McMurty, It Had to Happen (Sugar Hill Records 1997) - On his
fourth release, James McMurty (son of author Larry McMurty,
who penned Lonesome Dove and The Last Picture
Show) finds himself drifting from folk to a rock sound. And
that's fine by me.
Backed by a strong band, It Had to Happen finds McMurty
showing influences of Lou Reed, Warren Zevon and John
Doe. Thus, "Jaws of Life" is the best song that Lou Reed hasn't
recorded in the last five years (and I like the description, "sort of
a Texan Lou Reed, without the heroin references"), while cuts like "Wild
Man From Borneo" sport some of Zevon's ironic, dysfunctional characters.
Though he hails from Texas, James McMurty is hardly your average Austin
singer/songwriter. If you're looking for rock with the classic themes
of alienation and disaffection sung by someone old enough to understand
it, try It Had to Happen.
Gees, Still Waters (Polydor 1997) - After 35 years, the Bee
Gees (older brother Barry Gibb and twins Robin and Maurice) can still
make an effortless pop album: Still Waters confirms
(as if that were necessary) their talents.
During their long career, the Bee Gees have enjoyed several pop lives.
The trio's first album was released in 1967 under the aegis of legendary
impresario Robert Stigwood, and led to big success
in the UK.
While the early 70's proved an uneven period, the group's comeback,
beginning with 1975's Jive Talkin' and culminating
in 1977's soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever (still
the biggest selling soundtrack in history), is one of pop music's great
success stories. In fact, from 1977 to 1980, the Bee Gees were the biggest
group in the world.
The last decade has been more contemplative, with the Bee Gees periodically
returning to the studio for such albums as One (1989)
and Size Isn't Everything (1993).
Still Waters shows that the Brothers Gibb still have
that harmony vocal, R&B-influenced sound that has sold more than
100 million records worldwide. In particular, "I Surrender" is a great
dance single, and deserves substantial airplay.
While not as groundbreaking as their late 70's efforts, Still
Waters is a very respectable release, with brilliant high spots.
Fans and newcomers alike will enjoy this bit of ear candy.
OK Computer (Capitol 1997) - Radiohead continues 1997's British
pop invasion, which also includes Prodigy, Bush
and Jamiroquai. The follow-up to 1995's The
Bends, OK Computer has received glowing reviews
both domestically and in the UK.
It's not easy to draw a bead on OK Computer, which
contains flashbacks to Queen, Pink Floyd, and other
classic British rockers. But that's the mark of a solid release; it
unfolds with repeated listenings. Give this album a chance: it may grow
on you (if the British press don't devour Radiohead along the way).
Sharp, Hardly Glamour (Ark 21 1997) - Ark 21 is the new label
headed by Miles Copeland, who enjoyed enormous success
with the Police and Go Go's. Maia
Sharp (age 24) is a singer/songwriter in the vein of Carole
King and Jules Shear, with
jazz and pop influences.
Explains Miles Copeland, "Maia is exactly the type of artist a new
label needs...She doesn't need a huge, expensive entourage to make her
sound good. She can pull it off with one mike and a piano."
I agree. Maia mixes pop and cool jazz influences to produce a timeless
sound. Avoiding the angst that has infected woman singer/songwriters
since the ascendancy of Alanis Morrisette, Maia brings
introspection and folkie passion to her songs (though her voice runs
a bit thin at times). In particular "Good Thing" is a solid cut. Fans
of intelligent songwriting will enjoy Hardly Glamour.
Maniacs, Love Among the Ruins (Geffen 1997) - F. Scott Fitzgerald
said there are no second acts in American life. But pop music groups
have frequently enjoyed second acts.
And Love Among the Ruins signals a new era for 10,000
Maniacs, whose fans were heartbroken when singer Natalie Merchant
left after 1993's stunning finale, MTV
Unplugged. The new album marks the debut of lead singer Mary
Ramsey (who previously played viola and sang backup for the group),
as well as the return of founding member John Lombardo
(who left after the release of 1985's, The Wishing Chair).
Don't expect Mary Ramsey to replace Natalie
Merchant, whose sweet voice could slice through you while delivering
an ice-cold message (witness the pop opus, "What's The Matter Here?").
Instead, Ramsey brings a lush texture to the elegantly styled, Love
Among the Ruins.
Love Among the Ruins was produced by John
Keane (known for his work with Cowboy
Junkies and Indigo Girls), with assistance from
Jules Shear (who provided backing vocals and co-wrote
three tracks with the band).
From songs like "Rainy Day" and "Shining Light" to a compelling cover
of Roxy Music's "More Than This," singer Mary Ramsey
moves the band away from its college influences and into a more mainstream
pop sound. While none of the songs have the glorious feeling that marked
such gems as 1989's In My Tribe, 10,000 Maniacs may
be able to pull off a Genesis move and win over new
fans with their new singer.
-- Randy Krbechek