Songs and Music from the Motion Picture 'She's the One' (Warner Bros. 46285)
Few rockers have as much fun with form as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers do. On "Songs and Music From the Motion Picture 'She's the One,' " Petty and the boys do a bit of everything, from dramatic, wide-screen story-songs ("Grew Up Fast") to droll, Dylanesque ravers ("Zero From Outer Space") to the chiming, Byrds-influenced pop we normally associate with him ("California"). Heck, they even take a stab at lounge jazz on one track (the brief, moody instrumental "Airport"). That makes it great fun to play spot-the-influence with various tracks -- counting the Simon & Garfunkel-isms sprinkled through "Angel Dream (No. 4)" or noting how "Hung Up and Overdue" slides from its "Sgt. Pepper"-style chorus to a grand, "Pet Sounds" finale -- but focusing on such surface details makes it easy to miss the album's depths. As with Curtis Mayfield's "Superfly," it's hard to tell how much of this album is meant to illustrate the film's story, and how much is Petty's comment on the characters -- particularly since five of these 15 songs don't appear in the movie at all. Is the cover of Lucinda Williams' coolly paranoid "Change the Locks" a dig at the film hero's obsessive pursuit of his lady love? When he sings, in "Walls (Circus)," that his lover has "a heart so big/It could crush this town," is that a compliment or a sly complaint? And what are we to make of the alternate versions of "Walls" and "Angel Dream"? Petty isn't saying, but then, he doesn't have to -- each question is just one more reason to replay this delightful disc.
B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt et al.
A Tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan (Epic 67599)
If you think a blues salute to a dead guitar hero would be too sad to bear, you obviously haven't heard "A Tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan." With performances by Jimmie Vaughan, B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray and Dr. John -- most of whom had been on the bill at Stevie Ray's last show -- the performances are heartfelt and affectionate, reminding us that the blues are about transcending loss, not wallowing in it. So when "Six Strings Down" lists the great players Stevie Ray joined when "heaven called another blues stringer back home," what comes through isn't sorrow but joy at the thought of his joining that guitar pantheon. So the spirit of Stevie Ray Vaughan's music lives on, whether in individual performances, like Robert Cray's sweet reading of "Love Struck Baby" or Jimmie Vaughan's masterful run through "Texas Flood," or the stunning all-star jam on "SRV Shuffle."
Alice in Chains
MTV Unplugged (Columbia 67703)
In theory, MTV's "Unplugged" series is a sort of acid test for each guest's catalog, asking the musical question, "Are your songs good enough to work without amplifiers?" In practice, however, things aren't always so cut-and-dried. Although it's hard to quibble with the way Alice in Chains render their songs on "MTV Unplugged," it's almost as difficult to be awed by what the quartet conveys here. It's not that the songs don't work -- "Nutshell" is every bit as chillingly resigned to bad times as its electric version, while "Down In a Hole" shows that it's the minor key melody and not some trick of the amps that gives this number its power -- but that many of them are totally out of scale. Hearing "Sludge Factory" or "Heaven Beside You" on acoustic guitars is like hearing a Wagner score re-arranged for string quartet -- you get the general sense of the work but lose all the power and glory of the original. Some bands, it seems, really do deserve to be plugged.
A Piece of Your Soul (Atlantic 82921)
Not all blues rock bands are created equal; some offer a simple, one-dimensional take on the blues, while others go for a far more ambitious approach. Storyville definitely belongs in the latter category, for even though this Texas-based quintet clearly knows how to play it straight, the best songs on "A Piece of Your Soul" use the blues vocabulary to express some decidedly non-traditional ideas. So for every song as straightforward as the joyful "Good Day for the Blues," there are two or three that take a transcendent tack. "Solid Ground," for instance, offers an almost mystical view of love, one that not only pushes the band well past the three-chord confines of most blues but has Malford Milligan singing near-psychedelic lyrics. Likewise, though "Can't Go There Anymore" has the shape and chord changes of a pop-savvy rock tune, its spirit is pure blues. But for all its melodic ambition, Storyville's rhythm section (particularly ace bassist Tommy Shannon) never forgets to get down. So no matter how hooky the choruses on "Luck Runs Out" or the title tune get, there's no mistaking the funky bottom that grounds this band. Definitely a band to watch.
Pub Date: 8/08/96