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Music Reviews

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June 14, 1995

Small Mercies

Clair Marlo, Behavior Self (Wildcat Records 1995) -- Singer/songwriter Clair Marlo makes an impressive showing on her second release, Behavior Self (clever pun, huh?). With a jazzy orientation rooted in Clair's piano playing and woman's sentiments, Behavior Self has a rich, soft feel.

A graduate of the prestigious Berkelee College of Music in Boston, Clair has been earning her keep as a musician in Los Angeles for several years. Besides producing and arranging Harry Chapin's posthumous release, The Last Protest Singer, she has also produced such artists as jazz group Kilauea, pianist Pat Coil, and singer Michael Ruff.

Clair gained a substantial following overseas with her first release, Let It Go, which was a big hit in Germany, Italy and the Philippines. Last year, Clair performed in Manilla before 8,000 enthusiastic fans, and recorded a one-hour TV special.

Recorded in a home studio, Behavior Self is a professional effort built around Clair's piano base. With the warm, female-oriented sound (ala Sarah McLachan or Eliza Gilkyson), songs like "Your Secret is Safe with Me" and "Move Closer" pull at your heartstrings while also making you think.

Clair explains that "the focus on this album is more outward, instead of inward. Most of the songs were pulled from my roots, which are very important to me. The overall theme of the album is about change, which is quite a departure from our first record."

Also featured is a duet cover of the Bangles' hit, "Goin' Down to Liverpool," which is performed with Andy Prieboy (former lead singer of Wall of Voodoo). This is a great song, but it doesn't work on this album.

Behavior Self has been selling like hotcakes in the Bay Area, and for good reason. With its sophisticated, jazzy feel, the disc makes swell lounge music. Sample this charmer.

Small MerciesDavid Knopfler, Small Mercies (Mesa 1995) - David Knopfler, a founding member of Dire Straits, has released his seventh solo album in Small Mercies. Featuring jazz-styled arrangements amid an English country background, Small Mercies is an opaque disc with heartfelt sentiments.

David lasted three years with Dire Straits before leaving in 1980. Since then, he has penned a number of feature film and telephone scores in the U.K. Despite his busy schedule and critical accolades, Knopfler maintains a low profile in the English countryside, where his personal goals and philosophies ("Success without fame -- Happiness without hype") reflect his commitment to hard work and family.

Says Knopfler, "I don't regard what I do as glamorous. It is more a case of 'following my bliss' - writing music because it feeds and elevates something on an emotional and spiritual level, not because of any exotic desires for fame or popularity. But maybe that's bullocks, too. Who knows? I don't know any other way."

While brother Mark Knopfler has chartered the waters of stadium success, David has stayed closer to the original feeling of Dire Straits. Small Mercies features a full band, but the arrangements often have a sophisticated, acoustic feel. In addition, Knopfler has a knack for dense, evocative lyrics, which match well against his rugged voice.

Frankly, this album sounds like the return of a long lost friend. The stronger cuts, including "All My Life" and the 8-minute epic, "40 Days and Nights," are buoyant numbers moved along by Graham Henderson on Hammond organ and Chris White on sax.

Small Mercies is another great release on Mesa, which often signs artists with distinguished careers who have been overlooked by the major labels. Small Mercies is reminiscent of Dave Alvin's recent work (albeit in a more laid back style). With vocals front and center and a focus on songwriting and technique, Small Mercies is a treat.

Colour of MemoryThe Colour of Memory, The Old Man & The Sea (Mesa 1995) - Another terrific new release from Mesa is The Old Man & The Sea. With Julia Dow and Alyth McCormick on vocals and Alasdair Joss on keyboards and bass, this Gaelic trio spins contemporary compositions that intertwine classical stylings and pop sensibilities.

Like Enya, Clannad, and Loreena McKennitt, Colour of Memory imbues ancient songs with futuristic motifs, thus adding new musical depths and shadings to the Celtic fringe.

Though I'm usually not a big fan of "new age dream" music (aka "sleepytime" music), Colour of Memory rises above the usual. With swirling melodies and a rich pallet of sounds, Colour of Memory reaches a different plain. Fans of Enya will flip for this disc.

Nan VernonNan Vernon, Manta Ray (East/West Records 1995) - This is an unusual review. Manta Ray is the debut album from singer Nan Vernon, who previously worked with The Spiritual Cowboys, the backup band for Dave Stewart (of the Eurythmics).

Though I've tried hard, I can't get into all of Manta Ray, which generally has a London dancehall sound ala Lisa Stansfield or Tanita Tikaram (whose new album, Lovers in the City, features one killer track -- "I Might Be Crying").

Nan VernonHowever, there is one absolutely massive song on Manta Ray -- a cover of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (a George Harrison song on the White Album). From the brooding bass intro to the swirling bridge, Vernon's version of this song is perfect. It wraps itself around you and just won't let go. You'll want to play it again and again.

I've been enjoying many Beatles' remakes this spring (including Alison Krauss' beautifully subdued, "I Will"), but Nan Vernon has them all topped. This cut really ought to be released as a single, because it deserves a pile of airplay.

-- Randy Krbechek

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