Newton has never quite run among the leaders in the Who'll-Be-the-Next-Ronstadt Sweepstakes, but she's a solid singer and now, after six years of big-time recording, is into a countrifying mood. Born in Virginia Beach, Va., Juice (who likes the sobriquet so much she won't divulge her real name) began her career at age 15 playing the coffee club circuit. On this, her sixth LP, she offers a straight-ahead version of the 1968 Merrilee Rush hit Angel of the Morning, which has become a hot seller for Newton too. She also reprises effectively the Everly Brothers' All I Have to Do Is Dream and Country Comfort, written by those two honorary good old boys, Elton John and Bernie Taupin. While she lacks Ronstadt's chimelike clarity (and here gets stifled on occasion by background vocals), Newton has a sweet and winning drive to her singing.
SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW
Come on, Willie. Stardust was nice, and it's pleasing to see artistic virtue rewarded so generously that a great singer is able to record what he wants. But it's a measure of Nelson's talent that he does not completely embarrass himself on this album in rendering not only Mona Lisa but Over the Rainbow, which was hardly written for a twice-divorced, 47-year-old man with a red beard and pigtails. It's not that he can't sing the notes; the emotion behind the songs just rings false. This album also contains easygoing versions of standards such as I'm Confessin' and Exactly Like You and some pretty backup fiddling by venerable Johnny Gimble and mandolin playing by Paul Buskirk (none of Nelson's regular band appears). But the most satisfying cut is a pure country tune, It Wouldn't Be the Same, written by Fred (Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain) Rose and sometime cowboy actor Jimmy Wakely. That's not to say Willie shouldn't diversify into pop standards—or Pagliacci, if he's of a mind—only to lament that the mix in his material seems a little off-balance lately.
MY FIRST ALBUM
The basic Nelson band does appear here, behind Willie's lead guitarist in his debut album. So it's no surprise that the Alabama-born Payne has the distinctive pared-down Austin sound. Payne's appealing whiskey-and-smoke voice—a melange of Kristofferson, Stewart and a cross-cut saw—rides easily over these arrangements of ballads, country, bluegrass and rock. Willie harmonizes on three tunes, including a foot-stompin' bluegrasser called Uncle Pen, but Payne successfully stands alone on soulful, countrified renditions of Lionel Richie's Still, the Beatles' We Can Work It Out and Merle Haggard's Working Man Blues. And Payne shows a poignant touch with the sad, romantic lyricism of Lovin' and Feelin'. The guitarist is staying with the Nelson band, so Willie hasn't lost a sideman; he's just gained some competition.
The posthumous profiteering continues, Elvis fans. If Presley lived one true moment as a guitar man, it was when he posed on his famous first album cover, face contorted, head tossed back, dressed in rockabilly rags, with that magnificent acoustic guitar strapped across his torso. As a guitarist, let's just say that if Presley could have moved his fingers the way he moved his pelvis, he'd have never needed the orchestras, razzle-dazzle brass sections and gospel-choir-size backups that tarnished his title as King of Rock'n'Roll during his Vegas period. But a misleading title is the least of this LP's flaws. In the spirit of electronic revisionism, Presley's producer, Felton Jarvis, isolated Elvis' voice tracks from 10 heavy, forgettable arrangements that Jarvis admits in liner notes left the King "somewhat in the background." Then Jarvis hired studio musicians to concoct a stripped-down, Memphis-type sound around Elvis' voice. The aim seemed to be to recapture the revolutionary fire and conviction of the Sun Sessions era. Hardly. I'm Movin'On makes Hank Snow's 1955 version seem to rip like New Wave; She Thinks I Still Care makes Anne Murray's recording of the tune seem to positively rock. You Asked Me To is hardly a challenge to Waylon Jennings' gritty country version. To be sure, Jarvis' arrangements do re-create a Memphis flavor, and these thumping versions far outclass Elvis' soggier originals. But when a thick-sounding Elvis sings the Chuck Berry hit Too Much Monkey Business, well, that about sums things up. Jarvis, who died shortly after completing this collection, had a fierce loyalty to Elvis, and it appears to be just an honest, nonexploitative flop. But no more recycling, please. RCA Records should simply let the man's work stand on its own.
TIME FOR THE DANCERS
Roland Hanna Trio
Since meeting in the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra in the early 70s, pianist Hanna and bassist George Mraz have been one of jazz's strongest duos. Hanna, a master of musical alloys, combines stride, blues and swing with an almost epic romanticism and a penchant for humorous asides. Mraz, a startlingly melodic improviser, boasts one of the biggest tonal vocabularies of any acoustic bassist—from bell-like highs to prodigious bowed passages that impersonate a tenor sax. His glissandos and plucked notes—any bassist's mainstay—are robust and penetrating. Generally, Hanna's solo albums (like A Gift from the Magi) reveal his classical training, while trio settings bring out the swinger in him. This LP (featuring deft drumming by Richard Pratt) does both. The rhythmic complexities in the simultaneous bass and piano solos on Double Intentions are spine-tingling. Most extraordinary, though, is the title cut, a profound and lovely Hanna ballad. With its chromatic effects reminiscent of Monet's water lilies, the song is the zenith of Hanna's already considerable career.
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