TRIPPING THE LIVE FANTASTIC
Paul McCartney (Capitol 94778)
As if playing four continents weren't enough, Paul McCartney has managed to eke even more mileage out of his recent world tour with "Tripping the Live Fantastic," a 37-song sampling that is, at two hours and 18 minutes, nearly as long as the show itself. Still, the show holds up on record almost as well as it did onstage. Thanks to a genuinely first-rate band, the recent efforts (like "My Brave Face") sparkle, the oldies (like "Ain't That a Shame") sizzle, and the Wings-era hits are delivered with spunk and accuracy. But the Beatle stuff is the real test, and though this slick six are no match for the Fab Four, there are few things in music as well-matched as that voice and those songs.
SERIOUS HITS . . . LIVE!
Phil Collins (Atlantic 82157)
So long as he's the darling of pop radio, there will never be a need for a Phil Collins greatest hits collection. After all, there's no point in buying what you're going to hear over and over anyway. dTC Collins' concert album, "Serious Hits . . . Live!" is another matter entirely. Sure, the songs, from "Sussudio" to "Separate Lives," are familiar enough, but the performances -- well-crafted and confident, full of musicianly wit and jazzy subtlety -- push the material one step further, so that the best bits take the listener unawares. And when was the last time a Phil Collins hit seemed like a surprise?
REFUGEES OF THE HEART
Steve Winwood (Virgin 91405)
After the retro-soul exuberance of "Roll With It," the jazzy introspection of Steve Winwood's new album, "Refugees of the Heart," almost suggests a move away from commerciality. Listen closely, though, and all Winwood really has done is shift focus, so that his new songs put their emphasis on mood and emotion, rather than simply hammer home hooks. As a result, there's none of the crass calculation that colored his last album; instead, we get the same sense of adventure that fueled Winwood's early solo albums, from the meditative calm of "Keep On Searching" to the percolating insistence of "Light of Day."
GHOST OF A DOG
Edie Brickell & New Bohemians (Geffen 24304)
Although Edie Brickell still gets top billing, it only takes a couple listens to understand that the real key to "Ghost of a Dog" is her band, New Bohemians. After all, it's their languid groove that introduces real tension into "He Said," their gumbo of latin percussion and blues guitar that lends "Mama Help Me" its devil-may-care jollity. Still, not only does Brickell give that band its focus, the tuneful ingenuity of near-solo numbers like "Oak Cliff Bra" or the title tune suggest that they need her more than she needs them.