It's a great day in the world of new album releases when this week's highlights include new entries from such bold newcomers as Barbra Streisand, the Velvet Underground's John Cale, Kiss, The Beach Boys, ELO's Jeff Lynne, Motown legend David Ruffin and baby band Gary Lewis & The Playboys!
No need to worry, though: old favorites like the Wallflowers have returned with warm and reassuring sounds more than likely to calm troubled souls who find today's music scene jarring in its adventurousness and would like a dash of something familiar!
Further new releases by punk rocker Rick Springfield and artful instrumentalist James Bondówho has cleverly titled his debut album Best Of James Bond 50th Anniversaryómight merit inclusion here if this much-loved 10-albums-only format permitted!
But like most of us, I find all these baby bands -- well -- confusing! And who among us doesn't need some stability in his or her life?
Barbra Streisand: Release Me (Columbia) They say that sometimes albums take on a life of their ownóand it's difficult to argue here, when a compilation of previously-unreleased Streisand songs was spliced together by some guy in the Columbia Records archives department, dubbed onto a cassette and then suddenlyóto the amazement of all watching in the sound studio--jumped off the mixing desk, danced around a few times, and then, however boldly, telepathically commanded the label personnel: release me! The tunes, drawn from the singer's massive archives and including treatments of such well-known classics as "Willow Weep For Me," "Didn't We," "How Are Things In Glocca Morra?" and "I Think It's Going To Rain Today," are all just exactly as great as you'd expect from Ms. Streisandóand can only whet our appetites for the label's inevitable, emboldened follow-up, Buy Me! No truth to rumors that the album pic is from the singer's audition for Suspiria!
Kiss: Monster (Universal) In many ways, Kiss and Barbra Streisand are a lot alike! They've been around for years, they keep putting out albums, they have a rabid fan base, and they're not averse to wearing make-up! That said, Kiss are the better singers, of course, since there's four of them and they could theoretically sing four notes at onceótop that, Cali babe! This new album boldly displays the Kiss logo on its cover and features the gang "goofing around" at a photo shootósort of like Streisand's Butterfly album, come to think of itóbut it's what's inside that counts! And that's 12 great new tracks, including near-anthemic album opener "Hell Or Hallelujah," the pensive "Freak," and the unforgettable album closer "Last Chance"! Interestingly, the band's overt embracing of all things commercial leaves its mark on the final track, though cynics might wonder if there's a grain of truth in closing line "This is your last chance to purchase this album as a single CD or download before we ultimately go indie, bundle all our recordings into an ultra-deluxe package retailing at $899, suckers!" But I suspect Gene & the guys are pulling our legs! They've never been in it for the money!
The Wallflowers: Glad All Over (Columbia) The long-awaited return of Jakob Dylan's band the Wallflowers is surely reason to rejoice! Especially at Jakob Dylan's house! Featuring a guest appearance by the Clash's Mick Jones, the new set is an abrupt departure from the Wallflowers' past distinguished legacy: Perhaps as a reaction to the non-stop comparisons to his legendary father the singer has faced, he's instead decided to emulate '60s icons from another shore entirely! And so it is that the band covers "Glad All Over," "Bits And Pieces," "Do You Love Me," "Any Way You Want It " andómost enthrallinglyóan adrenaline-filled "Can't You See That She's Mine"! "They wanted to cover Lee Morgan's Live At The Lighthouse," confided one insider, "but then they found out it was instrumental!" Like most of us, I plan to buy two of these!
Jeff Lynne: Long Wave (Frontiers) I have no idea who it was we were watching, but in the late '80s I was at the Palace, a distinguished LA club long gone, standing at the bar and ordering a drink, and who came up right next to me to order his own drink but none other than Jeff Lynne, who had made his name in America via his wonderful Electric Light Orchestra, but had an equally impressive pedigree even before that band. I could not help but make small talk, and mentioned I was a huge fan of his "10538 Overture," the opening track of ELO's very first album. He grinned and said, "And it was all downhill after that, right?" I smiled back and nodded vigorously! Drinks are great! That said, Mr. Lynne remains one of pop music's more interesting figures, and this new setówhich comes at the same time as a brand new collection of "re-recorded" ELO hits also just produced by Lynneófeatures the singer's take on such "pre-rock" standards as "If I Loved You," "Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered" and "Smile," and is eye-opening, very well-arranged and sung, and perhaps not what most ELO fans might expect in the 21st century. Between you and me, if he went back and re-recorded a dozen of his best tracks with the Idle Race---the band which preceded both the Move and ELOóhe might really be doing himself a service. He is the man!
The Beach Boys: Greatest Hits: Fifty Big Ones (Capitol) Reviewing a 2-CD set of the Beach Boys' greatest hits is something of an exercise in futilityówhat, do think anything could actually be bad here?óbut pointing out its release is no small public service. If there is any group that could use a concise, well-chose anthology at the momentóespecially after finishing a 50th anniversary tour before an audience that was filled with grandparents, parents, teenagers and pre-teens alikeóit would be these folks, and if I had to buy just one Beach Boys set for a potential new fan, this would be it. Simultaneously released, and perhaps even more exciting, are 12 of the band's best early albums, many in dual mono/stereo format and about as highly recommended as these things ever get. Every single one is worth picking up!
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