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Rolling Along (11/24/2000) Write to CD Shakedown
Garden PartyGarden Party, No Static At All (Samson Music 2000) - As a rule, I'm not a big fan of jazz. But I dig No Static At All, an instrumental tribute to Steely Dan. With 11 tracks assembled by veteran producer and Samson Records president Steve Barri, No Static At All is a crowd-pleaser.

Says producer Barri, "It occurred to me that these songs were ripe for new interpretations that would focus on the melodies yet infuse those hip urban grooves that are so much a part of pop music and smooth jazz today."

Michael LingtonThe songs on No Static At All are well known to fans of the Steely Dan canon. The title track (from the film FM) features fusion keyboardist Jeff Lorber. Other winners include "Deacon Blues" (with Richard Elliott on sax and Tony Guerrero on trumpet), and a standout version of "Hey Nineteen," featuring sax player Michael Lington and Tony Guerrero.

Richard ElliotSteve Barri's roots with Steely Dan go way back - he signed Walter Becker and Donald Fagen to ABC/Dunhill records in 1970, where the duo was originally recruited as songwriters.

To get the project rolling, veteran producer Barri enlisted the assistance of smooth jazz guru Cliff Gorov, and the musicians began to fall into place, including Dave Koz on sax, guitarists Doc Powell and Chieli Minucci, bass player Byron Miller, and drummer N'dugu Chancler.

Doc PowellNot all of the cuts are winners. "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" (featuring sax player Warren Hill) has been overly diffused, and "Reelin' in the Years" (with Eddie M on sax) smacks of elevator music.

Overall, No Static At All meshes solidly. Says Barri, "We called the project Garden Party because we envisioned that as a sort of gathering where musicians would feel comfortable playing the old favorites together. Combine these great songs with some of the best musicians in the world, and something special was bound to happen." Get a jazz Jones with No Static At All.

Road to EldoradoElton John, Soundtrack to "The Road to Eldorado" (Dreamworks Records 2000) - The Road to Eldorado is a new soundtrack, with music by Elton John, lyrics by Tim Rice, and orchestration by composer Hans Zimmer. The threesome collaborated on the 1994 soundtrack to the animated film, "The Lion King," for which they collectively won two Academy Awards and three Grammy Awards.

Elton JohnThe Road to Eldorado is not a traditional soundtrack, in that many of the songs on the album do not appear in the film, or were performed on screen by other artists. For example, on the album, Elton John duets with Randy Newman on "It's Tough to Be a God," while the movie performance is sung by Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh. And three of the best songs ("Sixteenth Century Man," "Trust Me," and "Queen of Cities") do not appear anywhere in the film.

EldoradoYet Elton John felt that the album was a cohesive whole, and deserved to be heard by the public. Says Elton, "The plot changes, the jokes change, and the songs change scenes, but that's par for the course . . . Instead of just having the usual five songs on a soundtrack and the rest being a score, I said, 'Let's make an album out of this.'"

Elton John and Tim Rice Elton is right on. The songs on The Road to Eldorado are solid, well-crafted pop, with orchestral flourishes and great grooves. The secret is the addition of keyboardist and vocalist Patrick Leonard, who paired with the late Kevin Gilbert on Toy Matinee, and who has also recorded with Madonna and Jewel. Patrick Leonard knows how to make a great pop album, and the synergy between him and Elton John is dynamic.

EldoradoThe musicians on The Road to Eldorado include Elton John on piano, Patrick Leonard on keyboards and programming, Hecktor Periera on guitars, Curt Bisquera on drums, and Luis Conte on percussion. Also appearing are Jeff Beal (trumpet on "Eldorado"), Tim Pierce (bouzouki on "Without Question"), and Abe Laboriel, Jr. (drums and shaker on "My Heart Dances").

The Road to Eldorado follows a thematic path, from "Friends Never Say Goodbye" through "Trust Me" to the "Wonders of the New World." The album also includes some slick, ballad-oriented numbers, including "The Panic in Me."

EldoradoExplains Elton John (who handles vocals throughout), "The songs in the film have to fit what's on screen. They have to sound as if they're cut from the same cloth. They're melodically linked on the album because of their Latin roots, but some of the songs on the record are more rock and roll, like 'Sixteenth Century Man' and 'Trust Me.'"

The album was a collaborative effort, starting with lyricist Tim Rice, who would send his compositions to Elton John at his Atlanta studio. Producer Patrick Leonard then took copies of the demos to Los Angeles and revamped them in his own fashion, subsequently returning them to Elton John, who re-recorded most of the vocals and some of the piano.

Hans ZimmerAdds Elton John, "Tim likes what I do with the melody, I like what Tim does with the lyric, and we love what Hans does with the orchestra. It's not a complicated thing because we have so much respect for each other."

At the end, we're left with an engaging and coherent whole. Give these pros their props. The Road to Eldorado is billed as a soundtrack, but the album more than holds up on its own.

Carly SimonCarly Simon, The Bedroom Tapes (Arista 2000) - On her first new album since 1997's disappointing, Film Noir, Carly Simon finds herself drawing from her roots. Shaped partly by a breast cancer scare (see the song, "Scar"), Simon has found new creative forces.

Now age 54, Carly has two grown children from her marriage to James Taylor, both of whom are budding singers. Carly says that The Bedroom Tapes started when the long-time New Yorker relocated to a house on Martha's Vineyard and set up an 8-track recording studio. (The album refers to her daughter's bedroom, not to activities in the boudoir.)

Carly SimonCarly explains that, "I played most of the instruments myself and produced it myself. So there's less of anyone else's influence on it than on my other records." Simon seems invigorated by the home recording process. "All I was doing is what I had started out doing 30 years ago. Making sounds that I liked. Not thinking in an orthodox way about songs. Leaving the concept of choruses behind in many instances."

When the chips were down, Carly enlisted such friends as Stuart Kimball (guitar on two songs), Teese Gohl (orchestral arrangements on three songs), and a rhythm line-up consisting of Steve Gadd, T-Bone Wolk, and Tony Garnier. Also appearing are Liam O'Maonlai and the Rankin Sisters, "who came to the Vineyard one weekend and sang in my barn. They are on seven of the eleven tracks."

Carly SimonCarly originally intended the album to focus on New York City, anchored by her Gershwin tribute, "In Honor of You (George)." Yet as she pared away songs, "The Manhattan reference was diluted, the 'concept' was lost, the overall landscape became more generalized and less geographically centered."

There are some real charmers on the album, including the opening two tracks, "Our Fair" and "So Many Stars," which recall Simon's rich but overlooked work from ten years ago, including Have You Seen Me Lately (1990).

Carly SimonThe centerpiece of the album is the bewitching "Cross the River," which is as good as anything Carly has ever released, both melodically and lyrically. Witty, wistful, and wise, Carly busks, "If only we could cross the river/We could get a jump start on life/The whispers across the Hudson/Grow louder in our ears."

I find that the album runs out of speed in the second half, yet some listeners rave about its survivorship theme. In the same way, I could never get into Lou Reed's "Magic and Loss" (about the death of a friend to the ravages of disease), while others found it to be a milestone.

Carly SimonIn the end, Carly comes across as well-grounded and a loving mother. "I've got great children. I didn't make great children. They were given to me by God or by the forces of nature that are in the business of child delivery. I never saw myself as sacrificing anything by being a homemaker; it's what my makeup is."

I can't endorse all of The Bedroom Tapes, although the one track, "Cross the River," is a thing of beauty; intelligent, witty, and catchy. Hope that you can hear it on the radio.

FMSoundtrack to FM (MCA 1978/2000) - The soundtrack to the 1978 film, FM, sold more than a million copies, and reached number five on the album charts. The album is now released for the first time on CD, with great sound.

A new forgotten movie about an FM radio station (starring Martin Mull and Alex Karras), the soundtrack to FM reads like a who's who of 70s rock acts. The album opens with the delicious title track by Steely Dan, and includes songs by Bob Seger ("Night Moves"), the Eagles ("Life in the Fast Lane"), and the Doobie Brothers ("It Keeps You Runnin'").

Linda RonstadtThe album includes two live tracks by Linda Ronstadt - "Tumbling Dice" and "Poor, Poor Pitiful Me," which are not available on Ronstadt's other albums. While I'm a big Ronstadt fan, I didn't jam with these uptempo versions.

FMAlso appearing are radio favorites from Boz Scaggs ("Lido Shuffle"), Billie Joel ("Just the Way You Are"), and Joe Walsh ("Life's Been Good").

For a memorable overview of the late 70's rock scene, look for FM.

- Randy Krbechek © 2000

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