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Editor's Choice

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The Beat Goes On: Allen Ginsberg's spoken-word
CD tops the year's best.

A world without Celine Dion

By Greg Cahill

OK, IT'S NOT EXACTLY earthshaking news--for the most part, pop and rock stiffed in 1997. U2's Pop fizzled. The Stones' Bridges to Babylon led to a creative dead-end. Canadian ugly duckling pop phenom Celine Dion just wouldn't go away. And the biggest rock act of the year--Fleetwood Mac--dazzled crowds with recycled 20-year-old material cashed in for big profits.

Indeed, it's hard to find anything of major interest on the Billboard Top 200 Pop Chart. Yet, it was a good year, for those willing to hunt. Here are a few faves that did strike a chord:

Allen Ginsberg
The Lion for Real
Mercury/Mouth Almighty
TWO BEAT GENERATION icons bailed out of this mortal coil this year: Poet Allen Ginsberg and writer William S. Burroughs. Before his departure, the impish Ginsberg teamed up with producer Hal Willner (the man responsible for the whole tribute- album craze) and a bevy of avant-rock and jazz artists (including guitarists Bill Frisell, Arto Lindsay, Marc Ribot, and Marin bassist Rob Wasserman) to create a wondrously delightful spoken-word piece. Often playful, always tuneful, it features Ginsberg's fanciful poetry and musical accompaniment that is alternately baroque and fringy--all set to lines like "I remember the time I sat on the toilet naked and you powdered my thighs with calamine."


Various Artists
NovaBossa: Red Hot on Verve
Verve
THE COMPANION disc to the star-studded (and not without its own charm) Red Hot + Rio (Verve)-- compiled original versions of classic Brazilian jazz by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Stan Getz, and others. A steamy sampler of great Brazilian pop.


Charlie Haden & Pat Metheny
Beyond the Missouri Sky
Verve
A SEAMLESS SERIES of laid-back, acoustic duets featuring jazz-, folk-, and country-influenced impressions. This graceful journey through a minimalist landscape reunites guitarist Metheny and bassist Haden for the first time in seven years. Straight from the heartland.


Ry Cooder
Buena Vista Social Club
World Circuit/Nonesuch
THERE'S A LOT of great Cuban music out there right now, and this is one of the best. Celebrated roots guitarist Ry Cooder, who has released several acclaimed world-music recordings in the past few years, has rounded up many of the island's best players for a refreshing, sensuous set that is some of the best Latin music around.


Lurrie Bell
700 Blues
Delmark
THIS CHICAGO-BORN blues guitarist is possessed with the spirit of the late Albert King informed by a savvy knowledge of country & western, R&B, jazz, and rock. More rewarding than on Lurrie's acclaimed 1995 debut Mercurial Son, the taut, angular riffs on 700 Blues show that this up-and-comer is hitting on all six red-hot steel cylinders.


Various Artists
Kama Sutra
TVT
THE SOUNDTRACK to Mira Nair's erotic drama weds Indian and Western instruments and music into a seductive set of sex and sitars. Who could resist a song titled "Come Paint My Breasts with Sandlewood"?


Various Artists
Reconquista! The Latin Rock Invasion
Zyanya/Rhino
GUERRILLA ARTIST and rock documentarian Ruben Guevara--a man committed to the notion that rock can serve as a tool for social change--compiled this visceral, passionate 17-track anthology charged with the blistering anthems by bands from throughout the Spanish-speaking world. Stimulating. Stylistically diverse.


Kathleen Battle
Grace
Sony Classical
CROSSOVER CHIC is very trendy in the classical music scene these days, as few people are buying straight-ahead classical recordings anymore (thus the wave of CDs from comely, scantily dressed female violinists; and long-dead German abbesses; and cellist Yo Yo Ma with his new tango recordings). This collection of sacred music by Bach, Handel, Mozart, et al. is simply divine, spotlighting the old-fashioned coloratura soprano talents of 49-year-old opera star Kathleen Battle, a prima donna blessed with a delicate, bell-like tone.


Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra
Blood on the Fields
Columbia
STEEPED IN Ellingtonia (particularly the Duke's 1943 masterpiece Black, Brown, and Beige), this ambitious 3-CD opera details the life of a runaway slave and relies on such jazz fundamentals as blues and ballads, call and response, swing, and Afro-Caribbean. It breaks no new musical ground, but name one other living jazz artist who would even dare tackle a project of this magnitude.


Various Artists
Klezmer Music: A Marriage of Heaven & Earth
Ellipsis Arts
PASSIONATE PRAYER tunes and riotous dances abound on this collection of East European klezmer music, a compelling hybrid of traditional Jewish/Gypsy folk songs and modern jazz. The sweet sound of violins blends with the clarion call of the clarinet to beckon lovers of the eclectic and the ecstatic.


Lavay Smith & Her Red-Hot Skillet Lickers
One-Hour Mama
Fat Note
RED-HOT RETRO blues diva from Baghdad by the Bay purrs and growls through a jumping set of sexy, sassy swing. Highly recommended.

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From the Dec. 18-24, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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