Consumer Guide

MEMPHIS MINNIE: Bumble Bee (Indigo import) It's said this guitar muthuh fuh yuh proves women impacted rural blues as much as the vaudevillian "classic" kind, but there's only one of her, and her way was to take vaudeville to the country. Citywise entertainment values and picking as brightly declarative as her vocals carry her bawdy canon when it flags in the middle. On the ends you'll find "Bumble Bee" and "What's the Matter With the Mill," "Ice Man," and "Me and My Chauffeur Blues." A MINUS

TEDDY PENDERGRASS: Greatest Hits (The Right Stuff) I admit his subtle command of his big gruff tentpole of a voice was soul-schooled. Coming up when he did, that was only to be expected, and Pendergrass was not one to defy expectations--musically and thematically, he had all the imagination of a rubber penis. Seduction was his one great subject, and though he did it as well as it's ever been done, his sense of sin was so vestigial that even after God disabled him in a car accident he never once feinted toward the pulpit, as any proper soul man would have. In short, he's the great lost link between Lou Rawls and Keith Sweat--and a truly awesome bullshitter. A MINUS

DEL SHANNON: This Is...Del Shannon (Music Club) The first artist ever to chart Stateside with a Lennon-McCartney song, Shannon is suspended forever in that boy-becomes-man moment when teen-romance tropes unload their frightening burden of existential anxiety. He achieves release with his sole trick, in which minor-key verse gives way to major-key refrain topped by a brief escape into a falsetto that never hints at the feminine. This pop-rock apotheosis he achieved precisely 11 times, which here takes us from "Runaway" to "Stranger in Town." All are also on Rhino's slightly pricier 20-song comp. But where the Rhino filler is all carbon-copy follow-ups and failed experiments, the five bonuses here vary the formula without abandoning it, most memorably on--note title--"I Wish I Wasn't Me Tonight." Despite Nashville forays and a mysteriously forgotten 1968 concept album called The Further Adventures of Charles Westover, he never matured. When he shot himself in 1990 at 55, he was still claiming five years less, just as he had 30 years before. He left no note. Did he have to? A MINUS

PERCY SLEDGE: The Very Best of Percy Sledge (Rhino) "I love to sing a tearjerker," he told annotator David Gorman. "Like them ol' country ballads." And that sums up this child of nature, who was country not as in Acuff-Rose, but as in going to town means picking up provisions at the general store. Saddled with a classic that transcends soul itself, Mr. Miserable never equaled "When a Man Loves a Woman." But neither did Mr. Pitiful, whose own songbook could have accommodated half these selections. The reason Otis Redding is an artist while Percy Sledge is a phenomenon is that Redding would have made "Out of Left Field" sound happy, which is how it reads--a trick Sledge couldn't have conceived with "Happy Song." A MINUS

DUSTY SPRINGFIELD: The Very Best of Dusty Springfield (Mercury) A self-conscious woman in a girl's world, she found the musical place she deserved only once, when she locked horns with Jerry Wexler for a pop miracle. So Dusty in Memphis is her very best. Her twenties were a little of this and a little of that--'50s pop-folk gone first girl-group, then pop-soul under the clueless tutelage of Englishmen spared self-knowledge by her soaring empathy and breathy grit, which young Brits couldn't resist. Good for them. A MINUS

BILLY SWAN: The Best of Billy Swan (Epic/Legacy) He barely happened anyway, and he wouldn't have come close if fellow pros hadn't thought he was a nice guy--e.g. Elvis, e.g. Kris, e.g. Clyde McPhatter, who had a 1962 smash with a ditty Swan wrote in high school. Much later there was the disarming "I Can Help," which went to No. 1 just before "Kung Fu Fighting" in 1974. Like Carl Douglas, this mild-mannered rockabilly then dropped from pop sight, but unlike Douglas, he was prepared to pursue his muse where he always had, twixt Memphis and Nashville. Numerous minor country hits ensued, along with at least four albums whose big heart and simple tunes showed up Nashville careerists and "outlaws" for the smarm merchants they were. With his adenoidal pitch and nice guy's morality, he wouldn't stand a chance in Nashville today. Withhis nice guy's empathy, he wouldn't cut much of a figure in alt-country either. Celebrate his moment.A MINUS

THE ZOMBIES: Odessey & Oracle (Big Beat import) Originally released in 1968, this psychedelic period piece that brackets love songs blithe and bereft with a sweet one about a jailbird (Posdnuous, call your permissions specialist) and a grueling one about a soldier (Chuck D, ditto), suffusing the whole shmear with the moony nostalgia that overtakes twentysomethings when they decide they're Getting Old. Presynth keybs guide Colin Blunstone's articulated sigh through arrangements that simulate baroque with backup-vocal shtick, every melody guaranteed. Forget the boxed set if you know it exists, and indulge in one of the nicest things ever to happen to Sgt. Pepper. A MINUS

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