2002 Records To Die For Page 7

Fred Mills

JACK FROST: Jack Frost
Arista ARCD8667 (CD). 1991. Steve Kilbey, prod., eng.; Pryce Surplice, eng. AAD? TT: 58:54
In 1991, Steve Kilbey (Church) and Grant McLennan (Go-Betweens), presumably both in the throes of relationship woes, hired a string section and joined forces under the assumed name of Jack Frost. The resulting LP married the best of both worlds—Church's lush, atmospheric rock drama and the Go-Betweens' sunny, strummy baroque folk—and yielded a sweetly textured, emotionally battered breakup album. From "Threshold" 's disco-flavored white soul and the crunchy power-pop of "Didn't Know Where I Was" to the orchestral soundscapes of "Providence" and "Ramble" 's incandescent folk-rock, Jack Frost is one of those recordings, made with no one looking over the artists' shoulders, that hindsight invariably judges to be timeless.

Sire 26624-2 (CD). 1991. Jorge Hinojosa, Ice-T, exec. prods. AAD? TT: 36:26
Many years after the early-'70s heyday of the so-called "Blaxploitation" film came this groundbreaking 10-song retrospective of the musical genre that provided the flicks' soundtracks. The intersection of lush Motown soul and down'n'dirty Memphis-style funk, plus key elements on loan from jazz fusion and psychedelic rock, made for an irresistible combination. Explosive, too, given the often radical, anti-authority bent of the words. Yet radio readily embraced such heady expositions as Marvin Gaye's slinky "Trouble Man," Curtis Mayfield's cautionary "Pusherman," and, of course, Isaac Hayes' "Theme from Shaft." Even better, perhaps, than that signature Blaxploitation classic is Bobby Womack's "Across 110th Street," which contains all of the foregoing as well as unquantifiable measures of hope and despair that make it, at 3:48, a flawless, epic tragedy-drama.

Keith Moerer

SHELBY LYNNE: Temptation
Morgan Creek 2959-20018-2 (CD). 1993. Brent Maher, prod., eng. ADD. TT: 34:13
Don't buy the cliché that Shelby Lynne emerged in 2000 as a fully formed soul singer after a decade's worth of generic Nashville albums. Lynne's 1993 album, Temptation, is nearly the equal of her breakthrough, I Am Shelby Lynne, but dramatically different. Backed by steel guitar, fiddle, and nine horns, Lynne wraps her smoky alto around 10 Western Swing tunes. The results range from frisky ("Feelin' Kind of Lonely Tonight," the title track) to gorgeously heartbroken ("Tell Me I'm Crazy," "Where Do We Go From Here"). The songs are timeless, the arrangements impeccable, and Lynne's voice is a true wonder: sassy and alluringly mischievous.

Nonesuch 79469-2 (CD). 1986. Kip Hanrahan, prod.; Greg Calbi, eng. AAD. TT: 46:15
Astor Piazzolla radically reinvented the Argentine tango, escorting it to the concert hall by adding jazz and classical influences while retaining the harsh sensuality of the dance's bordello origins. Recorded during the twilight of his career with a remarkable quintet, Tango: Zero Hour stand as Piazzolla's finest 45 minutes on disc. Despite seismic shifts in tempo, mood, and dynamics, these five musicians move as one. Classically trained violinist Fernando Suarez Paz is particularly outstanding—elegant one moment, fiercely dissonant the next. So are pianist Pablo Ziegler and guitarist Horacio Malvicino, who offer the improvisational magic you'd expect from jazz musicians. But the greatest star of all is Piazzolla—or, more precisely, his bandoneon, which seems to have a life all its own, heaving, sighing, and charging through seven remarkable instrumentals.

Dan Ouellette

Bill Frisell, guitars; Jerry Douglas, dobro; Ron Block, banjo, acoustic guitar; Adam Steffey, mandolin; Pat Bergeson, harmonica; Viktor Krauss, bass; Robin Holcomb, vocals
Nonesuch 79415-2 (CD). 1997. Wayne Horvitz, prod.; Roger Moutenot, Jason Lehning, engs. AAD? TT: 59:54

When guitarist Bill Frisell's Nashville scored Down Beat's Jazz Album of the Year award in 1998, some of the mag's longtime readers were riled. This jazz-meets-bluegrass CD bucked the blues-and-swing credo of the day, and even bested Wynton Marsalis' Pulitzer Prize-winning Blood on the Fields. But Frisell, a musical omnivore who has countered jazz tradition and crossed stylistic borders throughout his career, followed his intuition and set up an intriguing confluence of two distinctive American styles of music. Instead of recycling jazz's past, Frisell fashioned a refreshing collection with an all-star cast of country-roots musicians, including dobroist Jerry Douglas and banjo player Ron Block. Named after the city where the sessions took place, Nashville is a rarity: a pure delight of lyrical, whimsical, improvisationally rich music that demonstrates how pliable jazz truly is.

JANE SIBERRY: When I Was a Boy
Reprise 26824-2 (CD). 1993. Jane Siberry, Brian Eno, Michael Brook, prods., engs. AAD. TT: 67:46
When I Was a Boy could be recommended only for Jane Siberry's stunning tune, "Calling All Angels," sung as a duet with k.d. lang. But from beginning (the assertive, sexy "Temple") to end (a reprise of the wistful "Love is Everything"), the idiosyncratic Toronto-based singer-composer explores heartbreak and spiritual fulfillment in a collection of lyrical numbers that defy formulaic pop. The soundscapes range from ethereal dreaminess to hip-hop groove, the production is stellar (each instrumental choice—whether viola, Hammond organ, or drum loops—is perfect), and the passion is alluring. Brian Eno makes a couple of cameo producer appearances, but it's Siberry's unique vision, voice, and passion that make this CD her crowning achievement. (XVII-1)

Rob Patterson

BOB DYLAN: "Love and Theft"
Columbia CK 85975 (CD). 2001. Jack Frost, prod.; Chris Shaw, eng. AAD? TT: 57:30
Recently doing his most vibrant and captivating work since the 1960s, Dylan says it all in the title: steal (as he's done all along) from the original roots music he loves, and ingeniously mold it into something new and revelatory yet deeply grounded and genuine. Witty wordplay and trenchant turns of phrase abound, and Dylan sings it all with expressive élan on his best set of mythic American fever dreams since The Basement Tapes. Backed by his fiery and keenly honed road band, Dylan hasn't sounded as invigorated and inspired since Bringing It All Back Home. The master, still at work. (XXIV-11)

LI'L BAND O' GOLD: Li'l Band O' Gold
Shanachie SH 6047 (CD). 2000. C.C. Adcock, Li'l Band O' Gold, prods.; Erik Flettrich, Tim Le Blanc, engs. AAD? TT: 42:54
Swamp pop was Louisiana's obscure but eminently musical and richly emotive contribution to 1960s pop-rock. Li'l Band O' Gold unites swamp-pop vets like singer and drummer Warren Storm and saxophonist Dickie Landry with such young Louisiana music guns as Cajun accordionist Steve Riley and guitarist C.C. Adcock in a nod to their state's musical heritage that resonates wonderfully here in the new century. With singing that hits the human swoon center, rhythms that take you in arm for some delightful dances, and the sound of a true band of barroom-seasoned pros, this disc is as tantalizing as the most savory plate of crawfish étouffée.