It's not hard to imagine how these tracks, recently unearthed in a Brooklyn warehouse, got lost in the first place. Papa John Phillips and unlikely cohorts the Rolling Stones recorded these 11 songs in 1977, the year Elvis died and waste case Keith Richards seemed about to follow him. Phillips admitted he was spending almost all his time rolling stoned in those days. And yet Pay
reveals surprising melodic lucidity by all concerned. Phillips, who looks emaciated in session photos, is nonetheless tunefully on top of his game, and the Stones are at their twangy, country tonk best. Some tracks ("She's Just 14") sound like Stones outtakes. But the album belongs to Phillips, who, sadly, died March 18, just months before its release.
Bottom Line: Papa was a Rolling Stone
Nikka Costa (Cheeba/Virgin)
Album of the week
Retro-soul rocker Costa spent most of her childhood recording hit albums in Europe and touring with her composer-producer father, Don Costa, and his Rat Pack collaborators Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra, her godfather. At age 8 she opened for the Police. But on her U.S. debut she sounds like the teacher's pet in a master class taught by Sly Stone. All grown up, Costa, 28, joins the neo-soul ranks of Janis Joplin, Erykah Badu and Macy Gray, with her big, gravelly alto and muscular sense of rhythm. She effortlessly blends soul, hip-hop and rock on sexy, hard-driving tracks like "Hope It Felt Good" and the irrepressibly funky "Like a Feather." But Costa is even more effective on taut, self-affirming ballads like "Push & Pull" and "Tug of War." Likewise, "Corners of My Mind" has a quiet intensity. While there's not a bad track here, the subdued anthem "So Have I for You" stands out.
Bottom Line: Something groovy
Try as front man Roddy Woomble might to mask it with catchy hooks and melodies, disappointment is the prevailing emotion on Idlewild's second disc. But this irresistibly melancholy follow-up to '99's critically acclaimed, commercially ignored Hope Is Important
won't leave listeners disappointed. Not, that is, if they're hungry for a heaping platter of free-floating angst, with a side of seething cynicism.
Steering away from the pop-centric Scottish bands of the moment, Idlewild takes a wee harder edge. The Edinburgh quartet also takes moody cues from the Cure, R.E.M. and Nirvana to work up its indignation on tracks like "These Wooden Ideas," on which Woomble warbles, "It's a better way to feel/ Don't be real, be postmodern." But the quirky, melodic "Actually It's Darkness" displays Idlewild's quiet rage the most clearly: "You shed a shade of shyness/ Why can't you be more cynical?" Maybe they would cheer up if they sold like Nirvana.
Bottom Line: Scottish mood ring
Anne Sofie von Otter and Elvis Costello
In its original sense, the word "diva" had nothing to do with midriff-baring or assistant-berating. Anne Sofie von Otter is a diva in the true, goddess sense. Pairing Elvis Costello's nasal bray with the ethereal mezzo-soprano of this Swedish opera singer is like making a peanut butter-and-caviar sandwich, so writer-producer Costello wisely spends most of this disc with his mouth shut, framing von Otter's floral voice with a piano here, an accordion there, some strings there. At times the result has an aching beauty that proclaims what pop might be if only its clever tunesmiths could really sing.
To younger fans this collection, mostly obscure covers of work by the likes of Brian Wilson and ABBA, may seem music to grow old by; even the title seems to be nicked from an Andy Williams album ca. 1965. Still, try not to shiver at the late-night lounge version of the Beatles' "For No One" or the stirring Costello tune "No Wonder."
Bottom Line: Grown-ups will smile, kids will snooze
Missy Elliott (Goldmine Inc./Elektra)
After writing and producing hits for Aaliyah and Busta Rhymes, Elliott broke out from behind the scenes in 1997 with Supa Dupa Fly
, ushering in a melodious, rhythmic funk style of hip-hop. On her second platinum album, 1999's Da Real World
, Elliott envisioned a grim, futuristic world. This effort doesn't quite reach the bar she set with her earlier efforts, but it does simmer with energy. Backed with cameos by the cream of the hip-hop crop (Jay-Z, Eve and Method Man all take the mike), Miss E proves a witty rhymer and deft singer. She's best on "Get Ur Freak On," with its jagged, funky rhythms. The reggae-tinged "One Minute Man" is fluid, sexy and to the point, while "Lick Shots" pulses with infectious stuttering beats.
Bottom Line: Hit-and-Miss
Pete Fountain (Ranwood)
To damn him with faint praise, the Dixieland clarinetist Fountain was the best musician in the Lawrence Welk Orchestra of the 1950s. And now, at 70, Fountain still plays with the joyful spirit and fat, true tone that made him the saving grace of all those "champagne music" schmaltzfests. While Fountain has continued to perform at his own club in New Orleans, this is his first recording with the New Lawrence Welk Orchestra, which ordinarily bubbles away in the Welk Champagne Theater in Branson, Mo. So even though the accompanying musicians aren't the swingingest group around, Fountain, with his venerable wooden clarinet, is still a joy to hear.
Bottom Line: Intoxicating champagne Fountain
A KNIGHT'S TALE
Various Artists (Columbia) The soundtrack for Heath Ledger's hard-rocking period piece features Queen's first recording of "We Are the Champions" since Freddie Mercury's death in 1991. Brit Robbie Williams does the lead vocal honors.
Various Artists (Palm) This compilation from Morning Becomes Eclectic, on KCRW public radio in L.A., pulls together live tracks by fans Patti Smith, Beck, Travis and Willie Nelson as well as emerging talents like Badly Drawn Boy.
Various Artists (Blue Note) A rousing turn by the late Tito Puente and a breathtaking duet of "Lágrimas Negras" by Cuban maestros Bebo Valdés on piano and Cachao on bass highlight this concert film soundtrack and homage to Latin jazz.
- Steve Dougherty,
- Sona Charaipotra,
- Kyle Smith,
- Ericka Souter,
- Ralph Novak.
John Phillips (Eagle/Red Ink)