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Music Reviews

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January 15, 1997

Dead and Alive

Grateful Dead, Dozin' At The Knick and The Arista Years (Arista 1996) - Though founding member Jerry Garcia is gone, the Dead live on through their prolific concert recordings. Dozin' At The Knick is a three-disc set that was recorded at a 1990 show at Knickerbocker Arena in Albany, New York.

Dozin' At the Knick features such Dead favorites as "Jack-a-Roe," "Uncle John's Band," and "Goin' Down The Road Feeling Bad," as well as an extended jam called "Space" and a cover of "All Along The Watchtower." I'd have trimmed the set for release on CD (the extended jams don't excite me), but fans will relish it.

Grateful Dead Also newly issued is The Arista Years, a double-disc set that draws from the eight albums that the Dead released on Arista between 1977 and 1990. The album includes the title track from Terrapin Station (1977), "Fire On The Mountain" from Shakedown Street (1978), "Alabama Getaway" from 1980's Go To Heaven, and the band's biggest single, "Touch of Grey," from In The Dark (1987). Also included are a few tracks from the three live albums on Arista -- Reckoning, Dead Set, and Without A Net.

The Arista Years is a fine collection of the Dead's work after their departure from Warner Bros., and includes interesting and evocative liner notes by Richard Gehr and Blaire Jackson, both knowledgeable Deadheads. Explore the Dead on The Arista Years.

The Heads, No Talking, Just Head (MCA 1996) - The Talking Heads are back in No Talking, Just Head, sans the main talker David Byrne . The resulting album has a solid Heads feeling, but lacks Byrne's edgy quirkiness.

The Talking Heads were one of the most popular bands to emerge from New York's famed CBGB Club, and scored many chart hits. Since their defacto termination in the late 80s, the band members have gone their own ways; Jerry Harrison scored big success producing Crash Test Dummies, while Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz worked with Ziggy Marley and their pet project, The Tom Tom Club. Yet, as Harrison notes, "No matter how great producing is, you still miss playing."

The three remaining Heads (Chris Frantz on drums, Jerry Harrison on guitars and keyboards, and Tina Weymouth on bass) began playing together again in 1995: these were their first sessions since the 1990 Escape From New York tour with the Ramones. (I saw that show, and liked it. But my biggest recollection is how bad Debbie Harry looked. Debbie's been damaged by the years of partying; "Die Young, Stay Pretty" no longer applies to her.)

On No Talking, Just Head, the three friends recorded the instrumental tracks (which have the dense, multi-textured sound for which the Talking Heads were famous), then recruited a dozen different rock and alternative vocalists to lay down the vocal tracks.

In addition, the singers wrote their own lyrics. Thus, Maria McKee contributes "No Big Bang," Michael Hutchence from INXS provides "The King is Gone," and Ed Kowalczyk provides a funky, "Indie Hair." But the song sung by Tina Weymouth, "Punklalita," sounds the most like the band as a whole. Maybe that's because she's part of the regular group.

After completing No Talking, Just Head, the trio recruited Johnette Napolitano (from the now-defunct Concrete Blonde as its new full-time vocalist. (Johnette also provides the album's first number, "Damage I Have Done"). We'll have to see where that new group goes.

As instrumental tracks, No Talking, Just Head has great coherency. But the diversity of lyrics and vocal performers detract from the whole. Close, but no cigar.

  James Brown
James Brown, Hooked on Brown (Scotti Bros. 1996) - Since his series of Southern-based troubles a few years ago, James Brown is trying to restore stability to his life and career. Hooked on Brown, a three-part medley of Brown's crowd-pleasers, should help show the way.

A rock icon in the 50's and 60's, Brown slid into a series of troubles that culminated with his drug-related arrest and imprisonment a few years back. Since his release, Brown has maintained a lower profile: his formerly flamboyant escapades and lifestyle haven't made the news recently.

The 22 cuts on Hooked on Brown are divided into three sets - "Platinum," "Party," and "Powerhouse." With such great numbers as "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag," "Please, Please, Please," and "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine," James Brown certainly knows how to liven up a party. While not the perfect introduction to James Brown, Hooked on Brown features three fun medleys that will energize your party.
stars on esp
Various Artists, His Name is Alive: Stars on ESP (4AD 1996) - I don't know anything about His Name is Alive, except that I like it. Stars on E.S.P. features 15 different dreamhall/rave acts (i.e., dreamy enough to be beyond pop, like the Cocteau Twins , but not tied to a 120 beats per minute tempo).

Thus, the album includes "Universal Frequencies" by the Beech Boys , with a loving reference to the classic, "Good Vibrations," and "Answer to Rainbow at Midnight," a solid ambient/dream pop number by Crunch . Also included is the gospel-oriented "Last One" by Last One . Not for everyone, His Name is Alive will appeal to fans of the post-disco, trans/ambient sound.

-- Randy Krbechek
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