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Time for a Break (8/24/2001) Write to CD Shakedown

Norman CookVarious Artists, A Break From the Norm (Restless Records 2001) - A Break From the Norm is a selection of tracks sampled by one of dance music's most recognizable DJ/producers, Norman Cook. The 15 tracks on A Break From the Norm represent the tip of the iceberg of the songs sampled by Fatboy Slim in his previous incarnations.

Thus, you'll find the original of English singer Camille Yarbrough on "Take Yo' Praise" (used on "Praise You"), Lulu on "Love Love's to Love Love" (used on "Santa Cruz"), and soulman Bill Withers' anti-war "I Can't Write Left-Handed" (used on "Demons").

Camille YarbroughUnquestionably, Cook has a keen ear for obscure tracks. Says Norman, "It is a joy to see these people, who I have sometimes cruelly repositioned in my records, finally getting props & exposure in their pure form, particularly the tunes contained here by Camille, Bill Withers and the Just Brothers - all favorites in the Cook household for many years.

"Some, like Colosseum and the James Gang, I only discovered whilst sample trawling, for my record collection is all the richer for them now. There are many others that we could have included on this LP, but the snippet that was sampled was frankly the only redeeming feature of the record."

Norman CookAlso included is Yvonne Elliman's pumped-up cover of "I Can't Explain," the fat beat of Doug Lazy on "Let the Rhythm Pump," and the funky soul of Just Brothers on "Sliced Tomatoes."

I'm not a big fan of sampling and mixing, so I find A Break From the Norm to be a refreshing serving of the real thing.

Mint Royale, On the Ropes (MCA Records 2001) - Mint Royale is Neil Claxton and Chris Baker, two U.K. producers whose brassy brand of funk has made its way into Fatboy Slim's record box. With On the Ropes, the duo makes an uptempo debut, with plenty of dance hall beats.

Mint RoyaleThe duo takes familiar beats and melody and reworks them, as on "Take it Easy." Also listen for the propulsive piano intro to "Kenny's Last Dance." Adds Neil, "We like melodies so we ended up using lots of top line stuff, which I guess explains how we can hate brass in theory, but use it on every one of our songs."

Mint Royale formed in 1997, after the pair had been immersed in the U.K.'s indie rock and acid house explosions. Explains Neil, "From about 1995, everything coming out of the U.K. was house music. We got together because we didn't want to do house music."

The band's pairing with former Kenicki vocalist Lauren LaVerne on "Don't Falter" emerged as one of last summer's U.K. dance anthems. The band also watched in bemusement as bits of their tracks have become sports highlight soundtracks in the U.K. Sighs Chris, "Our stuff seems to be perfect for sports."

Neil and Chris continue to work as a live act and as deejays. Explains Neil, "Deejaying is something we stopped when we started living in the studio. Now we take out a box of tricks when we deejay." Adds Chris, "It's nice to deejay again, but with a new box of tricks, it's like revisiting an old friend - whose got a new girlfriend to look at."

Mint RoyaleThe samples and beats on On the Ropes run deep, leading to an eminently danceable CD. Chris explains that the leadoff track, "From Rusholme With Love," is "a bit of an oddity because we had not idea that we would write that sort of track with sitars and Indian things going on, but we will try anything. The trouble is, now we get asked all the time to do these tracks - people think we are Asian B-boys!"

For a tall serving of U.K. dance, imbibe On the Ropes. Chris adds, "We realized we have a bit of a curse," noting that when they work with the band, their remix usually would stick around longer than the group itself. "Work with us and your job will disappear," he jokes.

Richard ThompsonRichard Thompson, Action Packed: The Best of the Capitol Years (Capitol 2001) - Richard Thompson, the quintessential English busker, recently departed from Capitol Records, his label for the last decade. Action Packed is a 19-song overview (including three rare tracks) that shows Thompson's strengths: great guitar technique (both acoustic and guitar), folk storytelling, and a sardonic wit.

During his 11 years at Capitol Records (beginning in 1988), Thompson released six CDs, including the film soundtrack to Sweet Talker. It's hard to understand why Thompson would have left Capitol, as the label gave him sweeping artistic liberty, from the experimental Mirror Blue (described by Thompson as "a deconstructionist sort of record") through the rambling sweep of the two-disk You? Me? Us? (1996) to the textured sound of Rumor and Sigh (1991).

Richard ThompsonNow living in Los Angeles, Thompson has rubbed shoulders with royalty, but in the end prefers circus folk, down-on-their-luck grifters, and one-eyed jokers. Says Thompson, "I suppose that I write about twisted human things because sometimes they're more revealing of what human nature is . . .

"For me, that's the greatest. To get people to that point and then, as the song progresses, it gets darker and darker. If they started off laughing, then they're involved in the song and they have to listen to the rest of it. I like songs that have comedy and darkness all mixed together. For some reason, that's effective."

Richard Thompson And effective Thompson certainly is, especially on the bouncy "I Feel So Good" (in which the protagonist sings "I feel so good/I'm going to break somebody's heart tonight.").

While you'll find slower, somber ballads, such as "Cold Kisses," the more accessible tracks have a sinewy beat, mixing Thompson's muscular guitar playing against his warped voice - witness "Bathsheba Smiles" and "Keep Your Distance."

Also appearing are two of Thompson's most popular songs, "1952 Vincent Black Lightning"(to this day, the most requested song on National Public Radio) and "Beeswing" (named after a small Scottish village).

Richard ThompsonComments Thompson, "It's curious that two fairly long ballads would be the most popular. In the information age when everyone is supposed to have an attention span of 15 seconds, why would people be willing to sit down and listen to a story like that? It's some kind of an escape. People want to escape into the story. I suppose that's an old human trait. I just hadn't reckoned that a song would still be the medium in which people would be willing to do that."

Also included are three rare tracks: "Persuasion," first written as an instrumental theme for the movie Sweet Talker, then set to words by Tim Finn (of Crowded House), together with "Mr. Rebound" and "Fully Qualified to be Your Man," two recordings trimmed from the Mock Tudor sessions and previously released only on a limited edition vinyl LP.

Richard ThompsonThompson is one of the most influential performers of the last 25 years, starting with the folk based Fairport Convention and continuing through his glorious recordings with then-wife Linda Thompson, including the tension filled Shoot Out the Lights (rated by Rolling Stone magazine as the best album of the 1980's), a must-own collection about a failing relationship that is the English counterpart to Fleetwood Mac's Rumors. While his studio albums have tended to be large servings (especially the double-disk You? Me? Us?), Action Packed distills the best of Thompson's Capitol years.

- Randy Krbechek © 2001

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