October 16, 1996
Soundtrack to "Georgia" (Discovery Records 1996) - The film Georgia didn't play in Fresno (or if it did, I blinked and missed it). But the soundtrack, with performances by actresses Jennifer Jason Leigh and Mare Winningham, features some fine cuts by rocker John Doe.
According to the liner notes, Jennifer Jason Leigh stars as a wanna-be rocker named Sadie Flood in a film written by Jennifer's mother, screenwriter Barbara Turner. Sadie's deeply passionate, desperately ambitious life stands in stark contrast to that of her folk-rock superstar sister, the idolized Georgia (Mare Winningham). The liner notes add that the film explores the "complex and contradictory relationship between these wildly different sisters against the backdrop of Seattle's vibrant music scene."
Hey, I don't know. I didn't see the movie. But the soundtrack stands on its own.
Okay, let's not get too excited here. Jennifer Jason Leigh doesn't have a great voice. (Although I've read a good review of a recent concert in San Francisco by Mare Winningham.) And Ms. Leigh's version of Van Morrison's "Take Me Back" is excruciating. Probably the worst single I've heard all year. It'll send you running for the original version by Van the Man.
But the album also features some solid performances. For example, Ranch Romance (Who are they?) turn in a gently countrified version of "Arizona Moon." And John Doe contributes several rip-roaring numbers, including a seriously rocking version of Lou Reed's, "There She Goes Again."
By slow measures, I'm becoming a John Doe fan; his album last year, The John Doe Thing, was an overlooked gem. And to give Ms. Leigh credit, her bluesy, stomping version of "Yosel Yosel" has some merit.
Georgia is not an album that will appeal to the masses. But to those who have specialized tastes (and for fans of John Doe), it's a tasty morsel.
Various Artists, Nick at Nite Records (550 Music 1996) - Nick at Nite has released two new compilations - I Am Woman and Stand By Your Man. It's hard to tell whether Nick at Nite is serious about this music; whle the packaging makes it seem like they're poking fun at it, the song selection is excellent. And in the end, it's the music that counts.
I Am Woman is geared toward the 1970's and 1980's, and includes such cuts as "9 to 5" by Dolly Parton, "She Works Hard For The Money" by Donna Summer, and "Goodbye To You" by Scandal. Also featured is "Respect" by the great Aretha Franklin, together with Dionne Warwick's sweet version of "Walk On By."
Stand By Your Man aims at the 1960's with such classics as "I'm Sorry" by Brenda Lee, "To Sir With Love" by Lulu, and "My Guy" by Mary Wells. Also featured is the novelty song, "Queen of the House," by Jodi Miller, a takeoff on Roger Miller's "King of the Road."
For my money, the highlight of the release is "Stand By Your Man" by Tammy Wynette. Whenever I hear this song, I think of John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd's version in The Blues Brothers, and can't help but smile at their wicked sense of humor. (While Animal House is a classic, The Blues Brothers' subtle humor has aged very well.)
In the end, Nick at Nite's motives in releasing these records need not be questioned. The songs hold up by themselves (surprisingly, my four-year-old son likes a number of these tracks). Look for I Am Woman and Stand By Your Man.
The Charlie Watts Quartet, Long Ago & Far Away (Virgin 1996) - On the fourth album from the Charlie Watts Quartet, the band continues down its jazzy bend with an increased emphasis on vocals by Bernard Fowler (the group's de facto sixth member). Taking standards from the 30's, 40's, and 50's and casting them in a soft, late-night jazz feel (with additional backing from two dozen members of the London Metropolitan Orchestra), the Quintet has a passion for this sound. And it shows.
Recorded at London's Olympic Studios during a two-week period in January, 1996, Long Ago & Far Away further develops the theme of its predecessor, 1993's Warm & Tender (Continuum Records). Drummer Charlie Watts is, of course, best known for his work with The Rolling Stones, but he doesn't let his reputation get in the way of this project, nor does Charlie suffer from Mick Jagger's inflated ego; he's just another member of the team.
The most youthful member of the group is Gerard Precencer, a 24-year old trumpeter with world-class skills. The other members of the Quartet are contemporaries of Charlie, including Dave Green on upright bass, Peter King on saxophone (Mr. King was named "Rising Star" in the 1959 Melody Maker jazz poll), and Brian Lemon on keyboards.
The song selection includes such chestnuts as George & Ira Gershwin's "I've Got A Crush On You," "Someday You'll Be Sorry" by Louie Armstrong and Hoagy Carmichael's "I Get Along Without You Very Well." Also included are "What's New?", "In The Still Of The Night" (Cole Porter), and Duke Ellington's "In A Sentimental Mood."
A great deal of the appeal of these standards derives from their interpretation. Fred Astaire and Frank Sinatra didn't become stars because they were schlumps; they made it to the top because they were superb interpreters of the material. (And, of course, they were given A-list material.)
Bernard Fowler does an acceptable job on vocals, though he's hardly in the ranks of the great contemporary singers. What really gives Long Ago & Far Away its push is the band, which includes some of England's finest session men. If you find your dial tuned into KEZL, then Long Ago & Far Away will punch your ticket.
-- Randy Krbechek
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