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Music Reviews

Randy's Buttons

October 20, 1993

Signman Sizzles

PrincePrince, The Hits Volumes I and II (Paisley Park/Warner Bros. 1993) -- Prince, the diminutive sex-rocker hailing from Minneapolis, has rewarded Warner Bros. for signing him to a multi-year, mega-buck contract by (i) changing his name to "signman" (or some such silliness) and by (ii) releasing two compilation discs of material from throughout his career.

Don't get me wrong. I'm from Minneapolis, where Prince is (or was) king. Prince almost singlehandly put Minneapolis on the musical landscape, and breathed life back into a decaying funk\soul sound. In addition, Prince used sex in a way that most suburbanite fratboys could only dream about. Through his aggressive sexual politics, he divided his followers from the non-fans.

PrinceOnce you crossed over the hurdle (or refused to be offended by his tactics), the music got great. Moreover, Prince made a big breakthrough on Purple Rain when he learned how to play guitar (reportedly by practicing for 18 months straight) and established himself as a major league talent.

However, Prince appears to have badly abused Warner Bros. by signing a big-buck contract and then refusing to release new material. Instead, we have a selection of songs from throughout Prince's 15 year career, all for the low, introductory price of $48.99 (this is the list price at Tower Records -- and it's not Tower's fault, it's just that Warner badly needs a return on investment). Warner Bros. may now agree with labelmates Dire Straits' description of Prince as "the little faggot with the earring and the makeup . . . the little faggot is a millionaire" (from "Money For Nothing").

Leaving aside questions of political correctness and business ethics, the two discs (each containing eighteen songs) are great pop samplers. Gail, who has been put off by Prince's more recent work, goes further and says that the two disks are "terrific -- wonderful."

The discs are intermixed, rather than ordered chronologically. Thus, The Hits -- Volume I contains the "cleaner," more radio-accessible numbers. This disc opens with the plaintive "When Doves Cry," and also includes "Let's Go Crazy," "1999," and "Sign 'O The Times."

PrinceThe second disc contains Prince's more controversial numbers. Songs on The Hits -- Volume II include "Delirious" and "Little Red Corvette." The album also features "Raspberry Beret" (from the much overlooked LP Around The World In A Day) and "If I Was Your Girlfriend," a deliciously perverted number.

Disc three is said to contain rarities and unreleased numbers. I've previously heard the non-commercially available (read bootleg) Black Album, which mostly contains material from Sign 'O The Times, and don't recall anything special about it. Though Prince is certainly a prolific songwriter, I don't look for any real breakthroughs on Volume 3.

The little guy from the Twin Cites may shake his butt a lot, but he knows how to boogie on down to the bank too. Impressive music, but at an imposing price.

Bob DylanVarious artists, Bob Dylan -- The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration (Columbia 1993) -- Last October, a four-hour tribute concert was held in New York City to celebrate the career of the mighty Bob Dylan. Neil Young termed the gig "Bobfest." After slicing and dicing the tapes, the folks at Columbia have released a two-disc, two-hour set of music from this show (at the very reasonable price of $24.98).

Like all tribute albums, the discs take a little getting used to; the listener is so used to hearing these songs performed by their author that it seems strange to hear them performed by another person. However, after listening to these discs a few times, they tend to grow on you, and certain numbers are clear standouts.

Disc one opens with two cuts by John Mellencamp (which aren't particularly inspired), then segues into a sweet version of "Blowin' In The Wind" by Stevie Wonder (which sounds, in parts, like the late Sam Cooke). For a change of pace, Lou Reed next provides an atonal, malevolent version of "Foot Of Pride."

Disc one improves with Willie Nelson's cover of "What Was It You Wanted" (a true lover's lament), the charming trio ofMary-Chapin Carpenter/Roseanne Cash/Shawn Colvin belting out "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" (and these ladies really should team up for other projects), and a contribution from veteran guitarist Ron Wood ("Seven Days"), which is the closest thing on the album to vintage Dylan.

Disc two opens with a couple of blistering cuts from Neil Young (who continues to rock in his free and steady groove), and also contains a pair of contributions from Dylan-neophytes Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.

Disc two features one of the real standouts of the album, Chrissie Hynde fronting Booker T & The MG's to sing "I Shall Be Released." Chrissie, now a mother in her late thirties, continues to be one of rock's most exciting female vocalist; her contributions to last year's album from Mood Swings were among 1992's best tracks. Chrissie should shed her ties to The Pretenders (who have long since mutated into a non-user friendly band) and get in front of a solid group. When she does (as on this set), the results are staggering.

Disc four also contains one of the lowlights of the album, Bob Dylan croaking out "It's Alright Ma." Now, the real problem with this song is not how bad Bob Dylan sounds (though his singing would do a bullfrog proud). The real mystery of this cut is how Daniel Lanois managed to get Dylan to sound so good on Oh Mercy (a dynamite release from 1989).

The word is that Dylan was so embarrassed by some of his performances at Bobfest (which, mercifully, are few in number) that he re-recorded his vocals and overdubbed them for the new release. If these are re-recorded vocals, then Bob's finally guzzled too much Drano.

The set concludes with a rousing group rendition of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." For listeners who simply can't get enough of this material, there's also a double VHS that contains a whopping three hours of music from this show. For my tastes, two hours is plenty.

Bob Dylan--The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration is a reasonably priced double disc set, and a welcome addition to the collection of any serious Dylan fan.

Garth Brooks update -- For further fuel in the Garth Brooks used CD debate, let's remember this quote from Mr. Brooks, circa November, 1992 -- "Between you and me, I wouldn't buy a CD at $16.95 no matter who it was." Thanks Garth, for clarifying your position.

-- Randy Krbechek

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