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Sound bites

By Times staff, correspondents

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 9, 2000


TOOTS & THE MAYTALS, THE VERY BEST OF TOOTS AND THE MAYTALS (UNIVERSAL/ISLAND) -- Toots & the Maytals are pioneers of reggae. After all, Do The Reggay, the band's 1968 hit, gave the genre its name. This collection captures the band -- in concert tonight at Skipper's Smokehouse -- at its finest. It includes that tune and other hits such as Sweet & Dandy and Pressure Drop, featured in The Harder They Come, the definitive reggae flick.

Mixing Jamaican rhythms and good old-fashioned American R&B, Frederick "Toots" Hibbert and his band came up with a luscious, soulful sound that broke ground, inspiring bands on both sides of the Atlantic. (Both the Clash and the Specials from Britain cover Toots tunes).

Funky Kingston, the band's first American release, is one of the greatest reggae albums of all time. Not only does it sound sweet, but it's daring, too, featuring kooky covers of Louie, Louie and John Denver's Country Roads (although, unfortunately, those aren't included here). This collection does a fine job summing up the magic of Toots. It's worth it for the classic 54-46 That's My Number alone. Grade: A -GINA VIVINETTO, Times pop music critic

EMINEM, THE MARSHALL MATHERS L.P. -- I guess nothing says "I love you" like slashing your girlfriend's throat and driving her into the lake in the trunk of your car. Maybe a more stable home life can explain why rapper Eminem is spending more time slaying his media and industry enemies than spinning off the horrific revenge fantasies and reminiscences that are his metier, and that made him the funniest depraved white boy since Licensed to Ill.

His wordplay can be breathtaking, as can his chutzpah; hypersensitive souls are advised to avert their ears from the raps about Sonny Bono, Christopher Reeve and Gianni Versace, and I hope Jennifer Lopez (not to mention Puff Daddy) takes I'm Back as a compliment. Kim will give you second thoughts about the rapper's marital bliss. And Stan, about an Eminem wannabe, is a mournful classic.

But too much of The Marshall Mathers L.P. sounds defensive, and I'd hoped Eminem was above that. About his homophobia, unfortunately, I knew better. Grade: B -ALAN RITTNER, Times staff writer

PEARL JAM, BINAURAL (EPIC) -- So, Binaural is not quite the rumored metamorphosis it was supposed to be for Pearl Jam, once kings of the rock world. Taken out of the spotlight for a few years now, the band sounds looser, relaxed, as if they are trying to finding a new groove.

Mostly it works, though Binaural is a mixed bag. You get the feeling Pearl Jam isn't concerned with hits, and that's good because some tunes, such as the opening cut Breakerall, grab you, others, such as Light Years, put you to sleep. In the case of Evacuation, you've got catchy riffs, but what else? Is it good? Who cares? By the third listen, you're nodding your head along.

Classic rock reigns this time around. The band sounds like the Who here, Zeppelin there. New drummer Matt Cameron, formerly of Soundgarden, helps make a big fat noise. But Binaural is far more interesting when things get quiet, as on Soon Forget, the odd number where lead singer Eddie Vedder is accompanied just by a ukulele. On the album, Vedder's voice is all over the place; he's experimenting, stretching as a singer, trying a quaky quiver, then crooning a brooding baritone. (Unfortunately, Binaural does not contain the single that preceded the LP, the haunting, brave cover of Jimmy Cochran's Last Kiss.)

Though uneven, Binaural is far more interesting -- if less polished -- than new releases by rock's current kings, the formulaic Third Eye Blind and Matchbox 20. Pearl Jam sounds restless, but that's a heck of a lot better than sounding complacent. Grade: B+

-G.V.

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THE GO-GO's, BEHIND THE MUSIC COLLECTION, (UNIVERSAL/A&M) -- VH1 kicks off its Behind the Music album series with the greatest hits of the Go-Go's, the most popular all-chick band of the late 1970s and early 1980s -- the only one, I might add, not prefabricated by a male Svengali-type manager. (Consult the Runaways, Joan Jett and Lita Ford's old band.)

The Go-Go's did things their own way. The band got its start in Hollywood in 1978 and was a staple of the California punk scene. In the beginning, the Go-Go's were a punk band, though after scoring hits with We Got the Beat and Our Lips Are Sealed, they softened the edges and became America's little sweethearts.

Of course, VH1's popular program reveals that behind it all, the squeaky clean Go-Go's were snorting huge mounds of blow and trashing hotel rooms.

No matter. The music was buoyant, bouncy and fun, inspiring chicks everywhere to wear miniskirts, scrunch up their hair and -- do we dare? -- pick up our own guitars.

This collection, with 17 snappy tunes, includes the biggies such as Vacation and Head Over Heels, as well as the early gems with attitude such as Lust to Love, This Town, and Skidmarks On My Heart. Grade: A- -G.V.

* * *

BOB DOROUGH, TOO MUCH COFFEE MAN (BLUE NOTE) -- Bob Dorough, whose hipster credentials go back to 1962's darkly comic Blue Xmas with Miles Davis and the quirky tunes of the '70s and '80s television series School House Rock, has release a second major-label disc. It follows 1997's acclaimed Right On My Way Home and has the ponytailed 76-year-old bebopper hooking up with saxophone master Phil Woods, bassist Ray Drummond, drummer Billy Hart and others for another exuberant set of hard-swinging jazz and laid-back blues.

The Coffee Song (They've Got a Lot of Coffee in Brazil) sets the tone: Who could resist the samba rhythms, tumbling percussion, muted trumpet, Woods' buoyant alto decorations and improvisations and Dorough's goofy reading of the java-love lyrics? The title track thrives on Craig Kastelnik's juicy B-3 organ riffs, Joe Cohn's soulful six-string work and the leader's infectiously silly lyrics, half sung and half spoken.

Love figures in the mix, with the bouncy, tuba-spiked Wake Up Sally, It's Saturday; There's Never Been a Day, a lovely trio piece with bassist Steve Gilmore and drummer Bill Goodwin; and I've Got Just About Everything, the title track of a 1966 album.

Dave Frishberg, one of several singers (along with Mose Allison, Mark Murphy and Michael Franks) influenced by Dorough, contributes the slow-grooving Oklahoma Toad, akin to a slice of classic Ray Charles R&B relocated from Georgia to the Midwest. And memories of a 1944 performance of Cootie Williams' evocative Fish for Supper inspired a fresh revival of the trumpeter-bandleader's tune. Call it Dorough's third coming. Grade: B+ -PHILIP BOOTH, Times correspondent

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