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Music Reviews

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November 13, 1996

Locomotive Breath

AqualungJethro Tull, Aqualung - 25th Anniversary Special Edition (Chrysalis 1996) - For the 25th anniversary of Aqualung, Jethro Tull has re-mastered this historic album, added several bonus tracks, and released it in a special package with a silver slip case and 24-page expanded booklet. While the price is a tad steep (around $20), this digitally re-mastered project is a treat.

When originally released in 1971, Aqualung (the band's fourth album) forged Jethro Tull's place in the rock hierarchy. The recording sessions for Aqualung included Ian Anderson on vocals, flute, and guitars, Martin Barre on guitars, Clive Bunker on drums, John Evan on keyboards, and Jeffrey Hammond on bass guitar.

With such radio standards as the title track and "Locomotive Breath," Aqualung, together with its successor, Thick as a Brick, cemented Jethro Tull's place as one of the premier blues-rock bands of its era.

The 11 original tracks sound better than ever, as the re-mastering job is splendid. Also included is a 14-minute interview with Ian Anderson from February, 1996, together with such extra tracks as "Lick Your Fingers Clean" (which was recorded during the Aqualung sessions, but not included on the album), "Windup" (an alternate version of the album track), and three songs recorded in 1968-69 for the BBC radio show Top Gear ("Song for Jeffrey," "Fatman," and "Bouree").

Aqualung has long been thought of as one of the band's most adventurous efforts, blending Anderson's vocals and flute stylings amidst an almost-concept album. (I say "almost concept" because, although Aqualung has a coherency rooted in British teen angst and rebellion, it's hard to say that the album tells a complete story.) For a great blast from the past, get Aqualung.

Brenda KahnBrenda Kahn, Destination Anywhere (Shanachie 1996) - Raised in New York City's Lower East Side, Brenda Kahn can't leave behind her big city roots. On Destination Anywhere, Kahn fails to develop a cohesive identity - the front cover depicts her in a singer/songwriter mode ala Al Stewart's historical excursions, while the inside photo shot is evocative of Janis Joplin.

The album was largely self-recorded by Kahn, and features backing vocals from Vinnie Dombroski (of Sponge). Kahn's band also includes Oren Bloedow on guitar, Scott Santos on bass, and George Javori on drums. In addition, Jeff Buckley provides guitars and background vocals on one song, "Faith Saloon."

Adding to the Sponge connection is Tim Patalan (who also produced this year's sweet release from Mary Stuart). Unfortunately, Patalan lacks a steady hand in the studio, and lets Kahn veer between (1) alternative rock and (2) storyteller folk (the latter is perhaps best reflected on "Too Far Gone").

Brenda KahnBut don't get the impression that Destination Anywhere is without redeeming qualities. The album has one killer single, the two-minutes-of-dynamite, "Spoon."

"Spoon" is girl rock/power punk in its finest sense, ala the Raincoats (who have a new release of Geffen) or the Go-Gos (and don't forget, the Go-Gos started as a punk group).

"Spoon" is worth the price of the album alone. If rock radio gets ahold of this song, you can expect to hear it. A lot. And you'll love all 120 seconds of it.

BeckBeck, Odelay (DGC 1996) - Anti-folk singer and slackmeister extrordinaire, Beck Hansen returns with his second major label release, Odelay. Continuing with the same loopy, tongue-in-cheek pop and hip-hop that made 1994's Mellow Gold a favorite, Odelay is a fitting showcase for Beck.

Beck, in large measure, defies description. Is his music tossed-off crap? Is it genius? Or is it just slacker swill? While the answer (like beauty) lies in the eye of the beholder, Beck certainly has the attention of the recording world, which has given him access to state-of-the-art facilities and a mega-buck contract.

Odelay continues Beck's surrealistic rock odyssey, with production work by the Dust Brothers, aka John King and Michael Simpson, who are renowned for putting L.A. hip-hop on the map via hits with Tone-Loc, the Beastie Boys, and Young M.C.

Beck toured with 1995's Lollapalooza tour (to mixed reviews), and recorded Odelay whenever time and touring permitted. I think the disorganized recording schedule shows; if the album has a coherent whole, I can't find it.

With songs like "Sissyneck" and "Jack-ass," Beck has no pretensions of art for art's sake. However, the album does include two great singles ("Lord Only Knows" and "Where It's At"), both of which are receiving considerable airplay.

Odelay is a lot like Mellow Gold: I didn't like the album as a whole, but the single ("I'm a Loser") was great. If you want to find out where music is headed (or at least where some music company honchos think it's headed), sample Odelay.

-- Randy Krbechek

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