Klark Kent – Kollected Works

Klark Kent - Kollected WorksEven if you were unaware that Klark Kent is, in fact, a pseudonym for Stewart Copeland, it would be difficult to listen to Kollected Works without thinking of The Police. The heavy reggae/ska influence and experimental attitude so prevalent in The Police’s early work (and almost entirely excised by the time of Synchronicity) are found in spades here. Copeland founded the Police and was responsible for most of the early songwriting, until Sting’s prolific nature (and, let’s face it, greater overall songwriting skill) took over. These recordings date from that earlier time, with most of them seeing original release around 1978/9 as an outlet for Copeland, already feeling boxed in by the band.

While the music itself has a lot in common with early Police, the lyrics really do take a different path. The more socially aware nature of the Police material gives way instead for the absurd or the downright silly. And even the production is more absurd, with voiceovers from a secretary pool and kazoos in the mix. If you’ve heard Police songs like “Any Other Day” (from Regatta de Blanc) you’ll be aware of Copeland’s, shall we say, unique vocal stylings. While I normally wouldn’t want an album full of Copeland vocals, the combination of vocals, lyrics and production on the Klark Kent material works.

If the songs have one failing in common, it’s that they lack polish. Most tend to just sort of peter out, rather than have any kind of proper ending. Just as Sting’s Police re-makes have lacked the depth of the original recordings, Copeland without Sting and Andy Summers feels somewhat shallow. But I’m a sucker for a one-man album, myself. For me, an interesting odyssey into original territory trumps careful, planned production any day.

rating: 4 out of 4Ultimately, I think it goes without saying that if you’re a fan of Stewart Copeland or The Police (especially the more obscure tracks and B-sides) you need this album. Reggae and ska fans will find plenty to enjoy here as well, perhaps more than on any Police material. Also, if you enjoy experimental music-making, you should give Kollected Works a listen.

Order this CD

  1. Too Kool To Kalypso (2:28)
  2. Strange Things (2:42)
  3. Thrills (2:23)
  4. Excesses (3:02)
  5. Love Lessons (3:30)
  6. Office Girls (2:18)
  7. Away From Home (2:57)
  8. Don’t Care (2:10)
  9. Grandelinquent (3:10)
  10. My Old School (2:45)
  11. Ritch In A Ditch (2:29)
  12. Theme For A Kinetic Ritual (4:21)
  13. Stay Ready (3:03)
  14. Office Talk (6:50)
    Guerilla (hidden track – 3:29)

Released by: I.R.S.
Release date: 1995
Total running time: 48:08

Frank Klepacki – Rocktronic

Frank Klepacki - RocktronicFrank K. is back in the house, and this time he’s kicking the doors down and knocking the walls flat. Unlike his solo debut Morphscape, Rocktronic is a little more similar stylistically from track one to track ten. And that’s cool – I loved some of Morphscape‘s more off-the-wall offerings like “Gonna Rock Yo Body” and “Cosmic Lounge”, but if Rocktronic proves anything, it’s that Frank Klepacki’s always got more musical ideas rattling around. And for those of us who learned about his music through his hard-driving accompaniment to some classic Westwood computer games (and I’d hazard a guess that this category probably includes almost everybody reading this), Rocktronic is homecoming week for you – it easily lives up to its name.

And the title should give you a pretty good clue of what to expect. Guitars are to the forefront of Rocktronic, and Klepacki demonstrates some impressive ability at that instrument. The opening volley, “Decible”, lives up to its name. The following track, “Rocktronic”, is probably the best fusion of rock and techno elements on the whole CD, with some mighty crunchy guitar work melding seamlessly with the techno elements. “Escape” feels a little bit like “Mode One” from Morphscape, only more aggressive and drum-driven, but the similarity is in some dandy throwback-to-the-’80s synth work. In Yo Face has both feet firmly in industrial/techno territory, and it’s best appreciated at a level where the speakers rumble the foundation of your house. Seriously. Headphones don’t quite do it justice.

“Take Me” has a very cool, laid back bluesy opening that leads into an extended hard rock jam on the same theme. There’s a nifty ’70s stadium rock guitar solo vibe to the whole thing. It Has Begun is more of an aggressive dance number, with the sampled voice yelling “It has begun!” Mortal Kombat-TV-ad-style hearkening back to some of Frank’s Command & Conquer work. “The Streets” and “In The Tunnel” almost sound like lost cuts from the Lexx music library, which isn’t a bad thing. The Streets has a little more of a Euro/electronica thing going, while “In The Tunnel” has the dramatic intensity of a soundtrack cue bubbling under the surface.

“Machines Collide” has an epic feel that hails back to some of the better Emperor: Battle For Dune tracks, with sampled choral textures and an interesting sonar-as-percussion element that I liked – it’s probably my favorite track on the CD, with “Take Me” running a close second. “Bring The Fight” closes things 4 out of 4out by jumping right back into hard rock territory, which brings us full circle.

On the one hand, I really missed the roller-coaster variety of styles that made Morphscape a lot of fun – but you can’t argue against Rocktronic‘s dominant style being the one that won Klepacki his fan base to begin with, and it’s still great music.

Order this CD

  1. Decible (4:32)
  2. Rocktronic (3:57)
  3. Escape (4:11)
  4. In Yo Face (3:42)
  5. Take Me (4:58)
  6. It Has Begun (4:06)
  7. The Streets (4:02)
  8. In The Tunnel (3:47)
  9. Machines Collide (4:42)
  10. Bring The Fight (4:28)

Released by: Frank Klepacki
Release date: 2004
Total running time: 42:27

Frank Klepacki – Morphscape

Frank Klepacki - MorphscapeAfter seven years of churning out the hard-hitting accompaniment for Electronic Arts’ Command & Conquer series of real-time strategy games (among others) and releasing over half a dozen albums’ worth of material attached to computer games, not to mention stints with Las Vegas bands like Home Cookin’ and Mo’ Friction, Frank Klepacki is flying solo – and proving there’s more to his repertoire than being EA’s own C&C music factory. Klepacki flexes his signature funk-techno muscle on such tracks as “Defunkt” and “Freaks From Within”, but delves into some new territory, including lounge music and even the glorious vintage ’70s throwback that is “Gonna Rock Yo Body”. In a true tribute to the roller disco era, “Rock Yo Body” features “robotic” vocoder-processed vocals, synth-string stabs, and the kind of cheesy electronic percussion you’d expect from the late ’70s and early ’80s. And the beauty of it is, it works. If you, like me, grew up during that era…this song will give you a thrill of recognition and a goofy grin. It’s good cheese, a nice little trip back to the day when Grandmaster Flash was considered new, not old-school. “Gonna Rock Yo Body” is an unlikely candidate for the best song on the whole CD, but if you’re already acquainted with Frank Klepacki’s body of game work, this track should jump out and grab you because it demonstrates what he can do outside of that genre. “Mode One” shifts into new wave gear with an ever-so-slight nod in the direction of early, pre-drenched-with-samples Depeche Mode. By the end of the album, you’ve gotten to hear so many styles and distinctive pieces that you’re not left thinking “Hey, this stuff all sounds exactly like 4 out of 4Command & Conquer!”

I’ve been lobbying for someone to tap Frank Klepacki for something more than just a short film, and I still think someone should. But he won’t hear me complain if he keeps turning out solo material too, because Morphscape rocks.

Order this CD

  1. Morphscape (5:21)
  2. Blaster (4:43)
  3. Freaks From Within (5:08)
  4. Cybertek (3:12)
  5. Mode One (4:03)
  6. Gonna Rock Yo Body (3:23)
  7. Cosmic Lounge (5:12)
  8. Morphunk (3:47)
  9. Defunkt (2:42)
  10. Virus (4:47)

Released by: FrankKlepacki.com
Release date: 2002
Total running time: 42:18

Lynne Me Your Ears: Tribute To The Music Of Jeff Lynne

Lynne Me Your EarsThe premise of this double-disc compilation is simple: various modern pop artists, most of them enjoying cult indie label status (and a few of them refugees from major labels too), revisit the songs of one of their musical heroes, ELO’s Jeff Lynne. Colorado’s own Not Lame Records has been teasing the heck out of this release for months, only to watch it be bogged down by politics (the father/son duo of Randy and Tal Bachman, each of whom were originally slated to contribute a song, pulled out) and delays (a printing error in the first run of liner notes booklets which caused the collection to slip well past its original pre-Christmas 2001 release date). And now that it’s here, was it worth the lengthy wait?

The answer is, in most cases, absolutely. The covers (which don’t limit themselves to ELO material but also cover Lynne’s contributions to the Traveling Wilburys, a 1960s U.K. group known as the Idle Race, and his solitary solo album) vary wildly, ranging from faithful homages to reinterpretations in a completely new style.

Some of the better “near-beer” covers include former R.E.M. producer Mitch Easter’s collaboration with Bobby Sutliff on the first ELO single, “10538 Overture”; Michael Carpenter’s near-carbon-copy of Lynne’s solo single “Every Little Thing”; Jason Falkner’s raw cover of “Do Ya”, a stripped-down, Buddy Holly-ized cover of “Rock ‘N’ Roll Is King” by Walter Clevenger and the Dairy Kings, and an accurate-down-to-the-overmodulation-distortion copy of the Idle Race’s “Morning Sunshine” by Jeremy.

The real triumphs of Lynne Me Your Ears, however, are those artists who took extensive liberties and created something completely new – Ross Rice’s hip-hop-ified cover of “Evil Woman” is both funky and up-to-date, and Tony Visconti (former Move and Moody Blues producer) turns in a tasty new take on “Mr. Blue Sky”, starting out as a rap and then tumbling through every style in the book by the end of the song’s lengthy instrumental coda. Prairie Sons and Daughters transform the eloquence of “One Summer Dream” into a spiky, guitar-drenched masterpiece that also takes a detour into “In Old England Town” from ELO’s second album. That multiple-song-tributes-in-a-single-track trick is repeated masterfully by Rick Altizer, who leaps from the soulful opening guitar solo of “Laredo Tornado” into a thundering modernized version of “Boy Blue”. Former Move vocalist Carl Wayne, ironically, takes the stage-musical feel of “Steppin’ Out” to its logical, grandiose conclusion (it was Wayne who stepped out of the Move in 1970, a departure that made way for Jeff Lynne to join the group). The Shazam squeezes the synths out of “Twilight” and turns it into a wonderful wash of electric guitar work (but keeps the harmonies intact), and “Turn To Stone” gets a similar treatment from Roger Klug. Sparkle*Jets UK turn the dreamy “Above The Clouds” into a cheerful, rockin’ power pop number.

Perhaps the most shocking transformation bestowed upon any of the songs here is “On The Run”, a rapid-fire techno-before-there-was-techno tune from 1979’s Discovery which is rendered here by Sixpence None The Richer as a relaxing acoustic piece with a slow, majestic gait and Leigh Nash’s always pleasant voice. It has to be heard to be believed – this may be the best example on Lynne Me Your Ears of a band taking one of the old ELO chestnuts and making it their own.

There are a small number of misses for all of those hits, however; Peter Holsapple’s cover of the Move’s “No Time” has yet to click with me – the harmonies seem to be a misfire in some places. The Heavy Blinkers’ cover of “You Took My Breath Away”, itself a Roy Orbison tribute penned by Lynne for the second Traveling Wilburys album, lacks the melancholy of the original and comes out sounding a little too sunny. And the “Sweet Is The Night” cover heard here seems to have lost a lot of what made the original so appealing.

4 out of 4Overall, however, a nice treat for ELO/Lynne fans, and hey, your mileage may even vary on which songs worked and which ones didn’t. Highly recommended – and, in the face of Sony’s recent reticence to continue the promised remastering of the entire ELO catalogue, it may be the last ELO related treat we fans get for quite a while. Soak it up slowly and enjoy.

Order this CD

    Disc one

  1. 10538 Overture – Bobby Sutliff & Mitch Easter (4:35)
  2. Ma Ma Ma Belle – Earl Slick (4:05)
  3. Telephone Line – Jeffrey Foskett (4:49)
  4. Do Ya – Jason Falkner (3:58)
  5. Sweet Is The Night – Ben Lee (3:28)
  6. Rockaria! – Pat Buchanan (3:49)
  7. Every Little Thing – Michael Carpenter (3:52)
  8. No Time – Peter Holsapple (3:59)
  9. Showdown – Richard Barone (4:26)
  10. Handle With Care – Jamie Hoover (3:25)
  11. Strange Magic – Mark Helm (3:54)
  12. Evil Woman – Ross Rice (4:51)
  13. Steppin’ Out – Carl Wayne (4:27)
  14. Don’t Bring Me Down – SWAG (3:13)
  15. One Summer Dream – Prairie Sons & Daughters (7:16)
  16. Can’t Get It Out Of My Head – Doug Powell (4:57)
    Disc two

  1. Twilight – The Shazam (3:11)
  2. Mr. Blue Sky – Tony Visconti (5:02)
  3. You Took My Breath Away – The Heavy Blinkers (3:07)
  4. Message From The Country – The Balls of France (4:28)
  5. The Minister – Ferenzik (4:43)
  6. Xanadu – Neilson Hubbard and Venus Hum (3:31)
  7. When Time Stood Still – Bill Lloyd (3:27)
  8. Above The Clouds – Sparkle*Jets UK (4:00)
  9. Rock And Roll Is King – Walter Clevenger and the Dairy Kings (3:14)
  10. Morning Sunshine – Jeremy (2:19)
  11. Boy Blue – Rick Altizer (3:45)
  12. Livin’ Thing – Pray For Rain (3:57)
  13. On The Run – Sixpence None The Richer (2:37)
  14. Bluebird Is Dead – Todd Rundgren (5:06)
  15. Turn To Stone – Ruger Klug (5:11)
  16. Eldorado – Fleming and John (6:41)

Released by: Not Lame Records
Release date: 2002
Disc one total running time: 69:04
Disc two total running time: 64:19

Keats

KeatsIn 1993, after splitting with Alan Parsons Project co-founder Eric Woolfson (who was destined for a new career in musical theater with his Freudiana project, which itself resulted in an excellent if obscure Project album), the aforementioned Mr. Parsons re-launched his group minus the Project moniker – and, for the first time, accepted songs written by members of the long-time group members. (Virtually all of the Project tunes were written by Woolfson and Parsons, with a few choice contributions by orchestral arranger Andrew Powell of Ladyhawke fame). But almost ten years before 1993’s Try Anything Once album, there was a self-titled one-off effort by the Project backing band, operating under the name of Keats.

With such legendary session players as guitar god Ian Bairnson and ex-Pilot members David Paton and Stuart Elliott, Keats isn’t short on talent – but the Keats album sounds like it’s a little short on inspiration. Parsons produces, and that’s a big part of the problem – it sounds like a lost Alan Parsons Project record, only the songs aren’t anything that leap out at the listener. “Walking On Ice” is the best song here by miles, with some excellent vocal harmonies and intriguing keyboard and synth work. Most of the other songs are the aural equivalent of blending into the wallpaper, with a distinctly 80s sound (and one of which veers dangerously close to copying Survivor’s “Eye Of The Tiger”).2 out of 4

This reissue by Renaissance Records – an indie label which has released CDs by such artists as Bill Mumy and The Be Five – is rounded out by two interviews and some previously unreleased tracks. The interviews are informative, if rather perfunctory, but will yield little information not already known to die-hard Alan Parsons Project fanatics.

    Order this CD in the Store

  1. Heaven Knows (3:56)
  2. Tragedy (5:01)
  3. Fight To Win (4:10)
  4. Walking On Ice (3:31)
  5. How Can You Walk Away (3:41)
  6. Turn Your Heart Around (3:44)
  7. Avalanche (4:06)
  8. Give It Up (4:25)
  9. Ask No Questions (3:24)
  10. Night Full Of Voices (3:56)
  11. Hollywood Heart (3:43)
  12. interviews with Alan Parsons and Ian Bairnson (26:00)

Released by:
Release date:
Total running time:

Common Ground: The Voices of Modern Irish Music

Common Ground: The Voices of Modern Irish MusicYou know, I’ll be the first to fess up that I’m not exactly a Thistle & Shamrock Listener (not that it’s a bad show, and not that I don’t like the music). And I’m a little wary of the mania for all things Celtic that has pervaded the underbelly of pop culture for the past decade or so, despite the fact that I’m able to trace my own lineage straight back to Ireland. Something about everyone embracing this culture just because it’s “in” bugs me – and many of the supposedly Celtic musical acts out there aren’t peddling the sound of old Eire, but rather of Enya, whose sound I associate with new age music more than I do anything that sounds distinctly Celtic. But I’ll expound on this soapbox more later. With all my griping, you’re probably wondering why in the world I even bothered with this CD.

The answer is the wonderful second track, “Mary Of The South Seas”, written and performed by Tim and Neil Finn. Aside from their dedicating the song to their mother’s Irish origins, your guess is as good as mine as to why two performers born and raised in New Zealand are on a compilation of “modern Irish music,” but it’s a lovely song all the same.

There are other good reasons to dig this one out, however; Sharon Shannon’s “Cavan Potholes” is a nicely traditional (and simultaneously modern) Celtic-flavored instrumental. Adam Clayton and Bono of U2 fame turn in a low-key number, “Won’t You Be Back Tomorrow”, and Sinead O’Connor turns in “On Raglan Road”. Toward the end of the disc, the tunes become more traditional and the readings become more tongue-in-cheek – I’m thinking primarily of Elvis Costello’s rendition of “The Night Before Larry Was Stretched” here – but in fine Irish tradition, the producers of this compilation probably expected us to have downed a couple of pints by this point, so I’m willing to forgive.

4 out of 4Though I originally bought it for one song by a couple of favorite artists, Common Ground quickly opened my eyes to some more good music. And I’m happy – and perhaps just a touch proud – to say that the whole thing smacks more of real Celtic music than a lot of the product that wears that label these days.

Order this CD

  1. O Bhean A’ti – Maire Brennan (5:13)
  2. Mary Of The South Seas – Tim and Neil Finn (5:08)
  3. Tomorrow – Bono and Adam Clayton (4:36)
  4. Cavan Potholes – Sharon Shannon (4:10)
  5. Help Me To Believe – Paul Brady (5:56)
  6. On Raglan Road – Sinead O’Connor (6:05)
  7. As I Roved Out – Brian Kennedy (4:32)
  8. The Night Before Larry Was Stretched – Elvis Costello (5:09)
  9. Mna Na H-eireann – Kate Bush (2:53)
  10. Whistling Low Errigal – Davy Spillane with Donal Lunny (4:08)
  11. My Heart’s Tonight In Ireland – Andy Irvine (3:36)
  12. Cathain – Liam O’Maonlai (3:27)
  13. Bogie’s Bonnie Belle – Christy Moore (3:18)

Released by: EMI
Release date: 1996
Total running time: 58:11

Kronos Quartet – Short Stories

Kronos Quartet - Short StoriesOutside of catching the last half of a TV special about the Kronos Quartet, this was my first exposure to them, and even though I liked what I’d heard enough to seek out an album, I have to admit to you that this may not be the one to start out on. Oh, it’s good, but perhaps you should get your feet wet with the Released “best-of” collection before you wander further into the Quartet’s very eclectic world. Favorites here include “Digital” – which is a lot of pounding and clicking, but for some reason I find it terribly soothing – and rating: 2 out of 4John Zorn’s “Cat O’ Nine Tails (Tex Avery Directs the Marquis de Sade)” (what a title…!), a cartoonish composition which will truly grate on your nerves unless you are in just the right mood for it.

  1. Digital composed by Elliott Sharp – (1:39)
  2. Spoonful composed by Willie Dixon – (4:33)
  3. Spectre composed by John Oswald – (5:48)
  4. Order this CD Cat O’ Nine Tails composed by John Zorn – (12:48)
  5. Quartet Euphometric composed by Henry Cowell – (1:54)
  6. Physical Property composed by Steven Mackey – (14:31)
  7. Soliloquy from How It Happens composed by Scott Johnson – (13:13)
  8. Quartet No. 2 composed by Sofia Gubaidulina – (8:31)
  9. Abe kee tayk hamaree composed by Pandit Pran Nath – (10:57)

Released by: Nonesuch
Release date: 1993
Total running time: 74:58