Help at Ground Zero (06/04/99)
The Help, The Help (Flipflop Discs 1999) - They call themselves the most original band in New York City, which is a heady claim. But The Help rings true. With their brooding, alt-rock, The Help lands near the college rock territory once occupied by 10,000 Maniacs
The band consists of Benita Green on acoustic guitar and vocals, Pete Brush on bass and vocals, Mark Caserta on electric guitar, Benny Snyder on drums, and Kenny Cifone on trumpet and flugelhorn.
Benita Green's vocals harkened to Margo Timmens of the Cowboy Junkies. Husky and languorous, driven and direct. In short, an original voice, full of confidence and uncertainty.
The Help is a damn good band. Listen for "Broken Bird," the heartbreak of "Valentine's Day," or the delicious trumpet intro to "Stu." Indie music is making a comeback, and we all need a little Help.
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Sam Phillips, Zero Zero Zero (Virgin 1999) - Critically-acclaimed artist Sam Phillips delivers an overview of her ten-year secular career with Zero Zero Zero. With fifteen tracks, of which half are new songs, remixes, or new versions, Sam points both forwards and backwards.
Sam began her recording career as the acclaimed Christian singer Leslie Phillips. Yet after several years on the Christian circuit, she turned toward secular music, including the acclaimed The Indescribable Wow (1988) and Cruel Inventions (1991). And Sam's Martinis and Bikinis (1994) is one of my favorite albums of the decade, as it blends incisive song-writing, smart lyrics, and a John Lennon sense of pop.
Sam's supporting cast includes producer/husband T Bone Burnett, drummer Jim Keltner, guitarist Marc Ribot, and song writer/performer Van Dyke Parks.
In discussing the album, Sam says, "It's a classification, a restatement of what I had hoped to say all along, now that I've got a bit more perspective. Zero Zero Zero is like a director's cut on my last four albums."
With songs like "Holding On to The Earth" (new version) and "Fighting With Fire" (remix), Sam shows her delicate struggle between faith, temptation, and love. And tracks like "I Need Love" and "Strawberry Road" are simply beautiful songs, whether termed pop or rock.
Yet the most lovely cut is "Flame" (remix), in which Sam challenges the line between life and lust, between healthy and obsessive: "Flame/Why do I come so close to you?/Flame/Telling me what I shouldn't do."
If Sarah McLachlan can be a star, so can Sam Phillips. Like the husband-and-wife recording teams of Suzanne Vega & Mitch Froom and Marti Jones & Don Dixon, Sam Phillips and T Bone Burnett are a potent pair. Look for Zero Zero Zero.
Collective Soul, Dosage (Atlantic 1999) - Good? You bet Collective Soul is good. Chalk up their four CDs as some of the best rock-and-roll from the 90s, with comparisons to the Beatles, ELO and the mighty Led Zeppelin.
Dosage marks the band's fourth album, and a return from the stark conditions that produced 1997's Disciplined Breakdown. With tracks like "Heavy" and "Dandy Life," Collective Soul solidify their position at the forefront of modern rock (unseating Pearl Jam in the process).
Collective Soul consists of leader Ed Roland (vocals, keyboards, and guitars), Ross Childress on lead guitar, brother Dean Roland on the rhythm guitars, Will Turpin on bass, and Shane Evans on drums and percussion. The same lineup has been in place for all four albums, beginning with 1994's Hints, Allegations, and Things Left Unsaid, which spawned the hit single, "Shine."
The new album builds on the collective sound of the group, with Ross Childress handling lead vocals on "Dandy Life" (the first time someone other than Ed Roland has recorded a lead vocal).
With a steady rock sound on tracks like "Show" and "Tremble for My Beloved," it's hard to find any flaws with Dosage. Ed Roland is a studio master, and his teaming with mixer Tom Lord-Alge is a perfect pairing.
One day, Collective Soul will have a monster hit, something in the vein of "Stairway to Heaven." And when they do, the catalog will be there. Dosage is must listening for the summer of 1999.
Mandy Barnett, I've Got a Right to Cry (Sire 1999) - Country singer Mandy Barnett may be just 24, but her roots are firmly tied to Nashville. Now with her second album, Mandy shows the continuing influences of this classic country sound, with production work from the undisputed dean of the Nashville sound, Owen Bradley.
A performer since age 13, Mandy played Patsy Cline in "Always . . . Patsy Cline" during the show's two-year run at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. I've Got a Right to Cry revels in a rich, nostalgic Nashville sound on tracks like "The Whispering Wind," "Give Myself a Party," and "I'm Gonna Change Everything."
Producer Owen Bradley was known for his work with such stars as Ernie Tubb, Brenda Lee, Loretta Lynn, Kitty Wells, and, of course, Patsy Cline. When Owen passed away four songs into the project, brother Harold Bradley stepped in to complete I've Got a Right to Cry.
Mandy has strong support from Sire record head honcho Seymour Stein (who signed Madonna, Seal, Barenaked Ladies and k. d. lang), who says, "I was spellbound. When given the opportunity to start up Sire as a stand-alone company, Mandy was the first artist I signed."
A distinct stylist with a lush voice in the style of big country belters, Mandy Barnett has a future.
- Randy Krbechek © 1999
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