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Recordng Reviews: 1/25/02

Friday, January 25, 2002

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

'I AM SAM'
Soundtrack

(V2 Records)

As Beatlemania claims another decade for the most important rock 'n' roll band in the history of superlative-slinging music geeks, a tribute to the Fab Four posing as a soundtrack album hits the pop charts, weighing in at No. 25.

Not bad for music old enough to be Eminem's mother.

That's right, Eminem. I said your mother.

And it's pretty good. Better, in fact, than you'd expect if you make it a habit to listen to tribute albums (which I don't advise).

It helps that the artists were chosen with an eye toward making sense. No Britney Spears. Or Linkin Park. Or Creed.

In fact, the only act I wouldn't have imagined doing Beatle songs is Eddie Vedder, who cut a heavy-hearted -- who'da thunk it? -- version of "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away." Is it just me, or is he ripping off the dude from Creed with that whole brooding Jim Morrison voice?

I kid.

A few songs lack the emotional edge that made the Beatles so much more than popular, beginning with the first song, "Two Of Us" by Aimee Mann and Michael Penn. It's just too pleasant. So is the Wallflowers' "I'm Looking Through You." If I saw a bar band do it, I would smile. But I expect a better show from little Zimmy.

At least I can listen to his cut -- unlike, say, the embarrassing mess Ben Harper makes of "Strawberry Fields Forever." It's like killing John Lennon all over again. But slower.

Other embarrassments range from Chocolate Genius deconstructing "Julia" to Heather Nova oversinging "We Can Work It Out" to Howie Day pretending he's Thom Yorke pretending he's U2 on "Help!"

Of my personal heroes, Paul Westerberg is, at best, disappointing. And Grandaddy takes the title of its contribution, "Revolution," as an open call to revolutionize the song itself to no real end.

I'd rather watch the Nike ad.

While hitting myself in the head with a hammer.

But enough about the reasons not to buy it.

If you've ever wondered what it would have been like if the Beatles had been asked to be girls for a day at Lilith Fair, no fewer than two of the highlights here should offer insight -- "Mother Nature's Son" by Sheryl Crow and "Blackbird" by Sarah McLachlan.

Ben Folds, as expected, nails the emotional essence of the "Abby Road" cut, "Golden Slumbers." It's amazing, easily the album's most compelling track.

Other highlights include the Black Crowes' oddly faithful "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" (so much better than that awful version Elton did before he had that early '60s Beatle wig sewn to his head) and The Vines, who rock "I'm Only Sleeping" hard enough to make you wonder what they sound like after waking up. It's an excellent version of the strongest cut on what remains the Beatles' greatest album. No, not "Yellow Submarine." "Revolver."

-- Ed Masley

DIANNE REEVES
'The Best of Dianne Reeves'
(Blue Note)

 
 

Reeves performs at the MCG at 8 tonight, 7 and 9:30 p.m. tomorrow and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $24 to $28. 412-322-0800.

   
 

This chronological compilation of vocalist Dianne Reeves' albums from 1987's self-titled Blue Note debut to this year's Grammy-nominee, "The Calling: Celebrating Sarah Vaughan," nicely tracks her development into one of today's finest jazz singers.

On her 10th Blue Note album (13th altogether), the direction of her career can be traced from a "smooth" or contemporary jazz artist (clearly under the influence of her cousin, keyboardist/producer George Duke), then to a predominantly more conventional jazz singer (with acoustic trio accompaniment), followed by a sort of neo-African style, with instrumental support involving electronics, lots of percussion and backup singers.

She now is a combination of all those things, and although reports are that in her performances at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild this weekend she will concentrate on her Sarah Vaughan tribute, listeners also should expect to hear a genre-crossing, stylistically varied show.

Interestingly, except for an orchestra employed on some tracks from "The Calling," nary a horn is heard on the 12 songs in this collection.

Reeves separates herself from the majority of today's jazz singers in two impressive ways -- as composer and lyricist. That is the case on five songs here, with her lyric-writing standing out.

In a strong, clear (if not particularly singular) voice, Reeves mixes singing lyrics with scatting and a unique wordless technique that seems a combination of jazz scat and African chant.

On recent CDs, as heard here, Reeves has begun to "stretch out" improvisationally or jam on such disparate pieces as Cole Porter's "Love for Sale," Mongo Santamaria's "Afro-Blue" and Joni Mitchell's "The River."

In some cases, on these and other numbers, Reeves suffers from overproduction and overstatement, becoming repetitious, if not self-indulgent. But more often, the compilation demonstrates well the richness and power of her voice, as well as her adventurousness and joy in singing.

At the MCG, Reeves will be backed by pianist Peter Martin, bassist Ruben Rogers, percussionist Munyungo Jackson (an important contributor on the compilation) and drummer Greg Hutchinson, who also appears on the collection.

-- Bob Protzman

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