Culture > Notable CDs

Noteworthy CDs

Notable CDs | Five noteworthy new releases reviewed by Arsenio Orteza

The Singles Volume: 1960-1963 James Brown

Style: "Chitlin' circuit" soul taking two steps forward, one step back, and so on, in its claiming of post-Elvis turf.

Worldview: That in placing 16 of these 20 singles (the A and B sides of which are included here) on Billboard's pop and/or black charts, Brown earned his "hardest-working man in show business" title.

Overall quality: The excitingly cross-fertilized music we know; the versatile, almost too-passionately sweet singing we sometimes forget.

In Our Lifetime (Expanded Love Man Edition)

Style: Gaye's thematically ambitious 1981 spacey, post-disco soul excursion, reissued and expanded.

Worldview: The spirit is willing ("Praise"), but the flesh is weak ("Funk Me"), sometimes simultaneously ("Love Party"); or, as Gaye sings in "Life Is for Learning," "The devil has a special plan to make hot sauce for sinners. / Then God will turn it around and make good songs for winners."

Overall quality: Fascinating, funky, free-flowing, flawed, frustrating.

The Final Concert

Style: Fourteen folk songs and lots of performer-audience interaction from the Trio's farewell show (June 15, 1967).

Cautions: Some PG saltiness (the between-song patter and "Greenback Dollar").

Worldview: (On their imminent breakup) "It's great to have memories, but to live in the past is a little weird, you know?"

Overall quality: A lively, funny, and much less pompous or sentimental testament to '60s acoustic folk than Peter, Paul and Mary.

The Essential John McLaughlin

Style: The (mostly electric, occasionally acoustic) "guitar wing" of the fusion-jazz museum.

Worldview: That "McLaughlin forged a unique vocabulary for the electric guitar that combined jazz improvisation, classical harmonic architecture, Indian rhythms and phrasing, and white-hot rock intensity" (Bill Milkowski's liner notes).

Overall quality: An always instructive, often thrilling, and at times beautiful two-disc tracing of key musical points between various Occidental and Oriental traditions (in that order).

Strange Weirdos

Style: Sardonic, touching, and humorous singer-songwriter "music from and inspired by the film Knocked Up."

Worldview: "What is meant by this huge event? / You get so stressed, but you'll be blessed / or maybe cursed. But what comes first / is the girl or the guy. That's right, it's X or Y." (Translation: Life begins at chromosome division.)

Overall quality: Laughing to keep from crying, crying to keep from giving up altogether.


Infomercial mavens are familiar with ads for The Midnight Special: The Legendary Performances (Guthy-Renker Entertainment), a nine-DVD set available either in installments or in one discounted lump. A weekly NBC rock 'n' roll show that aired on Saturday mornings from 1 to 2:30 a.m., The Midnight Special ran from 1972 to 1980 and probably did more to keep music-loving youth off the streets than any curfew. With VHS recorders and TiVos still to come, anyone who wanted to watch pop stars performing live on TV had to be at home.

The overriding tone of the set's 135 musical (and 18 stand-up-comedy) performances is nostalgic, from out-of-fashion hairdos and clothing to a pre-MTV emphasis on actual playing and singing. The "under-riding" tone is elegiac, exposing pop culture's rather sandy foundations. Few of the more than 100 featured acts are still productively active, and quite a few have died, taking the styles they pioneered-styles that once seemed enduringly momentous-with them.


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