Category Archives: Various

450. Various Artists – “Juno” (Soundtrack)

Ooops, missed another J.

Soundtracks have been consistent under-performers thus far in my reviews. Admittedly many of them have been cast records from musicals (not a big love of mine), and/or retro compilations trying to capture the sound of some era.

This here 2007 release does have one cast performance, several throwback tracks from Buddy Holly, Mott the Hoople and Velvet Underground, and a couple of indie stars covering slightly incongrous classics. But what it manages to create is a perfect companion piece to a film I thoroughly enjoyed.

I presume everyone reading this has seen the teen-pregrancy flick in question.  If you haven’t, head straight to your local vid pirate pronto, confident this will delight even more than Spike’s battle for respect while her belly expanded on the first season of Degrassi Junior High.

The film was all sassy outsiderness and non-Gothic emo-ness, and the song choices reflect this perfectly. Belle & Sebastian fit in perfectly for the sensitive male angle, but it is Kimya Dawson who steals the show in the way that Ellen Page did.

Dawson’s songwriting and delivery are pretty much how you’d think Juno might sound as a singer – all fastpaced, incongruous, hilarious. We picked several tunes from this album for our post-wedding ceremony (and certainly aren’t Robinson Crusoe on that front).

Seeing the stars sing this track still makes me smile:

File under: How soundtracks should be compiled.

429. Various Artists – “The Jungle Book” (soundtrack)

The discussion of children’s records reminded me I’d missed a J LP.

When flicking through record racks in second-hand stores, I find it very, very hard to resist old vinyl gems like this.

The 1968 Disney film is a very fond memory from my childhood, particularly because of the antics of that big bear Baloo:

That dance with the tree is probably something that wouldn’t get past the prudish studio types these days.

This album, which only has nine tracks pulled straight from the film (dialogue and all), showcases the audacity of this film. It is filled with swinging bebop explorations, skatting, Gilbert & Sullivan-esque nonsense and class commentary, some lovely orchestration and one of the funniest Beatles impersonations you’ll ever hear (as hippie vultures no less).

It is a reminder that Pixar didn’t invent animation that adults could delight in, and that such films can be made without any use of Elton John or Randy Newman.

In the end it all gets down to the sheer brilliance of that big bear, however’… and one ranga I’d definitely vote for:

File under: Forget about your worries and your strife

367. Various Artists – “Dirty Dancing” (Soundtrack)

And thus I take the greatest risk at marital disharmony of my reviews so far.

This record is a definite favourite of my wife Catherine, and one I make many unnecessarily snide comments about.

So, I’ve been overly cautious and given this album many more listens of the past couple of days than it deserves.

Sure, I don’t like the associated film and all it represents, but perhaps the tunes sound good when released from the visual prison of Swayze’s snake-hips and Grey’s whininess.  Alas, that is not the case.

This collection is a testament to all that is wrong about mid-’80s Hollywood’s interactions with the music scene.  All too often pompous, over-produced no name bands (and desperate lead singers going solo) were trotted in to pump out grandiose facsimiles of genuine genres.  That’s what goes on here.

The Blow Monkeys commit fraud, pretending to be early ’60s crooners, not British pomp-popsters.  The lead singer of Surrender (a third-rate Foreigner) cribs Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer.

And I’d prefer to not to acknowledge the contributions of Carmen, E., and Medley & Warnes who have left their mark irrevocably on the world of Karaoke.

The actual highlights on here are the genuine late ’50s and early ’60s from the Ronettes, Bruce Channel and Mickey & Sylvia. The lowpoint of not just this album, but surely my entire collection is The Swayze Incident/War-Crime:

File under: I need a shower

366. Various Artists – “Feast”

This resides also in the until now ignored F ‘Various Artists’ section.

We’re going for a Candle Records double feature.  This was the  label’s 2002 collection of 20 songs from 10 acts in the stable.

As with most of these compendiums, the tracks were pretty much all previously unreleased.  Many would never see the light of day elsewhere.  These weren’t throwaway b-sides, but rather genuine nuggets of gold from the usual suspects (and a couple of fleeting follies).

It contains a true classic from the Ruck Rover lads. Mortgage is the first in their eventual bookend grizzles about the inanity of conversations with couples. It contains some of the most biting and perfect lyrics in songwriting history (“Was your deposit really that large? Were the bank fees really that low? Are repayments really that flexible? Bugger, me whatta you know”).

Darren Hanlon delivers his usual poignant tale of romantic inadequacy on Yes, There is a Slight Chance He Might Actually Fail, and Tim Oxley debuted his brilliant House Husband. A few of the less known Candlites Weave, and the once off D.O.P.H. manage some passable pop.

I was captivated by the album when it came out, and it’s been fun revisiting.

File under: More meat than Masterchef

362. Various Artists – “Grease” (soundtrack)

Fingers were pointed and accusations flew across the breakfast table this morn when I found this album in our vinyl collection.

My missus vehemently denies bringing this double-record set into the home, but I am damn sure I didn’t buy it.  Irrespective of whether I’m right or she’s wrong, the album has been listened to repeatedly this afternoon.

Of course, most of these tunes are irrevocably etched in the skull of almost anyone born in the past 50 years. I actually saw the film at the cinema on first release around 1979 (not long after I saw Star Wars on the big screen).  I seem to remember thinking it was a little racy and that the music was loads of fun.

31 years later, listening to the 24 tracks with a reasonably open mind, and treating the album as a set of showtunes, I must say it’s a pretty solid album.  The stand-out tracks don’t feature the leads, but rather are tongue in cheek and a bit ‘adult’.

The future First Lady is suitably salacious and snide  on …Sandra Dee. Frankie Avalon is nasty on Beauty School Dropout.

The thrill for me has been reacquainting myself with the silliness that is retro-champs Sha Na Na. They cover ’50s classic with aplomb. I distinctly remember the primetime show from these guys (a sort of cross between Sesame Street, Young Talent Time and Laverne and Shirley).  I’d see them on stage before I’d bother with Grease:

File under: It’s the word

361. Various Artists – “Ghost World” (soundtrack)

Again, my alphabetisation skills are shown to be lacking. My excuse is that this resides down in the Soundtrack section.

This is the most ambitious soundtrack on the shelf.

Film director Terry Zwigoff engages in one of the most delightfully self-indulgent exercises I can recall.  Just as the Steve Buschemi character in the film collects rare blues 78s, so does Zwigoff.

Thus this CD is an intriguing mix of such relics, plus some exotica from the Caribbean and India. Zwigoff also got a few jazz bands to recreate some songs he couldn’t license plus a few originals.

It all hangs together like the soundtrack to some grainy black and white archive piece that predates the talkies…

The track selection and sequencing is first-rate, apart from a couple of weird tracks – a rap from the film that is very grating, and a hilarious blues spoof Picking’ Cotton Blues that could easily have appeared on a Spinal Tap collection.

The absolute winner track is the opener, however, which is ridiculously infectious:

The CD would be worth it for that tune alone.  The remaining rough diamonds are a big bonus.

File under: Spookily splendid

162. Various Artists – “Clippings”

After a couple of weeks of delving into mainly CDs that my wife purchased, I’ve sought refuge in a compilation from nearby in the alphabet.

Clippings Album Cover Candle Records compilationThis is the second Candle Records compendium I’ve reviewed, and the first they released on CD.

It’s from the label’s early days, when the core troops didn’t extend far beyond The Simpletons, The Lucksmiths and The Mabels.

Surprisingly, the latter are the pick of this trio on this release, with several of their better songs making an appearance (Cyclone, Dream Team). The other two bands deliver pretty inconsequential tracks of close to b-side quality (other than Art of Cooking for Two). Queensland combo Weave also offer up some value.

The appeal of these Candle collections was the always the chance to check out a few up-and-comers. Here the pickings turn out to a little slim. There is one amusing ditty (Scoops) from Falcon 500 about splitting the arse of your pants at school. But most of the tracks are too insubstantial and underproduced.

One highlight is two more tracks from the criminally under-recorded side project from two of the Luckas, Bowl-a-rama, including the final tune that features Marky Monnone exploring areas of the musical scales not typically sought out.

It is great to sing along to, confident that you’re doing no worse job than him. And when you have a voice like mine, that’s important (as evidence, here’s a completely indulgent and excruciating clip of me butchering a country classic):

File under: Trim but not terrific

148. Various Artists – “Chess Classics”

I’ve dived into the compilations so as to avoid a Cave overload.

Here’s another of these fortuitous acquisitions via a magazine purchase. This collection accompanied Mojo back in mid-2005.

Album Cover Chess Classics Mojo Howling WolfIt showcases the output of Chicago label Chess. And what a damn fine label it was, spanning blues, soul and jazz.

It is the blues that stands out here. The selections from Muddy Waters (Tom Cat), Chuck Berry (the jazzy instrumental Night Beat) and Sonny Boy Williamson (the supergroovy Fattening Frogs For Snakes) are all in that fun, party-inducing, not-feeling-too-sorry-for-myself end of the blues spectrum. Waters’ effort is particularly sexy with tumultuous horns pushing it along.

The standout track is Howlin’ Wolf‘s Spoonful showcasing one of the truly captivating blues voices and deceptively simple riffing. Alas he preceded the world of music vids, but here’s the song with a gallery of pics:

Chess wasn’t just about blues, so we also hear a collection of jazzier numbers and doo-woppy stuff. There is a certain gravity to even the poppiest tracks here. Nothing seems too disposable. A premium is placed on strong vocals and a driving groove.

This album does exactly what a sampler should. It generates a strong appetite for more. I see some shopping in my future…

File under: Grandmasters at Play

130. Various Artists – “Born to Run, Volume Two”

I found another “B” down in the compilations section, and thought I’d break up the Campbell Carnivale with this review.

This is the most interesting type of Uncut magazine compilations where they throw together various existing cover versions, plus organise some new interpretations of some music legends’ oeuvre. This time its the Boss under the microscope.

Born to Run 2003 Springsteen Uncut Magazine Album CoverThe choices of tracks here are appropriately “righteous” for a serious mag like Uncut. Not much off Born in the USA or his late 80s/early 90s albums. Much more off Born to Run, Nebraska etc.

The artists are similarly legitimate (and a few are regular faces from my collection). Ed Harcourt delivers a fine version of Atlantic City. Steve Earle‘s State Trooper didn’t sound out of place on his ‘Guitar Town’ and works well here. Billy Bragg‘s Mountain on the Hill is from his very awkward ‘trying to sing American’ phase and is a blight on this CD.

The most interesting tracks come from artists who take Broooce’s work someplace different. I don’t mean Jesse Malin‘s lame Elmer Fudd version of Hungry Heart, but rather Heather Nova‘s breathy I’m on Fire and The Knack‘s very 80s Don’t Look Back. Sonny BurgessTiger Rose sounds like Elvis reincarnate.

This works as a testament to Springsteen’ songwriting skills.

File under: A racey little collection

42. Various Artists – “At Home With the Groovebox”

Reviewing Beck albums reminded me to find this CD and give it a considered spin…

at-home-with-the-groovebox-album-cover-various-artists-becklThis was a little project from the Grand Royal stable back in 1998-9, where they asked various indie luminaries to have a twiddle on a Roland groovebox thingie.

The groovebox is an all-in-one synth and sequencer and drum machine and 8-track recorder.  Think the sort of ingenious music machine Doc Brown from Back to the Future might have conjured up (or those crazy kids from Weird Science), or the source of the soundtrack to Electric Dreams.

So, anyway, the album turns out to be a load of fun, with a mix of instrumental gems and some vocal numbers.  The standout tracks come from Bis, Cibo Matto and PavementSonic Youth offer an extremely esoteric and frankly painful soundscape, while Bonnie Prince Billy delivers a standard haunting (but not overly electronic) warble.  

A lot of the best stuff comes from the instrumentalists, however, who deliver more than simple plinky plonk pieces. I’ve never heard of most of them, but they’re clearly Wizs.

All in all, this is a surprisingly consistent and singular album.  Perhaps issuing all artists with same equipment reduced the risk of jarring contrasts.

File under:Elegant electronica