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January 25, 1995

Take Me Home

Dillon O'BrianDillon O'Brian, Scenes From My Last Confession (RCA 1994) -- Singer/songwriter Dillon O'Brian reaches inside for on his often introspective debut album, Scenes From My Last Confession. Featuring pop material and ballads (with an occasional folksy influence), the album builds on the strength of O'Brian's songwriting skills.

O'Brian is the youngest of seven children of a church-going Catholic, Irish-American family in Baltimore, and has been into music since his early days a piano prodigy. In recent years, he has become a busy songwriter in Los Angeles, and has penned tunes for such artists as Ringo Starr, Joe Cocker, and Paul Young. Often, O'Brian contributes musically to the cuts; as he says, "Usually producers wanted to capture the spirit of my demos, so I add some piano here, a little organ there, background vocals, arrangements...whatever is needed."

While Scenes From My Last Confession features softer numbers that showcase O'Brian's pop/ballad songwriting skills and likeable, honest delivery (such as the great lead-off cut, "Something Almost Sacred"), O'Brian also shows his Irish roots on "My Father's Son," which begins with a shanty-like piano part. O'Brian comes from the same performance school as Billy Joel and Darden Smith; when his material connects with you, it really sticks.

Though this kind of pop/ballad material may not be the rage, there's no reason for it to be overlooked. Scenes From My Last Confession is a friendly album, and one that you should look for.

Pearl JamPearl Jam, Vitalogy (Epic 1994) -- On their third Epic release, Seattle rockers Pearl Jam show why they're one of the biggest acts in the business. On this 55 minute disc (with 14 cuts), Pearl Jam walks a somewhat erratic line; like Their Satanic Majesties Request (by the Rolling Stones), some songs are quirky little numbers, while others are classic straight-ahead rockers.

This air-tight band now consists of four members (Eddie Vedder on vocals, Jeff Ament on bass, and Stone Gossard and Mike McCready on guitars), since drummer Dave Abruzzese left the group after Vitalogy was recorded. The album was recorded in Seattle, Atlanta, and New Orleans with long-time producer, Brendan O'Brian, at the boards, and transcends the early "grunge" label associated with Pearl Jam.

Nirvana was grunge; a thick, heavy sound, with deeply suppressed and often indecipherable vocals (i.e., crappy recording techniques. You can't fool me.) Pearl Jam are classic rockers (interestingly, without much blues influence): intent, earnest, and a little pissed-off, but not self-destructive or anti-society (like Nine Inch Nails).

The 35-page booklet inside the album is an odd mix. Small parts refer to the album, while the majority is artwork and aphorisms from a turn-of-the-century book on health and anatomy (hence, the name Vitalogy).

Some songs, like "Bugs," are Pearl Jam's version of "2,000 Miles," and don't add much to the milieu. However, the rocking cuts, like "Corduroy" and "Better Man" (the latter is now getting substantial and well-deserved airplay), are as strong as anything that's being released by a rock band these days. In addition, the instrumental "Aye Davanita" (whose chorus consists of only an incantation of the title) harkens to Led Zeppelin's best instrumental works.

All told, Pearl Jam is one of the strongest bands in America, and may be our answer to U2. Fronted by the strong and challenging voice of Vedder and featuring great guitar work, Vitalogy is an album to be reckoned with. Though early reviews said it was only for their fans, those reviewers failed to give the album credit for its subtleties. Turn it up, and listen to rock's present.

Take Me HomeAmy Fradon & Leslie Ritter, Take Me Home (Shanachie 1994) -- The lovely duo of Amy Fradon and Leslie Ritter have been working together since they first charmed an audience near Woodstock, New York in 1983. With their intricate harmonies and gentle delivery, Take Me Home is sure to please fans of the Emmylou Harris/Linda Ronstadt school of duet singing, while also crossing over into the jazz/contemporary vein.

Amy Fradon and Leslie RitterFradon & Ritter have been involved in music and the arts for many years, and have recorded with such artists as Shawn Colvin, Todd Rundgren, and Dr. John. Beforming forming the duet, Ritter attended NYU and pursued an acting career in a number of off-Broadway productions; Fradon studied dance and choreography at NYU, toured with the national company of Pump Boys & Dinettes, and then embarked on a full-time singing career. In addition, Fradon's mother, Ramona, is the illustrator for the Brenda Starr comic strip.

Amy FradonThough recorded with a band, the 12 songs on Take Me Home verge on the acoustic -- the background instrumentation is subdued, and the disc has a new-age sound. In addition to nine original cuts, Take Me Home also features surprising covers of "Rain" (by the Beatles) and the Yes classic, "Your Move." The music is soothing and healing, and highlights the talents of these two sweet sopranos.

Take Me Home fits comfortably into the soft, contemporary school; though I usually like music with more of an edge to it, the singing talents of these ladies cannot be ignored. Accept their invitation, and take them home.

-- Randy Krbechek

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