Rock and Roll Circus (Abkco 1268)
On Dec. 11, 1968, the Rolling Stones gave a special performance for the BBC. Staged as a circus, but featuring rock stars instead of clowns and high-wire acts, it was intended as a TV special but was never aired. In fact, apart from a Who performance included in "The Kids Are Alright," the show languished, unseen and unheard, for 28 years. And after listening to the CD version of "Rock and Roll Circus," most fans will wonder what took them so long. For one thing, the cast of performers is nothing short of stunning, what with the Stones, the Who, Jethro Tull, Taj Mahal, Marianne Faithfull and a John Lennon/Eric Clapton/Keith Richard supergroup dubbed the Dirty Mac. Even better, the performances are every bit as remarkable. Not only does the Who deliver the definitive "A Quick One While He's Away," but Taj Mahal turns in a stunningly soulful "Ain't That a Lot of Love" while the Dirty Mac simply rips through "Yer Blues." Naturally, the Stones themselves take the lion's share of the performance but easily justify their spotlight-hogging through knife-edged renditions of "No Expectations" and "Sympathy for the Devil."
K (Columbia 67822)
Although R&B; acts have been successfully updating older styles for some time now, rock groups with a retro vibe usually end up seeming trapped in the past. Not so Kula Shaker. Although this English quartet's sound is clearly soaked in the '60s, nothing on "K" sounds like a throwback. Granted, some of that has to do with the fact that most of the album's 13 songs are firmly grounded in contemporary dance grooves, so even when the hooks hark back to the past the way "Grateful When You're Dead" evokes the close harmonies and Hammond organ of the Spencer Davis Group, the wah wah-driven pulse ensures that the music sounds thoroughly modern. Of course, it doesn't hurt that singer/guitarist Crispian Mills has the kind of classic English tenor that suggests both the Yardbirds' Keith Relf and Oasis' Liam Gallagher, but even that wouldn't matter if the group didn't have great songs. Have them they do, though, and from the in-your-face attitude of "Hey Dude" to the blissful, Indian-inflected cadences of "Govinda," the album serves up winner after winner. Don't be the last on your block to discover the pleasures of "K."
Red Hot + Rio (Antilles 314 533 183)
In the last six years, the Red Hot organization has been raising money and consciousness to fight AIDS through a series of benefit albums. Although each of the seven albums the group assembled since its initial effort, the Cole Porter-themed "Red Hot + Blue," had its moments, none was as focused as the first. Until "Red Hot + Rio," that is. Based entirely around songs by the late Antonio Carlos Jobim, this all-star collection not only underscores the fact that AIDS is a major health issue in Brazil but gives big-name rock acts the chance to try a new style. So Everything But the Girl gives the samba beat a drum-and-bass feel with their percolatingly percussive take on "Corcovado"; Crystal Waters jacks the beat with a quirky, house-inflected "Boy from Ipanema"; and Stereolab joins Herbie Mann for a cool, space-age rethink of "One Note Samba." It isn't all rock stars, though; there are also plenty of Brazilian stars on hand, including Milton Nascimento (who offers a typically incandescent reading of "Dancing...."), Gilberto Gil (whose massed vocals take "Refazenda" into another dimension) and Jobim himself, who joins Sting for a sultry, sophisticated dip into "How Insensitive." But the album's best moments are those that suggest possibilities beyond mere crossover, such as the thumpingly sensual treatment Cesaria Evora, Caetano Veloso and Ryuichi Sakamoto give "E Preciso Perdoar." Rarely do benefit albums benefit the listener so much.
White Light, White Heat, White Trash (550 Music/Epic 64380)
Social Distortion is not the most versatile band in rock and roll. The group has played essentially the same kind of stripped-down rock and roll for the last 17 years and doesn't change its style a whit for "White Light, White Heat, White Trash." Nor should it, because few bands do simple better than these guys. A lot of that has to do with the way Mike Ness' voice conveys the same unpolished power that makes Joan Jett or Joe Strummer so memorable; hearing him, it's hard not to know that every note comes straight from the heart. But Social Distortion is hardly a one-man show, and what ultimately makes these songs hit home is the seamless connection between the guitars, bass and drums. So the anthemic "I Was Wrong" roars from the speakers with the authority of a Marshall stack, "Crown of Thorns" pounds its hooks home with sledgehammer insistence, and the raging, punkish "Down on the World" has a drive train most race cars would envy.
Pub Date: 10/31/96