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Music Reviews

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September 29, 1993

Great Days

John PrineJohn Prine, Great Days (Rhino 1993) -- The fine folks at Rhino, who have always done a superb job of preserving America's rock-n-roll heritage, have outdone themselves in this new two CD compilation. From the splendid booklet (which contains extensive comments by John, together with critical commentary and pictures from through John's life and career) through each lovingly-mastered cut, there's not a weakness in this set.

Great Days is 150 minutes of music from throughout John Prine's 20 year career, starting with his self-titled debut and continuing through his excellent 1991 release, The Lost Years. The album also features a couple of previously unreleased live cuts (including a duet with Bonnie Raitt).

By turns wistful, humorous, and dramatic, Prine is, at the end of the day, one thing -- a good human being. And that's more than we can say about a lot of rockers. After Prine returned from Viet Nam to his native Chicago, he worked as a mailman before hooking up with fellow songwriter Steve Goodman (author of the Arlo Guthrie smash "City of New Orleans") and finding fame.

Prine's collaboration with Goodman, and the tragically early death of Goodman from leukemia, is a compelling tale onto itself. But there's far more to the story than just that. Prine's first album, containing the classics "Illegal Smile" and "Sam Stone," blazed across the firmament and established Prine as a compelling songwriter in the mold of Dylan. Since then, John has developed into a cult figure while following his own muse.

As John notes, "I haven't done bad as a folkie. To me, rock and roll was always more of an attitude than anything else anyway." Prine has a profound understanding of human nature and a great love for life. Balanced against this, John also believes that you shouldn't take yourself too seriously. It's difficult (if not impossible) to argue with his philosophy. If you're over 25, you'll love this set.

Los LobosLos Lobos, Just Another Bank From East L.A. (Slash/Warner 1993) -- Los Lobos, long-time critics' favorites from Los Angeles, have also released a two-disk compilation of tracks from their 20-year, seven-LP history (including 15 previously unreleased live and studio cuts).

In the early days, Los Lobos was a hard-working, hard-rocking band from the barrio who could blast your socks off. In the last couple of years, the albums The Neighborhood (1990) and 1992's overlooked masterpiece Kiko have established Los Lobos as visionary giants -- their music, and their world view, is multi-cultural, and is so compelling that it cannot be ignored.

In short, Los Lobos has become, after 20 years, one of America's finest and most profound rock acts. As the members of Los Lobos (Steve Berlin, David Hidalgo, Conrad Lozano, Louie Perez, and Cesar Rosas) have matured, their music, their understanding of life, and their understanding of the Hispanic community, has grown immensely.

Los Lobos is a hell of a lot more than the band that made the music for the movie La Bamba (which the band now reportedly views as a disastrous career move). Kurt Cobain and Perry Falwell may be all the rage, but they're light-years from understanding life like Los Lobos. If you want a historical overview of the band, get Just Another Band From East L.A. If you want to find out why this band is so great, get Kiko. Just don't ignore this band.

Funny Times -- There was a time when National Lampoon was the king. I subscribed for years. It was hysterical. But thenNatLamp sold out and lost their soul.

I've been looking for a decade for a replacement, and I think I've finally found it in the Cleveland-based monthly Funny Times (available at Barnes & Noble in the upstairs magazine section).

Funny Times features a selection of cartoons from around the country (often politically-oriented), together with a dozen or so short humorous articles. I'm hooked after two editions -- it's not gross or crude or sophomoric -- it's just entertaining. If your funny bone needs a tickle or two, check out Funny Times.

True RomanceTrue Romance -- True Romance, the new adventure/comedy starring Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette, is a fun flick, despite its somewhat bombastic ending. In particular, the supporting cast is dynamite, including Val Kilmer as the ghost of Elvis, Gary Oldman as a slimy pimp/drug dealer, and Brad Pitt as a pot-smoking dropout.

However, I'm here to write about music, so let's cut to the scene in True Romance in which the two protagonists get it on in a telephone booth while the Big Bopper's "Chantilly Lace" plays in the background.

Lesson for history buffs: the Big Bopper (real name was J. R. Richardson) was a Texas DJ who died in the same plane crash in Clear Lake, Iowa, that claimed the life of Buddy Holly. I've been to Clear Lake. Save yourself the trip. There's not much there (except cornfields).

"Chantilly Lace" (from 1959) has always been one of rock's earthiest numbers -- although dressed up in satin and lace, the Big Bopper isn't talking about a Saturday night date in high school. The makers of True Romance clearly understand the essence of this song. True Romance may not be a film for the ages, but the "Chantilly Lace" scene ranks up there with Michelle Pfeiffer's piano number in Fabulous Baker Boys -- it's a true rendering of the song.

-- Randy Krbechek

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