1999 Records To Die For Page 5

Bob Cannon

POCO: Pickin' Up the Pieces
Epic/Legacy EK 66227 (CD). 1969/1995. Jim Messina, prod.; Terry Donovan, eng. AAD? TT: 43:15
Few bands could match the chops of Poco's original lineup, which featured ex-Buffalo Springfields Richie Furay and Jim Messina, future Eagle Randy Meisner, and pedal-steel god Rusty Young. On their debut album Furay was at a creative peak, with his bouncy title tune, the exhilarating "What a Day," and the bittersweet ballad "First Love." His gorgeous tenor never failed to produce goosebumps. Meisner and drummer George Grantham added crystalline harmonies that made the Burrito Bros. sound like Tom Waits by comparison. However, the star of the show is Young, whose pedal-steel work is nothing short of breathtaking. Alternately simulating Hammond organ, banjo, and piano, Young virtually reinvents his instrument cut by cut. Despite Terry Donovan's fairly thin engineering, this remains an overwhelming performance that is one of the cornerstones of country-rock.

EMITT RHODES: Emitt Rhodes
One Way/MCA MCAD-22078 (CD). 1970/1993. Emitt Rhodes, Harvey Bruce, prods.; Emitt Rhodes, eng. AAD? TT: 32:02
After splitting from L.A. popsters The Merry-Go-Round in 1970, Emitt Rhodes opted for a one-man-band approach and created one of the great lost gems of pop. An unabashed fan of Paul McCartney, Rhodes displayed an uncanny knack for seamless melodies that stick in the ear, and did it a lot better than his idol was doing at the time. "Recorded at Home" (as the vinyl run-out groove used to say), Emitt Rhodes suffers from some soggy production (especially in the drums), but the precise arrangements and spirited performance more than compensate. If you can't hear the joy in "With My Face on the Floor," then you can't hear.

Tom Conrad

BILL EVANS TRIO: Sunday at the Village Vanguard
Bill Evans, piano; Scott LaFaro, bass; Paul Motian, drums
JVC JVCXR-0051-2 (CD). 1961/1997. Orrin Keepnews, prod.; Dave Jones, eng. AAD. TT: 69:48

There can be no more noble purpose for the technology of JVC's XRCD Series than to make albums like Sunday at the Village Vanguard live again. On June 25, 1961, Bill Evans, Scott LaFaro, and Paul Motian took the piano trio to previously unprecedented levels of interactive creative inspiration. But, as originally released on the Riverside label, this sublime moment was dimly lit. By enhancing the process of mastering and manufacturing compact discs, the XRCD Series gets more music off the master tape than anyone ever suspected was there. Evans' piano sings, and the bass of LaFaro (who died in a car crash 10 days after this recording was made) plays breathing, shuddering requiems.

Patricia Barber, vocals, piano, table knives on strings; John McLean, guitar; Michael Arnopol, bass; Mark Walker, drums; Dave Douglas, trumpet; Jeff Stitely, udu; Choral Thunder Vocal Choir
Premonition PREM-741-2 (CD). 1998. Patricia Barber, prod.; Jim Anderson, eng. DDD. TT: 67:49

Patricia Barber's Café Blue (Premonition, 1994; R2D4, 1996) was a kind of inexplicable, out-of-nowhere revelation; had it turned out to be a one-off imaginative pinnacle, few would have been surprised. But the follow-up, Modern Cool, is stronger, and establishes Barber as the most important jazz singer to emerge in the '90s. Modern Cool has it all: the Barber voice, that chilling near-whisper that speaks directly to your innermost self; original songs ("Company," "Winter," "Silent Partner") that are cautionary tales from the ragged psychic cusp of the new millennium; covers ("Light My Fire," "She's a Lady") that paint every word with haunting new connotations; accompaniment as lethal as razor wire from her brilliant working quartet plus guest trumpeter Dave Douglas; and sonically, Modern Cool is engineer Jim Anderson's finest hour.

Brian Damkroger

B.B. KING: Deuces Wild
MCA MCAD-11711 (CD). 1997. John Porter, prod., eng.; Chris Lord-Aige, prod.; Steve Holroyd, Ron Black, engs. AAD? TT: 61:39
Deuces Wild is a collection of cuts—some old, some new—pairing B.B. King with an incredible collection of partners, from Van Morrison to the Rolling Stones. The performances are great, with the backing players hot and tight throughout and the leads sounding as if there's nowhere they'd rather be. The sound is gorgeous too, with a warm, intimate feel. The mix is clean, and the huge soundstage is populated with richly detailed, dimensional images. My favorite tracks are "The Thrill is Gone" with Tracy Chapman, "Please Send Me Someone to Love" with Mick Hucknall, and "Crying Won't Help You Babe" with David Gilmour and Paul Carrack. But except for a throwaway rapper with Heavy D., every cut is a gem.

Ella Fitzgerald, vocals; Louis Armstrong, vocals, trumpet; Herb Ellis, guitar; Oscar Peterson, piano; Ray Brown, bass; Louis Bellson, Buddy Rich, drums
Mobile Fidelity UDCD 2-651 (2 CDs). 1957/1996. Norman Granz, prod.; Val Valentin, eng. AAD. TT: 90:56

Ella and Louis Again is a reissue of a 1957 Verve LP combining Ella, Louis, and an all-star combo. MoFi has done a wonderful job with the sound, but be forewarned—these are old mono recordings and sound it. The leads have body and depth, but the mix is muted and congested behind them. There's audible tape hiss as well, but who cares? The music and performances are so great, I can't imagine anyone not falling in love with these discs. Producer Norman Granz said it best in 1957: "There isn't much point in further discussing this album because it genuinely is too good to even try to explain; you simply listen and marvel at how great Ella and Louis are, again." (XIX-3)