March 6, 1996
Working Class Hero: A Tribute to John Lennon (Hollywood 1995) - A funny thing happened on the way to the John Lennon tribute. It turns out that John had a much better (and more poignant) voice than we gave him credit for (oh, we always knew he could write a good song).
Which is not to say that Working Class Hero is a bad album. Actually, there are many solid performances among the 15 cuts, and the artists are well-chosen. While Mary Chapin Carpenter's "Grow Old With Me" is too swarmy (although it is getting some radio airplay), Collective Soul's "Jealous Guy" is spot on, as is George Clinton's spirited take on "Mind Games."
Somewhat to my surprise, my favorite cut is "Imagine" by Blues Traveler. I thought this song had been played by too many high school graduating classes to still have meaning, but I was wrong - this song packs a message that's just as true today as it was 25 years ago. (No kidding. It's been 25 years).
Also featured are performances by Red Hot Chili Peppers, Candlebox, Sponge, and Toad the Wet Sprocket. Not featured is Richard Dreyfuss' version of "Beautiful Boy" from the new film, Mr. Holland's Opus. Too bad, as Richard captures the essence of John's efforts to reveal his feelings toward his young son.
While Working Class Hero features some of John's most powerful songs, the album lacks John's cohesive persona; it winds up being a collection of songs, rather than a complete listening experience.
According to Bardi Martin of Candlebox, Lennon's lasting message was, "If you don't like something in the world, change it. At least you have to try." That spirit comes through loud and clear on Working Class Hero. The producers carefully selected the artists for this album, and each gives a true reading. Enjoy this special collection.
Poi Dog Pondering, Pomegranate (Pomegranate Records 1995) - Art band (and doesn't that phrase make you queazy?) Poi Dog Pondering has released its fourth album, the self-financed Pomegranate. With a budget of only $10,000, Poi Dog Pondering recorded Pomegranate in its new hometown of Chicago during a seven-month period. The result is an album with subtle influences that offer rewards with each new listening.
Like many home recordings, Pomegranate is a labor of love. While the songs often slip into a deep groove, the challenging lyrics and buoyant string parts prevent them from bogging down. There's no easy way to describe this music: perhaps "rock orchestra" (with an equal emphasis on each voice and instrument) comes closest.
After three releases that failed to satisfy Columbia's sales expectations, Poi Dog Pondering found itself without a label. And sometimes with a questionable future, as guitarist and lead singer, Frank Orrall, devoted two years of his life to helping girlfriend/actress/saxophone player Brigette Murphy recover from cancer. (Murphy is in remission and is part of the band's current lineup).
The album reflects the diverse interests of Poi Dog Pondering's many members, including Susan Voelz on violin, Dag Juhlin on guitar, and Steve Goulding on drums. In addition to a core band of 12 members, the group also recruited assistance from many other musicians for Pomegranate, including The Parallax String Quarter.
Pomegranate finds the band moving away from the more pop-oriented sound on such earlier albums as Wishing Like a Mountain and Thinking Like the Sun (parts of which were reminiscent of the Beautiful South). Also gone are the Irish/Celtic leanings that flavored these albums; instead, the band has sought a more energetic, technological ambience.
Though recorded on a shoestring, Pomegranate doesn't cut any corners. Today's home studio equipment can produce excellent results, when the right person is behind the boards.
Keeping with its art-rock traditions, Pomegranate was originally run in a limited release of 15,000 discs with hand-pressed album covers. While originally based in Austin, Texas, the band has a loyal fan base in the Midwest. Judging from the album pictures, their live shows must be exciting. Try something different. Try Pomegranate.
Weird Al Yankovic, The T.V. Album (Scotti Bros. 1995) - You have to give Wierd Al credit. Nobody makes parody albums any more (although they were popular many years ago). The Yankmeister has a deft humorous touch, and the 11 cuts on The T.V. Album (all of which were previously released on other albums) won't disappoint his fans.
I'm not going to call this high art. Because it isn't. However, it has its moments. For example, Al got a lot of airplay with "I Lost on Jeopardy," a parody of Greg Kihn's "Jeopardy," as well as "Ricky," which was based on the "I Love Lucy" theme and "Mickey" by Toni Basil.
Also featured is "The Brady Bunch" (a parody of "The Safety Dance" by Men Without Hats), and "Bedrock Anthem," based on songs by The Red Hot Chili Peppers.
In addition, the album features several of Al's original tunes, including "Cable TV," "Here's Johnny," and "Frank's 2,000 TV," While some of this material may be a bit dated, it's as classic as the shows it is based on. And hearing it will make you smile. That's a nice change.
-- Randy Krbechek
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