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April 10, 1996

Live From Mountain Stage

Mountain StageTexans Live from Mountain Stage (Blue Plate Music 1995) - Blue Plate Music, an affiliate of John Prine's Oh Boy Records (now located in Nashville) has been compiling performances from the Live on Mountain Stage radio series for years. For Texans Live from Mountain Stage, the label assembled 13 Texas-based acts that appeared on the Mountain Stage and put them in this fun-filled, blues, rock, and boogie-drenched collection.

Live from Mountain Stage is broadcast on West Virginia public radio, and features two hours of live music 30 weeks a year. According to executive producer, Andy Ridenour, "One of the requirements [with West Virginia public radio] was that there be no overdubbing, and obviously there is no remixing of the two-track tapes."

Live from Mountain Stage is now carried nationwide on 120 public radio stations. Since the series began in 1984, a veritable who's who of rock, pop, folk and country performers have graced the Mountain Stage, including such diverse acts as Counting Crows, Graham Parker, and Michelle Shocked.

While sales of the CDs have been quiet, the sound quality and production are exceptional. Volumes I through VIII contain an eclectic assortment of artists from folk, alternative, blues, rock, zydeco, country, and more. Label owner, Dan Einstein, recognizes that "It's an uphill battle to sell multiple-artist packages because the albums get stuck in the "Various Artist" ghetto with Disco Hits of the 70s, or whatever. But once somebody buys one, we get repeat business out of it." And for good reason.

My favorite cuts are a great reading of Charlie Pride's "Is Anybody Going to San Antone?" by the Texas Tornados, and Asleep at the Wheels' Texas Playboy-influenced "Miles and Miles of Texas." Both are fresh, lively recordings, with plenty of spark. [And I've forgotten how good Asleep at the Wheel can be when they get in the groove].

Also featured are cuts from blues queens Kelly Willis and Marsha Ball, as well as contributions from such country/folk-influenced artists as Jimmie Dale Gilmore ("Just A Wave"), Joe Ely ("I Had My Hopes Up High") and Townes Van Zandt ("Buckskin Stallion Blues"). L.A.'s public radio station has also released two complitations of live recordings that were first broadcast over radio. However, the performances on Texans Live are much more accessible than the subdued recordings on Rare on Air.

There's a thriving music scene in Texas, where the artists are allowed to make music without being pigeonholed into a particular genre. In particular, Austin, Texas has generated a huge pool of talent, including favorite daughter Tish Hinojosa, who contributes "Esperate" (Wait for Me)" to this album.

Texans Live at Mountain Stage is both a great sampler and a wonderful introduction to the newly-coined "Americana" music. Which, oddly enough, has long been more popular in Europe than it is in the United States.

Mike ScottMike Scott, Bring 'em All In (EMI 1996) -- Former Waterboy Mike Scott has released his first solo album, after 12 years of work with his old band. It's a rich, brooding disc, eminently befitting of Scott's Irish roots.

I was never a fan of the Waterboys, although I recognize that many Irish musicians think 1985's This is The Sea is one of the decade's seminal albums. For my tastes, ex-Waterboy Kurt Wallinger's work with World Party was much more accessible.

Mike ScottBut Scott shows his strengths on Bring 'em All In. Scott played all the instruments on the album, and shows himself to be a tunesmith in mode of the classic troubled Irish troubadour. Thus, "City Full of Ghosts" is a great autobiographical reflection on Scott's former haunts, and "Learning to Love Him" is a richly-made love song.

It took a while for this album to grow on me, but it eventually sank in. I guess hard work and real talent eventually shine through. Try Bring 'em All In.

23 Degrees23 Degrees, Born of Earth's Torments (Silent Records 1995) - Ambient (or dub) music is the instrumental music of the 90s. And don't think Enya's not aware of this. Born of Earth's Torments explores this dance-and-trance aural landscape with a sound that combines deep gliding vistas with minimalist beats and chanting vocals.

Which is to say, it's not easy to describe this sound. The eight tracks have a slippery feel; in parts, a raw ambient melody spirals skyward, grounded only by subtle pulses between the surface of the song; elsewhere, surging drums dominate the movement, drawing the listener into dubby aurel landscapes.

23 Degrees is a trio consisting of Timothy Hendrix, Bertha Matus, and Roy Robinson, all of whom have been creating music since the 1970s. Hendrix plays bass; in addition, he has remixed dance hall and reggae tracks for Jamacian artists in his native San Diego.

Vocalist and keyboardist Bertha Matus adds the ethnic and soulful touch to entrancing classic melodies, while Robinson provides such percussion instruments as the djmbe jumjum, and sabar.

I'll admit, I'm not very familiar with this music, but I see it as having a future, much as surf instrumentals from the 60s are now viewed as classics. Born of Earth's Torments has a swirling, uplifting, melodic, and hedonistic feel. In addition, it has enough melody and beat to make it truly danceable. If you're looking for fluid, looping rhythms, vibrant melodies, and dubbed-out bass, try Born of Earth's Torments.

As Silent Records (an adventurous label based in San Francisco) says, "All pirates shall be judged by Jah." Don't mess with these folks.

-- Randy Krbechek

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