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Music Reviews

Randy's Buttons

July 3, 1996

It's a Twister

TwisterSoundtrack to Twister (Warner Bros. 1996) - The soundtrack to Twister is a true soundtrack (unlike the Mission: Impossible "soundtrack"), as all 14 cuts appear in the film.

And some of these cuts are real standouts. I've seen Twister twice, and I think it's a great ride; it's much more engaging in a visceral sense than the cerebral Mission: Impossible.

Destined to be one of the year's box-office hits, Twister was directed by Jan DeBont (Speed), written by Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park), and produced by Steven Speilberg and Kathleen Kenendy. Released by Warner Bros. Pictures, the film stars Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton (who make a great screen couple) as tornado-chasing scientists who encounter a series of hair-raising storms across the great Midwest.

The 14 cuts on the soundtrack include several previously unreleased numbers, including two new songs by Van Halen, as well as previously unreleased material from Tori Amos, Soul Asylum, Lisa Loeb, and the Goo Goo Dolls.

Admittedly, none of the songs plays a prominent roll in the film, except for the Van Halen tracks. Most of the songs are only included in 20 or 30-second snippets in the background, but at least they're all there.

While the Van Halen songs have been getting considerable air play, especially "Respect the Wind," my two favorite songs are from Mercury's roster of stars. Country sweetheart Shania Twain contributes the playful "No One Needs to Know" from her debut album, while Rusted Root adds an unreleased gem called "Virtual Reality."

In addition to her lovely voice, Shainia has a sweet sense of humor. "No One Needs to Know" is a love song written by a person who lacks the courage to apprach the other person; thus, the refrain, "no one needs to know." I didn't get this song until I listened to it a few times, but now I really like it.

TwisterRusted Root's contribution is completely different: "Virtual Reality" has the same tongue-in-cheek campiness that made "Love Shack" and David Bryne big sellers. "Virtual Reality" has a manic energy that never quits, and is, hands down, the best cut on the album (though I'd change the mix to bring up the guitar and bass).

Other tracks on Twister include double-Grammy winner Alison Krauss playing violin on "Moments Like This," and a rare track by the Red Hot Chili Peppers called "Melancholy Mechanics" (which could also be a hit, as it resembles the subdued surprise, "Under the Bridge"). In an effort to reassure the public, Warner Bros. recently mailed a press release stating that the Chili Peppers are "more together than ever." Don't believe it; "Melancholy Mechanics" could well be their swan song.

All told, Twister is a great soundtrack, and deserves to sell in big numbers.

Taj MahalTaj Mahal, Phantom Blues (Private Music 1996) - Private Music just keeps serving sweet roots-and-rock treats. And Phantom Blues is another delicious helping. With contributions from long-time fans and colleagues, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Mike Campbell (from the Heartbreakers), and David Hidalgo (from Los Lobos), Taj Mahal has recruited an all-star cast to convince me that I've been missing an important artist.

Now 30 years (and 30 albums) into his career, Taj Mahal has influenced several generations of musicians. While Taj Mahal draws on a broad range of R & B, pop, jazz, and zydeco styles, his base lies in a blues-and-roots sound, as found on the exemplary "Lovin' in my Baby's Eyes" (the only song on the album written by Taj Mahal).

Phantom Blues also proves that Taj Mahal has important friends. For example, Eric Clapton contributes lead guitar on two tracks (including the fine, "Here in the Dark"), while Bonnie Raitt joins Taj Mahal for a duet on "I Need Your Lovin'."

The 48-minutes album also features covers of such vernable R & B hits as "Lonely Avenue" (by Doc Pomus), "Let the Four Winds Blow" (by Fats Domino), and the smoothly-rhythmic "Don't Tell Me" (which features backing vocals from Sir Harry Bowens, Sweet Pea Atkinson, and Terrence Forsythe).

A resident of Hawaii for the last 12 years, Taj Mahal's music and world views have been altered by his island home. Says Mahal, "I'm a great believer in what they call 'perma culture.' You see, everything that should be grown around here - one, you should be able to eat it; two, you should be able to pound the leaves on it and use it as poultice, make it as tea...It's not that we don't have the ability to do that, it's just that we have this other thing that says it won't be lucrative if you do the right thing."

Mahal continues. "Two things that people will never get rid of as long as the earth functions in the way that it is, and that's music and food. Music is a part of a life, the language, an extension, if you will, of the living. Turning the radio on to have music, I'm talking to you and I'm hearing music, have been ever since I can remember. I cannot remember not hearing music inside my head."

And that summarizes Taj Mahal's world. Though his personal views may be outside the mainstream, his musicianship is rock solid. Private Music has released a number of great albums recently (including the hugely underappreciated release from A.J. Croce called That's Me at the Bar), and needs to give its acts a push. Phantom Blues is another fine release, and deserves an audience.

-- Randy Krbechek

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