The Colpix-Dimension Story
On first listen, many of these forty cuts sound downright terrible--and they don't improve with repeated plays. Nonetheless, this collection exerts a certain fascination, if only because it captures on plastic some of the more blatant attempts to put rock and roll on an assembly line. Colpix and Dimension were financed by Columbia Pictures, where execs thought they could churn out their own Fabians--and for a while, they proved that they could. Early smashes featured such lookers as James Darren ("Goodbye Cruel World," "Her Royal Majesty," "Conscience"), Shelly Fabares ("Johnny Angel," "Johnny Loves Me") and Paul Petersen ("She Can't Find Her Keys," "My Dad"), whose questionable singing careers were launched by their appearances on The Donna Reed Show, while a later release, "What Are You Going to Do?," found future Monkee Davey Jones (known here as "David Jones") making like a bad Peter Noone impressionist. Still, the Colpix-Dimension machine was as adept at producing good shlock as bad: Witness Little Eva's "The Loco-Motion" (co-written by the company's secret weapon, Carole King) and twangy-guitar master Duane Eddy's baffling version of "House of the Rising Sun." From Sonny Curtis's oddball novelty composition "A Beatle I Want to Be" to the Cookies' swinging "Don't Say Nothin' Bad (About My Baby)," this stuff has all the originality of the millionth Camaro to roll out of the plant--but as often as not, it just doesn't matter. Weird.--Michael Roberts
Let's dig out the punk-rock lexicon for this one, shall we? Discordant, visceral, brash, powerful--yep, all of the terms apply. These Chicago bruisers have never been much for breaking new ground; most of their efforts up to this point have been nothing more than polished rehashes of material produced by Pegboy progenitors Naked Raygun and the Effigies. But that's just fine in this humble listener's opinion, since those groups were, hands-down, two of the most potent yet underrated guitar forces to come out of Chicago's underground music scene. Besides, when head Peg Larry Damore belts out heartfelt choruses like the one found on "Blister" ("Make all/My pain/Go a-waaaay"), you can't help but get a little tingly inside. What separates a good punk-rock band from a mediocre one these days is its ability to take the same old chords and make them sound exciting again. Pegboy does it better than anybody.--Brad Jones
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The Jazz Scene
In 1950, when this compilation was initially released, only 5,000 copies were made available to the public. This small number was dictated by its packaging: The twelve tracks, pressed on six 78-rpm records, were accompanied by an eighty-page, cloth-bound album featuring photographs by Life magazine's Djon Mili and artwork by David Stone Martin, whose graphics graced the covers of the Jazz at the Philharmonic series of live recordings. Norman Granz, the producer of those discs, conceived The Jazz Scene as an extension of the Philharmonic concerts; participants on those dates, including Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins and Cuban-born percussionist Machito, were brought into the studio with musicians (such as Bud Powell) who weren't suited to Granz's touring ensembles. The result, according to Down Beat magazine, was "the most remarkable album ever issued." For the updated reissue, Verve has included the original photos and graphics and has supplemented the original tunes with 26 additional performances cut at the same sessions. Half of these have never before been available, and several--especially two solo works by Ellington's musical collaborator, Billy Strayhorn--are especially enchanting. The Jazz Scene is no longer the most remarkable album ever issued, but it is an important, well-rounded documentation of quintessential jazz sounds.--Linda Gruno
Call Mi Sister Carol
The good Sister has never been all that highly regarded among her reggae peers, many of whom suggest that the support of filmmaker Jonathan Demme (who used her version of "Wild Thing" as the musical backbone for 1986's Something Wild) was the only thing that saved her from a life of obscurity. Call Mi puts the lie to that--the disc is danceable, catchy and consistently enjoyable. Rather than caving into the waning dancehall trend, like so many current performers, Sister Carol uses traditional reggae beats and a rapping/talking delivery that nods to the innovations of hip hop without resorting to mimicry. A lot of the lyrics suffer from the usual narcissism--their primary topics, in no particular order, are Sister Carol, Sister Carol and Sister Carol. But bracing tracks such as "I Am What I Am" and the title song make up in musical brio what the words lack in originality. Give the woman some respect.--Roberts