Sublime's 'Second-Hand' shows the promise that went up in smoke

CD REVIEWS

January 08, 1998|By J.D. ConsidineJ.D. Considine

Sublime

Second-Hand Smoke (Gasoline Alley/MCA 11714)

Following a successful album is a challenge for any band, but Sublime has it tougher than most. Just before the release of "Sublime," the album that put this California ska trio on the map, singer/guitarist Brad Nowell died of a heroin overdose. Although the surviving members stayed together to make videos for the singles "Wrong Way" and "Santeria," Sublime's creative career effectively ended with Nowell's death.

Still, nobody wants to let a little thing like that stand in the way of future sales. So producer Michael "Miguel" Happoldt, a longtime associate of the band, was brought in to compile "Second-Hand Smoke," an aptly named assemblage of leftovers, remixes and rarities.

Granted, it's not the album "Sublime" was. But neither is it as crass as it could have been. Rather than rely overmuch on obscurities or elaborate reworkings of the hits, "Second-Hand Smoke" instead delivers a well-balanced mix of material. In the process, it not only gives a sense of how Sublime developed but where the band might have gone.

Like No Doubt, Sublime was a product of the Southern Californian ska scene, but with much stronger reggae roots. In fact, there's almost a dub feel to "Had a DAT," one of the earliest tracks on the album, while "Trenchtown Rock" -- an outtake from the band's first album, "40oz. to Freedom" -- shows how much Nowell drew from Bob Marley.

Easily the most fascinating of the album's oldies is "Saw Red." Recorded during a demo session for Epitaph Records (which passed on the band), the track is a mish-mash, moving from dub to ska to thrash with no real logic to the arrangement. Instrumentally, it's sloppy and unfocused, but the vocals are something else again, as Nowell shoots sparks in a breathless duet with No Doubt's Gwen Stefani.

Surprisingly, there are only a couple of repeats from "Sublime." One of them, "April 29, 1992 (Leary)," was actually cut after the "Sublime" version and boasts a loose, almost hallucinogenic feel (no surprise, considering it was produced with Paul Leary of the Butthole Surfers). There are also two markedly different versions of "Doin' Time," one of which ups the tune's ska content, while the other takes more of a straight dub approach; each is more interesting than the original.

Perhaps the saddest thing about "Second-Hand Smoke" is the possibilities it suggests. In addition to its ska/reggae side, Sublime was also interested in hip-hop, and "Get Out! (Remix)" makes it obvious that the trio could have taken that combination of influences in some very interesting directions. A pity we'll never know where that sound would have taken the band.

Perahia Plays Schumann (Sony Classical SK 62786)

Murray Perahia is closely associated with the music of Robert Schumann, but his new recording of that composer's "Kreisleriana" and Sonata No. 1 in F-sharp minor breaks new ground for the 50-year-old pianist. Or almost new ground in the case of "Kreisleriana." Perahia programmed this piece frequently the 1960s and then set it aside. His return to it can be described as masterly rather than masterful. That is to say that the pianist responds to Schumann's nocturnal poetry rather than to his gunpowder romanticism. Nevertheless, his is a "Kreisleriana" that belongs in the collection of anyone who cares about Schumann. I am less happy with Perahia's F-sharp minor Sonata, which -- especially compared with the heroically scaled recent performance by Leif Ove Andsnes (EMI Classics) -- sounds too well-behaved to capture the questing spirit of this music.

Stephen Wigler One of the Fortunate Few (Rising Tide 53042)

It's hard to think of Delbert McClinton as a country singer in the traditional sense, particularly since the 57-year-old Texan's singing owes more to Memphis than to Nashville. But as much as "One of the Fortunate Few" may sound like rock and roll, its roots are clearly in blues and country music. "Sending Me Angels," for instance, is a mixture of grit and grace that suggests what Gram Parsons might have done had he not died young, while the Stones-style groove that drives "Monkey Around" is as solid as any Nashville boogie. Add in cameos by everyone from Lyle Lovett to Patty Loveless, and it's easy to see why McClinton considers himself "Fortunate."

J.D. Considine

Various Artists

Amazing Grace 2: A Country Salute to Gospel (Sparrow 51583)

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