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Mixed Bag

By Carlo Wolff

Charlie Pickett

Bar Band Americanus: The Best of Charlie Pickett and . . . (Bloodshot)

Charlie Pickett and his band of South Florida hotshots were the missing link between X and Tom Petty when they electrified the bar circuit in the ‘80s. Sparked by Pickett’s thick voice and the barbed guitar of Johnny Salton, Pickett bands known as the Eggs and the MC3 played music about country discomforts, domestic bile (and occasional bliss) and an America that seemed permanently lost to them.

Born in Meigs County, one of the poorest areas of southern Ohio, Pickett grew up in Florida, cutting his musical teeth on the Stones, the Velvets and the New York Dolls. You can hear all of these in his music, along with the curdled power pop of the Flamin’ Groovies, one of his key inspirations (the Groovies’ twisted junkie paean, “Slow Death,” and their signature “Shake Some Action” are among the best of these 19 tracks).

Some critics have called Pickett’s work punk, but it’s closer to classic rock, and there’s country to boot, as in the wacky “If This Is Love, Can I Get My Money Back?” There’s something deeply primitive, too, in tracks like “Phantom Train” (a kind of update of Elvis’ “Mystery Train”) and the Kingsmen-inspired novelty “Marlboro Man.” This collection brings together several EPs, parts of an LP recorded for punk-new wave label Twin Tone, and several live tracks. It’s quintessential bar-band stuff, indeed—and more. The kicker is, Pickett’s now a lawyer.

The Sea and Cake

Car Alarm (Thrill Jockey)

After a four-year break in record ings, the Sea and Cake’s eighth album comes practically on the heels of last year’s robust Everybody; in fact, this 40-minute set continues on from its predecessor. Car Alarm again showcases what a supple and gently powerful ensemble they are. With Sam Prekop’s quiet vocals pushed to the fore, attention is at first diverted from the powerful engine that’s flying him down the road. The roiling exuberance of the band’s rhythmic drive is subtly disguised, as if camouflaged. Like a painting that refuses to offer a narrative, their music is rife with alluring riddles and questions. The rewards they offer are unique to each listener’s response. Full of human pulsing, the Sea and Cake show that measured, considered approaches to creating songs can be as emotionally rich as overtly demonstrative avenues—or even more. Bottom line: The Sea and Cake are a potent band at their finest.

—David Greenberger

Jascha Heifetz

The Original Jacket Collection (RCA Red Seal)

During the final decade or so of the LP days, I accumulated every Heifetz recording I could get my hands on, an obsession that amused my friends and no doubt contributed to my date-free weekends. But I had a shelf of the LPs that the Sony-BMG Original Jacket Collection series reproduces in its new Jascha Heifetz 10-CD set.

It’s the latest in a series that pays 10-disc tributes to Leonard Bernstein, George Szell, Igor Stravinsky, Vladimir Horowitz and others; last year, all of Glenn Gould’s Columbia recordings were issued in a gorgeous 80-CD box (check out for more info).

It’s an excellent boomer-grabbing concept: Each set houses its reissued discs in cardboard CD-sized sleeves that reproduce the corresponding LP’s cover in miniature. Of course, we’ve been retrained since we packed away our record players, and no longer expect to enjoy a mere 40 minutes of music, record-flip included.

The Heifetz set departs from that precedent by filling out the CDs with more than an LP’s worth of material, and the jacket art has been accordingly tweaked. This means that the Bach Double Concerto isn’t (improbably) paired with Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata, as it was on the record: two more double concertos (by Mozart and Brahms) are added, which has been the case with the four previous CD releases of this work.

It’s a concerto-rich set, so you get Heifetz’s benchmark 1950s Living Stereo versions of the staples by Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius and Mendelssohn, which, a tiny amount of legacy tape hiss aside, still sound fantastic. Overstuffed critics still quarrel over his interpretations of those works, but Heifetz’s stereo recording of Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy is at the top of everyone’s list, and it’s included here with Bruch’s Concerto No. 1 and the fluffy Concerto No. 5 by Vieuxtemps.

Heifetz had a barnstorming way with chamber music, and made dazzling recordings of Schubert’s String Quintet in C and the Mendelssohn octet, but you won’t find any of that here. Nor are the scores of encore pieces he recorded over the years, often in his own arrangements, such as the celebrated “Hora Staccato.” We get a taste of them in the short works comprising the second half of his final recital, a 1972 live performance that finds him audibly past his peak.

Making up for that are the complete sonatas and partitas by Bach, the most glorious and challenging works in the violin repertory, recorded in one October week in 1952. Fiddlers aplenty have tackled these works, and I’ve collected dozens of other recordings, but I’ll take the Heifetzian brio and austerity any time. And here’s a trivia challenge for the ardent Bach fan: In one of the sonatas, Heifetz inserted an low F (below the violin’s lowest string) so that a particular passage would make more musical sense.

Whether you’re still unloading old LPs (as I am) and want CD versions of the records, or looking to make a first acquaintance with the 20th century’s greatest violinist, the Heifetz set is a well-assembled and attractive way to go.

—B.A. Nilsson

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