Come On Over
First time around, producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange went through the motions of trying to make Twain, who's the object of his Svengalism, sound somewhat like a country artist. But even though she's still being marketed as a C&W chanteuse, her latest release is even less country than "Morning Train"-era Sheena Easton. The first number, "Man! I Feel Like a Woman!" should clue you in to what's happening here: It kicks off with a guitar riff nicked from Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky" and accents Twain's hottest-piece-of-tail-in-town singing with what sounds for all the world like a synthesizer. Some fiddles manage to sneak in on the third track, "Love Gets Me Every Time," but more prominent in the tune is "Little Sister" guitar and background harmonies that are pure pop. This wouldn't be so bad if Twain and Lange, who are listed as co-writers of all sixteen compositions on the CD, managed to come up with something that at least gave the impression of freshness, but most of the elements on hand are so familiar that it's practically impossible to listen to them without being distracted by their original sources. Of course, this may not be as big a problem for country loyalists, who may not recognize the bridge of "When" as bogus Blondie or know that the organ fillip that initiates "You're Still the One" carries the lineage of Procul Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale." But even if such borrowings go unrecognized, Come On Over still gives off the scent of product--a mass-produced item meant to satisfy a focus group. It may win a Grammy, but what it really deserves is a Clio.
The 1982 Broggs album Rastafari Liveth was the first recording to appear on the RAS imprint, and this minor classic deserves credit for helping to spur the growth of what has become one of the world's largest and most prolific reggae labels. Rejoice, however, is merely a retread--new versions of the Rastafari title track and other Broggs favorites that generally fall far short of the originals. Simply put, these tracks weren't crying out to be modernized, and the synthesized pyrotechnics that were employed in trying to do so only weigh the album down. Worse, Broggs's greatest attribute--his voice--isn't heard to its best effect here. He sleepwalks through thirteen tunes that deal with one of two themes: how happy he is to be a Rasta ("Rejoice," "Jah Almighty," "Thank You Jah," "Praise Jah," etc.) and how much he loves his ganja ("International Farmer"). Moreover, he apparently believes that any phrase gains power if it's repeated ad nauseam; at times he sounds like a Jamaican version of that guy who kept saying "Bueller...Bueller...Bueller" in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Snappy engineering work by the Scientist pumps life into a few of these tunes, including the bouncy "Jah Voice Is Calling," but the bottom line remains that Broggs can do much better. Pick up Rastafari Liveth and you'll find out for yourself.
Now that Aqua has warbled about a Ken doll undressing and caressing his once-sacred paramour in the worldwide smash "Barbie Girl," where will the group go next? If Aquarium is any indication, not very far. None of the syrupy-sweet dance numbers that fill the rest of the album can top the aforementioned sex romp. (Imagine the Smurfs on American Bandstand and you'll have the right idea.) When Rene Dif invites playmate Lene Nystrom to "come pick my roses" in his trademark boy-toy voice, the only fantasy he inspires involves pruning shears. Snip, snip.
Svigals, a co-founder of the socially conscious ensemble called the Klezmatics, is regarded by many critics as the first American-born violinist to develop a distinctly personal style within the tradition of klezmer music. But she's also known for collaborating with Itzhak Perlman during the latter's ventures into klezmer--and 'Fidl', titled after the Yiddish word for "violin," is closer to her duets with this classical master than it is to the music she makes with her band. The supporting cast is certainly not the problem: Musicians joining Svigals include fellow Klezmatics Lorin Sklamberg and Matt Darriau, 65-year-old drummer Elaine Hoffman Watts (the daughter of the late Jacob Hoffman, a klezmer icon thanks to his membership in the famed Kandel Orchestra), and Joshua Horowitz on klezmer tsimbl, aka hammered dulcimer. Also enjoyable are Walter Zev Feldman's bountiful liner notes, which detail the style's roots and melodic structures, offer explanations about each song, and include a reading list for those interested in learning more about the genre. But because this historical focus carries over to the tunes themselves, 'Fidl' is rather subdued; it sticks close to tradition rather than expanding it à la the Klezmatics. As such, it's a respectable addition to Svigals's discography but not an essential one. The music will get your toes tapping--it wouldn't be klezmer if it didn't at least do that--but it's unlikely to lift you out of your chair.
A few jottings from my notebook about specific songs on Greatest Hits.
"All the Way/One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)," a duet with Frank Sinatra: I've got to believe Frank's business manager talked him into this.
"How Could an Angel Break My Heart," a duet with Toni Braxton: Dreadful--but man, can that girl wear a dress.
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"Everytime I Close My Eyes," "By the Time This Night Is Over" and "You Send Me," duets with, respectively, Babyface, Peabo Bryson and Michael Bolton: These guys deserve each other.
"Theme From Dying Young": That's what's going to happen to me if I listen to this for one more second.