'Bootleg' boasts McCartney classics and vintage rockers



Paul McCartney (Capitol 96413)

When Paul McCartney agreed to perform with his current band on MTV's acoustic-music show, "MTV Unplugged," he figured some fans might want a better copy than what their VCRs would offer. Hence "Unplugged -- the Official Bootleg," which includes all the false starts, bad jokes and muttered asides, plus some wonderfully offhand renditions of vintage rockers and Beatle classics. It would be worth hearing if only for "I Lost My Little Girl," which McCartney announces as "the first song I ever wrote," but "I've Just Seen a Face" isn't bad, either.


Stevie Wonder (Motown 6291)

If you ever really want to assess the strength of an artist, don't look at their master works -- look at the so-so stuff. Stevie Wonder's soundtrack to Spike Lee's "Jungle Fever," for instance, may not rank as his best work, but his matchless melodic imagination means that it still stands tall. Nobody in contemporary pop writes chord changes like these anymore, which is what gives such warmth and resonance to songs like "Fun Day" and "If She Breaks Your Heart." And when it comes to combining melodic invention with rhythmic momentum, even a tossed-off tune like "Jungle Fever" or "Chemical Love" towers over the competition.


Charlie Watts Quintet (UFO Jazz 02)

Charlie Parker fans tend to be a devoted lot, but few can match the dauntless enthusiasm of Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts. In fact, he wrote, illustrated and (in 1964) published a children's book on the jazz legend, entitled "Ode to a High Flying Bird." Long out of print, the slim volume is included, along with a musical tribute by the Charlie Watts Quintet, in the boxed set "From One Charlie . . ." As a jazz drummer, Watts is nothing special, but his bandmates -- particularly alto saxophonist Peter King -- are strong, sure-footed be-bop musicians, making the package an enjoyable (if lightweight) tribute.


N.W.A. (Ruthless/Priority 57126)

Offensive lyrics aren't exactly a novelty in rap, but even those fans who are used to the sexism of 2 Live Crew or the violence of Ice-T's raps are in for a shock with N.W.A.'s third album. Some numbers boast about carefree killings, others describe women strictly in terms of their sexual utility; one, "To Kill a Hooker," even combines the themes. Granted, the music is great, using more smarter samples and sharper production than those on "Straight Outta Compton," and it's true that beneath all the bluster N.W.A. has some valid points to make. But before applauding the perverse pride with which they apply the "n" word to themselves, ask yourself: Isn't self-hatred a form of bigotry, too?

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