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Music Reviews

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September 14, 1994

Brace Yourself

Brace YourselfVarious Artists, Brace Yourself! A Tribute to Otis Blackwell (Shanachie 1994) - Brace Yourself! features 15 cuts written by one of rock's founding fathers, Otis Blackwell. Blackwell, now paralyzed by a stroke and unable to speak, is the author of such well-known songs as "Don't Be Cruel," "All Shook Up," "Great Balls of Fire," and "Return to Sender." Though Blackwell's glory days as a songwriter are long past, Brace Yourself! shows his profound influence on rock 'n roll.

In his long career, the Brooklyn-born and raised Blackwell wrote over 1,000 songs that helped sell nearly 2 million records. As Blackwell said in one of the last interviews before his stroke, "It was an open door policy when I was coming along. 1619 Broadway, The Brill Building, you'd start at the top floor, regardless of what kind of song you had, and by the time you got down the stairs to the first floor, somebody had your song -- you didn't have to play an instrument, you just beat it out on your leg and sang!"

Otis BlackwellFor this project, producers Jon Tiven and Tony Visconti assembled a fine studio band, and then recruited guest artists to provide the lead vocals. The studio band, which includes Chris Spedding on guitars and Jimmy Destri (formerly of Blondie) on keyboards is no slouch, but it's the guest stars that make Brace Yourself! special.

The highlight of the disc is Chrissie Hynde's smoky, sexy version of "Hey Little Boy (Little Girl)". You've heard it before, and you'll hear it again - Chrissie's got the best pipes in the business, and on "Hey Little Boy," she accentuates every sly nuance and hidden innuendo in this grinding track.

Otis BlackwellAlso featured are two contributions from Frank Black (formerly of the Pixies), who is quickly becoming rock's resident spaceman/genius. Frank's contributions ("Breathless" and "Handyman") are dynamite - they're brash and invigorating, but there's also a tongue-in-cheek sense that creates an understated campiness (and pleasure).

Also featured is Graham Parker's hot version of "Paralyzed" (which, ironically, is the lead-off track), Deborah Harry's workmanlike version of "Don't Be Cruel," and a spirited version of "Great Balls of Fire" by Joe Ely and Sue Foley (both noted country/bar rockers from Texas).

There's enough good stuff on Brace Yourself! to stir the primeval rocker in everyone. If you want to find out where the whole thing began, find Brace Yourself! - it'll make your turntable (and your feet) start jumping.

Pete DrogePete Droge, Necktie Second (American 1994) -- Pete Droge, a 25-year-old Seattle native, has released his debut disc in Necktie Second. Droge left Seattle to escape its grunge influences; how ironic that he wound up working with producer Brendon O'Brien (who produced Pearl Jam's Vs.) on this mixed collection of rockers and ballads.

Droge played in bands in Seattle for years before migrating to Portland last year. The move proved fortunate; Droge got lots of local attention, played at the 1993 South by Southwest music conference in Austin, and opened a couple of shows for Neil Young in San Francisco. After signing with American Records, Droge was shipped to Atlanta to work with producer O'Brien, who had just finished his sessions with Pearl Jam.

The cuts on Necktie Second have a familiar "big rock" sound to them. The recording is full, and the mix tweaked out. Alternating between 4/4 rockers and slower ballads, Necktie Second is awash in 20-something angst, confusion and despair.

Thus, "Fourth of July" is a song about a friend's suicide, while the uptempo "If You Don't Love Me" contains messages about deception and false illusions (its refrain is, "If you don't love me, I'll kill myself"). Droge gets into a rock groove on other tracks; the drum solo that opens "Two Steppin' Monkey" sounds like it was sampled directly off Elvis Costello's "This Year's Girl."

Necktie Second is a refreshing change for American Records. Rather than focusing on full-tilt rap or other First Amendment blasts, Necktie Second is simply a good rockin' disc. Drop this CD on your player, and you'll remember what garage bands used to be.

Big Hard DiskVarious Artists, Big Hard Disk, Volume II (Island/Smash Records 1994) -- Big Hard Disk, Volume II is a ten-track collection of future-tech and electronic dance music. Featuring unreleased tracks & mixes from The Orb, Yellow, and Sheep On Drugs, together with club hits by Grace Jones and LaTour, BHDVII shows the future of techno, trance and ambient dance music.

While I usually don't care for this kind of stuff, there's something about BHDVII that goes beyond the usual 120 beats per minutes disco grind. For example, the leadoff cut, "The Flaming Church," is a demented gem by England's Sheep On Drugs. With their cool techno-house groove, Sheep On Drugs (who also contribute an unreleased 12-inch version of their hit, "Motor Bike") are strong purveyors of new house music.

Also contributing fine cuts are Holy Ghost, who transfuse six minutes of tribal ambience in "Heavy Water," and two funky electronic cuts from German dance pioneers Yellow ["Vicious Games (Belly Trippin' Trans Mix)" and "Do It"]. Although England's Orb has been getting lots of good press, their contribution ("Star 6 & 789") is flat -- suppose Enya took a happy pill, and you'll have a fair feel for Orb.

Big Hard Disk, Volume II captures a moment in the evolving history of electronic dance music. If you want a preview of what's playing at Soho, the Tower district's great new dance club, spin this disc.

It's Only Rock 'n Roll -- "Lou Reed is my hero because he stands for all the fucked up things that I could ever possibly conceive of -- which probably only shows the limit of my imagination." Critic Lester Bangs.

"But art is the last thing I am worried about when I write a song. I don't think it really matters. If you want to call it art, yeah, okay, you can call it what you like. As far as I'm concerned, 'Art' is just short for 'Arthur.'" Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones.

-- Randy Krbechek

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