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The Beat Goes On

Various Artists
Die München Szene; Die Frankfurt Szene (Bear Family)

The German Bear Family label has put American labels to shame with the thoroughness and high quality of their reissues of artists from the United States. The ongoing Smash. . . ! Boom. . . ! Bang. . . ! series shows them to be equally adept when turning their attention to their own homeland.

Documenting the ’60s music scene in Frankfurt and Munich, Die München Szene and Die Frankfurt Szene follow an earlier volume in the series devoted to Hamburg—and all are part of a planned 30 volumes devoted to the various bands of the German beat boom of the mid-’60s. The discs feature a mix of popular German groups and some great lost combos who had varying-sized followings in Europe, but made no inroads across the Atlantic. Listening to these discs is like hearing a parallel universe: It all sounds like the music of the day, but it’s slightly reconfigured. There are many covers—hits of the day remade as close facsimiles—but the vocals have that alluring sound of non-English speakers aping the phrasing off the records they learned the song from. There’s everything from “2000 Light Years From Home” to “Daydream Believer” (both performed by the Lovers), “I’m Free” (the Spotlights) to “Black Is Black” (the Rangers).

The changing styles of popular rock music are also mirrored in these collections. Some of the earlier entries, up until 1964, feel more linked to music-hall traditions (such as the pair by Tess Teiges and the Dynamits). As the ’60s rolled along, all manner of expansiveness (from fuzztones to flutes) found their way into the music. There are also slabs of pure lunatic abandon (“Jimmy Jimmy Coco Nut” by Rock Ready & the Raves) and wiggy surf tunes (“Go, Go” by the Taifuns). The packaging is superlative, and jam-packed with photos. The notes are all in German, but the music is in the universal language of rock & roll.

—David Greenberger

Shelby Lynne
Identity Crisis (Capitol)

Even though Shelby Lynne is almost as well-known for identity crises as for artistry, there’s no crisis here. Rather, there’s versatility, passion and power. Largely written and totally produced by the complex Nashville singer-songwriter, the archly titled, enigmatic Identity Crisis should reestablish Lynne as one of the more compelling and penetrating of today’s artists.

In 2000, Lynne released I Am Shelby Lynne, a sultry, bluesy masterpiece. In 2001, she stumbled badly with Love, Shelby, a misguided, overproduced pop collection presenting her as a bimbo. Here, she’s her own person again.

“Telephone,” the first single, is a memorable, sultry tale of rue. “I Will Stay” presents Lynne as a chanteuse; this complex, beautiful tune melds Bill Payne’s accurate, plangent keyboards, a rich, tasteful string arrangement, and Lynne’s plush, oddly innocent voice to paint a romantic, perfumed picture of devotion. The multitracked “Lonesome” sounds like it might have been recorded under the influence of Lynne discoverer Billy Sherrill, a Nashville producer who wrapped her in sonic gauze, but, suffused with Lynne’s high, lonesome sound, it’s ravishing rather than repressive.

The album is packed with fine material: the punkish “Gotta Be Better,” the taut rockabilly “I’m Alive,” and “One With the Sun,” a cosmic statement that affirms how effectively—and, one hopes, permanently—Lynne has traded the mawkish for the majestic.

—Carlo Wolff

The Sellouts
It’s About You (Cutout)

Now see, this is a perfect example of a decent local band who have just plain flown waaaaaay under the radar. Maybe its because they aren’t 20-something or part of the Lark Street nouveau pauvre, but the Sellouts have done anything but sell out, mind-melding everything I ever liked about Joe Jackson, Randy Newman and Elvis Costello into 14 tracks of acerbic, witty platitudes about life, liberty and your basic art of underachievement.

It’s About You was engineered locally by the omnipresent John Delehanty (who, for all his efforts, can’t seem to catch a freaking break—see previous ML issues for details) sometime in 2001. The Sellouts have since disbanded, but this smart effort is a great buy if you can hunt it down. Tracks like “Manchester” and “Other Side of You” capture that delicate emotional balance between knowing and not caring, the whole thing rife with powerful hooks and instantly memorable refrains. There’s also “Mary Kay,” a knock on the former Valentine’s partner who mysteriously disappeared. Apparently, the Sellouts flew under her radar too, despite their offer to “even do it downstairs.” I mean, is it the shoes? This is decent stuff, good music for feeling good or feeling like the dentist in Marathon Man. Your choice.

—Bill Ketzer

Glenn Phillips
Angel Sparks (Gaff Music)

Glenn Phillips seemed at one time poised for large-scale success. Starting in the mid-’70s, the Atlanta-based guitarist toured regularly, offering up exuberant performances at every stop along the way. He released albums through his own small label, a handful of U.S. indies, and was also picked up overseas by the more formidable Virgin label. But such are the difficulties of instrumental music that radio play, even on college stations, never brought him any more than a devoted cult following.

Angel Sparks is his first new release in seven years. The 11 originals all utilize Phillips’ guitar as the center-stage voice. The setting is, for the most part, that of a rock band—but it’s not a typical fit. Rock instrumentals most often bring to mind Duane Eddy, the Ventures and their progeny, or such novelties as the muscle-bound cartoon of Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein.” Phillips has a tone that links him to a guitarist like ECM’s Terje Rypdal, but he’s not a jazz player. He clearly loves verse-and-chorus songs, but just doesn’t need the words, and has rendered them superfluous. In his writing, Phillips presents long melodic lines (as opposed to simpler riffs), making him a songwriter of the first order. This is emotionally charged music. While fairly direct, it’s full of the mysterious powers of melody and sound. A piece like “Talking to Spirits” is at once haunting, celebratory and prayerful. It’s heartfelt, but it’s also got guts. It’s soulful and subtle, and it fearlessly breaks open to reveal the pulsing heart within. Phillips continues to make quiet and loud lie down together for glorious results.

—David Greenberger

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