Have You Met Miss Jones? (6/29/2001)
Collin Raye, Counting Sheep (Sony Wonder 2000) - Country superstar Collin Raye (with five platinum records under his belt) released his sweet collection of children's songs more than a year ago. I was in San Francisco this spring with my family, when my son heard "Counting Sheep" in a movie theater, and said, "I like that song."
How right he was. Counting Sheep is a delightful collection, hip enough for kids, yet smart enough for adults.
Says Raye, "I was cut out to be a dad, and that's the most comfortable role I've ever had to play. I love kids, and I love being with kids." Raye has a family-friendly image, evident from his concerts which often include parents with either children or teenagers.
Explains the artist, "This album could not have come at a better time in my career. The fact that parents feel good about bringing their kids to my shows is more important to me than any trophy the industry could ever give me."
Sony Wonder, also home to children's favorite Tom Chapin, has a winner with Collin Raye. "Counting Sheep" is about a little boy who has trouble getting to sleep, while "Cool Cat" is about getting ready for bed. And "Hearts Are for When You Want to Love Someone" is an all-age favorite: my son and his friends nod in agreement when Raye sings, "Brothers, always take your things/And they break your things/And eat your candy/And sisters, always tell on you/And they cry a lot/When they got no reason to."
The musicians on Counting Sheep include Sony's Nashville's A-list, with Biff Watson and Steve Gibson on guitar, Joe Chemay on bass, John Hobbs and Steve Nathan on piano and keyboards, and Paul Leim on drums and percussion.
Being a well-rounded guy, Collin also includes "Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ral" (an Irish lullaby), the standard "When You Wish Upon a Star," and an acoustic-oriented cover of the Beatles' "Blackbird."
Explains Raye, "We wanted to make an album aimed at kids, but that was cool enough for the parents to listen to . . . I never pictured 'Blackbird' as being a children's song, but it works beautifully. It's a classic to people my age, but for kids, it's an introduction to the Beatles."
The songs on Counting Sheep are catchy numbers, with terrific Nashville production and humable melodies. Once you start, you won't get Counting Sheep out of your head.
Soundtrack to Bridget Jones's Diary (Island Records 2001) - Bridget Jones's Diary is the new comedy starring Renee Zellweger as the hapless British 30-something caught between two suitors: the faithless Hugh Grant and Colin Firth, an emotional cold fish of a British barrister.
The film is a sweet love story, with laughs, tears, and a happy ending. And the soundtrack matches the mood of the movie, alternating from the big band bounce of "Have You Met Miss Jones?" by British heartthrob Robbie Williams to the edgy singer/songwriter style of Shelby Lynne on two new tracks: the radio-friendly "Killin' Kind" and "Dreamsome." (And it's hardly accurate to call the Grammy-winning Shelby a country artist; she's simply a gifted singer, who met her foil in producer Bill Bottrell.)
Also appearing is Lynne's spiritual cousin, Sheryl Crow, with the driving beat of "Kiss That Girl," and newcomer Rosey with the album's strongest track, "Love," a feedback-influenced number that shows Rosey to be a female counterpart of Leonard Cohen.
In addition to 15 tracks of new or unreleased material, the album also includes a CD multi-media bonus section with exclusive excerpts from the book's sequel, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, as well as a "Bridget-O-Meter Quiz" and interviews and discussions with author Helen Fielding.
The album also includes a remake of the swarmy "All By Myself" (by Jamie O'Neal), which underscores a tour-de-force scene by Miss Zellweger, the Spiceless Geri Halliwell on "It's Raining Men," and the edgy U.K. pop duo of Alisha's Attic on "Pretender Got My Heart" (also produced by Bill Bottrell).
All told, Bridget Jones's Diary is a smart chick flick. And the soundtrack is a perfect counterpart, with 15 smart chick songs.
Shawn Colvin, Whole New You (Columbia 2001) - Shawn Colvin, a huge talent in the vein of Sarah McLachlan, highlights an underlying weakness in the music business: milking albums for years, until you drain every creative spark from the recording.
Case in point: Shawn won a Grammy for best contemporary folk album in 1989 (Steady On), and achieved break-through success with her 1996 album, A Few Small Repairs, which generated two more Grammy Awards (Record of the Year and Song of the Year for "Sunny Came Home"). Now, in 2001, she delivers her follow-up.
Certainly, Whole New You was worth the wait. Now age 45, Shawn has a lovely voice and a confident songwriting sense. She ranks alongside Lucinda Williams as one of the best female performers in the business. But why do we have to wait five long years between albums?
Part of the answer may lie in Shawn's change of circumstances: during this period, she got married for a second time, and became a mother for the first time (her daughter's name is Caledonia).
And the time constraints of her family affected Shawn's output. Says the singer, "Being alone is kind of how I'm used to writing. My school of songwriting comes from lonely songwriters reflecting upon themselves and their various relationships and their place in the world. You may be used to scheduling your day out. Then you have a baby and your blocks of time are divided into minutes . . . I finally started to come out of some kind of dream after about a year and a half."
Yet that dream sense comes through on the entrancing "Bonefields" and "Another Plane Went Down," both of which are reverb-filled acoustic gems. The album was produced by John Leventhal, who also provides guitars, keyboard, and percussion throughout.
The other steady player on Whole New You is Shawn Pelton on drums. The base trio of Colvin, Leventhal, and Pelton is fleshed out by a string section that includes Sandra Park and Fiona Simon on violin, Robert Rinehart on viola, and Alan Stepansky and Eileen Moon on cello.
The title track is a sparkly pop number, with Beatlesque strings. Next to the leadoff single, "A Matter of Minutes," the album's strongest track is "Roger Wilco," a moodily atmospheric number. Explains Colvin, "the protagonist is an unrooted individual who's trying to get back home, and this song is basically about abandoning your post."
And Shawn knows about a lack of roots. Now a resident of Austin, Texas, Shawn was raised in a small town in the Midwest, and later spent several years as a hard-drinking member of the NYC club scene.
Says Shawn, "There's not much to do in Vermillion, South Dakota. And I had a really great time in that way. As far as small-town America and what kids do and the kind of running around all over town, having your favorite trees and your favorite alleys and your favorite fields - that's what life was about. There were no restrictions. It wasn't unsafe - it was your imagination and wherever you could run around to. It resonates, very much so."
Shawn certainly resonates on the lovely Whole New You. This is an album with multiple good tracks, not just one hit song. Expect Whole New You to go far.
J. J. Cale, Live (Virgin/Back Porch 2001) - Here's an effortless concert slice from Tulsa guitar virtuoso, J. J. Cale. Starting with a solo reading of "After Midnight" (a big hit for Eric Clapton), and building into "Call Me the Breeze" and "Thirteen Days" (backed by his full band), Live shows the mastery of Cale's rootsy style and shuffling boogie.
Live marks the first live release from J. J. Cale, following 12 studio albums. (His last album was 1996's Guitar Man. The album features live recordings from 1990 through 1996, but effortlessly stitches them together. Included are tracks recorded in Munich, Germany, Burlington, Vermont, The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, The Hammersmith Apollo in London and Carnegie Hall in New York City.
There's not a weak track on Live: Fans get stellar renditions of "Sensitive Kind" and "Mama Don't."
Cale began playing on the Tulsa music scene with fellow Oklahoman, Leon Russell, and works with a tried-and-proven band. Says Cale, "Yeh, Bill Raffensperger [bass], Rockie Frisco [keyboard] and Jim Karstein [drums, percussion] have been playing with me for about 40 years." Christine Lakeland [guitar and vocals] and James Cruce [drums and percussion] are the new kids - they both began playing with me in the 80's."
When Cale shifts into a full-ahead shuffle on tracks like "Call Me the Breeze," there's no stopping this band: his version of "Cocaine" (made into a mega-hit by Eric Clapton) is a show stopper.
Explains Cale, "After Midnight is pretty stark, which is how I've been performing it a lot during the last 10 years. I have some versions that are full tilt boogie rock n' roll, but for this album I wanted to show that other side. As you play some songs over the years, you start changing them around to keep them fresh. You can hear the changes on this album, especially the first four songs that were recorded at Carnegie Hall. There is nothing quite like that place. It's the American dream for a musician."
J. J. Cale is an icon of American rock - a distinctive stylist who has influenced acts ranging from the Dire Straits to Lynyrd Skynyrd through Widespread Panic. Remarks the deadpan Cale, "I've written some very commercial tunes, but I've just tried to focus on the music rather than the business. I didn't want music to turn into a day gig. If you can't have fun making music, you might as well be selling shoes."
No shoes here. Just great roots rock, played by a guitar master.
- Randy Krbechek © 2001
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