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January 11, 2000

Roots, Rock, Reggae

Around the holidays I’m quite the homebody, so I haven’t attended a concert in over a month and a half. However, I do have my sights set on a little Cuban jazz affair I’m not going to miss next month in New Orleans. Two of the musicians from Cuba, Ruben Gonzalez and Ibrahim Ferrer that were featured on Ry Cooder’s BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB will be performing at the Saenger Theater on February 29. Tickets are still available through the House of Blues (505- 529-BLUE) to see these incredible jazz legends that were only recently discovered by audiences outside of Cuba. Since some of the restrictions on leaving their native country have been relaxed, many Cuban musicians have been able to travel to the U.S. and Europe to play for new fans. After listening to BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB and the Afro-Cuban All Stars, I fell in love with the piano playing of 80-year-old Ruben Gonzalez. Considered a national treasure in Cuba, his piano styling is similar to Oscar Peterson in rhythm but with a slight mambo feel to it. Singer Ibrahim Ferrer has a pure soft voice and sings with several top orchestras in Cuba. Though my understanding of the Spanish language in which he sings is very limited, I enjoy his music just the same. Maybe soon U.S. citizens will be allowed to travel to Cuba and experience more of the incredible musical talent residing so close to us here on the Gulf Coast.

As for my favorite albums of this past year, I usually look for excellent lyrics with an interesting delivery, and I can only think of two that qualify as classic or at least outstanding. Tom Waits’ album, MULE VARIATIONS, is his first in over five years, and it finds him on an independent label for the first time. Songs like “Eyeball Kid” and “Filipino Box Spring Hog” show a similarity to some of Waits’ more bizarre and slightly abrasive numbers on such album as BONE MACHINE and SWORDFISHTROMBONES. However, the album’s strongest point to me are a couple of great piano ballads, “Picture In A Frame” and “Take It With Me,” that are as good as any love song Master Tom has ever penned. Other favorite songs on the albums are “Chocolate Jesus” and the paranoid “What’s He Building In There?” I have to admit this album didn’t appeal to me as much when I first heard it as it does now. I suppose it’s one of those where you have to listen to it several times and in the proper context before it grows on you.

Another album that took a little time to grown on me is the Magnetic Fields’ 69 LOVE SONGS. It is a three-CD set and is basically just what its title suggests, sixty-nine love songs. The song writing genius behind the Magnetic Fields is Stephen Merritt, who says he enjoys writing most of his songs while ensconced in the corner of one of his favorite New York gay bars. The idea to write 69 LOVE SONGS was originally conceived as a live musical review to be performed in local upscale New York lounges by other artists. Somehow it turned out being the band’s fourth album in about ten years, and though I still live certain songs on GET LOST and CHARM OF THE HIGHWAY STRIP more than any particular song on 69 LOVE SONGS, the new album does contain some brilliant work. Many critics consider Merritt a modern day Irving Berlin or Cole Porter in that he can write a song at the drop of a hat and with an interesting rhythm. All of the songs on 69 LOVE SONGS are worth hearing. In my opinion the most outstanding of the lot are “The Death Of Ferdinand de Saussure,” “The Night You Can’t Remember,” “Asleep And Dreaming,” and “Love In The Shadows.”

A list of other worthy albums is as follows:

1. Beulah - WHEN YOUR HEARTSTRINGS BREAK (Another Elephant Six Collective project)
2. High Llamas - SNOWBUG (Similar to Stereolab and Archer Prewitt material)
3. Aluminum Group - PEDALS (Modern day Roxy Music during their AVALON period)
4. Sadies - PURE DIAMOND GOLD (A blend of surf, bluegrass and a couple of murder ballads)
5. Gram Parson Tribute - RETURN OF GRIEVOUS ANGEL (features Beck, Steve Earl, Elvis Costello)
6. Mr. Bungle - CALIFORNIA (Best album yet by Mike Patton Project. Mesmerizing in its complexity)
7. Olivia Tremor Control - BLACK FOLIAGE (More musical than lyrical; the most psychedelic album of late)
8. Wilco - SUMMER TEETH (The first album I’ve liked where they wrote their own lyrics)
9. Andre Williams - RED DIRT (Great raunchy country blues backed by the Sadies)
10. Masada Orchestra - TABOO AND EXILE (Great introduction to John Zorn; has a variety of styles)

-- Chuck Cox

lopez.jpg - 10179 BytesSEDUCTION,
Oscar Lopez
(Narada Music Production), 1998.

From Santiago, Chile via Canada guitarist Oscar Lopez will perform at the Erie Meyer Civic Center in Gulf Shores on Thursday, January 13. In anticipation of his appearance Narada sent me a press kit containing photos, other reviews, and a copy of his latest release. I spilled coffee on the photos, could probably find the clippings if you gave me an hour, but I know where the disc is. It’s in the player. Lopez’s 13 song instrumental album has earned a place in the heavy rotation stack of my 500-plus CD collection. I describe his guitar style as Earl Klugh meets the Gipsy Kings. With the help of seven other musicians Lopez opens the album with the percussive-ensemble type of flamenco music made popular by groups such as the Gipsy Kings. Lopez varies the pace with “Corrientes,” which features a sparser sound of just his nylon string guitar and light percussion. A tip of the hat to percussionists Randall Stoll and Ralph Geronimo for the incredibly accurate drumming on this album. The effect created on “Mediterraneo” sound exactly like a pair of shoes tap dancing. The innovative collaborations continue to “Aires de Otros Mundos” where Lopez’s guitar is contrasted by Qui Xia He’s Chinese pipa. Oscar’s music can also be heard else on the Narada label. He’s featured on several collections of guitar works issued by this musician-friendly label. In fact, Oscar has been nominated three times for the Juno Award (Canada’s Grammy) in his adopted homeland. This recognition is proof that Oscar Lopez crosses many borders to help refine world music today.

-- Dan Herman

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