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Music Reviews

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February 22, 1995

That's Just the Way You Are

Melrose PlaceVarious Artists, Melrose Place -- The Music (Giant 1995) -- Okay, I'll admit it. When I first saw the 11-cut soundtrack to Melrose Place, I expected it to be lightweight fluff. Surprise, surprise. Instead, this 40-minute disc features some excellent performances by talented pop/alternative artists, including Urge Overkill (who also contributed the high-camp version of "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" to the Pulp Fiction soundtrack), Letters to Cleo, and James. All in all, it's a very attractive package.

The series Melrose Place appears every Monday at 8:00 p.m. on the Fox network, and has drawn a wide audience among the 20-something generation. With a cast including Heather Locklear, Andrew Shue, and Doug Savant, the show has created a popular following in L.A.'s trendiest fictitious neighborhood.

The soundtrack features music that will be heard on the show during the 1994-95 season, and begins with an extremely strong pop number by Aimee Mann, "That's Just What You Are." Aimee has the rare ability to sing of pain and rejection in a pop format, as proven in the terrific 1988 swan song with 'Til Tuesday (Everything's Different Now).

For "That's Just What You Are" (which was recorded with assistance from Glen Tilbrook and Chris Difford of Squeeze), Aimee again displays her ability to wrap a cynical and worldly lyric around a perfect pop melody. Backed by an extraordinary band, "That's Just What You Are" is a great single, and worth the cost of the album in itself.

The CastBut there's more, such as Sam Phillips' splendid Beatlesque cut, "Baby, I Can't Please You." Sam released last year's best album in Martinis & Bikinis (Virgin); if you haven't heard it yet, run down and get the soundtrack to Melrose Place. Also included are fine performances by Annie Lennox (late of the Eurythmics), talented grunge from Dinosaur, Jr. ("Blah"), and "Ordinary Angels" from Australia's newest alternative act, Frente!

An interesting story has surfaced regarding Aimee Mann's appearance on this album. There's word that Irving Azoff (of Giant) badly damaged her career when Azoff left Epic Records (formerly the home of 'Til Tuesday) and didn't take the band with him. For five years, Aimee walked the streets trying to sell her solo album to record companies before eventually finding a buyer in Imago. For mysterious reasons, Aimee now shows up as the star to the Melrose Place soundtrack.

The music business can be unforgiving at times. We'll probably never know what transpired with Aimee, but she has reappeared with a killer single. Get the Melrose Place soundtrack.

Etta JamesEtta James, Live From San Francisco (Private Music 1994) -- Live From San Francisco is a 41-minute reissue disc that was recorded live at The Boarding House in San Francisco in March, 1981. Featuring a crack band called the "Blind Girls" by Etta, the album shows the boisterous, rockin' rhythm & blues attitude that made Etta an early star of rock 'n roll.

Etta recorded for Chicago-based Chess Records from 1960 to 1975. Her career began as a five-year-old child singing in the St. Paul Baptist Church in L.A. In the 40s, she was a gospel star: in the 50s, she emerged as a teenaged R & B pioneer (recording the early hit, "Roll With Me Henry"), and as a woman of the 60s, she sang alongside Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding.

By the 70s, her career had become derailed. Says Etta, "The music business was going disco crazy, but I wasn't about to start chasing some fad. I keep singing what I felt like singing -- the stuff I loved best. R & B or soul still sounded good to me."

When her recording contract ended, she moved from Los Angeles to San Francisco. In March of 1981 (when Live From San Francisco wa recorded), Etta was 43 years old and frustrated. Says Etta, "L.A. had become like a cage from which I escaped. During this down-and-out period, gay clubs [in San Francisco] kept me alive.

"I was broke as a churchmouse, yet dead-set on capturing my live show. My career might have been hurting, but my voice was stronger than ever...Nothing could get in our way. I wanted to do this album raw -- no overdubs, no tricks. Me and my Blind Girls were ready to break out the guns and start blasting."

The result is Live From San Francisco, a smoking R & B set. With a band that included Brian Ray on guitar, Keith Johnson on trumpet and keyboards, the late Kurtis Teel on bass, Armand Grimaldi on drums, and Bobby Martin on sax, keyboards and french horn, Etta was in a groovin' mood for this show.

In addition to growlin' blues numbers such as "Sugar on the Floor" (written by Kiki Dee), and a mellow version of "Take it to the Limit" (by the Eagles), the album also features a multi-song Otis Redding tribute.

In recent years, Etta's career has rebounded. However, fans of sweaty, horn-driven R & B will start jumping when they hear this album. If you're looking for the real thing (not just regurgitated blue-eyed soul), try Live in San Francisco.

Grocery Store Wars -- Since I do the grocery shopping in our family, I seem to have an unusual interest in local grocery stores. The latest casualty is Cost Less, which claims it is closing its stores because "the concept never caught on in the Central Valley."

Baloney. The stores are closing because they were crappy, and because of management arrogance. Problems first surfaced when the stores changed hands last year. I wrote the company and complained; they ignored me. This kind of corporate indifference has led to the downfall of bigger organization, and serves only to alienate loyal customers. Cost Less made their own bed, and now they can sleep in it.

-- Randy Krbechek

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