Do I Hear an Echo? (05/28/99)
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Echo (Warner Bros. 1999) - Back with a new studio album is veteran player Tom Petty. Recorded with the Heartbreakers, and featuring his trademark Southern California guitar sound, Echo is a solid, if not memorable, package.
Petty has been a fixture on the American charts since his 1976 self-titled debut album. The Gainesville, Florida, native went big time with the triple-platinum, Damn the Torpedoes album (1979).
Petty's 1989 solo album, Full Moon Fever (produced by Jeff Lynne of ELO) found Petty displaying a newfound maturity and breath of sound, which carried through to Into the Great White Open (1991) and Wildflowers (1994).
The three players who comprise the Heartbreakers are among the best in the business, beginning with Mike Campbell on guitar. (Campbell co-produced the Echo album with Tom Petty and Rick Rubin.) Campbell is also a skilled songwriter, having co-written the hit, "The Boys of Summer," with Don Henley.
Keyboardist Benmont Tench has appeared on dozens of albums by other artists, ranging from Carlene Carter to Sheryl Crowe to Paul Westerberg. The third Heartbreaker is bass player Howie Epstein. The Milwaukee musician has also stepped behind the boards and produced such albums as John Prine's Grammy-winning The Missing Years.
Other musicians on Echo include Scott Thurston on guitars, Lenny Castro on percussion, and Steve Ferrone on drums.
While some believe Echo reflects unhappy traces of the end of Petty's long marriage and the baggage of life in Southern California, I think Echo sounds like vintage Petty: accessible, guitar-oriented pop, with a guitar sound that descends from The Byrds. Which is not to say that the songs are all sunny day numbers: Listen for the confrontational "Swingin'", the radio-friendly, "Counting on You," the somber, "No More," and Petty's peon to long life in Hollywood, "Rhino Skin."
Echo is likeable, not filling. Think of it as "Petty lite": it leaves a pleasant aftertaste, but won't fill you up.
Dionne Warwick, The Definitive Collection (Arista 1999) - Superstar Dionne Warwick has known recording success since 1963. The Definitive Collection is a 20-20 set - 20 songs, all remastered with 20-bit technology - that shows why Dionne is a treasure for fans of classy vocal performances.
Born in New Jersey in 1940, Dionne performed in her teens with the Gospelairs. Dionne's career rocketed when Burt Bacharach heard her in a recording studio in 1961. Bacharach was taken by Warwick's distinctive delivery, and approached her about recording demos for him and his new songwriting buddy, Hal David. The rest, as they say, is history.
The first nine tracks on The Definitive Collection are masterpieces from the 60's, including "Walk on By," "Michael," "I Say a Little Prayer," and "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" Aretha Franklin may get lots of respect, but Dionne's ability as a hit maker is unquestionable.
Dionne's career slowed in the 70's following a bitter parting with Burt Bacharach in 1972. In a strange twist, Dionne scored her first number one single in 1974 with "Then Came You" (recorded with the Spinners).
Dionne's career revived when she signed with Arista Records in 1979: Barry Manilow produced "I'll Never Fall in Love Again," which soared to number five on the pop charts, followed by the successful "Heartbreaker," recorded with the Bee Gees in 1982. Dionne's 1985 reunion with Burt Bacharach yielded the historic all-star single, "That's What Friends Are For" (her second number one single).
For my taste, I prefer the stylish 60's songs recorded by Dionne, with her impeccable interpretation of Burt Bacharach's songs. The Definitive Collection is a charming collection from this hitmaker.
Colin Hay, Transcendental Highway (Farren Music 1999) - This CD arrived in the mail with little fanfare, and no buzz on the street.
But then I started listening, and found myself swept away. A smooth, sculpted rock sound, clearly the work of studio professionals. Reminds me of Bob Geldof's under-recognized, The Happy Club. Who is this guy, Colin Hay?
Turns out he is the former lead singer for Australia's Men at Work, who sold more than ten million albums in the U.S. before breaking up in 1985. Hay has been releasing solo albums since 1987, with Transcendental Highway being his fifth solo outing.
And what a pleasant surprise it is. Full of catchy riffs, insightful lyrics and textured production, Transcendental Highway is consistently rewarding.
Hay provides vocals and guitars, and is joined by Chad Fisher (from Lazlo Bane) on drums, Robbie Kilgore (who has played with Steve Winwood, Eric Clapton, and Carly Simon) on piano, and guitarist/bassist Dan Rothchild - the son of legendary rock producer Paul Rothchild and the producer in his own right of Better Than Ezra. Also making a guest appearance on cello is Martin Tillmann.
Bruce Hornsby got tons of favorable press for Spirit Trail, a dense and sometimes impenetrable release. Yet Colin Hay cuts to the chase on such instantly likeable tracks as "My Brilliant Feat" and "I'm Doing Fine," while "Wash It All Away," with backing vocals from Angus, Fergus & Hamish Richardson, is a perfect slice of L.A. pop.
What happened to the L. A. pop sound? Amazingly, it went underground. Ride the Transcendental Highway with Colin Hay and expect to be refreshed.
For more information, contact:
Farren Music America
1606 Blossom Lane
Redondo Beach, CA 90278
- Randy Krbechek © 1999
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