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July 2, 1997

Getting Better with Age

   

Willie NelsonWillie Nelson, Yesterday's Wine (Justice Records 1971/1997) - Yesterday's Wine is Willie Nelson's first concept album, originally released in 1971. Considered too bold for its time, the album quickly slipped from view. However, but this remastered edition reveals a blueprint to Willie's later classic albums, including Red Headed Stranger.

Featuring the country acoustic sound that Willie has perfected through the years, Yesterday's Wine is a mellow, introspective piece. While it doesn't really tell a story in the sense of the great concept albums, the songs all relate to Willie's twin themes of morality and mortality. Thus, "In God's Eyes," "Summer of Roses," and "Family Bible" fit together thematically, though none delivers a heavy-handed message.

In discussing the ten songs on Yesterday's Wine, Willie remembers that, "I was reading Edgar Cayce, the healer and prophet. The poems of Kahlil Gibran made sense to me. Gibran said life on earth is a quest for returning to God."

Willie continues. "So I started working on the Yesterday's Wine album, although I wasn't ready to record it then. Yesterday's Wine was my first concept album, an album that tells a story. It's about a guy - imperfect man - watching his own funeral after viewing his life."

I'm coming to like Willie better and better - his understated introspection, and willingness to confront his own shortcomings, is refreshingly honest. And last year's Spirit was an unappreciated gem. A real man's man, Willie Nelson has earned his place as an American legend. Yesterday's Wine deserves to be discovered by a new generation.

Herb AlpertHerb Alpert, Passion Dance (Almo Sounds 1997) - With his 35th release, Herb Alpert continues to display the pop elan that earned him international superstardom. With a return to the Latin flavor that marked his phenomenally-popular 1960's work with the Tijuana Brass, Passion Dance will bring knowing smiles to fans.

Herb Alpert's chart success and musical skills cannot be underestimated. His first single, "The Lonely Bull," was recorded in 1962 for only $200. Released with partner, Jerry Moss, on the foundling A & M Records, the Tijuana Brass' debut album went gold. The TJB went on to record 13 platinum albums, and was one of the most popular bands in American during the 60s: In 1966, four of the band's albums were listed simultaneously in Billboard's top ten.

For Passion Dance, Alpert assembled a 15-piece ensemble comprised largely of Latin musicians. Of course, the heart of the album is Alpert's signature trumpet style. The seven cuts range from ballads ("Until We Meet Again") to the punchy, percussive "TKO," (co-written with keyboardist Jeff Lorber), and a seductive version of Stevie Wonder's "Creepin," which features Alpert's wife, singer Lani Hall, on vocal sample.

Contemporary fans may think that jazz trumpeters like Rich Braun are the cat's meow. But for a session with the real master, enjoy Passion Dance.

Best iof ChicagoChicago, The Heart of Chicago: 1967-1997 (Warner Bros. 1997) -- When I was a kid, I dismissed Chicago without compunction. Too slick, too polished, too homogenized.

But after listening to The Heart of Chicago: 1967-1997, I realized that the group deserved its success (including 18 gold releases, 13 platinum disks, and five Number One singles). Because they really released some great songs.

Formed in Walt Parazaider's (woodwinds) apartment in Chicago's North Side in the 60's, Chicago soon rocketed to success. Buoyed by the vocals of Peter Cetera, singles like "If You Leave Me Now" and "Wishin' You Were Here" found big chart success.

Recalls long-time member Lee Loughnane (trumpet), "By 1972, we could do no wrong. Everything we did was golden." Indeed.

Chicago V (released in July, 1972) topped the charts for nine weeks and spawned the gold single, "Saturday in the Park." The following Chicago VI (June 1973) was Number One for five weeks, and contained the hits, "Feelin' Stronger Every Day" and "Just You 'n Me."

Not content to rest on its laurels, Chicago continued to churn out radio favorites, including "Hard Habit to Break" (1984) and "Will You Still Love Me?" (1986), both featured on the new album.

In addition to 13 previously-released favorites, The Heart of Chicago: 1967-1997 includes two new songs - "Here in My Heart" (co-written by Glen Ballard, best known for his work with Alanis Morissette) and "The Only One," produced by pop and soul star Lenny Kravitz.

So it's fair to say that The Heart of Chicago: 1967-1997 gave me pause to re-evaluate this influential group (which now counts among its members Jason Scheff, the son of legendary bassist Jerry Scheff, who played with Elvis and countless others). And I like what I hear.

Maybe that means I'm getting older. Maybe these songs are just familiar. But I'll give Chicago their due. The band released some great material, and "Saturday in the Park" still sounds fresh, after more than 20 years. And that's the sign of a great recording.

-- Randy Krbechek

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