You've no doubt heard the tale of the boy who cried wolf. Well, here's the tale of the critic who cried genius. Zevon has been cranking out records for about 15 years now. We rock-critic types tend to herald each of these releases by the Los Angeles singer-songwriter as a work of genius, or at least as the album that will finally make him a superstar. Then each sinks without a trace, 1978's gold Excitable Boy being the only exception.
Which brings us to album No. 11, Mr. Bad Example. Nobody may believe this, but it is truly a great album that ranks right up there with his finest work. The music still combines everything from rock to country to Tex-Mex twang. The lyrics still tend to be wry tales of lovers and losers told in the first person. The title cut contains the smug confessions of an entrepreneurial rogue who fleeces prostitutes and Australian opal miners and flees with his booty to Sri Lanka. The song titles, like "Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead," are still a hoot.
Few people in rock have Zevon's knack for spinning strange tales over memorable melodies. This will surely be the album that breaks him into the big time. If not, guaranteed the next one will. (Giant)
Dramarama plays the sort of stuff that rock purists love: committed music that will never be turned into a beer commercial, with tough grooves and angst-ridden lyrics about everything from cheating lovers to drug addicts to the environment.
The tunes have that garage-rock looseness of bands like the Replacements or early Rolling Stones. But while many of the songs work well, the album as a whole is too self-absorbed, and John Easdale's voice is pretentiously tortured. The band wears its suffering on its sleeve. Roll up those sleeves, guys, and have some fun. (Chameleon)
Donald Fagen et al.
In the last two years, the normally reclusive Donald Fagen, of Steely Dan renown, has staged a comeback of sorts by headlining a series of live New York City shows accompanied by such musical friends as Michael McDonald, Phoebe Snow, Charles Brown and Boz Scaggs.
These outings quickly proved so popular that they were moved from the city's small Lone Star Roadhouse to the roomier Beacon Theater. Now two of the most recent revues have been recorded and edited into an appealing and classy, if somewhat eccentric, mix.
Blue-eyed soulman McDonald, formerly of the Doobie Brothers, teams up with pop-soul diva Snow on a knock-out version of Eddie Floyd's "Knock on Wood." This is followed by Fagen singing his own "Green Flower Street," a signature piece of cool, mysterious jazz from his 1982 solo effort, The Nightfly, speeded up here to unfortunate effect.
Other standouts on this stylish exercise in nostalgia include Charles Brown singing his own '40s classic "Driftin' Blues," the Steely Dan song "Chain Lightning" and Snow doing full-throated justice to the Temptations' "Shakey Ground."
Less successful is "Groovin'," the 1967 Rascals hit, performed by former Rascal Eddie Brigati and his brother David. The breezy feeling is there, but, sad to say, their voices sound shot.
McDonald comes to the rescue with a soaring version of the Doobies' '70s megahit "Minute by Minute." Steely Dan's "Pretzel Logic" provides a hip and moody encore before Fagen and the revue players finish up with a short, snappy version of Ray Bryant's "Madison Time."
"Durable music" is what Fagen calls these rock and soul chestnuts in his liner notes. Let's hope he's right and that the New York Rock and Soul Revue is here to stay. (Giant)
MICHAEL FEINSTEIN SINGS THE JULE STYNE SONGBOOK
The bad news: Feinstein's voice has never quite been something to sing about. The good news: His voice has improved with each new release. The best news: This time he has forsaken the piano (which he plays well) to sing to the sensitive, charming accompaniment of one of Broadway's most enduring hit men.
Jule Styne has composed for the best: big, bravura voices like Streisand's in Funny Girl and Ethel Merman's in Gypsy. He has penned melodies with the best: Sammy Cahn ("Time after Time" and "The Things We Did Last Summer"), Comden and Green (Bells Are Ringing) and Stephen Sondheim (Gypsy).
The Styne standards, among them "People," "Everything's Coming Up Roses," "I Don't Want to Walk Without You, Baby" and "Make Someone Happy," are included here along with little-known pearls like "Look at You, Look at Me," with lyrics by Frank Loesser, and "Nice She Ain't," which was cut from Gypsy. Feinstein clearly cares greatly about lyrics and pays them due attention. But his voice, while well suited to light melodies and relaxed in the middle register, tends to become nasal when he tries to belt or convey passion. Louder, someone should tell Feinstein, is not better. (Elektra/None Such)
Voice of the Beehive
Imagine gulping down what looks like a glass of apple juice only to discover it's whiskey. Expecting sweet and smooth, you get harsh and biting, with a kick. It's a little like listening to this excellent sophomore effort from the London-based, American-led band Voice of the Beehive.
The music is as inviting as honey, thanks to the sweet harmonizing of sister songwriters Tracey and Melissa Belland. They sound a smidge like the second coming of Jackie DeShannon, thanks in part to the catchy pop rock they sing. Every one of the record's 10 tunes sounds dreamy and Top 40 friendly—until you listen to what the Bellands are actually saying.
Lyricist Tracey has a very unsentimental take on love. Consider "I'm Shooting Cupid," addressed to the little guy with the bow and arrow, where the sisters complain that "You've gone and made me want someone I can never have/ And don't think I don't hear you laughing."
The world the Bellands sing about is a chilly one where men are users and women either put up with it or go home alone. Think of Voice of the Beehive as a kind of Go-Gos with postfeminist lyrics. (London)
- Craig Tomashoff,
- Lisa Shea,
- Joanne Kaufman.