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Swedish Pop in the Big World (01/22/99) Write to CD Shakedown

Big, Big WorldEmilia, Big, Big World (Universal Records 1998) - 20-year-old Emilia has scored huge chart success in her native Sweden. Big, Big World is instantly likeable, and should do the same in the U.S.

EmiliaA pop gem, the single "Big, Big World" achieved gold status in Sweden after a mere six days, and went platinum after only 11 days, making it the fastest-selling single in Swedish history. Yet two tracks are even better: the uplifting, "A Good Sign," and the swing version of "Maybe, Baby."

Swedish pop candy is as sweet as it gets. Emilia has a friendly, likeable voice, and Big, Big World deserves to reach a worldwide audience. Big talent, but not big ego.

Shum TickyLaura Love, Shum Ticky (Mercury 1998) - Songstress Laura Love returns with her fifth release, Shum Ticky. An amalgam of musical influences, including jazz, blues, swing, and Celtic, the new album is driven by Laura's free spirit.

Laura lives in Seattle and plays the music that runs through her. "My mission in life is to put the 'Yo' back in yodeling," Laura declares.

Laura Love"Anyway, can't we all get along? You know, Ebony and Ivory? It feels really good to put a Middle Eastern melody with an Afro-Pop groove, it seems like they flow together naturally, and the bottom line is that we are supposed to get along, influence each other, influence each other's culture."

With production help from Joe Chicarelli, the new album features such songs as "The Clapping Song" (featuring Sir Mix-A-Lot), the jazzy "Aha Me a Riddle I Day," and "Mahbootay" (about her derriere).

Like Joan Armatrading and Chaka Khan before her, Laura Love delivers rock tailored to her personal tastes. World music fans should try Shum Ticky.

Tom FreundTom Freund, North American Long Weekend (Red Ant 1998) - A card-carrying member of the Austin, Texas alt-folk crew, Tom Freund walks the walk. With a somber delivery and an understated vocal delivery, North American Long Weekend looks at the bars and motel rooms of America with the smoky grit of Tom Waits.

A native of New York, Freund has recorded in Austin, Texas, with roots-rockers, The Silos, as well as the Setters (featuring Alejandro Escovedo and Michael Hall).

The aching songwriterFor the new album, Freund recruited guest appearances from such skilled players as jazz legend Jimmy Smith (Hammond B3 organ), drummer Chris Searles (who has worked with Abra Moore and Shawn Colvin), bass player, Jerry Scheff (who has recorded with everyone from Elvis Presley to the Doors), and pedal steel player David Immergluck (who has recorded with the Counting Crows and John Hiatt). Tying it all together is producer Marvin Etzioni (ex-Lone Justice).

North American Long Weekend features Freund's storytelling style on songs such as "Great Authority" and "Business of Knowing." In addition, a string section rounds out tracks like "Holden Caulfield" and "Lady Jane."

The final product is too somber for my taste - although Freund has talented friends, North American Long Weekend comes up short on catchy melodies. Fans of downbeat folk will want to look up this album.

Flexable LeftoversSteve Vai, Flex-able Leftovers (Epic 1998) - Master guitar player, Steve Vai, has reissued a set of out takes that were recorded during the "Flex-able" period (1982-84). With 13 tracks (including several never before available), Leftovers shows Vai to be an inventive and skilled player.

The vibe on Leftovers is distinctly influenced by the late Frank Zappa, with adventurous arrangements, unusual instrumentation, and socially-connected lyrics (even "#?&! Yourself," which clocks in at 8:27). The influence is not surprising, considering that Steve toured with Zappa during the time he (Vai) recorded this material.

Steve VaiWith tracks like "Natural Born Boy" and "Little Pieces of Seawood," Leftovers is coherent onto itself and more than just a collector's item. I wish this album had been recorded in 1998: Vai would be heir to the Frank Zappa kingdom, and carry on the legacy. Give this quirky collection a chance.

- Randy Krbechek © 1999

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