BABY IT'S YOU
The Beatles (Capitol EP 58349)
Here's a sure sign that Beatles fans are in for quite a year: A new Beatles EP to help usher in the 25th anniversary of the band's break-up. "Baby It's You" leads off with a cover of the Shirelles oldie, taken from the "Live at the BBC" album, then follows with three previously unreleased BBC performances. Two of the songs, "Devil in Her Heart" and "Boys," are remakes of girl-group hits that show off the Fab Four's debt to R&B; vocal harmonizing. Though "Devil" is a feature for George Harrison, the real interest lies with John Lennon and Paul McCartney's supple backing vocals, especially McCartney's lithe falsetto. "Boys," which is much more of a rocker, boasts a surprisingly soulful lead vocal by Ringo Starr and a short, searing solo from Harrison. But the true treasure is "I'll Follow the Sun," which not only shows off the sparkling elegance of the arrangement (which depends heavily upon Lennon's acoustic guitar) but shows just how closely aligned Lennon and McCartney's singing could be.
DIN OF ECSTASY
Chris Whitley (Work 52970)
One of the things that made Chris Whitley's first album, "Living with the Law," so stunning was the way his acoustic guitar work seemed to reinvent the bottleneck blues vocabulary; with songs like "Kick the Stones" and "Phone Call from Leavenworth," Whitley managed to evoke the sound of the Delta blues while coming across as a thoroughly modern rocker. Because his new album, "Din of Ecstasy," trades that unplugged approach for feedback and distortion, some listeners might take it as a step backward. Listen past the shift in instrumentation, though, and it turns out that beneath its amplified surface, this "Din" touches on the same strengths as its predecessor. It helps that such songs as "Know" use their electrified muscle to turbo-charge the slide licks he used to play acoustically, but the strongest sense ,, of continuity is emotional, not musical. With songs such as "Narcotic Prayer," "Can't Get Off" and "New Machine," Whitley portrays the same sort of emotional devastation and spiritual struggle that made his first album so memorable.
Morphine (Ryko 10320)
Usually, when rock 'n' roll draws upon the '50s, it looks to the twangy guitars and revved-up convertibles of beach movies. Morphine, on the other hand, prefers the growling saxophones and film-noir cool of classic detective flicks. Of course, it helps that the band doesn't have any guitars, consisting only of baritone sax, two-string bass and drums. But even if the %J instrumentation were different, it would be hard to imagine "Yes" sounding any less like the spawn of Robert Mitchum movies and Jim Thompson novels. Some of that has to do with Mark Sandman's fondness for tales of bad luck and hard-bit losers, folks who, like the protagonist of "Scratch," regularly end up with nothing but regrets. But what makes this album worth returning is that the songs don't just get by on mood and attitude, as songs like "Radar," "Honey White" and "I Had My Chance" boast hooks every bit as strong as their story lines.