May 10, 1995
Kristen Hall, Be Careful What You Wish For (High Street Records 1994) - The second disc from Atlanta-based Kristen Hall is a folk-influenced slice-of-life. With her earthy, honest delivery and songwriting talent, Kristen could go far.
Originally raised in Detroit, Kristen relocated to Atlanta in the early 80s to join the burgeoning local music scene. She soon caught the eye of the Indigo Girls, and her debut album, Fact & Fiction, was released on Daemon Records (owned by Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls) in 1992.
Kristen admits that some of her past songwriting has been dark, but now says that "My only goal left in life is to be happy - that's all I'm really interested in. Part of becoming happy is accepting responsibility for the mistakes I have made."
For the new album, Kristen (who says that one of her main influences is Jackson Browne) has moved away from the subdued acoustic format of Fact & Fiction to a band-based style. The result is a more pop-oriented and accessible disc, without any sacrifice in emotional clarity.
Several early numbers on Be Careful What You Wish For are standouts, including the haunting "Proud Man" (a woman's perspective of the man who abandons his family) and the uptempo yet bittersweet "Cry Tomorrow." Kristen has many friends in the music business, and is joined on the new disc by such artists as Matthew Sweet, Michelle Malone, Jules Shear and Emily Saliers (from the Indigo Girls).
Though Kristen has become one of the stars of the lesbian acoustic circuit, there's no reason for her to be pigeonholed into a political/sexual genre. With a voice that sounds like a cross between a whiskey-soaked Bonnie Raitt and a gravelly Melissa Ethridge, Kristen has ability to reach out and express the joy of self-awareness.
One of my best tests for when an album works is when I'm asked what's playing. If the music continues in the background, it's not connecting; if I'm asked what's being played, then the disc works. I was asked several times about Be Careful What You Wish For, particularly "Proud Man." There's something special about this album. See if it passes your test.
Linda Ronstadt, Feels Like Home (Elektra 1995) -- Incredible though it may seem, Linda Ronstadt has released 28 albums during a career spanning nearly three decades. During the '80s, Ronstadt abandoned the country and pop format that made her a star and veered off into other directions, including opera, Spanish traditionals, and big band numbers. Feels Like Home is a return to a steadier pop course, and one of the most rewarding discs from her in years.
When I was growing up, albums like Prisoner in Disguise, Hasten Down the Wind, and Simple Dreams made a big impression on me, as Ronstadt helped create a new genre. Says Ronstadt, "It was me and the Eagles and Buffalo Springfield at the Troubadour in L.A. who were playing this kind of music. Back then, we were among the first to mix bluegrass and rock 'n roll, and that's what I've done on the new album."
At the heart of a great Linda Ronstadt album were two things -- great songs and gut-wrenching vocals. When Ronstadt was at her prime, her vocal performances were so perfect, they could bring tears to your eyes. Feels Like Home comes close in both categories, but doesn't set a new standard.
Ronstadt still has impeccable delivery, and her songwriting selection remains strong. Half the ten cuts on Feels Like Home feature back vocal assistance from long-time compatriot Emmylou Harris, who lends her country sentiments to the disc.
The new album features a host of talented musicians, including mandolin master David Grisman, fiddle virtuoso Allison Krause, veteran drummers Jim Keltner and Russ Kunkel, organist Booker T. Jones (from Booker T. and the MGs) and guitarwork from Dean Parks and Carl Jackson.
Feels Like Home contains fine songs such as "The Waiting" (by Tom Petty), "After the Gold Rush" (by Neil Young), and the title track, which was written by Randy Newman. The weakness is that these songs are all familiar: the album does not expose groundbreaking new songwriters, as Ronstadt once did with Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Warren Zevon, and J.D. Souther.
The true gem on this album is "Teardrops Will Fall" by an unknown named E.V. Deane. "Teardrops" features terrific slide guitar work by Roy Rogers, and has that signature country-rock Ronstadt sound. "Teardrops" ought to be a big hit, and is worth the price of the album.
Like her last album, Winter Light, Feels Like Home was recorded at Ronstadt's new home in Marin County with assistance from producer (and life partner?) George Massenburg. Feels Like Home is a welcome return from a wayward friend, and will help stir old memories.
Corporate Stupidity -- One of my pet peeves is businesses that aren't responsive to their customers, or that impose dumb requirements. Unfortunately, I've encountered this mentality numerous times at Babe's Cafe at Fig Garden Village. For starters, I thought it was pretty outrageous when they charged me 25¢ extra for crackers with my bowl of chili. But I paid it.
However, the straw that broke the camel's back was their recent $5.75 sandwich special, which included a soft drink and a scoop of ice cream. I said I wanted the sandwich only, and asked the price. I was told there was no reduction, regardless of whether the soda and dessert were included.
This is a ridiculous policy; it's not the amount of money, but the thought (or lack thereof) that counts. These gaffes are compounded by the fact that the owners are on-site, and know (or should know) what's going on. Come on, folks. Get a clue.
-- Randy Krbechek
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