Barbra Streisand
The Concert

Streisand has dedicated at least the most recent ten years of her career to trumpeting her own greatness, and The Concert--exceedingly portentous title--is no exception. The CD's jacket is dominated by rave reviews of her recent tour ("The Way Streisand Is--Sensational!" gushed USA Today) and liner notes that lift hero worship to new heights. As for the program itself, it's chockablock with opportunities for Babs to blow herself kisses. "I'm Still Here," a song from Follies that composer Stephen Sondheim personally retooled for these performances, is only the most obvious example of this proclivity; the new lyrics allow Streisand to boast about how she's been able to outlive countless competitors and musical trends and still triumph. This self-love becomes annoying when she chooses to unleash her awesome pipes on reconstituted treacle such as "Evergreen" and "You Don't Bring Me Flowers." And yet there's no denying that Streisand often lives up to her reputation. Her voice has mellowed with the years, but she's still able to tear into couplets with ferocity and a theatrical instinct so sure that she even manages to save "I'll Know," a wrongheaded duet with a prerecorded, Fifties-vintage Marlon Brando. She'd likely be a boring windbag at a dinner party, but she's often a kick to have in your CD player. Particularly because you can turn her off whenever you've had enough.--Michael Roberts

Smashing Pumpkins
pisces iscariot

This collection of B-sides and oddities isn't likely to win any new fans, but it's likely to strike dyed-in-the-patch Pumpkinheads as dreamy. All the elements that have made the Chicago-based Pumpkins Generation X demigods are well represented here, from auteur Billy Corgan's simultaneously apologetic and self-indulgent liner notes to the driv-ing, not-quite-retro grooves that the group serves up like slabs of your Aunt Aggie's Thanksgiving dessert. The breathy acoustic balladry of "soothe" and the Brian May-inspired guitar curlicues of "plume" are especially tasty. Even so, these tunes were outtakes for a reason: There's a sameness to many of the selections that probably will appeal only to diehard followers. And of the songs that do stand out, many are noteworthy for the wrong reasons--Corgan's ambitious guitar solo on "starla" drags on too long, while the whiny cock-rocker "girl named sandoz" would sound more at home on any Seventies-era Thin Lizzy album than it does here. But if the prospect of hearing "7 a.m. buses slithering by" the old apartment where Corgan actually recorded portions of this hodgepodge sets your mouth to watering, you'll think pisces is far from fishy.--John Jesitus

Dewdrops in the Garden

Four years ago, Deee-Lite splashed onto the scene with World Clique, which articulated for millions the most entertaining side of party-time psychedelia. Singing and sampling the delights of the Age of Communication, this trio of performers produced a fruit-striped brand of dance music--a wonderfully conceived swirl of pop-cultural camp, liberal causes and trippy electronic gewgaws highlighted by a special appearance from funk legend Bootsy Collins. Too bad Dewdrops in the Garden finds most of the trio's giggles gone. The release, Deee-Lite's third, pulsates in all the right places; for instance, the soulfully sunny "River of Freedom" kicks off with a throbbing grind that seems to drill straight into the centermost kernel of your brain, while the first single, "Picnic in the Summertime," features a steady house-music pace that will make listeners feel as if they've just spent the night at a dance marathon. Still, too much of Garden seems like a silly exercise rather than a lark. Nonsense lyrics such as "Ubby dubby lovey dovey" (from "Apple Juice Kissing") suggest that the Deee-Lite threesome have become prisoners of their own sense of style. What was once a great, danceable act is now just another band with a good beat.--Justin McLean

Various Artists
The Sun Records Collection

There are 74 tracks on these three discs, and that's not nearly enough--which is as good a way as any to compliment the tunes that have been included in the latest compilation of ditties from Sun. When Sam Phillips, the producer and innovator who had plenty to do with almost every one of these cuts, appears in public these days, his barrel-chested manner and bad hairpiece can make him seem somewhat foolish and anachronistic. But during the Fifties and early Sixties, he was the best, most forward-looking judge of talent in the industry. The blues material that fills the majority of disc one (much of it first issued on the Chess imprint) includes wonderful offerings such as "Rocket '88,'" a track recorded in 1951 by Jackie Brenston with his Delta Cats that rocked and rolled years before the term came into common usage. With Phillips's help, Elvis Presley, whose "That's All Right" kicks off the meat of the package, synthesized blues roots and his own country influences to create something new. The music cut at Sun by Presley and his fellow visionaries (Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis) retains its original spontaneity and spark, as do recordings made by Charlie Feathers, Sonny Burgess and other greats. Most of the people who feel compelled to crow about the superiority of American music come across like jingoistic dolts, but after listening to The Sun Records Collection, you'll understand their enthusiasm.--Roberts


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