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Poi Dog PonderingPoi Dog Pondering, Natural Thing (Plate-Tec-Tonic 1999) - With a recording career covering twelve years and six albums, Poi Dog Pondering has cut an eclectic path, mixing deep grooves, soaring strings, and jazzy horns. Natural Thing continues the idiosyncratic stylings of singer/song writer/band leader Frank Orrall.

Orrall started the band in his native Hawaii in 1986, then relocated to Austin, Texas in 1987. His third move, to Chicago in 1992, was the most propitious, as the 11-member musical ensemble developed into one of the city's top concert draws.

Poi Dog PonderingNatural Thing is more moody than the band's last studio album, Pomegranate (1995). In a peculiar move, Frank Orrall pared away half the band just before the release of Natural Thing. Holding tight are violinist Susan Voelz, saxophonist Paul Martens, percussionist Leddie Garcia, and vocalist Kornell Hargrove, while six artists have left the group.

The change has not been without controversy. Explains long-time drummer and band member Steve Goulding, "The band's musical direction hasn't changed, Frank has. People obviously are upset . . . [but] it was something you could see coming since last year."

Frank OrrallReplies Orrall, "There are people who are going to find those new tracks meandering and uninteresting. But that's my zone right now. I like that looser, less-rehearsed structure - almost like jazz - where you get incredible moments that I could never compose."

Adds Orrall, "I don't know exactly what I'm going to do next, but I knew I needed to change my musical environment. I want to bring out the orchestral side and de-emphasize the vocals and bring out the emotion behind the music rather than the personality."

Frank OrrallDespite the dissension, Natural Thing remains a rewarding listen. Tracks like "Come Together" and "Hard Sometime" have a sweeping feel, with a diversity of vocal styles and instrumentation that blends elements of jazz, trance, and pop to create a distinctive whole.

Orrall reminds me of Van Morrison (though more in spirit rather than style). True to his own musical ideals, Orrall walks a fresh path, with a loose yet confident style. While Poi Dog Pondering may miss the crowds (the band has drawn thousands of fans in Chicago), Natural Thing remains a refreshing listen.

That's the Way I Like It Soundtrack to That's the Way I Like It (RCA Victor 1999) - Chalk this one up as a guilty pleasure. After a handful of disco-inspired soundtracks last fall that failed to click (including "Last Days of Disco"), That's the Way I Like It delivers the goods.

The soundtrack has an East-meets-West flavor, as writer/director Glen Goei grew up in Singapore in the 70s. Says Goei, "If we were to trace the history of dance music, a defining moment would be the arrival of 'Saturday Night Fever,' which sparked the worldwide disco explosion.

Scene from them filmGoei continues. "Singapore was not immune. Discos spouted everywhere as the exciting new music started drawing the young and the hip to the dance floor to hustle and boogie the night away."

The new versions are performed by what film maker Goei calls "some of the best names in Singapore pop," including Zul ("Kung Fu Fighting"), Chris Vadham ("How Deep Is Your Love?"), and John Klass ("Rock the Boat").

Disco lives on!That's the Way I Like It also features two versions of "Staying Alive," one by October Cherries and the other by John Klass, and a cover of K.C. and the Sunshine Band's Number One hit, "That's the Way I Like It," by Najip Ali.

The strength of the album lies in the music. That's the Way I Like It delivers fresh versions of these 70s hits. For an updated version of classic disco, look for That's the Way I Like It.

Let's be friendsVarious Artists, Punk-O-Rama 4 (Epitaph 1999) - Talk about giving it away. Punk-O-Rama features 25 slamming punk rock tunes, at a bargain price of just $4.98! Straight outta the pit. You can't beat it.

The album opens with "Fight It," a blistering new cut by Pennywise. Punk-O-Rama doesn't let up until the last beat has been pounded out. The album features the regulars that you have come to know and love, such as Rancid ("1998"), Bad Religion ("Generator"), Ten Foot Pole ("The Getaway") and H20 ("Faster Than the World").

Voodoo Glow SkullsAlso included are songs by Voodoo Glowskulls ("They Always Come Back"), Gas Huffer ("Don't Panic") and Nofx ("Kids on the K-Hall").

In addition, the album features tracks by new punk bastards like Bombshell Rocks, 59 Times a Pain and Refuse, all making their recording debuts.

Also included is a groovy track by Tom Waits ("Big in Japan"), off his recent Mule Generations. That'll teach old Tom to mess around with a punk label. Maybe next time he should get Iggy Pop to represent him.

Gas HufferEven more, Punk-O-Rama is an enhanced CD, which contains latest tour dates from all the bands that appear on the album, cool graphic, bios, and links to the bands' home pages.

Too good to be true? Certainly too cheap to be so good. Mosh me, mama, with Punk-O-Rama 4.

- Randy Krbechek © 1999

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