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Sound Bites: Audio Reviews

May 31, 2000

Selected new releases:

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``Beyond the Pale″ (Valley Entertainment) _ Bruce Henderson

The stories are the stars on ``Beyond the Pale,″ 10 tales of desperation and desolation in America’s heartland.

Bruce Henderson makes no direct reference to his recent battle with cancer, but he sings of the loneliness and bitterness that can result from bad luck and bad choices. Henderson is a transplanted Oklahoman now living in New York City, and his perspective on small-town small-timers is anything but romantic.

``Nobody ever said life was easy/nobody ever said life wasn’t tough,″ he sings on ``Flatlands.″ ``Nobody ever said very much at all/in the place where I come from.″

As a follow-up to Henderson’s acclaimed solo debut, ``The Wheels Roll,″ ``Beyond the Pale″ offers further proof that he knows how to write a compelling narrative tale. ``August,″ for example, is the story of a third-rate romance told in dialogue. Henderson generally steers clear of cliches, instead building his tunes around engaging turns of phrase (``This life ain’t like an arrow; you don’t wind up where you aim″).

Musically, guitarist Henderson finds room in his arrangements for a lap steel, accordion, organ, fiddle and mandolin. ``Beyond The Pale″ will fit in the alt-country section of your collection, but it’s similar to what John Mellencamp and others were doing 15 years ago _ four-square tunes expertly played with few frills but plenty of passion. And the songs are special.

_ By Steven Wine, AP Writer

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``The Final Concert″ (The Right Stuff) _ Marvin Gaye

First of all, the title of ``The Final Concert″ is misleading. The 65-minute recording documents a 1983 show by Marvin Gaye in Indianapolis during his final tour, which ended in Los Angeles. And be forewarned that the sound is bootleg quality, probably the reason the performance hasn’t been released until now.

Those quibbles aside, the show took place less than a year before Gaye was shot to death by his father, and ``The Final Concert″ captures the star in all his glorious contradictions. He is by turns sexual, spiritual, sensual and topical, tapping a remarkable range of emotions with one of his generation’s greatest voices.

Though Gaye was plagued by paranoia and insecure about his talent, he seems relaxed and upbeat during this show. And he’s backed by a terrific 18-piece band, which includes Wah Wah Watson on guitar and Sheila E on percussion.

The hits are here, including ``I Heard It Through The Grapevine,″ ``Let’s Get It On″ and ``What’s Going On.″ But some of the best performances are on lesser-known material such as ``Third World Girl″ and ``Joy.″ Before the latter tune, Gaye speaks fondly of his father in a dedication that is heartbreaking, given what happened later.

``The Final Concert″ makes us miss Gaye all over again.

_ By Steven Wine, AP Writer

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``The Dumbest Magnets″ (Evil Teen) _ Dolly Varden

``The Dumbest Magnets″ blurs the lines between alt-country and pop the way the Jayhawks do on ``Smile,″ only Dolly Varden does it better. It’s yet another music business mystery that a band this good could remain so unknown.

The lovely harmonies of the husband-and-wife duo who lead this Chicago band, their thoughtful lyrics, soaring melodies and killer hooks make ``The Dumbest Magnets″ giddily addictive, and as good as any album I’ve heard this year.

_ By Eric Fidler, AP Writer

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``Dancin’ With Them That Brung Me″ (Gearle Records) _ Stacey Earle

Stacey Earle opts for a richer, fuller sound on ``Dancin’ With Them That Brung Me″ without losing any of the homespun charm that made her debut so wonderful. Earle has a thin but affecting voice and a simple, country-folk style that recalls early Nanci Griffith. Highlights here include her cover of brother Steve’s ``Promise You Anything″ and her own ``Did I Say I’m Sorry.″ Highly recommended.

_ By Eric Fidler, AP Writer

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``Love God Murder″ (Columbia) _ Johnny Cash

``Love God Murder″ is a thematic, rather than chronological, look at the career of a great American songwriter. Included with each of the three discs in this box set (each is also available separately) is a short essay on the theme: June Carter Cash writes about love, U2′s Bono tackles God and Quentin Tarantino takes on murder.

The essays are somewhat interesting, but that wouldn’t matter if these weren’t great songs. Rather than being monotonous, the strict adherence to each theme makes for something of a revelation, providing depth and power as Cash examines love, religion and violence in their many forms. ``Love God Murder″ is essential listening.

_ By Eric Fidler, AP Writer

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``Republica Dominica″ (Putumayo) _ Various artists

Putumayo’s world music collections are uniformly excellent, and almost always include two or three knock-your-socks-off songs. ``Republica Dominica″ is no exception. It’s an enjoyable musical journey to a country that is often overlooked on the world music scene. It focuses on the guitar-driven style known as bachata, highlighting several simmeringly funky tunes with slinky guitar playing. And if the first two cuts don’t knock your socks off, you’re already barefoot.

_ By Eric Fidler, AP Writer

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