Taming the Tiger (10/30/98)
Nanci Griffith, Other Voices, Too (Elektra 1998) - Upbeat folkie Nanci Griffith returns with her 15th album, the delightful Other Voices, Too. Recorded with help from an extended cast of friends, including Emmylou Harris, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Lyle Lovett, and Guy Clark, the 19-track recording finds Griffith tapping into a terrific song book.
A legend on the Austin club circuit, Nanci has been dubbed the "Queen of Folkabilly." A sweetheart with an ear for a great song, Nanci's last recording was Blue Roses From the Moons (1997).
For the new recording, Nanci selected such fine songs as "Wall of Death," written by Richard Thompson (who also appears on the album), "You Were on My Mind," with Susan Cowsill and Tom Russell on harmony vocals, and a saucy version of "Walk Right Back" (a 1960 song by Sonny Curtis, who also plays on the recording).
Also included are touching versions of "Hard Times Come Again No More" by 19th century songwriter Stephen Foster, and "I Still Miss Someone" by Johnny Cash(with duet vocals by Rodney Crowell). The album ends with the rich, "If I Had a Hammer" (written by Pete Seeger & Lee Hayes).
While clocking in at 72 minutes, the album holds up because of the strong songs selected by Nanci. Other Voices, Too is one of the year's most accessible recordings, and deserves to be heard by a broad audience.
Joni Mitchell, Taming the Tiger (Reprise 1998) - I write this review with egg on my face. I saw Joni Mitchell live earlier this year on a triple bill with Bob Dylan and Van Morrison. Like many people at the show, I was not kindly disposed towards Joni's set.
Yet, hearing Taming the Tiger makes me realize that Joni had a fully-realized and coherent musical message. We just didn't get it in a 17,000 seat arena.
Because Taming the Tiger is a tremendously rewarding and gentle disc. The album has jazz and acoustic elements, yet is a unique musical vision, almost experimental at times. And Mitchell's spooky electric guitar and spare recording style make Taming the Tiger a constant surprise.
Mitchell provides the vocals, guitars, keyboards and other instrumentals, with guest appearances from Wayne Shorter on sax and Gregg Leisz on pedal steel guitar. In discussing Taming the Tiger, Mitchell explains that "I was struggling with my guitars. I had a fleet of acoustic guitars that I spent most of my time tuning. I had been wrestling with this way of playing the guitar that was basically destroying the necks of the instruments. My guitars were always in for repair."
Then she was introduced to the VG8, which Joni says has "a brain that would allow me to digitally program my tunings, so that I would have a normal guitar player's problems instead of this extraordinary mess that I'd gotten myself into. And we came up with a sound that was thrilling to me."
Thrilling indeed. With tracks like "Love Puts on a New Face," "Taming the Tiger," and "My Best to You," Mitchell has a graceful and elegant style that highlights her intelligent and wistful lyrics. Joni also works as a painter, and a dozen of her paintings grace the liner notes for the album.
Taming the Tiger rings true with the stroke of genius. Run to the record store for Taming the Tiger.
Fastball, All the Pain Money Can Buy (Hollywood Records 1998) - With their sophomore album, the Texas trio known as Fastball have found pop success with the hit single, "The Way."
Fastball consists of Miles Zuniga on guitar and vocals, Tony Scalzo on bass and vocals, and Joey Shuffield on drums. Fastball has roots in the Orange County punk scene, where Scalzo first played.
"The Way" has a delicious, power pop sound with an upbeat lyric. The rest of the album is heavier, with such songs as "Charlie, The Methadone Man" and "Slow Drag." Yet, the single is a fun summertime song, and makes All the Pain Money Can Buy rewarding.
Vietnam: A Musical Retrospective (Universal Records 1998) - With Veterans Day around the corner, Universal Records has gathered 13 songs that troops in Vietnam would have heard on Armed Forces Radio. The set includes such memorable mid 60's hits as "Born to Be Wild" (Steppenwolf), "Wipe Out" (The Surfaris), and "California Dreamin'" (Mamas & The Papas).
The CD is narrated by Adrian Cronauer, the DJ whose experiences during the war were made famous by the hit moving "Good Morning Vietnam." Explains Cronauer, "Armed Forces Radio and the music we played were an antidote for homesickness for the troops stationed in Vietnam. It was the only thing in their environment that was familiar. I still have veterans come up to me on a regular basis and thank me for helping them get through their time there."
Vietnam: A Musical Retrospective highlights the music of the era. Enjoy it as more than a trip down memory lane.
- Randy Krbechek © 1998
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