Artist: Album (label, release date), 1-5 stars
Alanis Morissette: The Collection (Maverick, Dec. 6, 2005) ****
Night Ranger: Midnight Madness (Lemon, Dec. 6, 2005) ***
John Lee Hooker/Canned Heat: Hooker ‘n’ Heat (Beat Goes On, Dec. 6, 2005) ****
Dolenz Jones Boyce & Hart: Dolenz Jones Boyce & Hart (El, Dec. 6, 2005) **
Alanis Morissette: The Collection
Over ten years have passed since Morissette broke out with Jagged Little Pill, one of the best selling records in history, and one of the most distinctive releases of the 1990’s. Since then, she’s managed a fairly solid string of hits, although she’s never come close to repeating the unrepeatable success of Jagged Little Pill. Earlier this year, she released an unplugged version of that album; depending how you look at it, it was either a bonus for fans or a sure sign she’s running out of ideas. Now we have The Collection; a nicely assembled best-of, the first of her career. It’s both a useful collection and also a somewhat frustrating one simultaneously. On the plus side, all the big hits are here, including “You Oughta Know”, “Ironic”, “Head Over Feet”, et. al. Also on the plus side, are the inclusion of several non-album cuts, including one of her very best, the psychedelic, droning, keening, trip-hoppy “Still” (from the film Dogma), plus “Uninvited” (from The City of Angels), “Mercy” (from The Power Cycle) and Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love)” (from De-Lovely). As bonus unreleased bait, there’s a version of Seal’s “Crazy” which sticks close to the original and isn’t as good as Seal’s, and an unremarkable “Princes Familiar” from MTV Unplugged. As such, this isn’t quite a best-of (missing are major songs like “All I Really Want”, “So Pure”, and “Unsent”, among others) as much as it is a best-of/rarities hybrid. Which renders it a bumpier ride than one might hope for. It’s very useful for the movie songs, and the best of the best is here; it’s up to you to decide if it’s all you really want. A 14-song DVD is included in the package released on Dec. 6, 2005.
Night Ranger: Midnight Madness
How times have changed. Back in the day, Night Ranger was scoffed at by any serious critic; they were a primary example of what was wrong with rock in 1983. Big, gigantic, air-pumped vocals, arena-friendly cock-rock guitar, plenty of dreaded power ballads mixed in with the hard rock. Time has been somewhat kind to them; “Sister Christian”, the only song most people remember from this album, is now considered a classic of sorts, and Night Ranger is remembered as more of a front-runner than they ever really were. With the re-issue of Midnight Madness, their biggest album, we have a chance to re-examine the evidence. “(You Can Still) Rock In America” is a guitar-rich hard rocker with a new-wave beat and synth line and an instantly catchy chorus, “Chippin’ Away” is an uptempo rocker with another new-wave beat and synth line and a pretty good chorus, “When You Close Your Eyes” is a mid-tempo rocker with yet another new-wave beat and synth line and good chorus. And herein lies the rub; Night Ranger was too pop/new-wave to be metal, and too metal to be pop. However, Night Ranger sounds much better if you forget any “metal” connotation at all and think of them as a heavy-leaning power-pop band instead; on those terms, Midnight Madness is a perfectly inoffensive, intermittently fun listen. Every cut screams 1983 at the top of its lungs, for better and worse, but when compared to some of their competitors of the day they still sound fairly fresh. For fans only, but casual listeners might like this too as long as they don’t set their expectations too high. Night Ranger had a hit with their next album, 7 Wishes, but the sales dried up after that, although they released albums well into the 1990’s.
John Lee Hooker/Canned Heat: Hooker ‘n’ Heat
This album always looked better on paper than it sounded on the stereo. Recorded in 1970, as Canned Heat was riding their Woodstock notoriety, it featured a new lineup of the band; Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson and Bob “Bear” Hite are present, with Henry “Sunflower” Vestine on guitar and Antonio “Tony” de la Barreda on bass. It was the last recording to feature pianist/guitarist/harmonica player/blues historian Wilson; within months he’d die of an overdose. John Lee Hooker, of course, is the maverick 53-year-old bluesman famous for his boogie-style playing and strange, primitive, one-chord grooves. Canned Heat were a good boogie band as well as blues band, and the combination does click in many places, if not consistently. Hooker handles the vocals, making this more of a Hooker album than a Canned Heat one. As it is, it’s not bad at all; Hooker is in good form, and Canned Heat has some electrifying moments. The biggest problems are in the uneven material, Hooker’s songs are pretty good; the ones that Canned Heat gets credit on are more hit-and-miss. There’s a definately ragged quality to the sessions, with studio chatter between some of the cuts, and the playing on songs like “Whiskey and Wimmin'”, the best cut here, is a little lumpen; both Hooker and Canned Heat have done better. That said, as far as blues albums featuring rock groups go, it is one of the better ones, and fans of either artist should enjoy it. But it’s also a novelty; those looking for a good Hooker album can do better.
Dolenz Jones Boyce & Hart: Dolenz Jones Boyce & Hart
Okay, I’m going to have to qualify the ** I gave this. Monkees fanatics will like this album a lot, and it has developed something of a semi-legendary status over the years. However, few others will find this of interest, for reasons Monkees fans are willing to overlook. First, some backstory. The Monkees TV show (the only reason why they existed in the first place) was cancelled in 1968. In 1969, Peter Tork left the Monkees, reducing them to a trio for a pair of albums. Mike Nesmith split in 1970; the last Monkees album, Changes, featured only Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz (had one more quit, the remaining one could have put out an album credited to The Monkey). Neither Jones nor Dolenz, who weren’t blessed with good voices or songwriting talent, were able to get a solo career going. Enter the songwriting duo of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, who had penned many of the Monkees’ most memorable hits, and had also had a modestly successful recording career as a duo before running out of gas by the turn of the 70’s. In 1976, a new quartet was formed, a tour launched, an album released. Few albums hit the cutout bin faster than this one, and it has always been relatively difficult to find. As for the music, it’s both what you’d expect and what you wouldn’t expect. It’s lightweight pop to be sure, more in a 70’s California pop vein than the faux-British Invasion or country/rock the Monkees specialized in. At its best, like on “Sail On Sailor”, it’s perfectly serviceable, well-produced pop. At its worst, like on “Along Came Jones”, the old Coasters hit, it borders on amateur. Most of it is okay-ish, but only if you make discounts for the likable personalities involved. Monkee fans, get it while you can. Anyone else, you’re not missing a whole lot. Tork, Jones, and Dolenz would reunite as the Monkees in 1986 for Pool It! (even Monkees fans hate that one), and Nesmith would turn up on their second (and better) reunion album, Justus, in 1996. Boyce committed suicide in 1994.
Also out this week: Three fine albums from Kate Bush, Dreaming, Hounds of Love, Never For Ever, on Toshiba EMI; the hard-to-find Waiting For A Song by Denny Doherty on El; Phil Seymour by Phil Seymour on Collector’s Choice, Martin Denny’s classic Hypnotique on Rev-Ola, and Peanut Butter Rock ‘n’ Roll by rockabilly/psychobilly maverick Hasil Adkins, on Norton.
Weekend Reissue Roundup, on haitus for a few weeks, is back as a weekly feature.
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