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Music Reviews

Shirley Bassey
I, Capricorn
EMI (UK) 7243 5 25845 2 9 Vocals

Shirley Bassey



File this one firmly under "Guilty Pleasures". Shirley Bassey has enjoyed a long and prolific career singing at the top of her voice. She is loud and intense and really a lot of fun. You'd think her early albums from the start of the 1960s would be more up our alley, but we find those early gems almost unlistenable. The big notes are too frequent and Bassey seems to be struggling to define her personality. As she went from girl singer to sixties pop icon with Goldfinger, she became much more fun. She continued rolling with the decade and by the early 1970s, she had produced this pop opus, I, Capricorn.

The pretentiousness of the title track is pure camp. Bassey is a "climber of rainbows" and a "reaper of wind" and it's "all for you!" She has one foot in the new counter culture and its Age of Aquarius spirituality, while the other foot rests firmly in the glorious 1960s jet set. The early 1970s was the start of difficult times for grownups who made music and while this disc is not Ella Fitzgerald, it's a far cry from what Vikki Carr had to do to maintain her career. (For a good laugh, check out Vikki Carr's new two-fer re-issue on the Collectables label, Ms. America and One Hell of a Woman. Recorded roughly the same time as I, Capricorn, you'll probably agree the Euro-Diva thing is much preferable to the soft Country and even softer Rock sounds Carr recorded.)
Ms Shirley Bassey
There's a distinct Euro Trash sound to the arrangements that we love. It's very slick and unnatural but more often than not, infectious. The strings sound a bit too high and it's clear they were tacked on after the initial recordings were made. The sound quality is good except when Bassey hits one of her trademark "big" notes. You can easily imagine the recording engineer flipping a switch that adds power and echo to the sound.

The Greatest Performance of My Life is our favorite track. It is completely overwrought and over-dramatized. She wails about putting on a good show to hide her pain in front of her friends. Bassey sings about acting like Pagliaccio, and the strings answer her with a little laugh. You may laugh a bit as well. John Lennon's Love is light years away from the original, but Bassey's low-key singing of "Love is touch / touch is love" is perfect for her new age spirituality. Sondheim's Losing My Mind is a pop song here, and a pretty fine one at that. Perhaps this version was the Pet Shop Boys' influence when they updated it for Liza Minnelli. There is no way to take this kind of thing seriously so your job is to just sit back and enjoy the show.

Where Am I Going from Sweet Charity should have been a perfect vehicle for La Bassey but strangely enough she sounds off her game. The remakes of contemporary hits like The Look of Love, For All We Know and One Less Bell to Answer are fine but unnecessary.

After listening (repeatedly) to I, Capricorn, we found ourselves wondering about Shirley Bassey. Was she really great or just plain awful? Did she have a good voice or was she playing tricks to make us feel she's more magnificent than she really was? Was she paving a way for new, uncompromising Adult Contemporary music during a time the "youthquake" of the 1960s was taking over everything, or was this just plain Easy Listening? As we played the disc for the umpteenth time, we stopped caring.

Various Artists
New Coat of Paint: Songs of Tom Waits Manifesto 42101-2 Pop

New Coat of Painr

New Coat of Paint is a collection of mostly modern "rockers" offering their interpretations of the Tom Waits Songbook. Please keep in mind that we are not huge fans of Modern Rock as we declare, "Why bother?!"

First the good news: Screamin' Jay Hawkins turns in a credible performance of Whistlin' Past the Graveyard that manages to sound like both a Tom Waits song and a Screamin' Jay Hawkins song. Rhythm and Blues great Floyd "Hey Bartender" Dixon sings Blue Skies and it's a real treat to hear Dixon outside of the blues genre. He's an adorable old man who should be recording regularly. Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis is performed by Neko Case (you kids will have to tell us who she is) and it's one of the few instances where someone bests Waits at his own game. As performed by Waits, the tune sounds a little bit like a winning Creative Writing project from high school. This version is helped by being sung by a woman and a woman who wisely plays it straight, knowing the lyrics are clever enough.

As for the other 11 tracks? As a Waits fan, we have to ask what the point of this was. The really amazing thing about Tom Waits is that he's managed to create a career in pop music and for the most part avoid rock. So New Coat of Paint takes his beautiful songs and adds all the trappings of modern Rock. 90% percent of these tracks are watered down versions of the real thing. Do it better, or at least give it an interesting new twist, or don't do it at all. The title tune, originally from Waits' album The Heart of Saturday Night, is stripped of its urgency (and melodic piano riffs) and goes from an invitation to paint the town red to an evening at the local Wal-Mart. Sally Norvell's Please Call Me Baby (also from Saturday Night) is taken at a dirge pace and is just too literal to be effective. Despite a nice voice, she has no idea how to sustain our interest and the song just goes on and on. Pasties and a G-String, Heartattack and Vine, Romeo Is Bleeding and all the rest are represented here but they're too close to the Waits versions and add nothing. A band called Preacher Boy does an interesting take on Old Boyfriends (from the film One From the Heart), going from a ballad to a southern swamp stomp. It's a good start but it's not enough.

What we suggest is having a collection of real singers, not rockers, perform the Tom Waits Songbook. Canadian Holly Cole did a tribute a few years back called Temptation but she seemed to be constantly looking over her shoulder to see if Waits thought she was cool enough. She wasn't. No one could be. So get Rosemary Clooney to sing Old Boyfriends, Tony Bennett to sing On the Nickel, k.d. lange can have Ruby's Arms and maybe give Keely Smith Georgia Lee. Have Hal Wilner (Stay Awake, Lost in the Stars) produce it and be sure we get some credit for the idea.

Ruth Wallis
Boobs: Ruth Wallis' Greatest Hits
Wallis Originals 9801

Ruth Wallis

From the 1950s on, Ruth Wallis sang novelty numbers about sex. It wasn't blatant and it wasn't raunchy, but it was titillating and provocative. The subjects of her songs were Texans drilling, guns shooting, poles growing and pizza being eaten every night. The term "songs" may be a little generous. More often than not, these were little "ditties", written by Ruth Wallis and destined to be small footnotes in the Great American Songbook.

At first, you may not find Ruth singing about Johnny's dinghy (the cutest in the Navy) all that funny. But before long you can easily get sucked into this odd little world. Ruth starts with a rather pedestrian concept, like getting a lei in Hawaii and you smirk to yourself. As the ditty continues, you might just be amazed at how well she milks every double entendre out of the concept. We caught ourselves laughing out loud three or four times. It's not often you get to rhyme "ruby" with "boobie".

We first heard this record with high hopes of hearing some high camp. Wallis is so in on the joke that camp and kitsch aren't relevant. It's a funny, sexy and slightly daring world that Wallis has created and we hope this is the first of many re-issues of this great material.

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