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April 12, 1995

It's Now or Never

SuperstarJesus Christ Superstar: A Resurrection (Deamon Records 1994) -- Deamon Records, a little non-profit label out of Atlanta that is headed by Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls, just tries harder. In a real commitment to the Atlanta music community, Deamon gathered a host of local bands and re-recorded Jesus Christ Superstar, the groundbreaking musical by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice that went to No. 1 on the charts in 1970.

This double disc set is a treat: the artists remain true to the original, but also make it their own. Singer Michael Lorant is part of the generation that grew up with this breakthrough rock opera. Lorant notes that, before there was a stage show, a movie, or a soundtrack, it was originally a rock opera, and asks the rhetorical question, "Does anyone remember that it was rock 'n roll?"

The lead singers are Amy Ray as Jesus, Michael Lorant as Judas, and Emily Saliers as Mary Magdalene; they are backed by a core band of John Bigay, David Patterson, and Bill Decker. The album also features guest appearances by noted Atlanta bands as 5-8, Lay Quiet Awhile, The Vidalias, and Uncle Green.

The fact that the role of Jesus is sung by a woman has no affect on the production: the role remains true, and Amy Ray gives her whole to it.

With such memorable cuts as "I Don't Know How to Love Him" and "Everything's All Right" (which was recently sampled to interesting, semi-schizophrenic effect by Sandra Bernhard on Excuses For Bad Behavior), Jesus Christ Superstar remains an enduring classic.

The opera runs an interesting path; while it begins with a tongue-in-cheek feel (remember, Jesus Christ Superstar came out at the height of the Anti-Establishment era), by its end, there is a real sense of melancholy and loss.

Though the album was released before Christmas, I think it's a better Easter package. After all, Jesus Christ Superstar is a modern Passion Play, as it follows the condemnation and crucifixion of Christ. Celebrate the season with music. Get Jesus Christ Superstar: A Resurrection.

ElvisIt's Now or Never: The Tribute to Elvis (Mercury 1994) -- On October 8, 1994, a star-studded group of country performers gathered at the Pyramid Arena in Memphis to perform songs written by Elvis Presley. The show was distilled on It's Now or Never: while some cuts don't gel, there are shining moments when the match of performer and material is comfortable.

The album was produced by Don Was (whose recent credits include Voodoo Lounge for the Rolling Stones), and features an eclectic but country-based group of 15 artists. The spin on It's Now or Never is that all of the tracks were originally written by Elvis Presley; these aren't just covers, but covers of material from the master himself.

Many of the country acts pay faithful tribute to their founding star, including Travis Tritt's rowdy version of "Lawdy Miss Clawdy," Billy Ray Cyrus' rollicking "One Night," the Mavericks' touching "Love Me," Faith Hill's honest take on "Trying to Get to You," and Tanya Tucker's tired "Teddy Bear."

Where It's Now or Never works best is on the enchanting "Young and Beautiful" by Aaron Neville, in which Aaron takes this little-known song and recasts it in his own delicate falsetto style. Chris Isaak's reading of "Blue Moon" is also terrific. Chris has always had close ties to Elvis' lounge style, and his intimate version of this song is both copycat and original.

Another pleasant surprise is "It's Now or Never" by the UK band, Wet, Wet, Wet, in which the group takes the original and camps it up.

Some songs don't make it, like the sanitized "Hound Dog" by Bryan Adams and "Jailhouse Rock" by the miscast Michael Bolton. However, let's not look to the easy targets. Like all tribute albums, the songs that work are those where the artist reinvents the tune; those that fall flat are where the artist merely covers the original.

The album ends on a mixed note, with a sing-a-long version of "Love Me Tender" by Tony Bennett. Though I deeply respect Tony, it's unfair to feature him in an audience participation number: this is the type of song that should be worked into, not abruptly dumped on an unsuspecting audience.

The obvious comparison to this album is Honeymoon in Vegas (1992), a soundtrack that featured a number of delightfully reworked versions of Elvis songs. Honeymoon in Vegas worked, because it was campy, true to the originals, and invigorating all at the same time.

There's something uneven about It's Now or Never. While all the artists try hard, the album never settles into a steady groove. However, when it does click, it works well. Country fans (and Elvis fans) will dig this disc.

PurejoyThe Elastic Purejoy - The Elastic Purejoy made a recent and enthusiastic appearance at The Fulton. The band is primarily a showcase for Dave Allen, who played guitar and handled all lead vocals. Allen is also the president of World Domination Records (which made my question after the show, "So, Dave, how's your label treat you?" seem pretty dumb), and was previously the bass player with such renowned bands as Gang of Four and Shriekback.

For this one-off show in Fresno, Allen was joined by our own Manny Diaz (from the Miss Alans) on guitar, Scott Hayers on bass, and the amazing Mike Stinson on drums. The 75-minute set featured new material that Dave has been working on in the studio; after the show, Dave said this was the first time that this group had performed live.

The set was straight ahead rock 'n roll, with punk and hard-rock influences. Scott Hayers got an amazing fat-bass sound, and Mike Stinson (who looked like a young Neil Young) was rock-solid on the drum kit.

Allen says he views the Elastic Purejoy as an evolving group of musicians. The first album was recorded with a different set of musicians, and is a great collection of rock and alternative cuts, with influences from Bowie, Lou Reed, and the Talking Heads. Expect the new album to have more hard-rock influences, as Allen (now a father of three) is no shrinking violet.

Allen also says that World Domination has scheduled eight releases for this year. Keep your eye open for this little label with big plans.

-- Randy Krbechek

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