Some cool cuts for the changing season

ON POPULAR MUSIC

October 27, 2005|By RASHOD D. OLLISON

AS THE MORNINGS become significantly cooler and the leaves turn brown and spiral to the ground, I prepare for the change. I pack away the shorts, sandals and silk shirts and reach back in the closet for the sweaters. I crave stews, casseroles, Mama's butter pound cake -- rich foods that mean my waistline no good. And in my 60-CD changer, I load up on warmer sounds that, through mood or lyric, reflect the autumnal colors outside my door. I did a "Rashod's Spring Mixtape" column months back. Now here's the fall mix, a collection of new and classic cuts I've been feeling lately.

Franz Ferdinand, "Eleanor Put Your Boots On" : OK. There's generally nothing warm and fuzzy about the danceable punk-pop of this Scottish quartet. Its new CD is You Could Have It So Much Better. Although it's far from a washout, the album doesn't top the band's breakthrough, self-titled debut from last year. That set was immediately engaging. The charisma isn't lost on You Could Have It, but it feels a bit forced and overwhelming at times. "Eleanor Put Your Boots On," a piano ballad, is one of the album's lighter, sweeter moments. I'm not quite sure what the lyrics are all about: "Eleanor put those boots back on/Put the boots back on/And run/Come on over here ..."

What Eleanor is running from, I have no idea. But I can't stop playing this little charmer of a song.

Ann Peebles, "I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down": The fact that Ann Peebles isn't better known outside cult-like soul circles is a shame. She's one of the more gripping, nuanced singers to come out of the '70s. Perhaps best remembered for 1974's masterful "I Can't Stand the Rain," Peebles recorded for Hi Records, the glorious Memphis label that Al Green put on the map with one gold classic after the other: "Let's Stay Together," "Love and Happiness" and on and on. Throughout the '70s, Al and Ann shared the same producer, the great Willie Mitchell.

Although she didn't enjoy the same consistent hit streak, the St. Louis native recorded material that was often as moving as Al's. But Ann's approach was far grittier, drenched with the blues; it lacked that certain pop sheen Al had. "I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down" from 1973 is one of her more seething sides. As she threatens to get back at the man who's been fooling around on her, you can feel the fire beneath Ann's smooth delivery. Still sounding good, the singer-songwriter appears on the ambitious new Joe Henry-produced compilation, I Believe to My Soul, featuring Mavis Staples, Billy Preston and Allen Toussaint.

Eric Benet, "Pretty Baby": This is a soothing, shimmering ballad and one of the few highlights on Eric's otherwise insipid "comeback" album, Hurricane. He shines on ballads. Always has. But he can get weepy at times. And Lord does he ever on his latest album. I find myself going back to this track, though. The guitar break is nice.

Jamie Cullum, "London Skies" and "Photograph": This impish British chap garnered a heap of critical praise with his last album, 2004's Twentysomething. His new one, Catching Tales, released two weeks ago, would be a complete knockout if he had left off the re-invented pop standards. He's not a convincing interpreter, and the contrived electronic arrangements don't help matters. But Jamie is an astonishingly solid songwriter, a fine storyteller with a sharp, sometimes self-deprecating sense of humor. He sounds more assured on his own compositions. These two self-penned cuts, which appear in the first half of Catching Tales, are endearing. "London Skies" is a bit folkish; "Photograph" features Jamie's bright piano and a driving chorus. At 23, Jamie is one of the most promising artists of his generation.

Marvin Gaye, "I Want You" and "Come Live With Me Angel": These are the first two cuts from Marvin's 1976 erotic classic, I Want You, perhaps his most intimate studio album. At the time, critics dismissed the LP as disco drivel. But the radiance of the set becomes sharper as the years pass. With so many R&B and hip-hop performers referencing the album's grooves and vocal lines (G-Unit, of all acts, sampled "Come Live With Me Angel" on 2003's "Wanna Get to Know You"), I Want You is still relevant. The title track, fueled by a steady conga beat and charged with descending electric guitar lines, was a No. 1 R&B/Top 20 pop hit back in the day. And it's one of the soul prince's finest vocal performances. The swaggering "Come Live With Me Angel" rides a muscular rhythm accented with syncopated strings and Marvin's hypnotic multitracked vocals. Wondrous.

Chris Botti, "Embraceable You": Though I'm no fan of smooth jazz (booooring!), I can get with Chris Botti's music, particularly his latest effort, the orchestrated To Love Again: The Duets. On it, the handsome trumpeter is backed by stellar jazz cats: pianist Billy Childs, bassist Christian McBride, guitarist Anthony Wilson and the London Session Orchestra. Singers Paula Cole, Sting, Jill Scott and Gladys Knight contribute sympathetic vocals.

"Embraceable You" is the first track on the album. Chris' instrumental take on the Gershwin tune is stunning as his horn moans, sighs and cries with minimalist flourishes -- recalling Miles Davis. The orchestration is never stuffy. There's a lightness, a soft allure to the entire album. And Chris gets it under way beautifully with "Embraceable You."

Rufus & Chaka Khan, "Stay": This 1978 Steely Dan-shaded mid-tempo jam boasts a rapturous string arrangement by Clare Fisher and one of Chaka's most passionate performances. I still hear this cut from time to time on Quiet Storm and old-school R&B stations. It's one of my all-time favorite Rufus & Chaka classics. Something about it -- the contemplative lyrics, the overall inviting feel -- makes me think of a lazy, sun-splashed afternoon in September.

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

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