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Music Reviews

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October 5, 1994

Take Me Out to the Ballpark

BaseballVarious Artists, Music from "Baseball" (Elektra 1994) -- Now that greed has nearly destroyed America's national pastime, all that's left are memories and stories of yore. Ken Burns, the maker of the great Civil War series on PBS, recently returned with his 18 hour series on Baseball. While the TV series was overlong, the soundtrack perfectly captures the images and sounds of the game.

The main problem with the TV series was its pace; while the game can sometimes be slow, the show simply ground to a halt at times. Burns tried to cover the game in too much detail, and would have been better off by following only a few players. This point was made clear in the best episode (Inning 6), which focused on the heroic Jackie Robinson; by contrast, the most disappointing episode was Inning 4, in which Burns needlessly edited Lou Gehrig's tearful farewell speech (which remains one of the most compelling moments in sports history). Baseball is ultimately a people story, and the players' stories are the most fascinating aspect of the game.

Jackie RobinsonFortunately, the Baseball soundtrack evokes the images and sounds of the players. At 58 minutes (and 31) tracks, it's just the right length. Featuring radio excerpts from some of the game's most historic moments (including Bobby Thompson's 1951 "Shot Heard Round the World"), novelty songs [such as "Say Hey (the Willie Mays Song)" and "Joltin' Joe DiMaggio"], and new versions of classic baseball songs (including Carly Simon's touching rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and Branford Marsalis and Bruce Hornsby's version of "The Star Spangled Banner"), Baseball captures the most important part of the game -- its sense of history and personality.

As to the strike, the answer lies in a recognition by players and management that baseball is a business. The best (and most comprehensive) solution to the labor dispute is (i) a salary cap, and (ii) a repeal of baseball's antiquated anti-trust exemption. While you're waiting for the game to resume (or, better yet, waiting to see the FSU's Bulldogs at Bieden Field next February), get the Baseball soundtrack. It'll revive the fan in you.

Mahalia JacksonMahalia Jackson, Live at Newport 1958 (Columbia Legacy 1994) -- Legendary gospel singer Mahalia Jackson (who died in 1972) has been the subject of many re-issues over the years. Live at Newport 1958 is a prime catch, as this powerful 45-minute set from Sunday, July 6, 1958 shows Mahalia at the peak of her talents. If you've been trying to find a hook into Mahalia, start with this album.

Mahalia was born in New Orleans in 1911, and spent her first four decades singing in church choirs throughout the South and Midwest. Her breakthrough came in 1950, when she was booked to sing at the Music Inn in Lenox, Massachusetts. Accompanied by her long-time pianist and organist, Mildred Falls, Mahalia stunned the visiting music experts from Juilliard, Columbia University, and other important schools.

According to Mahalia, "as soon as I was finished, a great big fuss busted loose. The professors started arguing with one another and asked me how I had learned to sing that way. Who had taught me? Where had I learned such tonal shading and rhythm? I said that I had just found myself doing it, and they kept me singing there half the night. I told Mildred, 'We're into something here . . . and I don't know what's going to happen next.'"

From that point forward, Mahalia's career blossomed. Tours of Europe followed, and she was given her own radio show on CBS in 1954. She later relocated to Chicago, began to hobnob with high society, and sang for Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy.

Live at Newport 1958 captures Mahalia's mesmerizing performance before the early morning crowd at the Newport Jazz Festival. Backed by the Mildred Falls Trio, Mahalia delivers sterling versions of "He's Got the Whole World in his Hands," "Didn't It Rain" (her first successful single), and "The Lord's Prayer." Mildred Falls plays as if she shares Mahalia's spirit, and Mahalia knows exactly when to sing percussively, or jubilantly, or with a bluesy feeling.

Parts of Live at Newport 1958 have been previously released; though the new issue was not enhanced by modern recording techniques, the sound is clear and accurate. Mahalia Jackson was an amazing talent; instead of trying to wade through the many boxed sets and studio collections that are available, get Live at Newport 1958 and discover this magnificent singer in her true medium -- in front of a live crowd.

Miss AlansThe Miss Alans -- The Miss Alans recently performed at The Cadillac Club before the much-heralded Pavement took the stage. The Miss Alans have never sounded better, and have a solid rock/alternative thing going. In particular, drummer Ron Woods, is extremely strong; however, it's sometimes difficult to decipher lead singer Scott Oliver's lyrics.

Security at the Cadillac Club was reasonable (though some of the security looked like ex-felons), and we were treated very well. The show started promptly (Thank you management!) and the sound level was reasonable (at least until Pavement took the stage). As to Pavement, it still sounds like a lot of angry noise to me, but I can see where the Brits would like it.

Finally, there seems to be a core of young white males in Fresno that goes to shows and engages in moshing/slammin'. According to these thugs, dancing means "jumping around and shoving everyone near you." This behavior is frighteningly close to A Clockwork Orange. Instead of adopting the traditional rock theme, "Hope I die before I get old," these goons have embraced only the first half -- "Hope I die." As a society, we need to examine the cause for this alienation.

-- Randy Krbechek

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