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November 19, 1997

Speeding at the Sound of Life

JayhawksJayhawks, Sound of Lies (American 1997) - Sound of Lies is the new release from the reconstituted Jayhawks, who broke up in 1995 following the departure of founding member Mark Olson (who left to spend more time with his wife, singer/songwriter Victoria Williams). Sound of Lies features a brooding, Tom Petty-country rock sound, and is the best Jayhawks album yet.

Formed 12 years ago in Minneapolis, the Jayhawks migrated to Los Angeles, before finally returning to the Twin Cities. The band consists of Gary Louris (chief songwriter/vocalist/guitarist), bassist Marc Perlman, drummer Tim O'Reagan and keyboardist Karen Grotberg. Explains Perlman, the band "ended up evolving into a different sound. Instead of the classic country harmonies that Mark Olson and Gary used to sing, now it's one solo voice, with backing vocals, which is more of a pop or rock approach than country."

That description hits the nail on the head. By blending violin/viola player Jessy Green (who has played with the Geraldine Fibbers) with the solid keyboard underpinnings of Karen Grotberg, the Jayhawks break new ground, from the comfortable "The Man Who Loved Life" to the caustic rocker, "Think About It," through "It's Up to You," which features Grotberg's rich backing vocals.

Idiosyncratic and idealistic, Sound of Lies is a great new start for the Jayhawks (though I hate the cheesy artwork). Fans of intelligent, carefully-constructed country rock should not miss this release.

Alan ParsonsAlan Parsons Project, The Definitive Collection (Arista 1997) - The Definitive Collection is a double-disc, 34-song anthology that covers the Alan Parsons Project oeuvre, from early recordings like Tales of Mystery and Imagination and Pyramidthrough such later releases as Ammonia Avenue and Stereotomy. Remastered with 20-bit Superbit mapping, the 149 minutes of music sounds fresh and undated.

The Alan Parsons Project was born of the collaboration of Abbey Roads' engineer Alan Parsons and session pianist and songwriter Eric Woolfson. With their breadth of interests and intriguing concept albums, the Alan Parsons Project scored numerous hit singles, including 1992's "Eye in the Sky," "The Eagle Will Rise Again" (1978), and "Games People Play" (1980).

The band also supported an ever-changing lineup of guest vocalists from album to album - Arthur Brown and the Hollies' Terry Sylvester on Tales of Mystery and Imagination; the Hollies' Allan Clarke on I Robot; ex-Zombie's lead singer Colin Blunstone on Pyramid ("The Eagle Will Rise Again"); and former Elton John/Pink Floyd back up singer Lesley Duncan on Eve ("If I Could Change Your Mind").

All of the Alan Parsons Project 17 U.S. chart singles are included, together with 17 key album tracks. I've always felt that greatest hits collection don't do justice to the integrity of the full album; I prefer the original recordings, which contain the songs in their original order. (And Alan Parsons had definite ideas about how to construct and arrange an album.) But if you're looking for a starting place, The Definitive Collectioncouldn't be better.

Dennis BrennanDennis Brennan, Iodine in the Wine (Upstart Records/Rounder 1997) - Here's a record with an identity crisis. After looking at the cover, you'd think Iodine in the Wineis some kind of schmaltzy, after-dinner sampler for new-age lovers. But that couldn't be more wrong.

Instead, Iodine in the Wine builds on the earnest country/folk songwriting style ofKevin Welch, while mixing in roots-rock elements reminiscent of Alejandro Escovedo. And there's nothing schmaltzy about that mix.

From the hillbilly folk-influenced "Mighty Long Time" (a duet with the sweet Jennifer Kimball) to the plaintive, horn-influenced "River Rise Up," to the deliciously downbeat, "Pill of Love" (a duet with Jennifer Jackson), Iodine in the Wine finds the balance that is lacking in Alejandro Escovedo's recent albums - brooding and melancholy, yet uplifting and celebratory at the same time. Fans of Americana will enjoyIodine in the Wine.

Peter CeteraPeter Cetera, A Collection (River North Records 1997) - I must be getting old. Because Peter Cetera, the erstwhile former vocalist and bass player for Chicago, sounds pretty good these days.

How did I go from Jim Morrison to soft pop? Maybe because Cetera has selected solid material. Included on Collection are new versions of three of Peter's big hits with Chicago: "If You Leave Me Now," "Baby What a Big Surprise," and "You're The Inspiration." And these songs still sound good.

Also included are six duets, including "After All" with Cher, "Next Time I Fall" with Amy Grant, and "Feels Like Heaven" with Chaka Khan.

A mainstay of adult contemporary, Peter Cetera is a talented vocalist. Collection plays to his strengths, to the benefit of all.

-- Randy Krbechek

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