Mark MorrisonReturn of the Mack (Atlantic 82963)As might...

CD REVIEWS

April 24, 1997|By J.D. Considine

Mark Morrison

Return of the Mack (Atlantic 82963)

As might be deduced from the title, Mark Morrison's "Return of the Mack" is more than a little concerned with sex and status. But rather than simply replay the standard Mack cliches -- the bedroom boasts, the fiscal flamboyance -- Morrison reinvents the role to suit his own personality. So, there's a sly sense of humor undercutting the tunes where he marvels at his own magnificence, while the sex songs (which make up the bulk of the album) seem more exultant than exploitative. As engaging as Morrison's personality is, though, it's his voice that ultimately carries the day. Blessed with a sound somewhere between Phillipe Wynne and Shaggy, the British-born Morrison incorporates a wide range of influences into his sound, keeping his approach fresh regardless of whether the groove is slow and sinuous ("Trippin' ") or hard and funky (as with the Gap Band-flavored "Candy"). Best of all, the rhythm arrangements are hook-heavy and insistent enough to make "Crazy" and the title tune as addictive.

Frank Sinatra with the Red Norvo Quintet

Live in Australia, 1959 (Blue Note 37513)

You'd think, at this stage of the game, that the highlights of Frank Sinatra's recording career would have been long since set in place. As it turns out, though, one of the greatest albums in his catalog has only just been released commercially. Long available on bootleg, "Live in Australia, 1959" finds Sinatra at his most swinging and insightful, playing with the phrasing of each song without ever slighting the melody. Some of that has to do with the show's small-combo format, since 13 of the album's 19 songs find Sinatra working only with vibraphonist Red Norvo's quintet (augmented for these shows by Sinatra pianist Bill Miller). But there's more to it than the intimacy of the arrangements, for Sinatra approaches these songs with a warmth and playfulness that exceeds even his greatest studio recordings. His "Just One of Those Things" is as jazzy as any Sarah Vaughan interpretation, and there's a luster to his tone in "Willow Weep for Me" that will put some listeners in mind of Tommy Dorsey's trombone. Admittedly, the sound quality is a tad flat, but there's such a vibrancy to the performances -- particularly to "I Get a Kick Out of You" and "One for My Baby" -- that it's easy to overlook such minor technical flaws. A must for any serious Sinatra fan.

Savage Garden

Savage Garden (Columbia 67854)

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Savage Garden must be the most dedicated sycophants on album today. How else to explain all the over-obvious influences on "Savage Garden," the Australian duo's debut? It wouldn't be so bad were "I Want You" the only offender, since the relentlessly perky single is catchy enough to excuse its obvious debt to Roxette. But there's also a slew of Brit-pop allusions scattered through the other tunes, from the Duran Duran-ish stomp of "To the Moon & Back" to the Yaz overtones audible in "Truly Madly Deeply." Perhaps the most bizarre bit of second-hand songwriting comes with "Break Me Shake Me," which starts out like an unusually florid Depeche Mode ballad, and then goes into a sort of Michael Jackson impression during the chorus. No points for originality, obviously, but, apart from that, the album isn't that bad. If anything, the amount of pre-chewed content makes Savage Garden's sound that much easier to swallow -- sort of the musical equivalent of babyfood. And as such, can we really blame the band for being so bland?

That Dog

Retreat from the Sun (DGC 51152)

What alternative rock does best is find ways to make angular, disjointed sounds fit together tunefully, and few alternarockers do that better than That Dog. Even though the quartet's third album, "Retreat from the Sun," is littered with dissonant harmonies and rough-edged instrumental textures, the overall effect is no more jarring than "Pet Sounds" was in its day. That's not meant as a direct comparison, of course -- Brian Wilson was clearly going for something grander than what Anna Waronker attempts here -- but there's definitely a similar richness to the writing. Listen, for example, to the way "Never Say Never" soars through the violin solo to its conclusion, or to the unexpected angularity of the vocal harmonies in "Minneapolis," and you'll find the same combination of rock smarts and compositional ingenuity that made Wilson such a standout. No wonder, then, that there's so much to enjoy in these deceptively lean arrangements, and why songs like "Did You Ever" or "Gagged and Tied" have such staying power. Definitely a band deserving of a breakthrough.

Pub Date: 4/24/97

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