Live on Two Legs (Epic 69752)
There was a time when Pearl Jam was the biggest band in rock and roll.
In 1994, Pearl Jam seemed unstoppable. Not only did its albums go straight to No. 1, but they set records in doing so ("Vitalogy" sold nearly a million copies in its first week of release). Moreover, the band was one of the hottest tickets on the concert circuit, selling out shows as soon as they were announced.
That changed after Pearl Jam refused to play venues that used TicketMaster and effectively stopped touring for a couple of years. By the time the band was back out on the road, the Pearl Jam juggernaut had lost its momentum.
So where once, Pearl Jam's "Live On Two Legs" would have been a marketing sensation, now it's just another title in the record industry's pre-Christmas rush. A shame, really, because this 17-song live album makes it quite clear that Pearl Jam's sound is as vital as it ever was.
Cue up "Evenflow," for instance, and it's like being knocked back to '92, when the band was new and there was something thrilling about the way Eddie Vedder's husky baritone rubbed against the relentless drive of the guitars. Yet as much as the performance reminds us of what made Pearl Jam matter in the first place, the band hardly plays it safe with the song, giving the guitarists (especially Mike McCready) plenty of room to reinvent the song.
That's typical of the album's strengths. It's one thing for a band to move from raging rockers to quiet, acoustic tunes in the course of a set, quite another to maintain a similar intensity regardless of volume. Yet that's precisely what Pearl Jam does here, pulling as much momentum from lush, low-key tunes such as "Daughter" and "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town" as from all-out ravers like "Go" or "Do the Evolution."
Best of all, what comes across most clearly in this recording is the communication among band members. What we hear isn't Eddie Vedder and some guys with guitars, but the work of five equals, with bassist Jeff Ament and drummer Matt Cameron every bit as essential to the sound as Vedder or McCready.
Pearl Jam may not be as big as it once was, but sometimes, size really doesn't matter.
***1/2 Tommy Flanagan
L Sunset and the Mockingbird (Blue Note, DCP 7243 4 93155 2 5)
A great jazz soloist can twist simple phrases in a way that's both startling and logical. Pianist Tommy Flanagan does it again and again on "Sunset and the Mockingbird," recorded live at the Village Vanguard. Flanagan, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash conduct a dazzling, extended musical conversation in this multi-layered set. The Latin-flavored "Tin Tin Deo," for example, balances Flanagan's fleet melodic statements with his accompanists' nimble retorts. "Malice Toward None" has the feel of a slow spiritual, while never losing its sense of swing. And "Balanced Scales/The Cupbearers" begins as a formal study, only to accelerate into something else again. The title piece is a jewel: an Ellington tone poem evoking birdsong and the blues in a few impressionistic strokes.
Garage Inc. (Elektra 62299)
Metallica didn't revolutionize metal all by itself; the band was heavily influenced by acts like Diamond Head, Budgie and the Misfits, whose songs Metallica covered on 1987's "Garage Days Revisited" EP. With "Garage Inc.," Metallica continues that approach, albeit with somewhat broader tastes. In addition to covering vintage ear-busters by Diamond Head, the Misfits, Mercyful Fate and Discharge, this new disc finds the band giving props to Bob Seger (a gritty "Turn the Page"), Thin Lizzy (an impassioned "Whiskey in the Jar") and, yes, Lynyrd Skynyrd (a bluesy, acoustic "Tuesday's Gone"). This may not be the Metallica fans expect, but it's terrific fun -- and with a second disc that includes "Garage Days Revisited" and other rarities, it's a bargain to boot.
Weird Tales (Elektra 62121)
Fans of chiming guitar, harmonies and lilting hooks should have to pay some kind of penance to deserve Golden Smog, an absurdly talented Americana supergroup made up of musicians from the Jayhawks, Soul Asylum, Wilco and Run Westy Run. "Weird Tales," the group's second full-length disc, is more consistent than the last release, with strong new songs from each member. The clean piano, propelling drums and catchy melody of "Reflections on Me" would make a great single; "Please Tell My Brother" is a moving folk song with heavy Woody Guthrie influence; "Looking Forward to Seeing You" is sparkling country-rock. There isn't enough room to go through them all. But here's the kicker: Golden Smog has rounded out its lineup with the addition of drummer Jody Stephens from the legendary '70s pop band Big Star. This is starting to hurt.
Ladies & Gentlemen: The Best of George Michael (Epic 69635)
Everybody knows George Michael is a talented performer, but is he really as good as "Ladies & Gentlemen: The Best of George Michael" suggests? Since leaving Wham!, Michael has released three albums and an EP, delivering a total of 37 songs. How, then, has he managed to compile a 28-song "Best of" collection? Simple: By padding. Divided into a ballad disc and a dance disc, the double-CD "Ladies & Gentlemen" does deliver all the big hits, from "Faith" to "Father Figure" to "I Want Your Sex," but it augments them with such ephemera as "I Can't Make You Love Me" and the Astrud Gilberto duet "Desafinado." Stranger still, the set includes those songs at the expense of some actual hits, such as "Mother's Pride."
One Amazing Night (N2K 10008)
With four decades of hits to his credit, Burt Bacharach generated one of the most urbane and accessible catalogs in popular music. No wonder we keep getting reminders of his greatness! "One Amazing Night" is taken from an all-star concert in New York that was shot for the TNT cable channel and offers a dozen pop stars performing Bacharach favorites. Not every attempt pans out -- the Ben Folds Five bash through "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head" was more fun to watch than it is to hear -- but the best are stunning. Of particular note is Chrissie Hynde's piquant "Baby It's You," which alone is worth the price of the album, but Elvis Costello's "God Give Me Strength" is also a stunner.
In the Lab with DJ Nabs (Columbia 69433)
These days, rappers are the big stars in hip-hop, but it wasn't always that way. Back in the beginning, it was the DJ who ruled the roost, and that's the world DJ Nabs tries to recapture on "In the Lab with DJ Nabs." Although the concept may seem limited -- a live album with just a DJ and his turntables? -- the album itself is amazing. Nabs doesn't just play records, he plays with them, stretching the beat, adding sounds, and looping rhymes back on themselves. In other words, he takes over the records, remaking them in his own image. Even better, he augments his inspired spinning with cameos by Jermaine Dupri, Wyclef Jean and Big Daddy Kane, giving the album genuine old-school flavor.
* = Poor
** = fair
*** = good
**** = excellent
Pub Date: 11/26/98