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Dog Dazed

Burning Spear
Dana Siles

Smokin': Reggae superstar Burning Spear returns with a great summer disc.

Cool tunes to break that hot spell

By Greg Cahill

IT'S SUMMERTIME and the living is, well, downright sticky. But these dog days of summer are notable not only for their heat, but also for their ability to generate distinctly summer tunes--usually graced by the word "summer" in the title of lyric--you know, those songs that come to epitomize the glorious misspent days of our youth. Sly and the Family Stone's "Hot Fun in the Summertime" or DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince's "Summertime," for instance. You get the idea.

This year, however, seems uniquely devoid of a signature summertime hit. "I mean, what are you gonna listen to, Sheryl Crowe or something?" a friend responded sarcastically when queried about her current summer picks. "That's crap!"

Don't despair--unless, of course, you're in a gothic mood. There's plenty of new music, and a couple of noteworthy books, out there to cool your fevered brow.

But first, you'll need to pick up a couple of good reads for languishing at the beach, feet planted firmly in the wet sand (preferably while skipping out of work). Former Rolling Stone music editor and cultural historian Greil Marcus is back with Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes (Henry Holt; $22.50), which posits that you can trace the 200-plus year history of popular American culture through Dylan's heavily bootlegged 1967 sessions with the Band. Marcus is best when he sticks to Dylanography and less interesting when he wanders the back roads of America's gothic past. Still, it's an often insightful look at one of pop's most enigmatic figures.

On the other hand, John Szwed's Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra (Pantheon; $29.95), an often fascinating look at jazzman Herman Poole Blount (aka Sun Ra--the avant-gardist who claimed to be from Saturn), uncovers the mysterious early years of this innovator, but fails to uncover the man behind the myth.

Nova Bossa: Red Hot on Verve (Hot/Verve), the companion CD to this spring's big-name AIDS benefit disc Red Hot + Rio, sizzles with languid and sultry Afrocentric Brazilian rhythms. It features the breathy tenor sax of Stan Getz, the aggressive rock-bossa beats of Gilberto Gil and Caetano Velosa, and the steamy samba of Baden Powell. And it just doesn't get any sexier than Astrud Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim's sensuous "Agua de Beber."

For a more contemporary spin on summer sambas, the aforementioned Red Hot + Rio teams pop maven David Byrne and Marissa Monte, international singing sensation Cesaria Evora and Anna Caram, Stereo Lab and Herbie Mann, and other rock, pop, jazz, and hip-hop artists.

But what's a summer without at least one great reggae album? South African reggae star Lucky Dube offers Taxman (Shanachie), his first album in more than two years. Bristling with Peter Tosh­tough vocals, an underpinning of hard-rock guitar, and a refreshingly optimistic viewpoint, Dube deftly works the classic reggae styles of mentor Bob Marley while spicing up the island sounds with South African flavors. He ventures Aug. 2 to the upcoming Reggae on the River at Piercy in Humboldt County--the ultimate North Coast world music event of the hot summer season (the concert is sold out, but don't let that stop you from showing up).

Reggae titan Burning Spear follows up his Grammy-nominated Rasta Business with Appointment with His Majesty (Heartbeat/Rounder). Arguably his best work in years, Appointment continues to draw on the teachings of black prophet Marcus Garvey as a source of inspiration.

Hot on the heels of True Life Blues, last year's Grammy-winning all-star tribute to bluegrass founder Bill Monroe comes Legacy: A Tribute to the First Generation of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, the Stanley Brothers (Sugar Hill). Such second- and third-generation pickers as Peter Rowan, Ricky Skaggs, Doc Watson, Marty Stuart, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, and the Seldom Scene weigh in with one of the year's best folk/country albums--as welcome as a cool mountain breeze blowing through the Georgia pines.

If that's too rustic, check out Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys' Feelin' Kinda Lucky (Hightone), the latest collection of upbeat heart-on-the-shirtsleeve odes from America's favorite Western swing band. It just doesn't get any cooler than "Bugtussle Saturday Night."

Meanwhile, J. J. Cale's Anyway the Wind Blows: The Anthology (Mercury) compiles 50 terrific tracks from the underrated career of one of rock's finest singer/guitarist/songwriters. The songs included here have been widely covered by Lynyrd Skynyrd ("Call Me the Breeze"); Eric Clapton ("After Midnight," "Cocaine"); Carlos Santana ("Sensitive Kind"), and others. But Cale's original versions possess a unique, deceptively laid-back cadence built upon a complex arabesque of bluesy guitar riffs--a major influence on Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler.

Essential stuff for any serious rock hound; guaranteed to chase away those summertime blues.

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From the July 24-30, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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