New releases, including old Beatle songs

ON POPULAR MUSIC

December 07, 2006|By RASHOD D. OLLISON

This week, we're looking at an eclectic mix of new releases from a rowdy Atlanta duo, a great "retro-futuristic" funk band, a legendary foursome and a fascinating Philadelphia soul singer you probably have never heard of.

Ying Yang Twins Chemically Imbalanced

One of my musical guilty pleasures last year was "Wait (The Whisper Song)," this duo's downright nasty but brilliant smash that garnered a Grammy nomination. The single attracted mainstream play and helped catapult the album USA (United State of Atlanta) to platinum sales. The Atlanta pair, long known for such inane stripper jams as "Whistle While You Twurk" and "Salt Shaker," had finally crossed over. On USA, the Twins pushed the artistic limits of crunk club music.

But on their new CD, the two may have stretched themselves too thin. The album is a thrown-together set: The first half is the sex-crazed crunk that we have come to expect from the Ying Yang Twins; the second part is slick hip-pop. It's of little surprise that the gruff, skills-limited duo would falter through the more "polished" productions. But this time out, they even stumble through the crunk material.

Cuts in the first half sound like retreads. Though "1st Booty on Duty" sports a cool title, it's an uninspired retooling of "Wait" -- spare beat and all. "Take It Slow" featuring the faceless vocals of Los Vegaz, is an uncharacteristic rap ballad that sounds forced and phoned in. For the slicker hip-pop sound, the Twins collaborate with Wyclef Jean on the annoying "Dangerous." Save for the strutting guitar line, this track quickly loses steam. The duo redeem themselves on the introspective "Family." But then they shoot the momentum with thin, simplistic party anthems like "Friday" and "Open." The Ying Yang Twins warn us in the album title: This set is definitely "imbalanced" -- but not in an interesting way.

Jamiroquai High Times: Singles 1992-2006

Jay Kay, the focal point and mastermind behind this groovalicious British outfit, has been unfairly dismissed over the years as a Stevie Wonder wannabe. Though his vocal style, especially in the early days, bears a few strong Wonder-isms, Jay boasts a sound all his own. And he couches it in rich grooves that unabashedly recall the ones emanating from Philadelphia International and Salsoul Records in the '70s and early '80s. But there's a certain freshness about Jamiroquai's approach that places it firmly in today as it evokes the spirit of yesterday's soul and disco.

Sequenced in chronological order, this new retrospective offers all of the important singles, from the sunny acid jazz of "When You Gonna Learn" and "Too Young to Die" to the thumping electro funk of "Alright" and "Feels Just Like It Should." The two new tracks, "Runaway" and "Radio," are just as infectious and blissful as the older songs. If you just want the highlights, High Times is a fine summation.

The Beatles Love

Other than to make mo' money off the super-lucrative Beatles catalog, I don't quite get the point of this 26-track release. According to press materials, it's a mash-up project on which the original Fab Four producer, George Martin, and his son Giles paste together different versions of different Beatles classics. Demo takes are blended with official versions and so on. But here's the thing: There's nothing at all radical about these mixes.

For the most part, "Get Back," "I Am the Walrus," "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and others are as you remembered them. Here and there, the drums are louder, an unobtrusive guitar line peaks then recedes. The Martins simply braid together similar elements of different phases in the Beatles' career. "Drive My Car" melts nicely into "The Word," which segues into "What You're Doing." But there's nothing particularly startling about the blend. If anything, the Martins' "mash-ups" only emphasize how finely textured and beautifully adventurous the original recordings were. And if that was the intention, then why not just clearly remaster and reissue the old songs? Beatles fans would probably appreciate that more than 26 pointless remixes.

Lorraine Ellison Sister Love: The Warner Bros. Recordings

Before I got my hands on this collection, I knew of only one song by Lorraine Ellison: the devastating 1966 soul ballad "Stay With Me." But I'm a crate-digging vintage funk and soul nerd who needs to get a life. So I wouldn't expect the casual old-school soul lover to know much (if anything) about this overlooked Philadelphia-born singer, who died from cancer in 1983. She was just 51.

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