No Respect (12/29/2000)
Foreigner, Jukebox Heros: The Anthology (Atlantic/Rhino 2000) - Jukebox Heros collects 39 songs by 70's/80's chart-toppers, Foreigner. With a career spanning 23 years, Jukebox Heros is a deserving retrospective.
Foreigner is the Rodney Dangerfield of 70's rock - they don't get any respect, but they sold a lot of albums. The original Foreigner lineup included Mick Jones (who had formerly performed with Spooky Tooth, alongside Gary Wright of "Dream Weaver" fame), vocalist Lou Gramm, guitarist and keyboardist Ian McDonald (formerly of King Crimson), drummer Dennis Elliott, bass player Ed Gagliardi, and keyboardist Al Greenwood.
The group selected the name "Foreigner" because three members hailed from England, while the other three were from the U.S. The band released its self-titled debut in 1977. With hits like "Feels Like the First Time" (number 4) and "Cold as Ice" (number 6), the debut album sold four million copies.
Expectations ran high for the followup, Double Vision, which shipped platinum. Double Vision remained in the top ten for six months, and yielded such hits as "Hot Blooded" and "Blue Morning, Blue Day."
Yet strain was already developing. Following the recording of its third album, Head Games, the band recruited bass player Rick Wills (who had performed with the Small Faces and Peter Frampton). Head Games is represented by such songs as "I Have Waited So Long" (a ballad with a tasty sax break), "Dirty White Boy," and the inventive, "Rev on the Redline."
The band shifted into a new mode for the fourth album (appropriately entitled Four), teaming with uber producer, Mutt Lange, and paring down to a foursome consisting of Mick Jones, Lou Gramm, Dennis Elliott, and Rick Wills.
Four marked the first release by the band to reach number one on the album charts, propelled by the single's "Urgent" (featuring Junior Walker on sax) and "Waiting for a Girl Like You" (featuring Thomas Dolby on keyboards).
Foreigner continued to enjoy chart success in the mid-80's, with the number one single, "I Want to Know What Love Is" (featuring songstress Jennifer Holliday), and another hit ballad ("That Was Yesterday").
In addition to the hits, Jukebox Heros also includes several solo tracks recorded by Lou Gramm and Mick Jones, together with two Spooky Tooth rarities - "All Sewn Up" and "The Hoofer." The double-disk set also includes a detailed and informative picture book.
Foreigner continues to record (including 1994's Mr. Moonlight) and tour. Just as Foreigner was set to embark on a 1997 Japanese tour, Lou Gramm was diagnosed with a brain tumor and underwent major surgery. Gramm spent the next year recuperating, but still works with Jones, writing songs for a new album.
As acts from the 70's approach their mortality (bass player Benjamin Orr from the Cars recently died at age 53 from brain cancer), Jukebox Heros shows that Foreigner had real talent.
Vieux Diop, Afrika Wassa (Triloka Records 2000) - Vieux Diop has a Senegalese musician who has lived in the United States for eight years. Afrika Wassa has a friendly ambiance, and seems to be the product of skilled hands.
According to the liner notes, the lyrics are performed in French, Senegalese, and English. Says the artist, "Before I could speak French or English properly, I heard those culture's music. I loved it, even though I didn't know what they were saying. The music spoke to me."
The title track has a world music feel, with vocals that call to mind Paul Simon's inflection. The third track, "Mouille," is a Calypso-influenced number, with a perky beat. "Pourquoi" brings to mind the French Canadian stylings of Daniel Lanois in a ballad style similar to the Arcade release.
For me, the words are always important, so it's difficult to evaluate an album in which I can't understand the spoken message, though the blend of such traditional instruments as the kora (African harp), balafon, and jimbe produce an intoxicating mix.
"Lepto Feyto" is delivered in a dirge-like English dialect that is difficult to understand, but the next song, "Sing Lo-Lo" is a bouncy number with a friendly beat. "Manku" has a gentle melody that resembles a love song, and the concluding "Nio Kolo Koba" has a lilting feel, with African pipes and vibraphones. The last song is an instrumental number.
Vieux Diop has resided in the U.S. for many years. Recalls the artist, "When I came here, it was an awful time to be an African musician. People were completely unaware of West African art and music."
Vieux seeks to raise the level of awareness on Afrika Wassa. Try this challenging blend of traditional African and Western rhythms.
Grand Ole Opry - 75 Years (MCA Nashville 2000) - With this two-disk set, MCA Nashville (which also incorporates the famed Decca label) celebrates the 75th anniversary of the Opry. The 30 tracks (15 per disk) run the gamut, from Hank Williams (1949) to Kitty Wells (1952) to Patsy Cline (1957) to Ernest Tubb (1965) to Lee Ann Womack (2000).
The Grand Ole Opry started on November 28, 1925, when WSM radio announcer George D. Hay asked 77-year-old fiddler, Uncle Jimmy Thompson, if he was tired after his hour-long Saturday night radio performance. "Why shucks, I don't hardly get warmed up in an hour," replied Uncle Jimmy.
When letters and telegrams poured in in support of the fiddling geezer, WSM decided to feature old-time music every Saturday night, contrary to the Jazz Age stylings. Radio was new to everyone, and sparked a wide-spread nostalgia for the simpler customers of square dances, quilting bees, and barn raisings.
The show took its name in 1927 when George D. Hay ad-libed a phrase meant to contrast the "Grand Opera" of the preceding program with the "Grand Ole Opry" of his radio rustics.
By the 1930s, the Grand Ole Opry was extending its influence, and the move to the Ryman Auditorium in 1943 was a welcomed necessity. The Ryman, built in 1892, had perfect acoustics and would become the Opry's most famous home. In 1974, the Opry relocated to the 4,400-seat Grand Ole Opry House, where it now remains.
NBC Radio carried the Opry for the first time in 1939. Its sponsor was Prince Albert cigars and the featured artists were Uncle Dave Macon, Roy Acuff, and the Solemn Old Judge. In 1943, NBC made the Opry a weekly Saturday night fixture of its national radio network programming, and the program soon eclipsed its rival, the National Barn Dance.
The title of the collection is misleading, as it sounds like the performances are drawn from live recordings drawn from the vaults, but that is not the case. The majority of the recordings are studio efforts, making Grand Ole Opry a "greatest hits of Nashville" collection.
That being said, there are some gems on this set. Listen for the live version of "I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool" by Barbara Mandrell, with a guest appearance by old George Jones. And "Life's Highway" by Steve Wariner was a real treat, with Wariner's masterful band backing him.
If you want to dip into deep Decca vaults, you'll dig Grand Ole Opry. But don't come looking for a collection of rare live recordings.
- Randy Krbechek © 2000
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