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On the Gilded Avenue (10/22/99) Write to CD Shakedown
Melanie DoaneMelanie Doane, Adam's Rib (Columbia 1999) - Canadian Melanie Doane is a star in the Great North, having landed a Juno Award (i.e., Grammy North) for Best New Artist. With Adam's Rib, Melanie hopes to bring her blend of smart pop and incisive songwriting across the border.

Melanie grew up in Nova Scotia, where she says, "Music was an important cultural thing - it's a small, isolated place, and you play music when people come over to visit."

Melanie now records in Los Angeles, where she works with producer and musician Rick Neigher (who has also worked with Leah Andreone). Other studio hands appearing on Adam's Rib include Kevin Savigar on Hammond B-3 organ, John Shanks on guitars, Tim Pierce on acoustic guitar, and David Raven on drums.

Melanie in concertOn Adam's Rib, Melanie has a thing or two to say about relations between the sexes, from the title track to the gently satiric "Happy Homemaker." Explains Melanie, "I want the songs to say something, not be so mired in mystery that people think, 'Oh, she's so deep, but I have no idea what she's saying.' I draw on things that I know and if people hear themselves in the music, then I've done my job."

One of the best tracks is the string-laden "Goliath," which brings to mind the attitude of Liz Phair on its refrain, "Hey, Goliath/You're no bigger than me." Also included is an Irish jig ("Mel's Rock Pile"), and the obligatory slower ballads, such as "Good Gifts."

Melanie DoaneMelanie makes her best move when she operates in a rock vein. I see her being packaged along the lines of Meredith Brooks, with lots of superficial attitude. Yet that would miss the mark, as Melanie's attitude lies more in the rock 'n roll of Joan Jett.

An entertaining voice from Canada, Melanie Doane may find success in the States.

Prince, from the vaultPrince, Old Friends 4 Sale (Warner Bros. 1999) - Though now fading into the past, funkmeister Prince used to be one of the most potent forces in pop music. Old Friends 4 Sale compiles material recorded by Prince between January 1985, and June 1994, "Originally Intended 4 Private Use Only."

As is well known, Prince split with long-time label Warner Bros. earlier this decade to pursue his own gambit. One of Prince's complaints before his "emancipation" was that his record label would not release enough of his material. Here's a start.

PrinceThe tracks on Old Friends 4 Sale were recorded at Paisley Park studio in Chanhassen, Minnesota, and at studios in Los Angeles, Paris, and Tokyo. Musicians on the album include Tommy Barbarella, Mr. Hayes, Levi Seacer, Jr., and Sheila E.

Sheila E.The album runs 10 tracks, all of which bear Prince's trademark blend of pop, jazz, and fusion. From the up-tempo "The Rest of My Life" to the horn-based extended jam of "It's About That Walk" through the horn-tinged jazz of "5 Women," Prince shows that he never lost his creative spark.

While the songs are not polished, they are anything but rough mixes. If you were disappointed by Prince's final albums on his old label, Old Friends 4 Sale may turn your head.

Avenue BIggy Pop, Avenue B (Virgin 1999) - What to make of Iggy Pop at age 50? That is the central question posed by Iggy himself on his new album, Avenue B. Introspective and stripped down, Avenue B questions whether it is possible for a hard core rocker like Iggy Pop to age gracefully.

Iggy Pop (born James Osterberg) helped define the 70s punk movement with his band, the Stooges. Never afraid to back off from a good fight, Iggy evolved through such albums as Lust for Life (recorded with David Bowie), before leading to his fine 1990 release, Brick by Brick, recorded with producer Don Was.

Pop reunites with Was on Avenue B, though with more subdued results, as epitomized by the opening track, "No Shit," a spoken-word piece in which Iggy describes his feelings at turning age 50.

Iggy Pop at age 52 Appropriately, Iggy recorded a majority of Avenue B at a converted meat packing plant located in New York City. Featured musicians include Larry Mullins on drums, Hal Craigen on bass, Whitey Kirst and Pete Marshall on guitars, and jazz trio Medeski, Martin & Wood on three tracks, including "Yo Yo Hablo Español."

What's missing (for me) on Avenue B are catchy tracks, like the classic "I Wanna Be Your Dog," or "Candy," the hit single from Brick by Brick. The exception is a heated version of the classic, "Shakin' All Over," in which Iggy and his guitars let it rip in a pure slice of rock 'n roll.

Too bad there's not more of that rock 'n roll on Avenue B. Not a failure, but a hard album to get into.

Cul de SacCul de Sac, Crashes to Light, Minutes to Its Fall (Thirsty Ear 1999) - Boston-based instrumental combo Cul de Sac, now nearly ten years into its career, delivers another slice of post-modern synth instrumentals in Crashes to Light.

Cul de Sac received substantial critical acclaim for its 1996 release, China Gate. Soon after, the band was paired, at the request of Geffen Records, with acoustic guitar experimentalist John Fahey.

The project nearly disintegrated when Fahey arrived in the studio and refused to play any of the material he'd previously worked out with the band. Despite the disagreement between the collaborators, the resulting album, The Epiphany of Glenn Jones, received solid reviews when it was released in 1997.

With the guitar stylings of Glenn Jones and the synthesizer and keyboard work of Robin Amos, Cul de Sac has a spatial sound, in the range of Starflyer 59 and the Cocteau Twins. Rounding out the quartet are Michael Bloom on bass and Jon Proudman on drums.

In discussing Cul de Sac, guitarist Jones says, "Cul de Sac allows me to combine my love of open-tune guitar, played finger-style, with my love for electronics and noise, all placed within a rhythmic rock framework."

China GateJones adds that, "Post-rock seems to be a term loosely used to describe a number of bands that have emerged in the 90's. Many of them are largely instrumental, eschewing vocals for the most part. Their concerns seem to be with texture and color, repetition, mood."

Jones continues. "Melodies and musical structure are minimal, if they exist at all. Generally, the music unfolds and possesses an apparently unforced or organic quality, and may synthesize elements or techniques of older musical styles."

Jones hits the Crashes to Light nail right on the head. While the new album borrows influences of psychedelia, lounge, acid-jazz, and ambient, the resulting product is, simply stated, trippy instrumentals. Thus, songs like "A Voice Through a Cloud" and "Father Silence" stretch for ten minutes each, while developing an ambient and relaxed feel.

For an exploration of music at the end of the century, listen to Crashes to Light, Minutes to the Fall.

- Randy Krbechek © 1999

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