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Music Reviews

Randy's Buttons

May 24, 1995

In the Dugout

EncomiumEncomium: A Tribute to Led Zeppelin (Atlantic 1995) -- Forget all the bullshit and back-stabbing you've been hearing. Encomium is a terrific cover album, and a disc that stands on its own merits. Featuring 12 different Led Zeppelin covers, Encomium shows the deep influence that Led Zeppelin had on today's music. The bitching is only from old farts who can't relive their youth. This is a great album.

Of course, we all know Led Zeppelin, the quintessential 70s hard rock band. Throughout their ten-album career, Led Zeppelin consistently pushed and redefined rock music. As last year's Robert Page and Jimmy Plant reunion (recorded as an MTV Unplugged special) showed, the magic was still there. Encomium shows that the magic is still evolving.

The album opens with incredibly strong foursome: the now-defunct 4 Non Blondes performing a picture-perfect "Misty Mountain Hop" (a track that is loved by young son, Franklin, who is also a big fan of Dinosaur, Jr.), Hootie & The Blowfish's country-rock version of "Hey, Hey, What Can I Do," Sheryl Crow's spunky take of "D'yer Mak'er," and Stone Temple Pilots' smashing, dead-on cover of "Dancing Days." I never liked Stone Temple Pilots much before, but their excellent recording makes me think I should re-evaluate them.

Other acts on Encomium include Duran Duran ("Thank You"), Big Head Todd and the Monsters ("Tangerine"), and Blind Melon ("Out on the Tiles"). Two tracks I could live without are "Good Times, Bad Times" by Cracker (I still don't care for David Lowery), and an in-your-face version of "Four Sticks" by the Rollins Band (no surprises here).

A new band, Never the Bride, contributes a soft, female-vocal version of "Going to California," and Tori Amos and Robert Plant perform a strange, late-night duet on "Down by the Seaside." Says Amos, "Working with Robert was a hoot. I almost wore my confirmation dress just for old times sake." Too bad no one asked Tori to explain this comment.

Maybe the best quote about Encomium is from guitarist Roger Stevens of Stone Temple Pilots, who says "Led Zeppelin has always been a big influence to me, especially as I was growing up learning to play guitar. In fact, we ripped them off so much, I'm surprised they haven't sued us yet."

Stevens is right: the influence of Led Zeppelin on today's pop and grunge (especially the Seattle sound) cannot be underestimated. My son jams on grunge rock. He also likes Encomium. That's a good sign, 'cuz Dad likes it too. Crank up Encomium.

Alsion KraussAlison Krauss, Now That I've Found You: A Collection (Rounder Records 1995) -- The honey-voiced Alison Krauss, who is also a world-class bluegrass fiddle player, began her recording career in 1987. Now at the ripe old age of 23, Alison is the subject of this fine retrospective, Now That I've Found You. With her tight ensemble called Union Station, Krauss is poised to reach stardom, as she refuses to be pigeonholed into any single genre. Now That I've Found You should propel her to the next level.

Alison was raised in Champagne, Illinois, and began making music at a young age. In her teens, she was the terror of the fiddle contest circuit. However, her playing is now characterized by more restraint than flash. Says Alison, "My attitude a few years ago was, the more notes you can play, the better you're getting. Now, I'm taking notes away."

Alison insists that Union Station, her airtight back-up band (consisting of a guitar, fiddle, banjo, mandolin, and upright bass) receive equal billing. After winning a Grammy for her second solo album, she celebrated by telling Rounder Records that she was finished with solo albums. Rounder Records, one of the best labels in the business, responded with their characteristic hands-off approach. As a result, Alison has grown into a mature and complete artist.

Alison KraussAlison was the opening act for last year's Garth Brooks' summer tour, but says megastardom is not for her. According to Alison, "I'd never want the kind of fame Garth has, because...it's not music any more. I couldn't play on stages that big, night after night. You can't hear, you don't know if you're singing in tune. All of the joy of hearing the person next to you sing is gone. When you get off stage, your ears are going 'bop-bop-bop.' Garth's whole thing is very appealing. But it's a show. It's totally different from what we do."

There are so many good cuts on Now That I've Found You that it's hard to find a place to start. From the opening beauty of "Now That I've Found You" (originally recorded by The Foundations) to the Southern heartache of Bad Company's "Oh, Atlanta," to the more traditional "Tonight, I'll Be Lonely Too," Alison's music can't be pigeonholed.

Other highlights include the lovely gospel number, "When God Dips His Pen of Love in My Heart," and my favorite, a cover of the Beatles "I Will" which opens with a bluegrass banjo introduction before flowering into Alison's sweet vocals.

Alison has a lovely voice, and her arrangements are delicate and heartfelt. Some critics have compared her to Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton; my wife says she can hear influences of Patsy Cline. I think the Patsy Cline analogy is appropriate, especially in spirit: both Alison and Patsy have a fundamental bluegrass grace and honesty.

Alison refuses to be typecast, and Now That I've Found You shows that her talents are broad-ranging. You can catch her show at the Santa Rosa County Fair in July (too bad she won't be in Fresno). Anyone who can record such a lovely cover of a Beatles song must be a good person. Try Now That I've Found You.

Bulldog Baseball -- As Bulldog Nine season draws to a close, here's three big cheers to John Quinlan and Tom Barkett, who handle the play-by-play for the Fresno State University baseball broadcasts on KMJ (AM 580). Much as I like music, baseball runs a close second. And we've got great announcers in John and Tom, who consistently bring a professional approach to their live coverage of the Diamond 'Dogs. Thanks, guys. It was another great spring.

-- Randy Krbechek

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