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July 13, 1994

Where It All Begins

Rare on AirVarious Artists, Rare On Air, Volume I (Mammoth Records 1994) -- Mammoth Records, an independent label that recently entered into a marketing agreement with Atlantic Records, is poised to reach the big time, and Rare on Air will only raise its profile. Rare on Air consists of 16 live tracks recorded during one of Southern California's most popular radio programs, "Morning Becomes Eclectic." The disc, featuring acoustic (or semi-acoustic) performances by artists such as Leonard Cohen, Tori Amos, and Natalie Merchant, is a subdued mix of pop, rock and alternative cuts that showcases these musicians in an intimate setting.

According to the press kit, all proceeds from the sale of Rare on Air will go to KCRW, National Public Radio's flagship station in Southern California (and the home to "Morning Becomes Eclectic"). The tracks on Rare on Air are a diverse mix, ranging from the pop stylings of Peter Himmelman (who is capable of the occasional brilliant pop song, but who never seems to have reached his full potential) to a tender, acoustic reading of "Never Going Back Again" by Lindsey Buckingham (from Fleetwood Mac) to a jaunty rendition of "God's Hotel" by Australian bad boy Nick Cave.

In fact, "God's Hotel" is the highlight of the album. Nick's latest studio efforts (especially Henry's Dream) have been grossly overworked; when he spends too much time with a tape deck, Nick delivers with the subtly of a sledgehammer. However, "God's Hotel" finds the band in a lighter mood and shows that Nick has a true talent as a performer and songwriter. With a raucous, sing-a-long background, "God's Hotel" captures the best of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

Though Rare on Air may not have a unifying theme, its heart is in the right place. The eclectic mix of songs on this album mirror the program from whence they sprang -- if you like these artists, you'll dig the album.

HintsCollective Soul, Hints, Allegations, and Things Left Unsaid (Atlantic 1994) -- Collective Soul is a true garage-band success story. After independently recording Hints, Allegations, and Things Left Unsaid, the band vigorously shopped the disc before finally catching the ear of Atlantic Records. Now re-pressed (but not re-recorded), and with a straightforward, guitar-oriented sound, Hints, Allegations, and Things Left Unsaid is an album to be reckoned with.

Collective Soul has a real sense of itself (like fellow garage-band heroes, Pere Ubu), and sticks to its strengths on the album. The Georgia-based band consists of Ed Roland on vocals and guitars, Dean Roland on guitars, Ross Childress on lead guitar, Will Turpin on bass, and Shane Evans on drums. Featuring strong recordings and undiluted pop sensibilities, Hints, Allegations, and Things Left Unsaid may pave the way for 90s garage-band rock -- gone is grunge, back are melodies.

Of course, the highlight of the disc is the proto-perfect leadoff track, "Shine." With its guitar-drenched background and echoey vocals, "Shine" is a splendid example of power pop. Other cuts, such as "Heaven's Already Here" and the instrumental, "Pretty Donna," show that this Southern band is not tied to its Georgia roots: instead, it follows the classic guitar/pop trail blazed by bands such as Cheap Trick.

Somebody at Atlantic has a keen ear for self-recorded pop albums with promise; Atlantic also released last year's Outdebox, the fine independently-produced debut from Soulhat (although Soulhat's follow-up disc, Good to be Gone, is a disappointment). Hats off to Atlantic for continuing to mine the heartland of America for honest pop and rock bands.

Meanwhile3rd Matinee, Meanwhile (Reprise 1994) -- For those who remember, one of the real treats of 1990 was Toy Matinee, a one-off project that appeared (and sank) without little fanfare. Toy Matinee had a special sound: featuring solid pop songs and more than a passing nod to Steely Dan, Toy Matinee was (and remains) a stellar album.

However, much has changed in the past four years. Toy Matinee has transformed itself into 3rd Matinee, and now consists of Patrick Leonard (from Toy Matinee) and Richard Page (from Mr. Mister). The new release contains hints of what made Toy Matinee so special; for example, "She Dreams" is a slick, synthesizer-oriented number that is propelled by the sinuous bass of Jimmy Johnson.

Unfortunately, 3rd Matinee lacks the pop punch that lifted Toy Matinee above the synth-pop babble. Meanwhile is straddled between experimental synth-pop and soft pop-rock, and the end product never really gels. If you've been waiting for years for the follow-up to Toy Matinee, this is the album -- but don't expect it to reach the lofty heights of its predecessor.

Allman Bros.Guilty Pleasure -- The new Allman Bros. Band album is entitled Where It All Begins (Epic 1994). Produced by Tom Dowd, this disc is cut from the same guitar/boogie cloth that the Allman Bros. invented 20 years ago. While these ten tracks are somewhat predictable, the cut that's receiving radio airplay ("No One to Run With") is fine, vintage Allman Bros., with its catchy melody and smooth guitar runs. This is whiskey-sippin' music -- to really savor this music, you need the company of Jack Daniels (and I speak from experience, although Mr. Daniels and I are no longer on speaking terms). Steady and reliable, Where It All Begins will appeal to fans of Southern rock.

-- Randy Krbechek

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