEORGE THOROGOOD, while DAVE BARTHOLOMEW's hilarious WHO DRANK MY BEER WHILE I WAS IN THE REAR and PEPPERMINT HARRIS' I GOT LOADED became fodder for DAIVD JOHANSEN's lounge lizard alias BUSTER POINDEXTER. Rollicking top-poppers like the THE CLOVERS' ONE MINT JULEP, STICK MCGHEE's DRINKIN' WINE SPO-DEE-O-DEE and WYNONIE HARRIS' WHISKEY & JELLY ROLL BLUES keep the party well lubricated, and even noted smoothie NAT KING COLE gets into the spirit via the jazz-cool shadings of SCOTCHIN' WITH THE SODA. Last call belongs to irrepressible legend LOUIS JORDAN, whose WHAT'S THE USE OF GETTING SOBER WHEN YOU'RE GOING TO GET DRUNK AGAIN makes a fitting nightcap after soaking up two dozen rounds of "groove juice" heaven.

RATING: FIVE SWIZZLE STICKS

FUNKY CHOPS!

BARBECUE BLUES-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

When chillin' at the grill, what to pop on the sound system is almost as important as what goes on the fire. Here's a batch o' finger lickin' blooze tidbits to satisfy even the heartiest appetite. Fifteen invitin' entrees and spicy side dishes on this HOUSE OF BLUES menu will get your belly rumblin', your lips smackin' and your toes tappin'. Smokin' slabs of juke joint jammers and heapin' helpin's of meaty rhythms are served up by tasty legends from LOUIS JORDAN and PROFESSOR LONGHAIR to BARBECUE BOB and BESSIE SMITH. The junpin' jive of SATURDAY NIGHT FISH FRY and ribald ballad GIMME A PIGFOOT AND A BOTTLE OF BEER may be familiar fare, but more obscure snacks like ANDRE WILLIAMS' PASS THE BISCUITS PLEASE and EARL JACKSON's TAKE OUT THE SQUEAL IF YOU WANT A MEAL go down just as easy. Break out this sizzlin' platter at your next cookout, and be prepared to field requests from satisfied guests about the "ingredients". RED BEANS, ALLIGATOR MEAT, or CHICKEN GRAVY & BISCUITS anyone?...

RATING: FIVE SPARE RIBS

ONE-DERFUL

BARRY WILLIAMS PRESENTS ONE HIT WONDERS OF THE 70S-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

BARRY WILLLIAMS PRESENTS ONE HIT WONDERS OF THE 70S-VARIOUS ARTISTS: Like a classic K-TEL collection, ONE HIT WONDERS OF THE 70S ponies up a strong selection of those artists who cracked the TOP 40 just once, although several here infiltrated the HOT 100 with other singles. THE NIGHT CHICAGO DIED group PAPER LACE narrowly missed being a "two hit wonder" when their followup THE BLACK EYED BOYS stalled at number 41. White boy funk-rockers WILD CHERRY met a similar fate when BABY DON'T YOU KNOW, a dead ringer for the chart topping PLAY THAT FUNKY MUSIC, barely missed the 40 as well. Rather than the same old easy to find ditties like SEASONS IN THE SUN and PLEASE COME TO BOSTON, I'd love to see a platter spotlighting the lesser known sides of BREWER AND SHIPLEY (TARKIO ROAD), B.W. STEVENSON (AT THE STATION, and the original version of THREE DOG NIGHT's biggie SHAMBALA), and the STORIES' raw blue eyed soul efforts MAMMY BLUE and IF IT FEELS GOOD DO IT. As it stands, this is a decent indication of what AM radio sounded like in the "me decade", a sublime mix of pop rock, sweet soul, bubblegum, country, and disco...and that can never be a bad place to re-visit.

RATING: FOUR 8 TRACKS

BEACH BALL!

BEACH CLASSICS-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

Unlike most surf 'n sun compilations which tend to trot out many of the same old waterlogged ditties, BEACH CLASSICS throws down more than its share of (pardon the expression) interesting curves into the mix. Naturally, the two undisputed pioneers of the genre are represented...rare, embryonic versions of THE BEACH BOYS' SURFER GIRL and SURFIN' SAFARI and a hat trick of gnarly jams from "King of the Surf Guitar" DICK DALE more than make up for any missing JAN & DEAN staples and THE SURFARIS' drum-pummeling anthem WIPEOUT. The TRASHMEN's glorious pre-punk chestnut SURFIN' BIRD, THE TRADEWINDS' sublime NEW YORK'S A LONELY TOWN and motor head oldies like THE RIP CHORDS' HEY LITTLE COBRA and RONNY & THE DAYTONAS' G.T.O. represent the smash hit side of things...balanced out by obscure big wave instrumentals from THE FROGMEN, THE PYRAMIDS and THE HUSTLERS you'll probably never hear elsewhere. Informative liner notes (especially for a 1987 release) complete this instant pool party package...all the listener has to do is add water.

RATING: FOUR "SHOOT THE CURLS"

MAKE ME WANNA SHOUT!

BEG, SCREAM & SHOUT! THE BIG OL' BOX OF 60'S SOUL-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

Besides its clever, kitschy packaging...a colorful box resembling one of those 45s carrying cases you used to lug to neighborhood house parties...BEG, SCREAM & SHOUT! THE BIG OL' BOX OF 60'S SOUL is most impressive for the blessed number of forgotten singles and rarities mixed in with all the obvious stuff. Spread out over half a dozen CDs and nearly 150 tracks, all the soul hot spots including Chicago, Philly, Detroit and Memphis and legendary labels like MOTOWN, STAX, CHESS and ATLANTIC are amply represented, often by semi-obscure choices that will certainly make collectors happy. Seemingly everyone from the superstars (ARETHA, RAY CHARLES, AL GREEN, JAMES BROWN) to the vastly underrated (DOBIE GRAY, BILLY STEWART, AARON NEVILLE) to the one hitters get cued up for a freewheeling combo of street smart party pleasers and romantic belly rubbers...if you dig "old school" cool (and who doesn't?), this is your ticket to Soul City.

RATING: FIVE SHAKIN' TAILFEATHERS

NIFTY FIFTY

BIG BOSS MAN-THE VEE JAY STORY: VARIOUS ARTISTS:

Long before they released a few early BEATLES singles and signed THE FOUR SEASONS, VEE JAY RECORDS, formed in Gary, Indiana (home of the JACKSON 5), built their reputation on blues artists like JIMMY REED, JOHN LEE HOOKER and ELMORE JAMES and tight singing groups such as THE DELLS and THE SPANIELS. BIG BOSS MAN, named after one of REED's biggest hits, gathers up fifty solid tracks, including the pop smashes GENE CHANDLER's DUKE OF EARL, DEE CLARK's RAINDROPS, JERRY BUTLER's HE WILL BREAK YOUR HEART and GLADYS KNIGHT's EVERY BEAT OF MY HEART, as well as solid material from ROSCOE GORDON, MEMPHIS SLIM and a pre secular STAPLES SINGERS. Most artists are represented by two tracks, just enough to show off both sides of THE DELLS, whose legendary ballad OH WHAT A NIGHT contrasts sharply with their upbeat, incredibly catchy ZING ZING ZING. BIG BOSS MAN climaxes with the SPANIELS treasure GOODNIGHT SWEETHEART, GOODNIGHT, a fitting finale for fans of this hugely influential, criminally underrated label.

RATING: FIVE "V" FOR VICTORIES

PIECE OF HER HEART

BLUES DOWN DEEP:

SONGS OF JANIS JOPLIN-VARIOUS ARTISTS: It's a given that no modern day artist can hope to harness the raw, sanctifying soul power of JANIS JOPLIN, the greatest female RNB belter of all time. That said, the HOUSE OF BLUES label (who have turned out similar tributes to THE STONES, DYLAN, and AEROSMITH) offers sturdy, if not definitive interpretations of the Golden State growler's rousing catalogue. A number of the women featured are unparalleled performers in their own right, from blooze queens ETTA JAMES and KOKO TAYLOR to MOTHER EARTH singer TRACY NELSON and LOU ANN BARTON, best known for her saucy, seductive work with JIMMIE VAUGHAN. Underrated Memphis soul howlers OTIS CLAY and SYL JOHNSON tackle PIECE OF MY HEART and ME & BOBBY MCGEE respectively (the latter which everyone from ROGER MILLER to JERRY LEE LEWIS has already put their twist on), while the legendary TAJ MAHAL does stark justice to JOPLIN's folky composition MERCEDES BENZ. Suffice to say, if you love JANIS, you're in good company here.

RATING: THREE BALL & CHAINS

COLOR OF THE BLUES

BLUES GOLD-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

BLUES GOLD is an effective double disc history lesson in that purely American strain of music, rounding up over three dozen of the earthiest artists to ever pick up a guitar, harmonica, or microphone. Though Big Mama Thornton's HOUND DOG, John Lee Hooker's drone-fest ONE BOURBON, ONE SCOTCH, AND ONE BEER, and Howlin' Wolf's otherwordly SPOONFUL may be more familiar to the rock generation through covers by Elvis, George Thorogood, and Cream, no moss has grown on these classic hard-scrabble originals. Other roadhouse riches include Slim Harpo's I'M A KING BEE (which John Belushi and Dan Akroyd once performed on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE in actual bee outfits, foretelling their Blues Brothers future), soulman Bobby Bland's joyously turned out TURN ON YOUR LOVE LIGHT, and Stevie Rave On's prickly take on FLOOD DOWN IN TEXAS. Strangely, slide guitar guru Elmore James and the white tornado Johnny Winter are missing in action here...but overall, BLUES GOLD is a slam-bang affair, an all too rare example of truth in advertising.

RATING: FOUR MOJOS

"POP" MUSIC

BEST OF THE BUBBLEGUM YEARS-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

Bubblegum, that sticky sweet sixties concoction of frothy, repetitive pop and nursery rhyme rock was a profound influence on not only seventies glam artists SWEET and SLADE, but also the new wave of eighties acts like THE RAMONES, THE GO-GO'S and TALKING HEADS. While TOMMY JAMES & THE SHONDELLS and THE MONKEES have often been labeled "bubblegum", their music actually contained more style and substance than true kings of the genre. Being strictly a producer's medium, BEST OF THE BUBBLEGUM YEARS rounds up fourteen BUDDAH/KAMA SUTRA hits mostly by the KASENETZ-KATZ created faceless "groups" 1910 FRUITGUM CO. and OHIO EXPRESS, who scored with the silly singalongs CHEWY CHEWY, 1,2,3 RED LIGHT, YUMMY YUMMY YUMMY and SIMON SAYS. The lightly psychedelic LEMON PIPERS also contribute their chart topping GREEN TAMBOURINE and its barely remembered followup RICE IS NICE, while THE JAGGERZ and MUSIC EXPLOSION inject a smidge of RNB grit into THE RAPPER and LITTLE BIT OF SOUL. This is tough stuff to dislike, much like DOUBLE BUBBLE itself, even if it loses some of its "zing" after a few chews.

RATING: THREE WRAPPERS

CHEW ON THIS

BUBBLEGUM CLASSICS VOL. 1:

Probably the tastiest of the many bubblegum packs on the market, this includes one savory chew apiece from genre kings OHIO EXPRESS, 1910 FRUITGUM CO., TOMMY ROE and THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY, featuring the perfectly shagged DAVID CASSIDY. Fans can also sink their teeth into relative rarities like PEPPERMINT RAINBOW's glorious one shot WILL YOU BE STAYING AFTER SUNDAY, THE DEFRANCO FAMILY's ABRA-CA-DABRA (their follow-up to HEARTBEAT, IT'S A LOVE BEAT), and COME AND TAKE A RIDE IN MY BOAT by RARE BREED, which is better known as COME ON DOWN TO MY BOAT by EVERY MOTHERS SON. THE FIFTH ESTATE's euphoric Land of Oz chant DING DONG! THE WITCH IS DEAD, DAWN's earnest plea KNOCK THREE TIMES and BOBBY SHERMAN's wistful JULIE, DO YA LOVE ME? add to the carefee "pop perfect" atmosphere. Although THE CUFF LINKS' TRACY is present, session singer RON DANTE's other "group" THE ARCHIES' chart topping SUGAR SUGAR is saved for another volume of BUBBLEGUM CLASSICS (there are five in all); about the only other thing missing from BUBBLEGUM CLASSICS is a free comic strip inside the package.

RATING: FOUR GUMBALLS

DOUBLE BUBBLE

25 ALL-TIME GREATEST BUBBLEGUM HITS-VARIOUS ARTISTS-THE ULTIMATE COLLECTION:

Viewed by tin-eared cynics as mere "kid's stuff" in its late sixties hey-day, bubblegum music, notable for a snappy beat and simplistic singalong lyrics, was taken seriously when eighties rockers JOAN JETT, THE RAMONES and BILLY IDOL covered classics from 1910 FRUITGUM CO. and TOMMY JAMES, while bits of gum also stuck to the soul of THE CARS, BLONDIE, and THE GO-GO'S. Studio concocted "groups" including OHIO EXPRESS, THE ARCHIES and THE MONKEES (who, in fairness, also mixed country, RNB and psychedelia into their repertoire) landed huge sticky ditties with titles like YUMMY YUMMY YUMMY and SUGAR SUGAR. In spite of chewy cuts such as TOMMY ROE's essential JAM UP AND JELLY TIGHT and CRAZY ELEPHANT's gritty one shot GIMME GIMME GOOD LOVIN', this is hardly the "Ultimate" gum collection...not without THE LEMON PIPERS' number one smash GREEN TAMBOURINE, THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY's career defining I THINK I LOVE YOU and nary an OSMOND BROTHER in sight. There are also too many non-hits by BOYCE & HART, THE BANANA SPLITS and the far less famous (you ready?) CAPTAIN GROOVY & HIS BUBBLEGUM ARMY. This is sort of like opening a fresh pack of BAZOOKA and discovering there's no tiny comic strip inside.

RATING: THREE POP'S

GIRL POWER

THE BEST OF THE GIRL GROUPS, VOL. 1:

During the pre-British Invasion sixties, when rock & roll took a back seat to Brylcreemed teen idols and bubblegummy girl groups, it was the latter that made a lasting impression...after all, THE BEATLES covered both THE SHIRELLES' BABY, IT'S YOU and THE MARVELETTES' PLEASE MR. POSTMAN early on, while everyone from KISS and TWISTED SISTER to AEROSMITH and THE NEW YORK DOLLS followed suit. RHINO RECORDS' 1990 anthology racks up eighteen slabs o' sweet soul-mama delirium (and a like number in VOL. 2), trotting out bad gal leaders of the pack THE SHANGRI-LAS, Crescent City trio THE DIXIE CUPS and GEORGE HARRISON thorn in the side THE CHIFFONS in harmonious fashion. In spite of a few delightful "ringers" such as the multi-tracked CLAUDINE CLARK and SKEETER DAVIS (not to mention a pre-fame CHER tidbit) and a suspicious lack of MOTOWN and PHIL SPECTOR material, THE BEST OF THE GIRL GROUPS, which boasts bona fide anthems like WILL YOU LOVE ME TOMORROW, CHAPEL OF LOVE and REMEMBER (WALKIN' IN THESAND) is a stellar slumber party soundtrack second to none.

RATING: FIVE STILETTOS

CAMEO APPEARANCE

CAMEO PARWAY'S GREATEST HITS:

Better now than never, the spirited late fifties/early sixties singles catalogue of Philly label CAMEO PARKWAY finally made it to the two decades old CD format in 2008. At long last, legitimate (as opposed to re-recorded) versions of biggies like THE TWIST, WILD ONE and MASHED POTATO TIME became available to fans hungry for a CHUBBY CHECKER, BOBBY RYDELL or DEE DEE SHARP fix. Trimmed down from a four disc box set, CAMEO PARWAY'S GREATEST HITS spotlights CHECKER's numerous dance craze sequels and QUESTION MARK & THE MYSTERIANS' organ-vaccinated Tex-Mex classic 96 TEARS, not to mention THE DOVELLS' blue eyed soulster smashes BRISTOL STOMP and YOU CAN'T SIT DOWN. Spirited RNB ensembles THE TYMES and THE ORLONS are represented by a couple of hits each, and glorious one-hitters like THE RAYS' doo-wopper SILLOUETTES and horror movie host JOHN ZACHERLE'S DINNER WITH DRAC also get their due on this nostalgic guilty pleasure package. Some things in life really are worth waiting for...maybe not for a quarter century...but worth it just the same.

RATING: FOUR LOST 45'S

FILET OF SOUL

CAN YOU DIG IT? THE 70S SOUL EXPERIENCE-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

Before disco pretty much wiped it off the charts at the end of the decade, seventies soul music was an extension of one the previous decade's most popular, dance inducing genres. Making the scene on this six disc box set are holdovers from that era including SLY & THE FAMILY STONE, THE ISLEY BROTEHRS and THE TEMPTATIONS, along with a new set of players like TOWER OF POWER, KOOL & THE GANG and WAR, whose sweaty funk tendencies brought a whole new groove to the equation. From THE FRIENDS OF DISTINCTION's middle of the road pop heavy smashes and THE STAPLE SINGERS' solid message bearing efforts to JOE TEX's raw, blistering throw downs, there's something to fit every taste here; even the disco era stuff from LTD, TAVARES and AVERAGE WHITE BAND easily transcends that label. In the end, it's all about soul and it's all good, right down to the 136th track (a relative obscurity from ROSE ROYCE)...this is the six pack that you'll want to bring to every party.

RATING: FIVE 'FROS

"POP CULTURE"

CLASSIC ROCK-BUBBLEGUM, GARAGE AND POP NUGGETS-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

This 22 track collection from TIME LIFE's uniformly excellent oldies reissue series demonstrates the often blurry line between bubblegummers like 1910 FRUITGUM COMPANY and TOMMY JAMES (an obvious influence on power poppers BADFINGER and THE RASPBERRIES) and garage rockers such as SHADOWS OF KNIGHT and WOOLIES, raw proto types for punk rock. There's even snatches of psychedelia, sunshine pop and surf tossed in for extra good measure...and it all fits the bill. Cleverly referencing LENNY KAYE's legendary NUGGETS compilation in its title, this anthology leans towards the lesser known sides of sixties radio, mixing terrific one shots by THE NIGHTCRAWLERS, CRAZY ELEPHANT and FLYING MACHINE with relative obscurities from THE LEMON PIPERS, THE MOJO MEN and Fab Four clones THE KNICKERBOCKERS. If the names SOPWITH CAMEL, THE PEANUT BUTTER CONSPIRACY and THE SUNSHINE COMPANY are alien to you, that's all the more reason to tune in, turn on and turn it up.

RATING: FOUR SUGAR POPS

WHO'S THE BOSS?

COVER ME-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

Throughout the history of popular music, those who don't write songs cover those who do...and even those who DO write occasionally tackle someone else's material. Many artists, at least the better interpreters like ELVIS PRESLEY, JERRY LEE LEWIS, and JOE COCKER made a career out of it. Cheekily named after his hit single COVER ME, this album consists entirely of BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN tunes tackled by other artists. The disc contains several bona fide smashes by artists like PATTI SMITH and THE POINTER SISTERS who benefitted from tackling his prolific catalogue, as well as sublime efforts from GREG KIHN, JOHNNY CASH, and soulful BOSS protege GARY "U.S." BONDS. SPRINGSTEEN running buddies SOUTHSIDE JOHNNY & THE ASBURY JUKES feature on several tracks including a sweat-soaked passion-play rundown of THE FEVER, while retro rocker DAVE EDMUNDS churns out the barnburner FROM SMALL THINGS (BIG THINGS ONE DAY COME) and THE HOLLIES unspool a lovely rendition of 4TH OF JULY, ASBURY PARK(SANDY). Notably absent is MANFRED MANN'S EARTH BAND, who scored a chart topper with BLINDED BY THE LIGHT and a further Top 40 hit with SPIRIT IN THE NIGHT...the only glaring error found in an otherwsie fine tribute to one of the most prolific songwriters since DYLAN.

RATING: THREE INTERPRETATIONS

FUNNY BUSINESS

CRAZY TUNES-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

Fans of Dr. Demento's bizarre sense of schtick-happy humor will no doubt appreciate this 20 track collection of kooky classics from the nifty fifties and the sicko sixties. Quite a few of these cheeky chestnuts are lesser known triumphs from artists generally considered "one hit wonders", including JIM LOWE's CLOSE THE DOOR, NERVOUS NORVOUS' APE CALL, and THE DETERGENTS' DOUBLE-O-SEVEN...GREEN DOOR, TRANSFUSION, and LEADER OF THE LAUNDROMAT may be more famous but these obscure choices are just as much fun. THE RAN-DELLS' otherworldly MARTIAN HOP, THE HALOS' funky putdown NAG (which punk priestess JOAN JETT covered), DEL REEVES racy truck drivin' ditty GIRL ON THE BILLBOARD, and novelty king RAY STEVENS' HARRY THE HAIRY APE all add to the general chaos. Tasty tracks such as JUANITA BANANA, MY BOOMERANG WON'T COME BACK, and DONALD WHERE'S YOUR TROUSERS bring a smile to the kisser based on the titles alone. CRAZY TUNES is the perfect party platter for those with an unapologetic, insatiable appetite for bad puns, slapstick humor, and cheesy sound effects...you know who you are. :)

RATING: FOUR YUKS

MARK OF EXCELLENCE

DELMARK-50 YEARS OF JAZZ & BLUES:

Chicago's independent DELMARK label may not be nearly as well known or as legendary as that city's CHESS imprint, but the thirty-two tracks of indigenous music presented on 50 YEARS OF JAZZ & BLUES offers just as much soul-baring nirvana to indigenous music fans as HOWLIN' WOLF or MUDDY WATERS. The better known artists here include impassioned axe slingers LITTLE MILTON and OTIS RUSH, plus harp aces LITTLE WALTER and JUNIOR WELLS (some in rare, previously unissued performances), but the rollicking grooves laid down by "under the radar" acts like TAIL DRAGGER, ZORA YOUNG and THE MOROCCOS are equally rewarding and well worth investigation. From the old time barrelhouse piano boogie of SPECKLED RED and ROOSEVELT SYKES to the raw gospel croak of THE BIG DOOWOPPER and gutbucket six string work of MAGIC SAM, J. B. HUTTO and LUTHER ALLISON, this dynamic double dip into the roots of rock & roll conjures up the carefree, sweaty atmosphere and down home dirty groove of a thousand rent parties, roadhouses and juke joints.

RATING: FIVE SAWDUST FLOORS

MAKIN' HAY

DESPERADO-THE BEST OF COUNTRY ROCK-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

In spite of being named after an EAGLES staple, DESPERADO doesn't feature any of their material, no doubt due to expensive licensing issues; never fear, thirty-two other acts pony up some of the best music to emerge in the seventies. Groundbreaking country rock artists like RICK NELSON, THE FLYING BURRITO BROTHERS, MICHAEL NESMITH and THE BYRDS pony up some stone classics, while THE DOOBIE BROTHERS' chart topping BLACK WATER, FIREFALL's YOU ARE THE WOMAN and NICOLETTE LARSON's sublime cover of NEIL YOUNG's LOTTA LOVE all favor the poppier side of the coin. POCO's founding members JIMMY MESSINA and RICHIE FURAY also show up in their later groups THE SOUTHER-HILLMAN-FURAY BAND and LOGGINS & MESSINA; in fact, about half of these twangers are interconnected as part of the genre's extended family tree. Folkies, laid back L.A. scenesters, and middle of the road singers all weigh in here; DESPERADO may not be a barnburner in the true definition of country rock, but any collection that features MARSHALL TUCKER, ROSEANNE CASH, THE DEAD, LITTLE FEAT, and DELANEY & BONNIE is bound to make for a pretty decent front porch listenin' party.

RATING: FOUR PICKERS

NICK VAN DYKE

DICK VAN DYKE'S DANCE PARTY-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

Any baby boomer whos' ever tuned into THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW knows that living room parties were a regular feature of the series, with uninhibited dancing often a part of the action. It's not hard to imagine ROB & LAURA PETRIE and their cronies busting out the latest dance moves to this fun-lovin' oldies soundtrack compiled by NICK AT NITE RECORDS; I WANT CANDY's BO DIDDLEY thump, THE CHAMPS' frenetic mixer TEQUILA and THE CONTOURS' raw shout out DO YOU LOVE ME are all rug cutters of the highest order. This house shakin' platter is bookended by the show's jazzy theme song (cast regular MOREY "BUDDY SORRELL" AMSTERDAM wrote its seldom heard lyrics, which aren't revealed here either) and a swinging version of BANDSTAND BOOGIE from the iconic DICK CLARK hosted program, with golden goodies from LITTLE EVA, THE DRIFTERS, and THE ISLEY BROTHERS sandwiched in between. Call up the neighbors, break out the chips and soda pop, and crank up this nifty little slab o' early sixties kitsch at your next indoor shindig...and for goodness' sake, watch out for that ottoman!

RATING: FOUR CARDIGANS

BOW "WOW"!

DOG SONGS-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

Released to cash in on Disney's ever popular 101 DALMATIONS series of flicks, DOG SONGS contains a litter of cute 'n cuddly canine ditties, sure to please the proverbial kid in all of us. Covering musical bases from RNB (Rufus Thomas' trademark Stax classic WALKIN' THE DOG) to rock (Jerry Lee Lewis' rave-up take on HOUND DOG) to novelty (the Monkees' whacked out I'M GONNA BUY ME A DOG), there ain't a "you-know-what" in the bunch here. Folk composer Tom Paxton's MY DOG'S BIGGER THAN YOUR DOG, which is probably more familiar as a Ken-L Ration ad, Dr. John's ultra-funky reading of CRUELLA DeVIL, and 70s crooner Lobo's ME AND YOU AND A DOG NAMED BOO all add to the frisky fun. A true tail-wagger, this fourteen track collection is proof positive that WHO LET THE DOGS OUT shouldn't be the only mutt music your favorite youngster knows.

RATING: FIVE WAGS

SCHLOCK & ROLL!

DR. DEMENTO-25TH ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

The King of Kitsch, Kraziness and all things Kooky rounds up an asylum-full of novelty nincompoops from his long running syndicated radio show. If you like this sort of thing (you know who you are), the spoils are almost embarrassingly endless here. Dr. Demento apprentice Weird Al Yankovic jump-starts the fun with one of his best song parodies (and song titles) ever, SMELLS LIKE NIRVANA...there's also that timeless tribute to everyone's fave knucklehead, THE CURLY SHUFFLE...Trekkie wet dreams HIGHLY ILLOGICAL from Leonard Nimoy and Bobby "Boris" Pickett's spot-on satire STAR DREK...TIMOTHY, the Buoys' macabre ode to cannibalism...Brownsville Station's twisted rhythm 'n blooze/sci-fi mash-up MARTIAN BOOGIE...The Chips' original gobbledygook version of the Blues Brothers-associated RUBBER BISCUIT...even the rare as a porkpie hat SONG OF THE SEWER, courtesy of Art "Ed Norton" Carney, fer cryin' out loud! Sicko oldtimers Tiny Tim, Spike Jones and Demento regular Benny Bell also share space with folkie Christine Lavin and gross-out rockers Green Jelly, keeping the fun/pain threshold at an excrutiatingly high level...
LISTEN WITH EXTREME CAUTION!!!

RATING: FIVE BELLY-LAUGHS

TAKE IT "EASY"

EASY ROCK-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

G'wan, admit it...you've inadvertantly hummed these dreamy ditties in your head till you've almost convinced yourself that soft rock ain't quite the travesty you always thought it was. EASY ROCK has nothing on it to offend even the most Barry Manilow-leary amongst you. Since this collection covers the late 70s-early 80s, Blue-eyed McSoul Man Michael McDonald's influence pops up all over the place. You hear it in the Doobie Brothers' own WHAT A FOOL BELIEVES, blatant Robbie Dupree clone STEAL AWAY, RIDE LIKE THE WIND's backing vocals, Kenny Loggins' THIS IS IT, which was co-written by McDonald...and that's not even including the Smokey One's solo biggie I KEEP FORGETTIN'. Elsewhere, you get TV-theme-turned-Seinfeld-joke THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO (BELIEVE IT OR NOT), Benny Mardones' soulful, sex-saturated INTO THE NIGHT, Exile's seductive chart scaler KISS YOU ALL OVER, and many more like minded mellow-dies. Not that there's anthing wrong with that. Revisiting the Little River Band, Rupert Holmes, Ambrosia, and Bill Withers will probably have you pining for "the good ole days" when AM radio had something to offer besides inane, loudmouth talk-talk-talk.

RATING: FOUR SIGHS OF RELIEF

THE BIG BANG THEORY

18 HEADBANGERS FROM THE 80'S-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

The eighties proved prime time for the resurgence of heavy metal and its red headed stepchild "hair metal", a mash up of old school glam and synthetic video-ready posturing. 18 HEADBANGERS gathers up hedonistic hard hitters from the former category...MOTORHEAD's galvanized anthem ACE OF SPADES, JUDAS PRIEST's YOU'VE GOT ANOTHER THING COMIN', BLACK SABBATH's DIO era NEON KNIGHTS and PAT TRAVERS' blooze rocker SNORTIN' WHISKEY...along with MTV fodder from QUIET RIOT, RATT's AEROSMITH-channeling ROUND AND ROUND and the now nearly forgotten BULLETBOYS. While key hell raisers AC/DC and IRON MAIDEN are missing in action here, the underrated KING'S X is a more than welcome participant, and the not always obvious song choices from KROKUS and MR. BIG will keep listeners on their toes. Overall this is a decent, though hardly definitive headbangin' ball...although why the cover art displays a spitting image caricature of MICK JAGGER is anyone's guess.

RATING: THREE KEGS

A CLASSIC ROCK "PLUG"

ELECTRIC SEVENTIES:

This crankin' collection boasts an even dozen tracks of head shakin', Bic-flickin' rock and roll greatness sure to inspire hazy blacklight-infested memories. Marvel at I'M EIGHTEEN, shock pioneer Alice Cooper's ominous ode to growing up, and Dutch group Focus' weird and wired instru-"mental" HOCUS POCUS. Thrill to Leslie West's inhuman wail on Mountain's MISSISSIPPI QUEEN, Santana's jam band staple BLACK MAGIC WOMAN and a pre-show biz Ozzy bleating his way through that slab o' SABB known as PARANOID. Folks, this ain't nothin' but a house party! Just ask Ann Arbor legends Brownsville Station, whose high school hijinx singalong SMOKIN' IN THE BOY'S ROOM has never been topped for sheer snotty exuberance. Warning: after chewing on career defining hits by Mott the Hoople, Edgar Winter, and Uriah Heep, you may suffer from flash backs about your early 70s rusted out muscle car with the crappy 8-track player! ELECTRIC 70s?..."socket" to me!

RATING: FIVE "FREE BIRDS"

YOUR ROOTS ARE SHOWING

ESSENTIAL SOUTHERN ROCK-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

In spite of a few obvious omissions such as ZZ TOP and CHARLIE DAINELS, ESSENTIAL SOUTHERN ROCK is one of the most thorough explorations of that boot-kickin' genre ever assembled. In addition to key classics from LYNYRD SKYNYRD, THE ALLMAN BROTHERS and ELVIN BISHOP, this HOUSE OF BLUES collection stretches the boundaries to include underrated pioneers like six string legends LONNIE MACK and LINK WRAY, the highly influential rockabilly of THE JOHNNY BURNETTE TRIO and blue eyed soul brothers RONNIE and DALE HAWKINS. There's also a taste of seldom anthologized tracks including THE CATE BROTHERS' gritty anthem UNION MAN, DUANE ALLMAN's CHUCK BERRY-penned NO MONEY DOWN, and DELBERT MCCLINTON's bawdy "B" MOVIE BOX CAR BLUES, as well as modern day barnburners from THE KENTUCKY HEADHUNTERS, GEORGIA SATELLITES and SOUTHERN CULTURE ON THE SKIDS. Fans of MOLLY HATCHET, BLACK OAK ARKANSAS and other Mason-Dixon roughnecks are bound to appreciate this double platter which incorporates rockabilly, southern soul and the blues into its rebel rousin', roots rockin' history lesson.

RATING: FIVE OVERSIZED BELT BUCKLES

TIME AND SPACE

FEEL THE BUZZ-HIT TIME-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

A companion platter to 1998's FEEL THE BUZZ-SPACIN' sampler, HIT TIME unleashes a handful of Haight Ashbury mother lodes like ERIC BURDON's SAN FRANCISCAN NIGHTS, JEFFERSON AIRPLAINE's gradually building WHITE RABBIT, and QUICKSILVER MESSENGER SERVICE's FRESH AIR. Liberally sprinkled into the mix are the harder to score SEEDS groover MR. FARMER, PAT TRAVERS' blooze rockin' SNORTIN' WHISKEY and CAPTAIN BEEFHART's psychedelic powder keg ZIG ZAG WANDERER. SAVOY BROWN, ATLANTA RHYTHM SECTION and even TOMMY JAMES also make appearances with under exposed, but theme appropriate tracks. If you know every last word to COMING INTO LOS ANGELES and PANAMA RED, you probably don't wanna pass this one up; climaxing with LITTLE FEAT's brief concert version of THE HOLY MODAL ROUNDERS' stoner chestnut DON'T BOGART THAT JOINT, FEEL THE BUZZ-HIT TIME satisfies your cravings again and again.

RATING: FOUR ZIG ZAG PAPERS

WHAT'S THE BUZZ?

FEEL THE BUZZ/NO PAIN-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

The common thread on FEEL THE BUZZ-NO PAIN, the third in a series of such compilations should be pretty obvious from the psychedelic song titles. FM mainstays like THE ELECTRIC PRUNES' I HAD TO MUCH TO DREAM LAST NIGHT and GRATEFUL DEAD's TRUCKIN' share space with downright deliciously obscure efforts from IRON BUTTERFLY (EASY RIDER), JEFFERSON AIRPLANE (SHE HAS FUNNY CARS) and THE SONS OF CHAMPLIN (GET HIGH), every track a mind blowing trip mostly made up of the stuff that classic rock radio routinely ignores. After all, who knew ORLEANS had a song called STONED? When you've got STEPPENWOLF's DON'T STEP ON THE GRASS SAM, DR. HOOK & THE MEDICINE SHOW's I GOT STONED AND I MISSED IT and CANNED HEAT's AMPHETAMINE ANNIE all on one platter, well...that's a party starter, pure and simple...and don't ask me what BAD COMPANY's self titled hit has to do with anything else here. If CHEECH & CHONG ever got it together long enough to make a mix tape, this is what it would probably sound like.

RATING: FOUR HITS

DON'T BOGART THIS DISC!

FEEL THE BUZZ/SPACIN'-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

If you'll pardon the pun, this is a clever "pot-pourri" concerning America's fave pastime, and I don't mean hittin' the ol' horsehide. Classic psychedelic fare from the sixties and seventies (where else?) such as DONOVAN's banana smoker MELLOW YELLOW (and by way of VANILLA FUDGE, his equally spacey SEASON OF THE WITCH), the single length edit of IRON BUTTERFLY's IN-A-GADDA-DA-VIDA, and one-shot garage band COUNT FIVE's PSYCHOTIC REACTION are just some of the too-cool-for-school "hits" here. You also get to ingest HOYT AXTON's anti-drug anthem THE PUSHER from STEPPENWOLF, the humorous haze of COMMANDER CODY's DOWN TO SEEDS AND STEMS AGAIN, and Love's frenzied cosmic freak-out 7 AND 7 IS. Lesser known tracks include the latebreaking RASCALS ditty SEE, JOHN PRINE's folky singalong ILLEGAL SMILE, and DEEP PURPLE's hard 'n heavy DEALER, the better to extend the party. This is high grade stuff, a stoner soundtrack that Cheech & Chong themselves would approve of...indulge thyself.

RATING: FIVE TOKES OVER THE LINE

MAKES ME WANNA SHOUT!

FRAT ROCK!-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

The term "Frat Rock" could not have existed without John Belushi's star making turn as ANIMAL HOUSE's supreme slob Bluto Blutarski; Rhino Records' toga-party-till-you-puke roundup boasts gobs of timeless trash in tribute. Unfortunately, that all important sonic blast of gospel greatness SHOUT is neither the Isley Brothers' original nor Otis Day and the Knights' rendition from the movie, but an unknown group called THE DYNATONES. No matter...you can still marvel at one hit wonders the Human Beinz' powerhouse pummeling of NOBODY BUT ME, bask in the frantic funk frenzy of Sly Stone's call and response DANCE TO THE MUSIC, and soak up the normally saccharine Righteous Brothers' most blue-eyed soul moment, the rollicking LITTLE LATIN LUPE LU. There's also the Swingin' Medallions' lust-encrusted DOUBLE SHOT (OF MY BABY'S LOVE), the astounding soul power of teenaged Stevie Winwood's GIMME SOME LOVIN' and the cheesy Tex Mex madness of Sam the Sham's WOOLY BULLY...I could go on, but I hear a Pabst Blue Ribbon or three callin' my name. This greasy RNB-laced drunken singalong platter is worth its weight in bottle caps.

RATING: FOUR FOOD FIGHTS

FINAL EXAM

FRAT ROCK! (BOX SET)-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

How much Frat Rock is too much? Well, can you ever REALLY have too much Old Milwaukee around your pad? The obvious answer, to even the most party-damaged among us, is a resounding "NO!!!" Rhino Records, the last word in good time retro-compiling labels, simply took their triumphant trio of ANIMAL HOUSE-inspired FRAT ROCK discs and put them in a box...a big, bad blender chpock-full o' garage rock, greasyy RNB, and blue eyed soul for maximum road trip endurance. From the gastronomic goodies BREAD AND BUTTER, HOT PASTRAMI, and PEANUT BUTTER, to the down-the-hatch delights of TEQUILA, CHUG-A-LUG, and BOTTLE OF WINE, nearly all yer basic toga party essentials are splattered here someplace. There's also some deliciously obscure outings by the likes of Thee Midniters and Cat Mother and the All Night News Boys to complement rebel rousin' classics from Mitch Ryder, the Kinks, and Ritchie Valens. You even get two versions of ultimate Frat Rock contender SHOUT, so who cares if the stuff by Del Shannon and Bill Deal and the Rhondels sounds tame ("Is it supposed to be this soft?") by comparison? By the time you get to 'em, you'll be too "BLUTO-faced" to care anyhoo!

RATING: FOUR FAILING GRADES

THAT 70S ALBUM

FRAT ROCK/THE '70S-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

It takes real marketing balls to call this disc FRAT ROCK, when everyone who's ever watched ANIMAL HOUSE twenty times (like I have) knows that genre refers to RNB-injected "party till you puke" classics of the sixties like LOUIE LOUIE and WOOLY BULLY. This so-called seventies incarnation evokes some of the same spirit, though it unspools exactly like your fave AOR station's conservative playlist. As far as "frat-titude" goes, only SMOKIN' IN THE BOY'S ROOM, the semi-legendary Brownsville Station's greatest hit, and Alice Cooper's elementary anthem SCHOOL'S OUT smack of any actual rebellion...fuggeddabout those lame remakes by Motley Crue and Krokus! In a possible nod to frat rock's theme of overindulgence, FREE BIRD and TAKIN' CARE OF BUSINESS, two of the most overplayed oldies since STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN are on the menu here. Also turning up are the biggest hits of Three Dog Night, Five Man Electrical Band, and Grand Funk, much like they have on a gajillion other compilations. At least the Kinks chestnut LOLA still stands as the greatest boy-meets-girl-who-turns-out-to-be-a-boy saga ever penned. Classic rock, sure...but frat rock?...You can almost picture John "Bluto" Belushi himself cocking a befuddled eyebrow.

RATING: THREE ROAD TRIPS

FRAT'S THE WAY I LIKE IT

FRAT ROCK: MORE OF THE 70S-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

Like FRAT ROCK: THE 70s, this follow up has only a tentative link to the actual subject matter; both are unnecessary sequels to Rhino Records' original, authentic FRAT ROCK series of wild RNB-injected party makers of the 60s. Even so, I relish semi-obscure treats like the Kinks' bushy-tailed SLEEPWALKER and Detroit Wheels spin-off band the Rockets' revved up rendering of early Fleetwood mac bloozer OH WELL. After this handful of underplayed beauties, it's strictly "classic rock weekend" time, with ultra-obvious offerings from Deep Purple ("Duh, duh, duh...duh, duh, DUH-duh..."), Gary Glitter (the "HEY" song, football-heads), and Joe Walsh's peerless ode to rock star excess LIFE'S BEEN GOOD. And what in the name of Karaoke is Bonnie Tyler's IT'S A HEARTACHE doin' on this list, anyhoo? Since it's the last number, one assumes the compilers at Rhino had one too many Old Milwaukees while getting into the spirit of things. Any semi-sober air guitarist with a CD burner and a half decent record collection could come up with a modern day toga party soundtrack better than this! Here's MY list:

LUST FOR LIFE-IGGY POP
HOUSE PARTY-J. GEILS BAND
KINGS OF THE PARTY-BROWNSVILLE STATION
MOVE IT ON OVER-GEORGE THOROGOOD
SHERRY DARLING-BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN
MAMA WEER ALL CRAZEE NOW-SLADE
BIG TEN INCH-AEROSMITH
ROCK & ROLL THE PLACE-EDDIE MONEY
WANGO TANGO-TED NUGENT
WHAT YOU GOT-DUKE & THE DRIVERS

Whew! All that thinkin's made me thirsty!...

RATING: THREE LOUIE LOUIES

NO WAVE

FRAT ROCK:THE 80S-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

DIRTY WATER-THE INMATES
WOOLY BULLY-JOAN JETT
LOUIE LOUIE-BLACK FLAG
NOBODY BUT ME-GEORGE THOROGOOD & THE DESTOYERS
LITTLE BIT O' SOUL-RAMONES
WILD THING-X
I WANT CANDY-BOW WOW WOW
MONY MONY-BILLY IDOL
LA BAMBA-LOS LOBOS
MONEY-THE FLYING LIZARDS

If the above album existed somwehere besides on my CD burner, THIS would be a better representation of FRAT ROCK: THE 80S than Rhino Records' predictable cash-in. Instead of the same old overplayed hits by Devo, Madness, and Adam Ant that can be found on any ol' new wave compilation, why not opt for actual 60s frat classics as reconfigured by rebellious artists from the 80s? Seems simple, doesn't it? I need another brewski to dull the pain...

RATING: TWO MUCH

SHAKE YOUR GROOVE THING

THE FUNK BOX-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

The early to mid seventies was prime time for funk overload, a treasure trove of sweaty groove-a-thons spewed forth by individual legends such as JAMES BROWN and JOHNNY "GUITAR" WATSON and tight horn drenched ensembles including PARLIAMENT, TOWER OF POWER and THE BAR-KAYS. The four disc FUNK BOX offers up glorious one hitters like THE CHAKACHA's X-rated JUNGLE FEVER, GIL SCOTT-HERON's cautionary message THE BOTTLE and CHUCK BROWN & THE SOUL SEARCHERS' euphoric party pumper BUSTIN' LOOSE bump booties with old school institutions KOOL & THE GANG (their pre-MOR smash HOLLYWOOD SWINGIN'), THE ISLEY BROTHERS and WAR. Funk's uninhibited dance floor call to arms morphed, for better or worse, into the disco explosion, which replaced genuine musicianship and personality with faceless pre-fab beats...but also goosed the hip hop generation, whose sample heavy hits turned the spotlight back on old pros like GEORGE CLINTON and CURTIS MAYFIELD. This ants in yer pants anthology is by no means perfect (MARVIN GAYE represented by an instrumental? Really?) but if names like THE JIMMY CASTOR BUNCH, GRAHAM CENTRAL STATION and TEENA MARIE have strayed too far from your soundtrack psyche, by all means, cue up THE FUNK BOX and let your super-freak flag fly.

RATING: FIVE BASSISTS

MOTHER TRUCKER

GEARJAMMIN' GREATS-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

Truck drivin' music, that often comical, occasionally dramatic sub-genre of twang and western is probably best listened to on an old 8-track tape from the noisy cab of a smelly big rig for authenticity's sake...but trust me, it sounds mighty darned good in ANY form. This ten track tribute to America's modern day cowboy begins and ends with the unchallenged "King of the Truckers" DAVE DUDLEY, whose booming grizzly bear voice propels TRUCK DRIVIN' SON OF A GUN and true genre classic SIX DAYS ON THE ROAD like a Mac diesel. Maine's eye patch-wearing DICK CURLESS contributes cautionary tale TOMBSTONE EVERY MILE, while GEORGE HAMILTON IV hits on all cylinders with the jaunty TRUCK DRIVIN' MAN, probably familiar to rock fans through J. GEILS' jaunty live version. And who among us has not warbled along to C.W. MCCALL's guilty-pleasure C.B. saga CONVOY? You don't have to be a highway diner regular to appreciate these infectious "road trips", all vital slabs of Americana from that glorious era in country music when "six-pack abs" came courtesy of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

RATING: FIVE MUDFLAPS

DISCO-GRAPHY

GET DOWN TONIGHT/THE DISCO EXPLOSION-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

Named for KC & THE SUNSHINE BAND's debut chart topper, GET DOWN TONIGHT is a fair representation of that "love it or hate it" dance floor phenom that virtually swept rock & roll off the charts in the second half of the seventies. The genre's few superstars, namely DONNA SUMMER and VILLAGE PEOPLE, pump their boisterous boogie wares here (notably absent: THE BEE GEES), along with kitschy one shots from WILD CHERRY to THE WEATHER GIRLS, not to mention the handful of old school soul acts (THE SPINNERS, KOOL & THE GANG, THE EARTH, WIND & FIRE) lucky enough to make the transition to 120 beats per minute. Though hardly definitive, this triple party platter allows bona fide classics THE HUSTLE, DON'T LEAVE ME THIS WAY and I WILL SURVIVE to share groove space with deeper tracks such as PATRICK HERNANDEZ' mesmerizing BORN TO BE ALIVE and CANDI STATON's perky YOUNG HEARTS RUN FREE, which haven't been heard since DANCE FEVER went off the air.

RATING: FOUR PRODUCERS

CRAM THE GLAM

GLAM BAM THANK YOU MA'AM-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

At least this campy compilation of GLAM goodies gets it half right...romper-stompers SLADE, SWEET and the always creepy GARY GLITTER make the glam grade, shouting out bona fide classics like CUM ON FEEL THE NOIZE (more subtle and satisfying than the QUIET RIOT retread), the percussive BALLROOM BLITZ, and sports arena anthem ROCK & ROLL PART 2. JOAN JETT's role model SUZI QUATRO and the ever tasty MOTT THE HOOPLE are also welcome choices, though one could quibble about the inclusion of punk godfathers LOU REED and IGGY POP. German synth-popper KLAUS NOMI's wretched version of DING DONG THE WITCH IS DEAD doesn't belong, nor does the "glam" in name only ballad GLAMOUR BOY by THE GUESS WHO. The eclectic, electronic BRIAN ENO also feels outta place here, especially when T. REX and DAVID BOWIE (whose SUFFAGETTE CITY this disc nicks its title from) are missing in action. It seems that all that glitters is not necessarily gold.

RATING: TWO LIPSTICKS

CRAWFISH FIESTA

GLORY DAYS OF ROCK & ROLL/NEW ORLEANS:

Funky as hell instrumental group THE METERS notwithstanding, TIME LIFE's double disc collection GLORY DAYS OF ROCK & ROLL: NEW ORLEANS serves up virtually every important artist from the Crescent City's profound late fifties/early sixties hey day. You'll feast on a unique, spiced just right gumbo of RNB, jazz and pop indigenous to the region, a generous sampling of chart topping chestnuts along with under the radar local hits just as deserving of attention. FATS DOMINO's good time mellow moods and polar opposite LITTLE RICHARD's frenzied wildcat workouts share space with fellow ivory ticklers PROFESSOR LONGHAIR and HUEY "PIANO" SMITH; meanwhile, titanic titles like MOTHER IN LAW, IKO IKO, WORKING IN THE COAL MINE and BAREFOOTIN' (many penned by wunderkind ALLEN TOUSSAINT) keep the street party peppered with hot sax, gritty axe and low down 'n dirty groove-ology. Rockers from JOHNNY WINTER and THE STONES to JOHN FOGERTY and DEVO have been mining these salacious sides for decades, undisputed testament to the depth and breadth of The Big Easy's incalculable "melting pot" influence.

RATING: FIVE SECOND LINES

WHAT'S IN A NAME?...

GODFATHERS OF GRUNDGE-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

Better than average retro reissue label Risky Business is surely stretching a point by calling this collection GODFATHERS OF GRUNDGE...really, Detroit arse-kickers Iggy Pop and the MC5 are, but they're nowhere to be heard here. Taken on its own merits though, this is still a rip-roarin' trip through a dozen gritty guitar goodies, many of which haven't been absolutely played to death on classic rock radio. Bloodrock's D.O.A. still stands as one of the most morbid "death songs" ever to scratch the surface of the Top 40, while Ram Jam's BLACK BETTY is a twisted, slam-bang, jet propelled Leadbelly cover, of all things. You can also stomp your workboot to the likes of Blue Oyster Cult's plodding monster mash GODZILLA, Grand Funk's trippy live reading of Eric Burdon's INSIDE LOOKING OUT, and Crow's horn-perforated R&B cooker EVIL WOMAN (DON'T PLAY YOUR GAMES WITH ME), which Black Sabbath once covered. Mix in Mountain, Ted Nugent, and Foghat for added sledgehammer/gearjammer atmosphere, and you got yourself a party on a platter, bubba! Grundgy?...nope. A good time?...get out the keg-o-rator.

RATING: THREE KICK OUT THE JAMS

NORTH OF THE BORDER

GOIN' SOUTH-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

You know that old joke about men being too stubborn to ask directions? Dunno where the brains who compiled this "Southern Rock" grabbag went to school, but when I took geography, the "South" meant states BELOW the Mason/Dixon Line. While Florida's Lynyrd Skynyrd, Georgia's Allman Brothers, and South Carolina's Marshall Tucker certainly fit the bill, almost half the artists kickin' up their heels here are ringers. Joe Walsh, bless his Rocky Mountain ways, is a Cleveland native, heavy hitters Mountain hail from Long Island, and four fifths of the Band are Canadian, fer cryin' out loud! ZZ Top and Wet Willie (both no shows here) woulda fit the bill a damn sight better than George Thorogood and the (Delaware) Destroyers. The second volume of GOIN' SOUTH even hauls out British blooze bashers Foghat; apparently the assumption here is that beer drinkin', hell-raisin' lovers of good ole boy boogie are too fried to know the difference. Call this album PARTY TILL THE COWS COME HOME for all I care...just don't call it GOIN' SOUTH.

RATING: THREE "YA CAN'T GIT THAR FROM HERE"'S

DAMN IT JIM, I'M A DOCTOR, NOT A KARAOKE SINGER!

GOLDEN THROATS-THE GREAT CELEBRITY SINGOFF:

William Shatner instantly qualified as Karaoke Kitsch King of the Universe when this kooky collection of actors-turned-would-be-rock stars hit the market. Leave it to retro masters Rhino Records to round up surreal soundbites of over a dozen Hollywood vanity projects from that "anything goes" decade, the sixties. Captain Quirk's hilariously wooden, neo-psychedelic recitations of MR. TAMBOURINE MAN and LUCY IN THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS are nearly matched by Leonard Nimoy's highly illogical renditions of PROUD MARY and IF I HAD A HAMMER, warbled in true emotionless Vulcan style. Try to picture Mae West belting out a "so-godawful-it's-great" TWIST AND SHOUT, or Eddie Albert tackling BLOWIN' IN THE WIND...naw, forget it...some things have to be heard to be believed. On the other hand, Mayberry icons Andy Griffith and Jim Nabors, who actually had singing on their resumes, acquit themselves decently here. Sebastion "Mr. French" Cabot narrates a pair of Dylan evergreens in his rich, embracing tones. Jack Webb recites TRY A LITTLE TENDERNESS like a Dragnet script, the most mind-numbingly soulless Otis Redding cover ever executed, making it an album highlight. GOLDEN THROATS is as much fun as running across the odd Telly Savalas LP in your local thrift store bargain bin.

RATING: FIVE YOKO ONOS

GIRL TALK

GREAT LADIES OF ROCK & ROLL/THE FIFTIES:

While the biggest stars of the fifties, the decade that begat rock & roll, were overwhelmingly male (from CHUCK BERRY and LITTLE RICHARD to JERRY LEE and ELVIS), this twenty-five track comp from oldies specialists COLLECTABLES proves a sweet and educational spin from music's fairer half. From big names BRENDA LEE and RUTH BROWN to timeless one shots like DODIE STEVENS' PINK SHOELACES and THE BOBBETTES' MR. LEE to the barely remembered CLICKETTS and DELTAIRS, these pop, RNB and doo wop chestnuts cover virtually all tastes. It's very satisfying to hear the mighty CHANTELS unveil their bittersweet anthem MAYBE one more time...and who can't relate to the searing pain unleashed by MISS TONI FISHER in THE BIG HURT? LAVERN BAKER's soulful saga JIM DANDY and CONNIE FRANCIS' rollicking put down LIPSTICK ON YOUR COLLAR may be the only numbers that really "rock" here, but even torchy belters DINAH WASHINGTON, JULIE LONDON and DELLA REESE all have their place at this romantic, nostalgic listening party.

RATING: FOUR PONY TAILS

HARLEY WALLBANGERS

HARLEY DAVIDSON ROAD SONGS VOL. 2-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

For those of you whose idea of a greasy good time is straddlin' a hog (this can be construed at least three different ways), ROAD SONGS is worth takin' along for the ride. Despite utilizing such over-anthologized classics as Lynyrd's tired 'n true FREE BIRD and George Thorogood's gear-jammin' BAD TO THE BONE, many underground, nearly forgotten FM classics get their due here. Jimi Hendrix' LOOK OVER YONDER, Bad Company's GONE, GONE, GONE, Montrose's BAD MOTOR SCOOTER, and Blackfoot's seven minute pavement pounder HIGHWAY SONG are mingled tastefully with more obvious "traveling" themes from Steppenwolf, Alice Cooper, and Judas Priest. Pat Benatar's ultra wimpy SHADOWS OF THE NIGHT and a couple of other ringers represent a major lapse in judgement on the part of the compilers; gimme Foghat's rowdy boot kicker DRIVIN' WHEEL or Deep Purple's immortal slab o' hi-fi sci-fi HIGHWAY STAR any ol' time. Check it out, road warriors...but keep that "skip" button handy.

RATING: THREE KEGS

THAT'S ALL FOLK!

HAVIN' A 60'S HOOTENANNY-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

An incredibly brief but satisfactory introduction to 60s folk music leaning towards the less controversial side of the genre, K-Tel's HOOTENANNY features several acts that spawned major stars later on. The Chad Mitchell Trio, represented by the childlike whimsy of THE MARVELOUS TOY, eventually gave us John ("Farrrrrr out!") Denver, the New Christy Minstrels of GREEN, GREEN fame begat country icon than Kenny Rogers, and Dusty Springfield sprang from the ranks of the Springfields...you can hear her clear, soulful pipes leading SILVER THREADS AND GOLDEN NEEDLES. You also get the nearly interchangable Highwaymen, Journeymen, and Brothers Four, whose angelic melodies are the stuff that great campfire singalongs are made of. And what folk roundup would be truly authentic without the mighty Kingston Trio warbling the tragic tale of TOM DOOLEY? Sure, superstars Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, and Joan Baez are missing in action here...but they've always been well represented elsewhere, which is more than can be said for funky little nursey rhyme gems like the Serendipity Singers' DON'T LET THE RAIN COME DOWN (CROOKED LITTLE MAN).

RATING: FOUR STRIPED SHIRTS

METAL DEFICIENCY

HEAVY METAL-24 ELECTRIFYING PERFORMANCES:

Beat author WILLIAM BURROUGHS' NAKED LUNCH term "Heavy Metal", popularized in STEPPENWOLF's biker anthem BORN TO BE WILD, has been wrongly attached to seemingly every rock band from BTO to LOVERBOY through the decades. Undisputed pioneers of HM's bombastic thud include BLACK SABBATH and LED ZEPPELIN, who are both spotlighted on WARNER's double vinyl HEAVY METAL, along with slam bang slabs of MC5, ALICE COOPER, DEEP PURPLE and JIMI HENDRIX. What's perplexing is the inclusion of folk rockers THE EAGLES, DELANEY & BONNIE and BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD, let alone blue eyed slinger man VAN MORRISON and pop/funk overlords WAR. Kudos to the song selection, 'cuz GRATEFUL DEAD's cover of JOHNNY B. GOODE, FOGHAT's sonic juggernaut WHAT A SHAME and URIAH HEEP's ominous saga STEALIN' aren't songs you hear every day. This and the fact that all these tracks are presented in their longer FM versions (for instance, SPRINGFIELD's BLUEBIRD runs a glorious nine minutes!) makes this platter a scintillating souvenir of early seventies rock, misleading album titles aside.

RATING: FOUR RAISED FISTS

SHUCKIN' AND JIVIN'

HEE HAW COUNTRY-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

Music was as integral to the surprise syndicated success of HEE HAW as DAISY MAE cuties and cornball comedy, and taken a lot more seriously too. Besides pickin' n' grinnin' hosts BUCK OWENS and ROY CLARK, the show's large cast included (at various junctures) bluegrass aces RONNIE STONEMAN, GRANDPA JONES and STRING BEAN, King of Country Music ROY ACUFF, novelty crooner SHEB WOOLEY (who penned the HEE HAW theme song), and identical twins JIM & JON HAGER, who were all called upon for a song or two when they weren't participating in hayseed skits. HEE HAW COUNTRY rounds up tuneful highlights from all of these charismatic stars, a subliminal comedy bit from slow-talkin' JUNIOR SAMPLES, and guest shots from the likes of CONWAY TWITTY, DOLLY PARTON, and CHARLEY PRIDE, making this a hootenanny of the highest order. For its legions of fans, HEE HAW was always a visual delight, its vibrant music being the one element that could be enjoyed apart from the series itself.

RATING: FIVE S-A-A-A-A-LUTES!

CORN O'PLENTY

HEE HAW'S FAVORITE ARTISTS:

While not a legitimate release from the rural comedy-variety series, HEE HAW'S FAVORITE ARTISTS (cobbled together by re-issue label GUSTO) ponies up a heapin' helpin' of good timey music and pure corn from several of its best known cast members, most of whom were successful on the country circuit prior to TV stardom. Rootsy routines from MINNIE PEARL and ARCHIE CAMPBELL (who also sings a nifty ditty about GREEN STAMPS), bluegrass breakdowns ala old timers GRANDPA JONES and STRING BEAN, and SWEETHEARTS IN HEAVEN, one of HEE HAW host BUCK OWENS' early, less familiar numbers, all pop up for your listening pleasure. Add in SHEB WOOLEY (as his inebriated alter ego BEN COLDER) sending up TAMMY WYNETTE in D-I-V-O-R-C-E #2 and JUNIOR SAMPLES' low key fish tale WORLD'S BIGGEST WHOPPER, plus underexposed efforts from frequent guests GEORGE JONES and LYNN ANDERSON, and you've got a high spirited hoedown worthy of a big ol' HEE HAW "S-A-L-U-U-U-U-U-T-E!"

RATING: FOUR HAYSTACKS

HIGH TIMES

HIGHTONE RECORDS/THE FIRST TEN YEARS-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

A showstopping potpourri of unsung RNB/folk/country artists from the HIGHTONE label, this is one of the best samplers to come along in the 90's...you even get surf rock's big kahuna DICK DALE and arousing a capella courtesy of THE MINT JULEPS. From the tone-cool blooze blast of ROBERT CRAY (and CRAY soundalike PHILLIP WALKEWR) to honky tonk's mournful matriarch GARY STEWART and ex-BLASTERS masters DAVE and PHIL ALVIN, each track is packed with raw emotion and sizzling groove-ology seldom heard on radio, today or any other day. Texas outer-fringers JIMMIE DALE GILMORE and JOE ELY wail with their usual reckless abandon, occasional wrestling manager REVEREND BILLY C. WIRTZ gets a stranglehold vocal on the demented TEENIE WEENIE MEANIE and SUN RECORDS rockabilly alumni BILLY LEE RILEY and SONNY BURGESS kick their efforts into the next county. There's nothing close to a weak cut anywhere among the twenty-one on proud display here...it's roots rock's significant loss that HIGHTONE folded its tent just a few years ago.

RATING: FIVE HIGH FIVES

CHESS SET

HOOCHIE COOCHIE MAN-THE CHESS STORY:

LEONARD and PHIL CHESS' eponymous Chicago record label may be best remembered for some of the most influential blues and rock sides ever waxed...MUDDY WATERS, CHUCK BERRY, HOWLIN' WOLF, ETTA JAMES and BO DIDDLEY were in their stable...but it also produced a fair number of pop and soul hits from the fifties through the early sixties. In addition to expected high water marks from the above mentioned players (everything from the title anthem and JOHNNY B. GOODE to harp legend LITTLE WALTER's MY BABE), this double disc breaks out ROCKET 88, considered the first real rock & roll hit by many historians, delicious doo wop ditties from THE FLAMINGOS and THE MONOTONES and CLARENCE "FROGMAN" HENRY's New Orleans' spiced hits. The lesser knowns prove just as much fun to sample; BOBBY CHARLES' original version of SEE YOU LATER ALLIGATOR and SUGAR PIE DESANTO's feisty CAN'T LET YOU GO are not to be missed. This fifty song set of bruising RNB, hoppin' rockabilly and low slung soul is a gift from the gods for any music fan even remotely interested in the roots of modern popular music.

RATING: FIVE CHESS PIECES

HOT STUFF!

INVICTUS GREATEST HITS/HOT WAX GREATEST HITS:

After splitting from MOTOWN over a royalty dispute with BERRY GORDY, the prolific songwriting team HOLLAND/DOZIER/HOLLAND, who penned the lion's share of classics for THE SUPREMES and THE FOUR TOPS, formed INVICTUS/HOT WAX for their own sublime series of classics. Sassy female trio HONEY CONE's WANT ADS, the gruffly funky CHAIRMEN OF THE BOARD's GIVE ME JUST A LITTLE MORE TIME, and FREDA PAYNE's sparkling BAND OF GOLD were just the best known of their releases; THE FLAMING EMBER's gritty WESTBOUND #9 was the most soulful hit by a white group since RARE EARTH's GET READY, LAURA LEE's scathing social statement RIP OFF crackled with raw energy, and the anonymous lineups of 100 PROOF (AGED IN SOUL) and 8th DAY pumped out solid soul-burners SOMEBODY'S BEEN SLEEPIN' IN MY BAD and SHE'S NOT JUST ANOTHER WOMAN. Most of these mini-classics were written by CHAIRMEN OF THE BOARD leader GENERAL JOHNSON or H/D/H (under aliases), and while the HOT WAX/INVICTUS reign was criminally brief, this double disc collection is a great way to catch up on some of the early seventies' most sanctifying AM radio moments.

RATING: FOUR DRIPS

COOKIN' WITH GAS!

JUMP, JIVE & WAIL!-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

Big band swing and rock and roll aren't as far apart as one would think...AEROSMITH, ROBERT PLANT, and DAVID LEE ROTH tackled TINY BRADSHAW's BIG TEN INCH (RECORD), ROY BROWN's ROCKIN' AT MIDNIGHT, and LOUIS PRIMA's JUST A GIGELO respectively, long before the BRIAN SETZER ORCHESTRA touched off a late nineties jump blues revival with their hot-steppin' cover of PRIMA's JUMP, JIVE & WAIL. This hip party platter spotlights PRIMA's original titanic title track and his equally infectious 5 MONTHS, 2 WEEKS, 2 DAYS, not to mention a hoppin' boppin' show-stoppin' guest list of other cool daddy-os (and one slick chick). Sizzlin' selections here include pop jazz diva PEGGY LEE's YEAH! YEAH! YEAH!, rock pioneer BIG JOE TURNER's JUMPIN' TONIGHT, and from LOUIS JORDAN, a profound infleunce on everyone from JAMES BROWN to LITTLE RICHARD, the humorously ribald chestnuts I SEEN WATCHA DONE and I'LL DIE HAPPY. The cd booklet even includes a "Jive Talk Glossay" explaining hipster language like "You melt me, Jackson" (I'm thrilled), "Able-Grable" (a well built girl) and "Fire Extinguisher" (a chaperone)...what more could a Hep Cat ask for?

RATING: FIVE SAXES

TEXAS ME

KEEP YOUR SOUL-A TRIBUTE TO DOUG SAHM:

No individual better exemplified Texas' vast roots rock richness than DOUG SAHM, pivotal member of 60s hit makers THE SIR DOUGLAS QUARTET, 90s country supergroup THE TEXAS TORNADOS, and a highly respected artist in his own right. A who's who of like minded genre-jumpers take a tasty trip through his blues/country/soul songbook; while no one quite beats the master at his own greasy game, it's a ton of fun to hear 'em try. The oft-covered SHE'S ABOUT A MOVER gets things kickin' with guitar guru RY COODER and vocalist LITTLE WILLIE G, while DELBERT MCCLINTON, JIMMIE VAUGHAN and DAVE ALVIN stamp TEXAS ME, DYNAMITE WOMAN and WHY, WHY, WHY with their own after hours personalities. Fellow TEXAS TORNADO/squeezebox kingpin FLACO JIMENEZ, swampy soul mama MARCIA BALL (leading FREDA & THE FIREDOGS) and Latino legends LOS LOBOS also get off their share of mouthwatering licks. Appropriately, Tex-Mex JOE "KING" CARRASCO's "chili-pepper-hot" ADIOS MEXICO and SHAWN SAHM's note perfect MENDICINO close down this raw roadhouse rave up, a warm "last call" to the Lone Star State's ultimate Cosmic Cowboy.

RATING: FIVE LONE STARS

NO CASH-IN

KINDRED SPIRITS-A TRIBUTE TO THE SONGS OF JOHHNY CASH-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

Granted, the world needs another "tribute" album like Johnny Cash needs a new black suit, however deserving the kudos may be. Few in country music or any other genre have not been influenced in some way by the man who walked the line between folk, blues, gospel, RNB, and rock for half a decade. Wisely, a roster of likeminded rebellious souls have been rounded up...Dwight Yoakum raises the twang bar a notch on UNDERSTAND YOUR MAN, ex-Cash sideman Marty Stuart tackles HEY PORTER with appropriate rhythmic verve, and Johnny's daughter Rosanne submits an exquisite rendering of I STILL MISS SOMEONE. Craggy Nashville outsider Steve Earle checks in with the poignant outlaw saga HARDIN WOULDN'T RUN, while blues purist Keb' Mo' gets off a radical reinvention of I WALK THE LINE. KINDRED SPIRITS delivers a fulfilling listening experience almost as satisfying as its source...no small feat in today's tribute clogged record racks.

RATING: FOUR CHICKA-BOOMS

I'M A BELIEVER

K-TEL'S BELIEVE IN MUSIC-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

Titled after GALLERY's Top 20 MAC DAVIS cover, this classic K-TEL roundup of AM radio singles...almost all whittled down from their original length...sports the usual mix of big names (CHER, ERIC CLAPTON, ROD STEWART), one hitters (MOUTH & MACNEAL's soul stirring HOW DO YOU DO and DANIELS BOONE's infectious BEAUTIFUL SUNDAY) and outright obscurities (ANDY WILLIAMS' twin nephews and the gritty RASCALS spinoff band BULLDOG). Half the fun is discovering "shoulda been classics" like FIVE MAN ELECTRICAL BAND's old timey MONEY BACK GUARANTEE, ALBERT HAMMOND's "green" anthem DOWN BY THE RIVER and the SLADE freak-out MAMA WEER ALL CRAZEE NOW (replaced by BROWNSVILLE STATION's equally ballsy LET YOUR YEAH BE YEAH on some issues) tucked in between smashes like THE RASPBERRIES' GO ALL THE WAY and THE O'JAYS' BACK STABBERS. If you were hooked on Top 40 radio during the early seventies, this kitschy collection will serve as a glorious reminder of that innocent era when pop music was as important as eating and breathing.

RATING: FOUR ORIGINAL STARS

THE BRIGHT STUFF

K-TEL PRESENTS BRIGHT SIDE OF MUSIC-22 ORIGINAL HITS 22 ORIGINAL STARS:

K-TEL's BRIGHT SIDE OF MUSIC does a heckuva job replicating a typical AM radio station playlist from the early 70s, back when pop, RNB, and rock blissfully co-existed on the same audio plane. Pitch-perfect power poppers THE RASPBERRIES get two tracks here, the raw stomper I WANNA BE WITH YOU and bubblegum ballad LET'S PRETEND, both rendered in ERIC CARMEN's sweetly sanctifyin' tones. Teen heartthrob DONNY OSMOND also appears twice, first gurgling PAUL ANKA's PUPPY LOVE, then he's overshadowed by his older brothers during THE OSMONDS' hardest edged single DOWN BY THE LAZY RIVER. One hit wonders, always a vital part of K-TEL's catalogue, include white crooner HURRICANE SMITH, who sounds exactly like NIPSEY RUSSEL talks on the retro swing smash OH BABE WHAT WOULD YOU SAY, LAUGH-IN regular JUD STRUNK's folky paean DAISY A DAY, and TIMMY THOMAS, whose WHY CAN'T WE LIVE TOGETHER amounts to sparse, haunting funk unlike any other TOP 40 single then or since. In the ultra-obscurities department, THE SWEET and PAUL DAVIS check in with the superb non-hits IT'S LONELY OUT THERE and BOOGIE WOOGIE MAN respectively, and THE NEW SEEKERS perform an okay WHO medley of PINBALL WIZARD and SEE ME FEEL ME. ERIC CLAPTON, LOBO, and WAYNE NEWTON round out the guest list, and as always, JAMES BROWN is on board to liven up the party as only the King of Soul can. If "the most bang for your buck" LPs are your personal thing, take BRIGHT SIDE OF MUSIC for a spin; you'll bask in the sunny glow of feel-good kitsch shining through on every track.

RATING: FOUR PAIRS OF SHADES

TURN THE BEAT AROUND

K-TEL PRESENTS DISCO MANIA-20 ORIGINAL HITS ORIGINAL STARS:

Released during the genre's embryonic stages, K-TEL's DISCO MANIA is an interesting collection, if only for the many tracks that don't technically fit the category...how else to explain the presence of STYX, BACHMAN-TURNER OVERDRIVE, and KISS here? While the latter DID eventually record the cash-in dance floor biggie I WAS MADE FOR LOVIN' YOU, ROCK & ROLL ALL NITE is what's on DISCO MANIA, (along with LADY and HEY YOU) and that's just wrong on so many levels. BILLY PRESTON's WILL IT GO 'ROUND IN CIRCLES, THE BLACKBYRDS' WALKING IN RHYTHM, and SUGARLOAF's DON'T CALL US were all big pop hits, but they aren't disco. Otherwise, VAN MCCOY's hot steppin' craze THE HUSTLE, CARL DOUGLAS' kick-ass novelty KUNG FU FIGHTING, and GLORIA GAYNOR's upbeat cover of the JACKSON 5 ballad NEVER CAN SAY GOODBYE are familiar, actual "boogie down" staples, even if THE HUES CORPORATION and DISCO TEX tracks aren't their big hits, but barely remembered follow ups. K-TEL's subsequent dance collections tended to be more on target than DISCO MANIA, a fun-filled, if bizarre oddity in their vast catalogue of theme platters.

RATING: THREE GOLD NECK CHAINS

HAPPY DAZE

K-TEL PRESENTS GOOFY GREATS-24 ORIGINAL STARS, 24 ORIGINAL HITS:

Not to be confused with numerous inferior later collections purloining the same name by various unscrupulous record labels, K-TEL's GOOFY GREATS reigns in 24 (count 'em! 24!) tracks of pure whack from the 50s and 60s, the unchallenged prime time for two minute novelty singles. Double shots of sticky sweet bubblegummers OHIO EXPRESS and 1910 FRUITGUM COMPANY, SHIRLEY ELLIS' tantalyzin' tongue-twister THE NAME GAME, and PIERO UMILIANI's hard to find nonsense ditty MAH-NA-MAH-NA (famously resurrected by THE MUPPETS) are all here to grin and/or groan at, along with genre king RAY STEVENS' AHAB THE ARAB, RNB rocker LARRY WILLIAMS' frantic BONIE MARONIE, and THE TRASHMEN's growling pre-punk anthem SURFIN' BIRD. One hit wonders are the rule of thumb in the novelty game, borne out by little remembered acts like THE FENDERMEN (MULE SKINNER BLUES), THE HOLLYWOOD ARGYLES (ALLEY OOP), and THE NEWBEATS (BREAD & BUTTER), but a handful of bona fide well knowns including jug band LOVIN' SPOONFUL, rock pioneer BILL HALEY, and teen idol BRIAN HYLAND also show up for as good time. GOOFY GREATS is a guilty pleasure grab-bag of lost looney tunes you'll amazingly recall all the warped words to, whether singin' along in the shower, on the highway, or at your toddler's next birthday party...force this silly stuff on 'em while they're too young to protest; some day they may thank you for it.

RATING: FOUR CHORTLES

BREW-HA-HA

K-TEL PRESENTS KICKIN'COUNTRY-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

K-TEL's catchy collection KICKIN' COUNTRY celebrates the sawdust covered underbelly of "outlaw" music, the 70s answer to the safer "Nashville Sound". Not surprisingly, many tracks boast a frothy, chuckle-worthy connection to saloons, from Urban Cowboy MICKEY GILLEY's piano pounder DON'T THE GIRLS ALL GET PRETTIER AT CLOSING TIME to BOBBY BARE's rowdy reading of SHEL SILVERSTEIN's chauvinistic shoot-'em-up NUMBERS. You'll also hear JERRY REED's SMOKEY & THE BANDIT trucker tune EASTBOUND & DOWN, and the ultimate outlaw tribute WILLIE, WAYLON, & ME by DAVID ALLAN COE, a long-haired, heavily tattooed man-mountain who should know about such things. JERRY JEFF WALKER contributes the audience participation classic UP AGAINST THE WALL REDNECK MOTHER, hard-core honky tonker GARY STEWART cries in his beer on SHE'S ACTIN SINGLE (I'M DRINKIN' DOUBLES), and JOHNNY PAYCHECK spits out the ultimate workin' man kiss-off TAKE THIS JOB & SHOVE IT. Perhaps JOHNNY RUSSELL sums up the atmosphere best here via RED NECKS, WHITE SOX & BLUE RIBBON BEER, a picturesque barroom ditty that practically demands you hoist one while singing along. If this album was on the jukebox at your favorite watering hole, you'd probably NEVER go home.

RATING: FIVE OVERSIZED BELT BUCKLES

HARD HEADED

K-TEL PRESENTS MASTERS OF METAL-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

Generally speaking, K-TEL's MASTERS OF METAL ain't as hard 'n heavy as the title would have you believe, spotlighting somewhat weaker moments from many of its players. KISS' best "unmasked era" ditty LICK IT UP may be one of the more satisfying tracks here, but still spotlights a band already past its hellzapoppin' heyday. BLACK SABBATH is represented by the decidedly "un-SABB" slab TRASHED, screeched by DEEP PURPLE's IAN GILLAN, who oh so briefly followed OZZY and DIO as frontman. RAINBOW (featuring another PURPLE alum, axeman RICHIE BLACKMORE) was its most menacing when DIO helmed that group...unfortunately STREET OF DREAMS is a streamlined pop effort featuring replacement singer JOE LYN TURNER. And what of DIO himself? Suffice to say his scalding call to arms RAINBOW IN THE DARK outshines so-so DOKKEN and KROKUS entries, not to mention VAN HALEN's ill-advised remake of the MOTOWN warhorse DANCING IN THE STREET. One can't help thinkin' that some white hot AC/DC, JUDAS PRIEST or MOTORHEAD might have gone a long way towards shaking things up a bit; as it stands, MASTERS OF METAL has traces of rust around its edges.

RATING: THREE EARPLUGS

REBEL YELL!

K-TEL PRESENTS SOUTHERN FRIED ROCK-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

Discounting the notable omissions of LYNYRD SKYNYRD and ZZ TOP, K-TEL's good ol' boy collection SOUTHERN FRIED ROCK is stetson and shoulders above most of the company's output, cramming a mere 15 classics into its grooves instead of the usual 22. That means you get the full (well, AM single length) versions of WET WILLIE's fine 'n funky KEEP ON SMILIN', OZARK MOUNTAIN DAREDEVILS' boogie biggie IF YOU WANNA GET TO HEAVEN, and CHARLIE DANIELS' hell-bent hoedown THE DEVIL WENT DOWN TO GEORGIA, not to mention boot stompers from 38 SPECIAL, THE OUTLAWS and THE ALLMAN BROTHERS. On the mellow end of things, ELVIN BISHOP, PURE PRARIE LEAGUE and THE BELLAMY BROTHERS (really a country duo) get in their plowboy-meets-cowgirl licks...but not to worry...BLACK OAK ARKANSAS never sounded nastier than on their sleazoid cover of RNB staple JIM DANDY, while MOLLY HATCHET pulls out all the hard rockin' stops on their trademark rampage FLIRTIN' WITH DISASTER. Pull up a keg and fire up the grill; your Mason-Dixon boogie bash starts right here.

RATING: FIVE TINS OF SKOAL

ALL THE WAY FROM MEMPHIS

MEMPHIS CELEBRATES 50 YEARS OF ROCK & ROLL-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

The best of American popular music has always emanated from a relatively small pocket of roots rockin' destinations...Chicago, Detroit and New Orleans among them...but none more important or influential than Memphis, Tennessee. The home of what many consider to be rock's first real hit, the jump blues biggie ROCKET '88 (featuring a young IKE TURNER), Memphis also housed the early, raw rockabilly spirit of SUN RECORDS' heavy hitters...JOHNNY CASH, CARL PERKINS, JERRY LEE LEWIS and a certain swivel-hipped earth shaker who needs no introduction. In addition, this twenty-one track sampler serves up greasy slabs of STAX/VOLT greatness from BOOKER T & THE MG'S, SAM & DAVE, OTIS REDDING, and RUFUS THOMAS' ultra-funky, under exposed MEMPHIS TRAIN. Also to be marveled at are ARETHA's immortal gospel shout-fest RESPECT, AL GREEN's ultimate bed warmer LET'S STAY TOGETHER and JAMES CARR's somber, haunting DARK END OF THE STREET. Fans of freewheeling rock, rhythmic blooze and sultry southern fried soul would be hard pressed to name a more prolific party squeezed onto a beer coaster than MEMPHIS CELEBRATES 50 YEARS OF ROCK & ROLL.

RATING: FIVE OOBY DOOBY'S


MINIT BY MINIT

THE MINIT RECORDS STORY-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

The first platter of THE MINIT RECORDS STORY is a nitty gritty dip into the unparalleled era of early sixties New Orleans RNB, spotlighting hits, misses and obscurities from that region's most important indie record label. One of the major architects of that region's swampy sound, legendary tunesmith/session musician ALLEN TOUSSAINT (aka NAOMI NEVILLE), produced and arranged virtually every track and half of them bear his funky songwriting imprint as well. ERNIE K-DOE's chart topper MOTHER IN LAW, BENNY SPELLMAN's double sided single LIPSTICK TRACES/FORTUNE TELLER, and AARON NEVILLE's OVER YOU are groundbreaking slabs of southern soul awash in rolling piano licks, second line rhythms and sassy, squonking sax punctuation. Disc number two represents a revamped, bayou-free MINIT that nonetheless showcases searing soul sides by bluesman JUNIOR PARKER, IKE & TINA TURNER and an early five man version of THE O'JAYS. Detailed liner notes, vintage artist photos and pristine sound make this hard to find smorgasboard of blues, gospel and butt shakin' boogie well worth the search for collectors in search of a satisfying roots-rock fix.

RATING: FIVE MINITS

DEAD MAN'S PARTY

MONSTER ROCK 'N ROLL SHOW-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

Easily the most original, varied "Halloween Hits" compilation ever exhumed, MONSTER ROCK 'N ROLL SHOW brews up a brutal batch of rarities, RNB oldies, gonzo novelties and "B"-movie sound bites that'll tickle your innards. Kicking off with the obligatory MONSTER MASH and ending with the equally overexposed PURPLE PEOPLE EATER, it also dredges up BUCHANAN & GOODMAN's spoken word cult classic FRANKENSTEIN of '59 (a far less obvious choice than their smash FLYING SAUCER), FIVE MAN ELECTRICAL BAND's nightmarish WEREWOLF, REDBONE's swamp stomper WITCH QUEEN OF NEW ORLEANS, HOLWIN' WOLF's incredibly ominous I AIN'T SUPERSTITIOUS and SCREAMIN' JAY HAWKINS' FEAST OF THE MAU MAU. And that's just for starters, boys and ghouls; liberally sprinkled in between are kitsch-infested horror movie trailers like THE THING THAT COULDN'T DIE, I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF and THE HAUNTED STRANGLER (the last narrated by BORIS KARLOFF himself). Boasting detailed, fun to digest liner notes and a flawless track selection, the phrase " so good, it's scary!" fits MONSTER ROCK 'N ROLL SHOW like a warm casket.

RATING: FIVE GRAVEYARD SMASHES

HAIR TODAY...GONE TOMORROW

MULLETS ROCK!-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

A "Classic Rock" compilation by any other name, with appropriately cheesy cover art to boot, these are mostly head-hammerin', Schlitz-hoistin' seventies hits dedicated to the proud wearer of the much maligned "hair-don't"...give or take the occasional lightweight E.L.O. or EDDIE MONEY ditty. Worthy bearers of the torch (er, Bic lighter) include 8-Track era outlaws TED NUGENT, BROWNSVILLE STATION, and DEEP PURPLE, as well as the HOLIIES' only "heavy hit", the stomping LONG COOL WOMAN IN A BLACK DRESS. A few 80s "Hair-Metal" bands like TWISTED SISTER and QUIET RIOT get snuck in for kitsch value, but it's the dumb fun of BLUE OYSTER CULT's GODZILLA, RAM JAM's BLACK BETTY and RICK DERRINGER's horny ROCK & ROLL HOOCHIE KOO that provide the real excuses to party. Any self respecting Mullethead already has the bulk of these barnstormers in their record collection, so burn your own, Bubba...and leave off the TOTO fer cryin' out loud!! Anyway, Mullet over.

RATING: FOUR SHAKES OF THE HEAD

BEDROCK & ROLL

NUGGETS-ORIGINAL ARTYFACTS FROM THE FIRST PSYCHEDELIC ERA (4 CD BOX SET):

The Patti Smith Group's Lenny Kaye coined the phrase "NUGGETS" for down 'n dirty lo-fi garage/psychedelic ditties recorded in the late sixties by one-chord wonders with wonderfully preposterous names like Strawberry Alarm Clock, the 13th Floor Elevators, and the Electric Prunes. Kaye's original NUGGETS compilation (later augmented to this 4 disc box set) contained the stuff of a thousand punk and roll acts to come; these garbled one-off smashes and semi-underground class-sicks have been mined endlessly ever since. Alice Cooper paid lip service to Music Machine's TALK TALK, The Cramps tackled the Count Five's PSYCHOTIC REACTION, and John Belushi's appropriately sloppy version of the Kingsmen's LOUIE LOUIE popped up in ANIMAL HOUSE. Future miscreants Ted Nugent, Leslie West, and Warren Zevon all cut their fangs in primitive acts like the Amboy Dukes, The Vagrants, and Lyme & Cybell respectively. A snotty attitude counted far more than a perfect solo (although Nugent exhibited both), and most of these ragtag ensembles had snarl to spare...WOOLY BULLY's greasy Tex-Mex groove, keg-a-riffic singalong DOUBLE SHOT OF MY BABY'S LOVE, the Jagger-esque gems DIRTY WATER and LITTLE GIRL, and several dozen more tracks of whack make NUGGETS an avalanche of the absolute "grundgiest" that sixties rock had to offer.

RATING: FIVE SOUR NOTES

HIT IT AND QUIT IT

ONE HIT WONDERS-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

In spite of shoddy artwork, no liner notes and a slim half hour track list, ONE HIT WONDERS delivers the goods...nine mostly obscure sixties singles by artists who for the most part vanished after penetrating the Top 40. There's also a fairly decent remake by COVEN of ONE TIN SOLDIER, the soaring theme from TOM MCLAUGHLIN's iconic BILLY JACK flick...which in any case was also a charting single in a note for note version by THE ORIGINAL CASTE. Kitschy novelty classics including THE SINGING NUN's French sung DOMINIQUE, BOBBY "BORIS" PICKETT's perennial fave MONSTER MASH and THE CHAKACHAS' orgasmic JUNGLE FEVER are fun spins, while BOBBY BLOOM's MONTEGO BAY is a freewheeling slab of blue eyed soul grittiness. Trivia fans might even know that EVERY MOTHER'S SON's bubblegum delicacy COME ON DOWN TO MY BOAT was originally done by THE RARE BREED, whose LOUIE LOUIE-like BEG, BORROW OR STEAL was purloined by THE OHIO PLAYERS. This collection should have ponied up two or three times the amount of music heard here...but even as is, ONE HIT WONDERS undeniably hits a nostalgic nerve.

RATING: THREE SINGLES


STREET CORNER SERENADE

THE ONLY DOO-WOP COLLECTION YOU'LL EVER NEED-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

Although the term didn't come into usage until its fifties hey day had long passed, doo-wop (named after nonsensical lyrics like "sha na na na" and "yip dip dip dip"), was based upon the glorious multi-part harmonies of earlier groups like THE INK SPOTS and THE MILLS BROTHERS, forging an important linchpin of early rock and roll. The scintillating, street corner blend of three or more voices, perfected by black ensembles like THE PLATTERS, FLAMINGOS and MOONGLOWS and white (often Italian) acts such as THE DUPREES and DION & THE BELMONTS, provided some of the most stylish, romantic hits of the era. Divided into basically two categories...slow and fast...the shimmering balladry of IN THE STILL OF THE NIGHT, I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU and THE GREAT PRETENDER, mixed with up-tempo ditties like GET A JOB, HUSHABYE and SPEEDO all resonated with nostalgic RNB-honed perfection. This double disc tribute ends fittingly with LITTLE CAESAR & THE ROMANS' memorable THOSE OLDIE BUT GOODIES (REMIND ME OF YOU), a warm tribute to some of the most soul-stirring sides ever recorded.

RATING: FOUR RAMA LAMA DING DONG'S

...BUT I LIKE IT!

ONLY ROCK & ROLL/1965-1969-#1 RADIO HITS:

Covering one of modern music's most fertile periods, ONLY ROCK & ROLL/1965-1969 distills twenty numero uno singles from an era when AM radio was still a yardstick for the record buying public's taste. STEPPENWOLF's greasy biker romp BORN TO BE WILD and THE MUSIC MACHINE's raw garage rocker TALK TALK blend in easily with guilty pleasure bubblegum from THE MONKEES and TOMMY JAMES, smooth soul via JAY & THE TECHNIQUES and MEL & TIM, and Brit Invasion legends THE KINKS and THE YARDBIRDS. In spite of the ONLY ROCK & ROLL moniker, things mellow out considerably during THE ASSOCIATION's CHERISH and THE GUESS WHO's THESE EYES, not to mention a gospel-rich offering from THE SWEET INSPIRATIONS, fortifying memories of that glorious era when virtually all genres co-existed on programmer's playlists. With chart stalwarts including SONNY & CHER, THE RASCALS and WILSON PICKETT on board, this party platter plays like one seriously cool diner jukebox crammed with only the best oldies...and you've got a pocketful of quarters.

RATING: FOUR OLDIES

CAN'T GET ENOUGH OF THAT FUNKY STUFF!

PURE FUNK-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

70's funk was soul's nastier cousin, pioneered by the likes of James Brown, Sly Stone, and George Clinton and their bass thumpin', groove humpin' bands, turning up in everything from blaxploitation flicks (SUPERFLY, SHAFT) of the era to the sample-heavy hip hop hits of today. Although Rose Royce's CAR WASH skirts too close to disco and Carl Douglas' smash KUNG FU FIGHTING is a mere novelty, the bulk of PURE FUNK is as influential as it is entertaining. Chic's GOOD TIMES brandishes a fat 'n fortified bassline appropriated by everyone from Queen to The Sugarhill Gang. Jean Knight's infectious Stax classic MR. BIG STUFF and Patrice Rushen's FORGET ME NOTS were heavily utilized by Everclear and Will Smith respectively. The guttural chant of JUNGLE BOOGIE is Kool and the Gang's most primitive party single ever, and Scotland's Average White Band scores with PICK UP THE PIECES, an instrumental chunk of epic groove-ology. The Commodores' bawdy BRICK HOUSE (not sung by Lionel Richie, hence its funkiness), Cameo's dance floor filler WORD UP, and Rick James' Temptations-enhanced SUPER FREAK all reverberate with slinky, shameless, sexual abandon as well. Let's call this funk for the masses, since the rawest practitioners like Jimmy Castor and Bootsy Collins were rarely heard on mainstream radio, plying their trade mainly for inner city audiences who "got it". Maybe PURE FUNK should be retitled "PURE FUN", 'cuz that's just what it is.

RATING: FIVE BASS STRINGS

TALKIN' 'BOUT "MMMMM" POP MUSIC

RADIO DAZE/POP HITS OF THE 80S, VOL. 1-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

Retro kings Rhino Records' 80s answer to their HAVE A NICE DAY series of 70s pop timepieces, RADIO DAZE is all over the map, musically speaking. You get a healthy dose of country-pop (The Dirt Band , Michael Johnson, J.D. Souther), dance pop (Melissa Manchester and Bonnie Pointer), retro pop (Bernadette Peters belting out the old Stax classic GEE WHIZ), even novelty pop (Rupert Holmes' ESCAPE-THE PINA COLADA SONG). Perhaps the best overall track is the haunting rocker ROLENE from new wave raver Moon Martin, who also penned CADILLAC WALK and BAD CASE OF LOVING YOU for others. Most of these selections represent a pretty rare find these days...hence the importance of these Ronco Records-reminiscent releases. RADIO DAZE indeed.

RATING: THREE LOST 45'S

POP STAR

RADIO DAZE/POP HITS OF THE 80'S, VOL. 2-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

Leaning hard on the "middle of the road" side of things, RADIO DAZE's second set of often overlooked chestnuts include ex-KINGSTON TRIO member JOHN STEWART's LOST HER IN THE SUN, the TOMMY JAMES comeback THREE TIMES IN LOVE and former BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD/POCO star RICHIE FURAY's lone solo hit I STILL HAVE DREAMS. Only the funk-driven STOMP from the BROTHERS JOHNSON breaks the adult contemporary mold here, although its a kick to revisit CHARLIE DORE's JONI MITCHELL-channeled PILOT OF THE AIRWAVES, RUPERT HOLMES' ESCAPE (THE PINA COLADA SONG) follow up HIM and Canadian folkie BRUCE COCKBURN's winsome WONDERING WHERE THE LIONS ARE. RHINO RECORDS, the undisputed kings of selling us back our memories, has done it again.

RATING: THREE EARWORMS

POP GOES THE RADIO

RADIO DAZE/POP HITS OF THE 80'S, VOL.3-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

Rhino Records is the retro compilation company that expertly bridges the gap between K-Tel kitschy various artists releases of the 70's and the NOW THAT'S WHAT I CALL MUSIC sampler series of today. Each volumn of RADIO DAZE contains a dozen pop 40 favorites from the decade that gave us legwarmers and spikey 'dos. Ex-Rascal leader Felix Cavaliere and a pre-stardom Vince Gill (fronting Pure Prarie League), blue eyed soul wailer Benny Mardones, and son-of-retro-royalty Rocky Burnette all make welcome cameos here. Remember Ambrosia? Al Stewart? Tommy Tutone? Somewhere in the cobwebbed recesses of your mind, believe me, you DO. But hey, don't take a lowly critic's word for it...check out RADIO DAZE, VOL.3 and find out for yourself how much fun 80's MOR trivia can be.

RATING: THREE MELLOW-DIES

POPPIN' FRESH

RADIO DAZE/POP HITS OF THE 80'S, VOL. 4-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

Not EVERYTHING that came over the airwaves in the decade of excess had a new wave beat attached to it, thank heavens. RADIO DAZE VOL. 4 features the usual blend of country and pop ear candy, including obscure acts like Rick Pinette and Oak, and Wet Willie's soulful front man Jimmy Hall, as well as the far better known Carly Simon and Harry Chapin, whose TAXI follow up, SEQUEL registers here. For cheese value, they also throw Waylon's DUKES OF HAZZARD theme, MECO's busy instrumental EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and an honest to goodness Susan Anton (!) number. If you prefer your music mellow and uncluttered, RHINO RECORDS' easy to digest collection is as good a place as any to turn to.

RATING: THREE SOFT ROCKS

JIFFY POP!

RADIO DAZE-POP HITS OF THE 80'S VOL.5:

A tone-kool mix of adult contemporary pop from the 80's, (though it will hardly leave anyone "dazed") the fifth installment from Rhino's reissue series contains the usual handful of guilty pleasures. Former Eagle Randy Meisner rocks country style on HEARTS ON FIRE, saxman Grover Washington and soulman Bill Withers blend seamlessly on JUST THE TWO OF US, and ex-Dwight Twilley Band belter Phil Seymour unleashes a power-pop smack-down on PRECIOUS TO ME. The blissful pop perfection of rocker Donnie Iris' AH! LEAH! and raspy-but-right Kim Carnes are also here along with all but forgotten artists Champagne, Franke & the Knockouts, and Terri Gibbs, rounding out this likable sampler for the mellow party programmer in you.

RATING: THREE HAVE A NICE DAZE

THE ONE HIT WONDER YEARS

RCA'S GREATEST ONE HIT WONDERS:

There have been countless "one hit wonder" collections spattering the market for many years, but RCA's entry stands head and shoulders above most of them for its truly eclectic choices and a helluva lotta cool music to boot. The better known tracks here include band leader NEIL HEFTI's irresistible singalong BATMAN THEME, HUGO MONTENEGRO's spaghetti western soundtrack smash THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY and ZAGER & EVANS' foreboding IN THE YEAR 2525. But where else will you dig up MARILYN MONROE breathlessly cooing RIVER OF NO RETURN, TONY (NORMAN BATES) PERKINS' hokey hula MOON-LIGHT SWIM or LORNE GREENE's spoken word sagebrush saga RINGO? You also get JIMMY ELDRIDGE's cover of WILLIE NELSON standard FUNNY HOW TIME SLIPS AWAY (on which he sounds EXACTLY like a woman), STUART HAMBLIN's gospel-laden throwback THIS OLE HOUSE and the bagpipe biggie AMAZING GRACE, which even oldies stations seldom played. Featuring kitschy artwork and thorough liner notes, RCA'S ONE HIT WONDERS is nothing short of weird, nostalgic fun...just the thing for audiences who crave their entertainment a bit outside the box.

RATING: FOUR HITS

THE SOUTH SHALL RISE AGAIN

REBEL ROUSERS-SOUTHERN ROCK CLASSICS:

There's a gob o' decent collections that chronicle that whiskey soaked, good ole boy genre called Southern Rock, but at least this one has a decent pedigree...Brownsville Station leader/music historian Cub Koda compiled it and penned the liner notes. Lynyrd Skynyrd, plus associated acts the Rossington-Collins Band and Johnny Van Zant all make the cut here. You'll also sample the Allman Brothers' irrefutable RNB classic STATESBOROUGH BLUES, Elvin Bishop's lone pop ballad FOOLED AROUND AND FELL IN LOVE, and the Marshall Tucker Band's homespun HEARD IT IN A LOVE SONG. Toss in obscure rocker Travis Wammack's take on the James Gang's FUNK #49 and Black Oak Arkansas' raunchy reading of golden oldie JIM DANDY, and ya got yerself a one hour party-hearty package...all that's missin' is a little white lightnin'!

RATING: THREE OVERSIZED BELT BUCKLES

TAKE THE HIGHWAY

ROCK & ROLL HIGHWAY-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

ROCK & ROLL HIGHWAY may have no frills packaging and nothing in the way of liner notes, but SONY's triple disc set DOES boast an eclectic mix of rarely heard head-rock, southern-fried boogie, and proggy instrumental jams. SANTANA's smoldering axe attack BLACK MAGIC WOMAN, MOUNTAIN's THEME FOR AN IMAGINARY WESTERN and BOSTON's party tribute SMOKIN' are the only real staples here, while equally famous stars THE ALLMAN BROTHERS, TED NUGENT, and SPIRIT are represented by lesser known, though no less interesting sonic slabs. JUDAS PRIEST rips into GREEN MANALISHI (penned by BLACK MAGIC WOMAN author PETER GREEN), HENDRIX disciple FRANK MARINO tackles ALL ALONG THE WATCHTOWER, and JIMMIE VAUGHAN channels JOHNNY "GUITAR" WATSON's MOTOR HEAD BABY, while folky bloozers HOT TUNA, the jazz-fueled MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA and ex-STONES guitarist MICK TAYLOR also put in solid appearances. For the more adventurous music fan who doesn't need to hear the same old classic rock radio playlist every day of his life, HIGHWAY is a satisfying road "trip" indeed.

RATING: THREE DEEP CUTS

ROCKIN' AROUND THE CHRISTMAS TREE

A ROCK 'N' ROLL CHRISTMAS-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

Here's one of the smartest, rockin'-rollin'-est holiday purchases amid the bazillion xmas albums out there. If you prefer something a little stronger than Nat King Cole and Dean Martin in your stocking, George Thorogood cranks it up on the hoof stompin' title track as only a Delaware blooze basher can. Upping the fun ante another notch is Bob Segar doin' a sweat-soaked James Brown impression on his pre-superstar snatch of cool yule SOCK IT TO ME SANTA, while the always delightful Kinks contribute cynical masterstroke FATHER CHRISTMAS. Other cult classics include Elton John's joyous STEPPIN' INTO CHRISTMAS, the Waitresses' ear-worm contender CHRISTMAS WRAPPING, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer's serene I BELIEVE IN FATHER CHRISTMAS. Semi-annoying Jon Bon Jovi and Billy Squier efforts aside, A ROCK 'N' ROLL CHRISTMAS bashes it out in a way that the Little Drummer Boy never dreamed of.

RATING: THREE FROSTY ONES

HITS FOR THE ROAD, JACK

HARD ROCK CAFE/ROCKIN' DOWN THE HIGHWAY-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

One of the better "theme" efforts from everybody's favorite music 'n burger museum, ROCKIN' DOWN THE HIGHWAY boasts a trunkful of high octane "car-tunes" perfect for cruisin' and croonin' along to at the top of your lungs. In addition to a pair of classics courtesy of the genre's true originators, Chuck Berry and the Beach Boys, you get actual "hard rock" contenders such as Deep Purple's white line fever fave HIGHWAY STAR, the guitar giddyup of Foghat's DRIVIN' WHEEL, and Golden Earring's hypnotic ode to both the road and Brenda Lee, RADAR LOVE. For contrast, there's Dave Edmunds' slam-bang Graham Parker cover CRAWLING FROM THE WRECKAGE, War's immortal booty-shaker LOW RIDER, and Commander Cody's motormouth ditty HOT ROD LINCOLN. Even better than the Doobie Brothers' title road-trip is B.T.O.'s pavement pounder ROLL ON DOWN THE HIGHWAY, four of the meatiest minutes that 70s radio had to offer. Grab those keys, pop it in and REV IT UP!!!

RATING: FIVE SPEEDING TICKETS

MORE THAN WORDS...

ROCK INSTRUMENTAL CLASSICS VOL.3-THE 70'S:

Long after 50s and 60s instrumental hitmakers Duane Eddy, Dave "Baby" Cortez, and Herb Alpert had laid down their weapons of choice, the great tradition of tunes-with-no-lyrics-but-chops-to-spare carried on through the talents of Edgar Winter's "creature feature" jam FRANKENSTEIN, Scottish funk ensemble the Average White Band's PICK UP THE PIECES, and sideman-to-the-stars Billy Preston's OUTA-SPACE. 70's radio also rippled via instrumentals laced with disco (A FIFTH OF BEETHOVEN and THE HUSTLE), funk (MOVIN' and EXPRESS), jazz (Ramsey Lewis' SUN GODDESS), sex (JUNGLE FEVER), and "the final frontier" (2001 and Apollo 100's JOY). The only thing missing here is a country contender like DUELING BANJOS, but the dumb fun of Gary Glitter's ROCK AND ROLL, PART 2 and Hot Butter's percolating POPCORN are enough to make you ignore such trivialities. Bonus points for including "WHO THE HELL ARE THEY?" acts Rhinoceros and the Nite-Liters. Crank it up!

RATING: FIVE SOLOS

HIT MEN

THE SOPRANOS-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

A dark, sizzling sampler that's all over the map musically, THE SOPRANOS is every bit as invigorating and innovative as the mega-hit series itself. Several superstar icons who don't normally appear on compilation platters include FRANK SINATRA's legendary IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR, BOB DYLAN's born again biggie GOTTA SERVE SOMEBODY and BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN's stark narrative STATE TROOPER. Lesser known artists such as the Boss' E STREET crony LITTLE STEVEN VAN ZANDT (aka Silvio on the show), earthy Mississippi blooze man R. L. BURNSIDE and electronic Brits A3 (whose rhythmic earworm WOKE UP THIS MORNING served as the show's theme) also make stunning contributions, interspersed with BO DIDDLEY, CREAM and VAN MORRISON chestnuts. Rapper WYCLEF JEAN turns in an undisputed highlight in an album crammed full of 'em, fusing his own BLOOD IS THICKER THAN WATER to SLY STONE's slinky FAMILY AFFAIR. An all too rare example of a soundtrack that can be thoroughly enjoyed even by those who have never tuned in, THE SOPRANOS is a soundtrack you really can't refuse.

RATING: FIVE SLUGS

SOUL POWERED!

SOUL SPECTACULAR!

THE GREATEST SOUL HITS OF ALL TIME-VARIOUS ARTISTS: Topping out at ninety timeless tracks over four discs, SOUL SPECTACULAR! distills sweet slabs of sweat from MOTOWN, STAX, ATLANTIC and most of the sixties and seventies' other key labels. From superstars like ARETHA, OTIS and IKE & TINA to one hitters like THE SOUL SURVIVORS (that EXPRESSWAY TO YOU HEART group was white!), FONTELLA BASS and THE FANTASTIC JOHNNY C, no artist, regardless of importance, gets more than a single track apiece as it covers soul's geographic strongholds Detroit, New Orleans, Chicago, Muscle Shoals, Philadelphia and Memphis. Besides the most obvious classics, from THE ISLEY BROTHERS' raucous TWIST & SHOUT to THE JACKSON 5's punchy passion play I WANT YOU BACK, far less exposed treats such as JAMES CARR's moody DARK END OF THE STREET and DYKE & THE BLAZERS' funk fest WE GOT MORE SOUL help keep the playlist interesting. Sharp looking retro concert poster cover art and a thirty page booklet loaded with vintage photos complete this nearly perfect package assembled by retro kings RHINO RECORDS...who can probably slap this stuff together in their sleep by now.

RATING: FIVE SOUL KISSES

PHILLY OF SOUL

THE SOUND OF PHILADELPHIA-GAMBLE & HUFF'S GREATEST HITS:

As the sixties dominance of BERRY GORDY's soul/pop institution MOTOWN began to wane in the early seventies, the slack was taken up by producer/songwriters KENNY GAMBLE & LEON HUFF's highly influential, enormously successful PHILADELPHIA INTERNATIONAL RECORDS. P.I.R.'s best known acts included THE O'JAYS (who had been kicking around since the late fifties) and their message blaring biggies BACK STABBERS and LOVE TRAIN, and HAROLD MELVIN & THE BLUE NOTES, whose signature smashes IF YOU DON'T KNOW ME BY NOW and THE LOVE I LOST showcased the grit-rimmed, impassioned pleas of TEDDY PENDERGRASS. Further chart gold arrived via the creamy ambience of LOU RAWLS' career defining YOU'LL NEVER FIND ANOTHER LIKE MINE, house band MFSB's flashy disco instrumental T.S.O.P. (which eventually wound up as the SOUL TRAIN theme) and glorious one shots from BILLY PAUL, THE THREE DEGREES and MCFADDEN & WHITEHEAD. GAMBLE & HUFF'S GREATEST HITS is a funky fourteen track sampler of exquisitely crafted, socially aware, sophisticated soul that helped define the "me decade".

RATING: FOUR STRING SECTIONS

IF THE SPIRIT MOVES YOU...

SPIRIT OF '76/ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

From ex-teen heartthrob DAVID CASSIDY's so-awful-it's-terrific straight to video epic SPIRIT OF '76, this guilty pleasure soundtrack is a playful nostalgia-crammed pastiche of disco kitsch with a couple of rock dinosaurs mixed in for good measure. GRAND FUNK, BACHMAN-TURNER OVERDRIVE and those briefly hot Scots THE BAY CITY ROLLERS' foot stomping spelling bee SATURDAY NIGHT break up the dance fever domination of VAN MCCOYS's THE HUSTLE, WALTER MURPHY's A FIFTH OF BEETHOVEN, and CARL DOUGLAS' KUNG FU FIGHTING. For a punkier punch, movie co-stars REDD KROSS contribute the sparkling new cut 1976 and the DICKIES sing the soundtrack's title tune. If you can't find the video, you at least owe it to yourself to sample the music...you'll be flashing back to the days of gag-reflex fashion, ridiculous catch phrases, and immaculately feathered hairstyles quicker than you can say AM radio.

RATING: FOUR MOOD RINGS

ALL THE WAY FROM MEMPHIS

THE SUN STORY-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

After releasing legendary RNB sides like JUNIOR PARKER's MYSTERY TRAIN and RUFUS THOMAS' BEAR CAT, visionary Memphis producer/talent scout SAM PHILLIPS' SUN RECORDS hit paydirt with a rollicking rockabilly, gospel, and blues mix of "white artists who sounded black" including brash piano pounder JERRY LEE LEWIS, super-picker/songwriter CARL PERKINS, country upstart JOHNNY CASH, and a hip-wiggling future legend named ELVIS. These undisputed pioneers pumped out the organic classics GREAT BALLS OF FIRE, BLUE SUEDE SHOES, I WALK THE LINE, and THAT'S ALL RIGHT MAMA respectively, all stamped with the joyously rebellious attitude that would become rock and roll's calling card. Later, but no less interesting successes included CHARLIE RICH's fiery workout LONELY WEEKENDS, ROY ORBISON's playful OOBY DOOBY, and BILLY LEE RILEY's snarling smoker FLYING SAUCERS ROCK 'N ROLL, backed by SUN house band THE LITTLE GREEN MEN. At a mere twenty tracks, THE SUN STORY is like reading only the first chapter of a book you can't put down...thankfully, several more equally vital volumes followed in its wake.

RATING: FIVE LITTLE GREEN MEN

BAD SIDE MANOR

SUPER BAD IS BACK-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

Although K-Tel's ten track soul CD is called SUPER BAD IS BACK, it actually borrows that title from one of their wonderfully cheesey "20 Original Hits-20 Original Stars" LPs of the early seventies, which featured a roster of rawer, funkier acts including James Brown and Mandrill. This version is a nifty grouping of important RNB bedwarmers such as Marvin Gaye's LET'S GET IT ON, the horn heavy Tower of Power classic SO VERY HARD TO GO, Sylvia's ultra seductive PILLOW TALK, and bombastic bass maestro Barry White's I'M GONNA LOVE YOU JUST A LITTLE MORE BABY. These are the full length top 40 versions, as opposed to the often chopped K-Tel picks of yesteryear, the better to schedule some serious "down-time" with your soul mate.

RATING: FIVE OOOHS

NICE JOB!

SUPER HITS OF THE '70S:

HAVE A NICE DAY, VOL. 15: RHINO RECORDS' exaustive 25 volume series of kitschy classics may pony up only half the hits per platter of your average K-TEL collection (from which it takes its inspiration), but at least these are the full length single versions, not the butchered edits K-TEL was infamous for. The "me decade" cover art collage boasts icons like MARCEL MARCEAU, NIXON, and BIG BIRD that merely hint at the unabashed nostalgia waiting inside...C. W. MCCALL's C. B. radio chart topper CONVOY or DAVID GEDGES' overwraught saga RUN JOEY RUN anyone? THE DWIGHT TWILLEY BAND's I'M ON FIRE is the finest rocker that AEROSMITH never did, while JOHNNY WAKELIN's ska-tinged tribute BLACK SUPERMAN-MUHAMMAD ALI and PETE WINGFIELD's doo-wop novelty EIGHTEEN WITH A BULLET further demonstrate the "something for everyone" Top 40 vibe to be found here. Sampling JANIS IAN's angst-riddled AT SEVENTEEN on the same platter as THE BAY CITY ROLLERS' bubblegum cheer SATURDAY NIGHT and HOT CHOCOLATE's funky booty call YOU SEXY THING is what made AM radio such a gas in its hey-day.

RATING: FOUR BELL BOTTOMS

NICE TO BE WITH YOU

SUPER HITS OF THE 70S-HAVE A NICE DAY, VOL. 17-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

In the less restrictive daze of 70's AM radio, country, pop, soul, and rock tunes co-existed peacefully, unlike the dull, restrictive formats of now. Rhino's HAVE A NICE DAY series expertly encapsulizes all but the RNB stuff...you'll find that on their equally vital multi disc series SOUL HITS OF THE 70S-DIDN'T IT BLOW YOUR MIND. SUPER HITS OF THE 70S VOL. 17 is an embarassment of one-or-two-hit-wonders like Brownsville Station's snotty schoolboy anthem SMOKIN' IN THE BOY'S ROOM, Mike Post's synth-laden theme from THE ROCKFORD FILES, and Nazereth's heavy version of Everly Brothers oldie LOVE HURTS. Superb entries in the "almost forgotten" category inclde the Sutherland Brothers and Quiver's (I DON'T WANT TO LOVE YOU BUT) YOU GOT ME ANYWAY and Cymarron's dyed-in-the-wool country ditty RINGS. If names like King Harvest, the Hudson Brothers, and Freddy Fender ring a bell, you owe it to yourself to sample this, and other volumns in this exhaustive collection.

RATING: FIVE LAVA LAMPS

NICE SHOT

SUPER HITS OF THE 70'S-HAVE A NICE DAY, VOL. 19-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

George Carlin may hate the phrase, but "Have a nice day" is as much a part of 70's culture as mood rings and pet rocks. So is every volumn of Rhino's immortal SUPER HITS OF THE 70'S, each offering an even dozen "Lost 45's" we somehow still know and treasure. Vol. 19 is a little heavy on the light rock, but 10cc's THE THINGS WE DO FOR LOVE, David "STARSKY AND HUTCH" Soul's DON'T GIVE UP ON US, and Guess Who main man Burton Commings' STAND TALL are all sublime slices of pure pop craftsmanship. Mix in Andrew Gold's witty ditty LONELY BOY, Orleans' peppy anthem STILL THE ONE, and Climax Blues Band's funk-fest COULDN'T GET IT RIGHT, and you've got yet another dyed-in-the-wool K-Tel classic here.

RATING: FOUR 8-TRACKS

I HAD A NICE TIME...

SUPER HITS OF THE 70'S-HAVE A NICE DAY, VOL. 25-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

This is my hands down fave reissue series from master retro compilers Rhino Records...some two dozen volumns of guilty pleasure pop/rock classics and forgotten singles from the hey day of AM radio. A wellspring of late 70's snapshots are captured in this grand finale, including Sweet's psuedo-proggy LOVE IS LIKE OXYGEN, Kiss axe handler Ace Frehley's NEW YORK GROOVE, and Detroit's unsung Rockets, who gleefully pulverize Fleetwood Mac's RNB gem OH WELL into hard rock submission. On the lighter side, country rockers Orleans, soul belter Maxine Nightingale, and mellow slicksters Ambrosia also get their due. While names like Roger Voudouris and Toby Beau may have you reaching for your rock n' roll encyclopedia, you WILL recall their trademark tunes, probably with a giddy fondness, once you pop 'em on again.

RATING: FOUR SMILEY FACES

ALL THE WAY FROM MEMPHIS

THE SUN STORY-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

After releasing legendary RNB sides like JUNIOR PARKER's MYSTERY TRAIN and RUFUS THOMAS' BEAR CAT, visionary Memphis producer/talent scout SAM PHILLIPS' SUN RECORDS hit paydirt with a rollicking rockabilly, gospel, and blues mix of "white artists who sounded black" including brash piano pounder JERRY LEE LEWIS, super-picker/songwriter CARL PERKINS, country upstart JOHNNY CASH, and a hip-wiggling future legend named ELVIS. These undisputed pioneers pumped out the organic classics GREAT BALLS OF FIRE, BLUE SUEDE SHOES, I WALK THE LINE, and THAT'S ALL RIGHT MAMA respectively, all stamped with the joyously rebellious attitude that would become rock and roll's calling card. Later, but no less interesting successes included CHARLIE RICH's fiery workout LONELY WEEKENDS, ROY ORBISON's playful OOBY DOOBY, and BILLY LEE RILEY's snarling smoker FLYING SAUCERS ROCK 'N ROLL, backed by SUN house band THE LITTLE GREEN MEN. At a mere twenty tracks, THE SUN STORY is like reading only the first chapter of a book you can't put down...thankfully, several more equally vital volumes followed in its wake.

RATING: FIVE LITTLE GREEN MEN

SWEET SOUL MUSIC

SWEET & SOULFUL 60S-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

Here's a worthy example of what the people at K-Tel do best...package a dozen or more various artists' radio singles from a particular era, the company virtually invented the concept of "mix tapes". Unlike their slap-dash 70s vinyl hey-day, this pristine CD contains the full length versions, with no "near-hits" mixed in to spoil the fun or the flow of the music. SWEET & SOULFUL 60s is just what the title spells out...Mel and Tim's succulent STAX slice BACKFIELD IN MOTION, the Capitols' dance crazed COOL JERK, the Philly cool of the Delfonics' LA-LA MEANS I LOVE YOU, and white funkers the Soul Survivors' EXPRESSWAY TO YOUR HEART are all undisputed truths of the genre. Mix in the marvelous mellow moods of Barbara Lewis' BABY I'M YOURS and the Jerry Butler/Betty Everett duet LET IT BE ME, and you've got a sublime souvenir of a time when what came out over your AM airwaves truly meant something.

RATING: FOUR SOULS

MUSIC TO MY RABBIT EARS!

TELEVISION'S GREATEST HITS, VOL. 1/FROM THE 50S AND 60S:

Classic TV themes can be almost as much fun as the programs themselves; some of these, including BATMAN and HAWAII FIVE-O, even became huge chart hits when released as pop singles. No boob-tube watcher has escaped the indignity of having every syllable of THE FLINTSTONES and GILLIGAN'S ISLAND forever embedded in our brains, whether we want 'em there or not. TELEVISION'S GREATEST HITS showcases 65 themes (some are decently executed re-recordings of the originals), culled from the "golden age", roughly divided into cartoons, sitcoms, sci-fi, westerns and cop shows, culminating with (what else?) THE TONIGHT SHOW. It's a nostalgic rush to sample CASPER THE FRIENDLY GHOST, TOP CAT, GREEN ACRES, F-TROOP, DANIEL BOONE, and 77 SUNSET STRIP while realizing you still know practically every word to those indelible ditties too. Even without catchy lyrics, immortal instrumentals such as THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, BEWITCHED, ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, DRAGNET, BONANZA, and PERRY MASON remain definitive guilty pleasure delights. This is one hour long TV program of kitsch-encrusted pop culture sound bites during which you won't want to change channels.

RATING: FOUR TV TRAYS

BIG MAC ATTACK

TRUCKER'S JUKEBOX-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

TIME LIFE does their usual bang up job on this various artists compilation spotlighting odes to the road as seen through the eyes of those concrete cowboys, the American truck driver. Genre classics such as DAVE DUDLEY's SIX DAYS ON THE ROAD, JERRY REED'S EAST BOUND & DOWN and MERLE HAGGARD's MOVIN' ON may be better known than JOHNNY HORTON's chugging I'M COMIN' HOME and JIM & JESSIE's bluegrass-driven DIESEL ON MY TAIL, but almost every track here is a smooth trip. BUCK OWENS' rollicking take on TRUCK DRIVIN' MAN is just as good (maybe even better) than GEORGE HAMILTON IV's big hit version, while hippie twang-rockers COMMANDER CODY & HIS LAST PLANET AIRMEN contribute the darkly humorous MAMA HATED DIESELS, and HANK SNOW's I'VE BEEN EVERYWHERE is an absolute tongue-twisting mindbender. The only misstep finds fictional hobo BOXCAR WILLIE inexplicably substituting for the great RED SOVINE on his classics TEDDY BEAR and PHANTOM 309, but this is a small squawk; TRUCKER'S JUKEBOX is one helluva ride you'll wanna take again and again.

RATING: FIVE CUPS OF JOE

LAUGH TRACKS

25 ALL TIME NOVELTY HITS-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

The generic cover art might lead the discerning buyer to suspect lame remakes...but rest assured, 25 ALL TIME NOVELTY HITS contains just over two dozen blessedly original versions of kitschy, mostly sixties class-sicks ranging from one hitters like THE RAN-DELLS' MARTIAN HOP and THE TRASHMEN's early punk anthem SURFIN' BIRD to genre champ RAY STEVENS' swingin' anthem GUITARZAN. If that doesn't raise an immediate grin, there's also...THE IVY THREE's so-bad-it's-good imitation of JELLYSTONE PARK's favorite bruin on YOGI...hipster meets monster saga THE MUMMY by cartoon voiceover fave BOB (COOL MCCOOL) MCFADDEN and poet ROD MCKUEN...a pair of DICKIE GOODMAN's marvelous "break-in" recordings...JAN & DEAN's pre-surf and sand smash BABY TALK...and great big gobs o' more. Most of this bizarre-o mad cap merriment hasn't been heard much since AM radio ruled the airwaves...so if JOLLY GREEN GIANTS, JUANITA BANANAS and JUNK FOOD JUNKIES are your particular thing, this "camp"-ilation will certainly rock your funny bone.

RATING: FOUR BELLY LAFFS

GIMME GIMME SHLOCK TREATMENT!

WE'RE A HAPPY FAMILY/A TRIBUTE TO THE
RAMONES-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

The high energy, crash n' burn, fun-lovin' rock and roll spirit of THE RAMONES is captured only sporadically on the tribute platter WE'RE A HAPPY FAMILY, even though it's peppered with a who's who of stars ranging from METALLICA and U2 to ROB ZOMBIE and EDDIE VEDDER. Edgy alternative bands like OFFSPRING, RANCID and GREEN DAY, who could not have existed without pioneers like THE RAMONES to lead the charge, play it straight on signature classics such as I WANNA BE SEDATED and OUTSIDER, while RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS and THE PRETENDERS break up the overall slam-bang sameness via chance-taking editions of HAVANA AFFAIR and SOMETHING TO BELIEVE IN. KISS could be ANY group covering DO YOU REMEMBER ROCK & ROLL RADIO, so indistinct is their interpretation, but eclectic, gravel pit singer TOM WAITS never sounded more "punk" than he does on RETURN OF JACKIE & JUDY. Suffice to say that no one spewed forth dumb-fun lyrics or churned out buzzsaw chords quite like JOEY and JOHNNY RAMONE...as with the majority of tribute albums, this one falls squarely into the "just okay" category.

RATING: THREE PAIRS OF RIPPED JEANS

GLITTER MOCK

WHAM, BAM, THANK-YOU GLAM!-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

A nifty title for that rompin' stompin' dumb-fun 70s phenom known as glitter rock...but this disc hardly justifies the era, spotlighting many acts connected by only the thinnest of threads. Any glam-fest should at least give due to two of its grandest practitioners, Brit bands Slade and Sweet; even David Bowie, whose SUFFRAGETTE CITY this disc nicks its very name from, is nowhere to be heard here (his services don't come cheap). Gary Glitters' primitive arena thumper ROCK AND ROLL PART 2 (the "HEY" song to you sports fans) is possibly the only artist here that fits the category well. Iggy Pop, ex- New York Dolls screecher David Johansen, and Patti Smith are punk rock pioneers, while Kiss, Starz, and Edgar Winter represent garden variety hard rock. That leaves Blondie (new wave), one hit wonder David Essex (HUH?????), and the exquisitely uncatergorizable Mott the Hoople. So...Wham, Bam, Where's the GLAM?

RATING: TWO PLATFORM BOOTS

FUNNY BUSINESS

WILD & CRAZY TUNES-VARIOUS ARTISTS:

It's no joke! For the comedian in all of us, here's a brief but chuckle-worthy sampling of novelty tunes ranging from the genre's 60s hey-day to the 80s. The title cribs from one of Steve Martin's best loved lines, although there is no KING TUT nor GRANDMOTHER'S SONG to be heard here. No matter, when you get Chuck Berry's chart toppin' raunchy nursery rhyme MY DING-A-LING, Bob and Doug McKenzie's Great White North ditty TAKE OFF, David Seville's pre-Chipmunks tongue twister the WITCH DOCTOR, and the courtroom chaos of Pigmeat Markham's HERE COMES THE JUDGE. If the mere mention of THE PURPLE PEOPLE EATER, JUNK FOOD JUNKIE, and MONSTER MASH brings a smirk to your lips, you might wanna slap this on at your next adult OR kiddie party. It may not have the depth and breadth of a Dr. Demento collection, but this budget-priced collection is still good for a cheap laugh.

RATING: FOUR YUKS

BE-TWEEN HITS

YESTERDAY'S HEROES-70S TEEN IDOLS:

Even for a teen heartthrob collection (and one named after an obscure Bay City Rollers tune at that) this peaks uncommonly high on the ol' kitcsh-o-meter. Besides usual suspects Bobby Sherman, Leif Garret, and Tony DeFranco, the listener is treated to a treasure trove of every 70s TV hunk ever allowed to wax poetic for a quickie cash-in. Who but retro champeens Rhino Records could dredge up the likes of David Soul, Rick Springfield's lone pre-GENERAL HOSPITAL hit SPEAK TO THE SKY, the Hudson Brothers, Jack (H. R. PUFNSTUF) Wild, the Brady Bunch Kids, Danny Bonaduce (but no David Cassidy), Jimmy Osmond (but no Donny!), Davy Jones, and ANSON "POTSIE" WILLIAMS??!! You never got this much bang for your buck from that little tube o' Clearasil. This sucker should have come on a little cardboard record from the back of a cereal box. Bonus points for the CD cover, mocked up to resemble one of those old TIGER BEAT rags you used to sneak outta your big sister's room. Here's the best so-awful-it's-awesome celebrity sing-off since Rhino's GOLDEN THROATS series. Have at it, kiddiess, and wash that despicable NSYNC taste outta your mouth.

RATING: THREE SHAG HAIRCUTS

ROCKIN' DVDS...

GRABBIN' THE BULL BY THE HORNS

AC/DC-NO BULL:

Taking place in a massive bull fight arena in Spain, NO BULL has all the expected earmarks of a AC/DC concert...their famed giant bell, wrecking ball, and giant inflatable hooker named ROSIE are all trotted out at various junctures, not that they're really needed. ANGUS YOUNG, who looks exactly like your kid brother at age twelve, is the main special effect, a whirling dervish prone to outbursts of rapid-fire duckwalkin', CURLY HOWARD floor spins, and shorts droppin' striptease to go with those jaw-droppin' scrapyard riffs. BRIAN JOHNSON's strangled gargle may be no match for his late, never sedate predecessor BON SCOTT, but he gets the job done in true stout-hearted fashion, spitting lyrics through gritted teeth, while MALCOM YOUNG anchors the most underrated rhythm guitar riffage in the business. Few groups have stockpiled a catalogue as impressive as this half 'n half set of of lava-spewin' BON and BRIAN era classics, from the ribald pressure cooker blooze of THE JACK to the ominously building pulse of THUNDERSTRUCK. Naturally the best is saved for last, meaning those swingin' neckbreakers TNT, YOU SHOOK ME ALL NIGHT LONG, and HIGHWAY TO HELL, which boast some of the most recognizable opening licks in all of hard rock. The frenzied fans are a sweaty sea of bobbin' heads and raised fists from the initial crunch of BACK IN BLACK to the final cannon blast of FOR THOSE ABOUT TO ROCK; AC/DC is a total entertainment blitzgrieg that's understood in any language.

RATING: FOUR HORNS

YOU AIN'T HEARD NOTHIN' YET

RANDY BACHMAN-EVERY SONG TELLS A STORY (DVD):

Guess Who and BTO axeman/songwriter Randy Bachman's concert dvd EVERY SONG TELLS A STORY adheres closely to Kink-sized composer Ray Davies' original "Storyteller" vision. Bachman devulges the intimate, often intriguing details behind such chestnuts as AMERICAN WOMAN and TAKIN' CARE OF BUSINESS, performing them semi-UNPLUGGED style with his own band. Keyboardist/co-vocalist Colin Weibe easily slides into the Burton Commings role when called upon, while Randy's more limited vocal range serves the BTO stuff well enough. LET IT RIDE, originally belted by Fred Turner with true John Fogerty bombast, is reclassified here as a mellow "coffeehouse" folksong, while LOOKIN' OUT FOR #1 sounds as exquistely jazzy as it ever did. Only a remedial HEY YOU slows up the pace; the Burton Cummings kiss-off was never much of a song anyway, just a blatant cannibalization of all previous BTO smashes. That's a minor complaint; from NO TIME's steady whump and the blooze-infested FOUR WHEEL DRIVE to inevitable encore TCB, EVERY SONG TELLS A STORY ably lives up to its title.

RATING: FOUR GEARS

IN GOOD COMPANY

BAD COMPANY-MERCHANTS OF COOL (DVD):

BAD COMPANY, that meat 'n taters 70s hard rockin' supergroup fronted by gritty powerhouse belter PAUL RODGERS, is fairly represented on this 2002 concert DVD, even tho' he and his ex-FREE partner, drummer SIMON KIRKE are the only familiar faces this time around. Not that it matters much...far better this grouping than the generic BRIAN HOWE-fronted version of 80s-era BAD CO. No frontman can do their classic catalogue justice like blooze wailer/soul impaler RODGERS; in fact, FREE's exhuberant classics WISHING WELL and ALL RIGHT NOW are tossed into the show for greasy good measure. Most of the vital BC hits get their due here, from romper-stomper singalongs CAN'T GET ENOUGH, ROCK & ROLL FANTASY and GOOD LOVIN' GONE BAD to cooly emoted ballads FEEL LIKE MAKIN' LOVE and SEAGULL, so few fans of the original band will feel cheated. This outfit has endured numerous lineups with varying degrees of success, but so long as there's a leathery breath left in his lungs, long may PAUL RODGERS' sanctifying take on BAD COMPANY rock!

RATING: FOUR BAD BOYS

HAIL, YES!

CHUCK BERRY-HAIL! HAIL! ROCK 'N ROLL (DVD):

If Elvis will forever be remembered as the "King", then Chuck Berry surely deserves the title of Father of Rock & Roll. After all, he not only sang a trunkload of pioneering classics, he also composed and played on all his hits, something ol' swivel-hips certainly never did. Director Talyor Hackford's amusing, insightful, and above all else, MUSICAL documentary gives the man with the most recognized guitar intro on record his due. Berry's tale is peppered with riveting interviews featuring everyone from Little Richard and Bo Diddley to Bruce Springsteen and the always quotable Keith Richards, who takes on the thankless task of bandleader for this project. Chuck himself has plenty to say about making money, but not about his infamous arrest record. Little Richard wails in his usual flamboyant tones about Pat Boone whitewashing his LONG TALL SALLY. The Boss reminisces about Berry's longstanding habit of using local backing bands who are expected to know his music when he blows into their town, even though he doesn't rehearse with them. Chuckle along with Keef as he relates how he didn't "go down" when Berry once sucker punched him. One of popular music's