Hendrix's 'Woodstock' a worthwhile trip

August 05, 1994|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

JIMI HENDRIX: WOODSTOCK

Jimi Hendrix (MCA 11063)

Even though much of the crowd was already gone by the time Jimi Hendrix's Gypsy Sun & Rainbows band took the stage at Woodstock, its performance became a major part of the festival's legacy, thanks in large part to the guitarist's note-shattering rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner." Unfortunately, that's all most people have ever heard of the group's performance, but "Jimi Hendrix: Woodstock" should change that. Offering 11 songs from the group's performance, it not only preserves the original context for "The Star-Spangled Banner" -- which actually served as a bridge between "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)/Stepping Stone" and "Purple Haze" -- but also leaves plenty of room for experimental pieces, such as "Izabella" and the instrumental "Jam Back at the House." Definitely one of the more worthwhile artifacts to be found in the Woodstock nostalgia cavalcade.

PART ONE

Wet Wet Wet (London 314 522 285)

Some may think of music as a universal language, but the appeal of certain sounds doesn't always translate. Take Wet Wet Wet, for example. In Europe, this English quartet has been a veritable hit machine, churning out chart-topper after chart-topper, but on this side of the Atlantic, the Wets have barely caused a ripple. Maybe that's why "Part One" is billed as a best-of collection in Europe, while the word "Hits" appears nowhere in the U.S. packaging. Because no matter how tuneful tracks such as "Love Is All Around" or "Sweet Surrender" may be, Marti Pellow's singing is too drippy to carry much emotional impact, while the group's well-scrubbed sound is generally too bland to leave an impression. As a result, it's hard to imagine that Wet Wet Wet will ever get to "Part Two" on this side of the pond.

WE COME STRAPPED

MC Eiht Featuring CMW (Epic Street 57696)

Because MC Eiht's "We Come Strapped" comes with a sticker announcing that "The lyrical content contained on this album solely expresses the views of the artist," some people might assume that the album's appeal lies entirely with the rapper's presumably incendiary views. Not so. In fact, MC Eiht's tough-talking "reality rap" more often than not takes a back seat to the seductive, synth-driven sound Eiht and DJ Slip concoct here. Although the duo clearly were inspired by the slick, semi-orchestral sound of classic '70s funk (particularly Isaac Hayes' soundtrack work), their near-total reliance on drum machines and synthesizers puts a chill in the sound that keeps the otherwise lush arrangements from becoming too soothing. As a result, the album conveys not only a high sense of style but also enough street-sharpened edge to keep these raps from romanticizing the violent world MC Eiht chronicles.

ESPERANTO

Elektric Music (Atlantic 82604)

Don't be alarmed if parts of Elektric Music's debut, "Esperanto," sound uncannily like a marriage between mid-'80s Kraftwerk and early Orchestral Manoeuvres In the Dark. After all, Kraftwerk's Karl Bartos is one of the guiding lights behind the group, while OMD's Andy McCluskey does the singing on "Show Business" and "Kissing the Machine." But as pleasantly nostalgic as those tracks are, "Esperanto" doesn't really get interesting until the group moves beyond the obvious and applies its technology to fresher styles, as in the hip-hop-tinged title tune or on "Information," where typically Kraftwerkian synthesized vocals are subsumed in a throbbing techno beat.

WHAT SILENCE KNOWS

Shara Nelson (Chrysalis 70202)

It used to be that America was where all the great soul singers came from, while England only produced rockers and the occasional reggae act. Not any more, though. Spend some time listening to Shara Nelson, and it's hard not to come away convinced that the British soul scene is full of great talents and unplumbed depths. Granted, the sound she pursues on "What Silence Knows" is a far cry from what U.S. R&B offers, substituting lush, percussion-spiked rhythm tracks for the loud, looped grooves American producers prefer. Moreover, Nelson seems to have no interest in the heavily dramatic vocal flourishes peddled by the Mary J. Bliges of the world; instead, her singing stresses moody understatement and emotional nuance. But *T though that may keep this album from having the radio impact it deserves, it shouldn't prevent adventurous listeners from appreciating the swirling sound of "Nobody" or the Motownish charm of "One Goodbye In Ten."

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