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Music Reviews

Randy's Buttons

October 1, 1997

My Ruins are OK

James McMurtyJames McMurty, It Had to Happen (Sugar Hill Records 1997) - On his fourth release, James McMurty (son of author Larry McMurty, who penned Lonesome Dove and The Last Picture Show) finds himself drifting from folk to a rock sound. And that's fine by me.

Backed by a strong band, It Had to Happen finds McMurty showing influences of Lou Reed, Warren Zevon and John Doe. Thus, "Jaws of Life" is the best song that Lou Reed hasn't recorded in the last five years (and I like the description, "sort of a Texan Lou Reed, without the heroin references"), while cuts like "Wild Man From Borneo" sport some of Zevon's ironic, dysfunctional characters.

Though he hails from Texas, James McMurty is hardly your average Austin singer/songwriter. If you're looking for rock with the classic themes of alienation and disaffection sung by someone old enough to understand it, try It Had to Happen.

Bee GeesBee Gees, Still Waters (Polydor 1997) - After 35 years, the Bee Gees (older brother Barry Gibb and twins Robin and Maurice) can still make an effortless pop album: Still Waters confirms (as if that were necessary) their talents.

During their long career, the Bee Gees have enjoyed several pop lives. The trio's first album was released in 1967 under the aegis of legendary impresario Robert Stigwood, and led to big success in the UK.

While the early 70's proved an uneven period, the group's comeback, beginning with 1975's Jive Talkin' and culminating in 1977's soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever (still the biggest selling soundtrack in history), is one of pop music's great success stories. In fact, from 1977 to 1980, the Bee Gees were the biggest group in the world.

The last decade has been more contemplative, with the Bee Gees periodically returning to the studio for such albums as One (1989) and Size Isn't Everything (1993).

Still Waters shows that the Brothers Gibb still have that harmony vocal, R&B-influenced sound that has sold more than 100 million records worldwide. In particular, "I Surrender" is a great dance single, and deserves substantial airplay.

While not as groundbreaking as their late 70's efforts, Still Waters is a very respectable release, with brilliant high spots. Fans and newcomers alike will enjoy this bit of ear candy.

RadioheadRadiohead, OK Computer (Capitol 1997) - Radiohead continues 1997's British pop invasion, which also includes Prodigy, Bush and Jamiroquai. The follow-up to 1995's The Bends, OK Computer has received glowing reviews both domestically and in the UK.

It's not easy to draw a bead on OK Computer, which contains flashbacks to Queen, Pink Floyd, and other classic British rockers. But that's the mark of a solid release; it unfolds with repeated listenings. Give this album a chance: it may grow on you (if the British press don't devour Radiohead along the way).

Maia SharpMaia Sharp, Hardly Glamour (Ark 21 1997) - Ark 21 is the new label headed by Miles Copeland, who enjoyed enormous success with the Police and Go Go's. Maia Sharp (age 24) is a singer/songwriter in the vein of Carole King and Jules Shear, with jazz and pop influences.

Explains Miles Copeland, "Maia is exactly the type of artist a new label needs...She doesn't need a huge, expensive entourage to make her sound good. She can pull it off with one mike and a piano."

I agree. Maia mixes pop and cool jazz influences to produce a timeless sound. Avoiding the angst that has infected woman singer/songwriters since the ascendancy of Alanis Morrisette, Maia brings introspection and folkie passion to her songs (though her voice runs a bit thin at times). In particular "Good Thing" is a solid cut. Fans of intelligent songwriting will enjoy Hardly Glamour.

10,000 Maniacs10,000 Maniacs, Love Among the Ruins (Geffen 1997) - F. Scott Fitzgerald said there are no second acts in American life. But pop music groups have frequently enjoyed second acts.

And Love Among the Ruins signals a new era for 10,000 Maniacs, whose fans were heartbroken when singer Natalie Merchant left after 1993's stunning finale, MTV Unplugged. The new album marks the debut of lead singer Mary Ramsey (who previously played viola and sang backup for the group), as well as the return of founding member John Lombardo (who left after the release of 1985's, The Wishing Chair).

Don't expect Mary Ramsey to replace Natalie Merchant, whose sweet voice could slice through you while delivering an ice-cold message (witness the pop opus, "What's The Matter Here?"). Instead, Ramsey brings a lush texture to the elegantly styled, Love Among the Ruins.

Love Among the Ruins was produced by John Keane (known for his work with Cowboy Junkies and Indigo Girls), with assistance from Jules Shear (who provided backing vocals and co-wrote three tracks with the band).

From songs like "Rainy Day" and "Shining Light" to a compelling cover of Roxy Music's "More Than This," singer Mary Ramsey moves the band away from its college influences and into a more mainstream pop sound. While none of the songs have the glorious feeling that marked such gems as 1989's In My Tribe, 10,000 Maniacs may be able to pull off a Genesis move and win over new fans with their new singer.

-- Randy Krbechek

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