Who'd a thunk that in 1996, one of the hottest sounds in the United States would come courtesy of the Rolling Stones? Not that the Stones are suddenly enjoying a personal revival; while catalogue sales are keeping them in beer and blood transfusions, their most recent releases have pretty much raced to the middle of the charts, then fallen off from there. However, each new day seems to bring another release by a so-called modern-rock band that nicks liberally from the R.S. library. The new Stone Temple Pilots single is practically a tribute to "Jumping Jack Flash," for example, while portions of Honeysuckle Strange sound more like the Stones than Sticky Fingers does. So why is the latter somehow less nettlesome than the average Lenny Kravitz disc? Because Howlin' Maggie, like Oasis, mingles larceny and attitude so proudly that its plagiarism becomes an indicator of its members' moxie. On "Miss Universe" and "Alcohol," lead vocalist Harold Chichester deals with Stonesy subjects in a Stonesy manner, but he's so bold and tuneful that the tracks get by anyhow; later, on "How the West Was Won," the act operates within a grungier structure but tosses in whoo-whoo background vocals--by, among others, Jaggerphile Greg Dulli--that serve as the sonic equivalent of an identification card. Live, these elements are further magnified: During a recent Denver appearance, Chichester pranced around the Ogden Theatre stage waving a feather boa and puffing his lips in an approximation of the famous Mick pout. (For good measure, the act also covered a Stones tune, "Slave.") The shtick may be too much for some, and if Howlin' Maggie puts out another CD exactly like this one, no amount of showmanship will excuse it. But for now, Honeysuckle Strange makes a nice soundtrack for any alterna-fan who feels like being exiled on Main Street.--Michael Roberts
Liv & Let Liv
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This odd package is apt to die of a serious case of juxtaposition overdose long before anyone has the opportunity to hear it. But at least the album gets points for weirdness: It's not every day that you encounter a lethal mix of jazz, classical, new-age, techno, pop, rock, ambient, adult contemporary, trance and surf music intended as a tribute to a dead composer. (Three of the eight selections here are variations on sections of Johan Pachelbel's Canon in D, a piece used frequently during the late Eighties as background music for rehab-center commercials.) The creators of the recording, guitarists Liv Khalsa and Livtar Khalsa (no relation), are practicing Sikhs who see the album as an aid to enlightenment; Liv says it's "both a tribute to Pachelbel and an attempt to reproduce in music the spiritual aspects of board- and body-surfing," while Livtar claims that the project "was natural to me. I've been chanting for years using Canon in D." The results are, to say the least, all over the map. "Waikiki Pachelbel" includes chants done in Gurmukhi, an ancient Indian dialect; "Surfin' UFO" is advertised as a "beatnik/sci-fi techno saga"; "Wili Wili," the platter's shortest track, is offered as a salute not to Pachelbel, but to Peter Gabriel; and the title tune sounds like Dick Dale performing a sedate set with a symphony orchestra. As an unintended parody, Surfin' Pachelbel has some entertainment value. As a document of the players' mastery of their instruments, it's passable--the Khalsas play very professionally. But as a satisfying musical meal, it's comparable to a plate of strawberries covered with ranch dressing. In short, the ingredients here are simply not compatible.--Linda Gruno
Super Hits of the '70s: Have a Nice Day, Volumes 23-25
Time does bizarre things to ultra-commercial pop music. A contemporary song that you find annoying may well seem hilarious and/or disturbing to you a couple of decades down the line--which is the secret to this long-running reissue series. Such supernatural alterations don't occur in every case: Pure Prairie League's "Amie" (on volume 23), Andrew Gold's "Thank You for Being a Friend" (volume 24) and Orleans's "Love Takes Time" (volume 25) were putrid upon their original release, and they're putrid now. But "Fox on the Run" and "Love Is Like Oxygen" by the Sweet (on volumes 23 and 25, respectively) come across as far more enjoyable now than they ever did in the bad old days of mood rings and polyester, and volume 24's "The King Is Gone," a tribute to the freshly dead Elvis Presley that Ronnie McDowell rushed into stores in October 1977, is so unbelievably lachrymose that it achieves a kind of camp majesty. Most stunning of all is "Heaven on the 7th Floor," a one-shot from Paul Nicholas, an actor whose biggest claim to fame was playing Peter Frampton's brother in the catastrophic film Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band. The cut so perfectly encapsulates everything that was plastic, phony and prefab about Seventies pop that, heard with today's ears, it becomes positively otherworldly; it's hard to believe that it was made on this planet, let alone that it was the sort of hit that a significant number of people still among the living danced to, necked to, made love to. Hell, this unpredictable transformation half convinces me that I might be able to tolerate Alanis Morissette's "Ironic" by the year 2016. Naaaah.--Roberts