Marina V, Lift (2000) - Marina V is a 22-year-old singer from Moscow with a sweet voice and good pop sensibilities. Recently moved to Los Angeles from Chicago, she and her band have released a second album in Lift.
According to the press notes, Marina V (full name = Marina Verenikina) is the daughter of a Russian nuclear physicist. Her band has performed all over the Midwest, from Chicago to Kansas City to Cleveland. Musicians include Marina V on piano and vocals, Dan Darnell on drums, Nick Baker on bass, and Marc Waterman on guitar.
On the album's best tracks, such as "Anything at All" and "When," Marina shows an uptempo pop sense. Several tracks, such as "Seance" and "I Don't Know Why" are slower, piano-based ballads. And the concluding, "Father," is sung in her native Russian.
Yet the highlight of the album is "When I Need You Most," a catchy ditty with layered vocals that resemble the Bangles.
Good pop sometimes comes from unlikely places. "When I Need You Most" is a terrific single, and deserves support.
Various Artists, Concerts for a Landmine Free World (Vanguard 2001) - Here's a good album for an even better cause. Concerts for a Landmine Free World finds a dozen country/folk artists united for a series of live shows to raise money to remove landmines from former war regions.
Landmines and other unexploded ordinance are a serious problem, one that started with the American Civil War and accelerated during WWI and the rest of the 20th century. The stars tell it best. According to Emmylou Harris, "Every 22 minutes, someone is maimed or killed by a mine." Adds Steve Earle, "I was in Phnom Penh and counted how many amputees I saw in a city block. On average, over an afternoon, I saw four on every block, everywhere I went."
Yet Nanci Griffith puts it in the most human terms. "Once you have held a child in your lap who is being fitted for an artificial limb from having stepped on a land mine in his own back yard, the issue of banning land mines ceases to be a controversy."
Concerts for a Landmine Free World features a stellar assembly, recorded in an intimate, acoustic setting. The shows were recorded during five sold out nights in California in December 1999, followed by five more shows recorded in December 2000.
The overall theme is more subdued, with Guy Clark's version of "Cold Dog Soup," Bruce Cockburn on "The Mines of Mozambique," and Nanci Griffith on "It's a Hard Life." Also appearing are Gillian Welch, Patty Griffin, and Terry Allen.
My favorite track was a real surprise: An energized Kris Kristofferson with his off-kilter "Shipwrecked in the Eighties."
Good people, good cause, good music. Listen to Concerts for a Landmine Free World.
Ciao! Best of Lush (Beggars Banquet - 4AD 2001) - Lush, a four-piece band from England with swirling vocals, power guitar cords and ambient textures, disappeared after the 1996 release of Lushlife. Now Ciao! gathers 18 tracks for a career overview.
Lush was built around singers and songwriters, Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson. After deeply inhaling early 80s British pop, the pair teamed up with punk drummer Chris Acland and bass player Steve Rippon and made their own music. After a review in Melody Maker brought 12 major labels to see them play, Ivo Watts-Russo (from the 4AD label) put them in Black Wing Studios with producer John Fryer.
While Ivo may not have had high expectations, the sessions resulted in Scar (1989). Says Miki, "We started by writing crappy riot girl anthems, but there was a very rapid shift from the minute we started to write for records. The music, the lyrics became much more thoughtful and expressive. I remember that change beginning when Emma wrote 'Thought Forms'; it certainly made me think I needed to get my act together."
For the Spooky sessions, producer Robin Guthrie from the Cocteau Twins was recruited. By the time Spooky was released in 1992, Rippon had left the band, to be replaced by Phil King. The LP went UK Top Ten and was an indie chart-topper. In addition, the band toured with Lollapalooza 2, which landed them on the stage with Soundgarden, Ministry, and Perry Farrell. Between partying, moshing, and jamming with the different musicians, Lush cemented its place as a touring band.
The band hit the wall when their next studio album, Split, sold poorly. Says Emma, "Everything was great. We got everything we wanted. Our own tour? We got it. Europe? We got it. America? Yes. In fact, everything was going well until Split, when the momentum dropped. We were immensely pleased with it, and thought it was the best work we had done. So we were disappointed with the reaction - it sold half as much as Spooky."
Moving forward, the band brought a new manager Peter Felstead, and recorded their swan song, Lushlife. Lushlife is well-represented with the pleasant pop tarts of "Lady Killers," "Single Girl," and "500 (Shake Baby Shake)."
Yet everything came apart after that. The incessant touring drove Emma to announce that she wanted to quit the band. And two days later, Chris Acland hung himself at his parents' home in the Lake District in England. (Despite the success of Lush, Acland was reported to be earning only £150 per week at the time of his death.)
God Bless the Go-Gos (Beyond Music 2001) - Though it's hard to believe, the Go-Gos only released three albums: Beauty and The Beat (1981), Vacation (1982), and Talk Show (1984). Now they're back with their fourth album, God Bless the Go-Gos.
The Go-Gos certainly lived by the adage, "Die young, stay pretty." Singer Belinda Carlisle, bass player Kathy Valentine, drummer Gina Schock, and guitarists Jane Wiedlin and Charlotte Caffey became the first all-female band to break into the Top Ten, and helped define the post-punk L.A. music scene with their mix of 60s surf, rich vocal harmonies, girl group influence, and straight-ahead rock.
True to their L.A. roots, the ladies made sure they came down just as fast as they went up. Belinda says she blew her money "buying race horses and doing drugs," while guitarist Charlotte Caffey now admits to shooting heroin while the others were off snorting cocaine.
The band reunited briefly in recent years to help promote greatest hits packages, then fell apart again. Yet the ladies realized that the sum is greater than the parts. Says Jane Wiedlin, "Being back on stage together made is realize that we still had music in us that hadn't come out yet."
God Bless the Go-Gos is sparkly California pop, from the opening "La La Land" to "Apology" to "Vision of Nowness" (inspired by Sammy Davis, Jr.'s reaction to meeting Belinda). The leadoff single, "Unforgiven," was co-written with Billie Jo Armstrong, the leader of San Francisco's Green Day.
In a bit of irony, the Go-Gos appear on the cover dressed as the Virgin Mary, promoting such virtues as chastity, purity, and modesty. (Belinda will be appearing in a photo spread in the August 2001 issue of Playboy.) The cover, and the group's website (which includes a revised version of the Hail Mary prayer, starting with "Hail Go-Gos/Full of Beat/The Rock is with Thee") has drawn the wrath of the Catholic League.
So how does it feel to be back with a new album after 17 years? The Go-Gos certainly remember the good times. Belinda recalls the early days: "We played at The Whiskey and the audience loved us and threw money on stage."
While there are no sure-fire hits like "Our Lips Are Sealed" or "Head Over Heels," the overall sound is satisfactory. And when the Go-Gos sing about being "stuck in my car/with the radio on/dreaming of you" you know they are carrying on the proud tradition of John Phillips and California pop.
The Go-Gos know that, whatever their prior differences, they work best as a combo. Yet the issues that led to their breakup 15 years ago have not vanished. Says Belinda, "Though the last fifteen years, we've actually caused 75 years of drama. We thought 75 Years of Drama would be a funny name for the album. We all have plenty of experience to draw from."
For a slice of sunny California pop, tune in God Bless the Go-Gos.
- Randy Krbechek © 2001
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