Consumer Guide

By my stingy standards, in which it's bad form for a label to turn listeners into collectors, the reissue label of the year is MCA, source of six superb one-disc distillations recommended for your gift-exchanging pleasure below. Plus a terrific but somewhat extraneous Hendrix single and Skynyrd double, as well as a three-CD Armstrong that proved too much to digest before Christmas.

AMERICAN POP: AN AUDIO HISTORY(West Hill Audio Archives) Nine CDs spanning 1893–1946, it'll set you back a hundred bucks, and it's not really what it says it is, cheating Tin Pan Alley, John Philip Sousa, George M. Cohan, Ruth Etting, Broadway, Northerners, Ukulele Ike, Gene Austin, humor, Hollywood, Fred Astaire, Glen Gray, Glenn Miller, the Andrews Sisters, and anybody who doesn't sing-a de English, among others. Nevertheless, it's an endless delight, almost 11 hours where Harry Smith's Anthology is four-something, and a powerful illustration of the antibiz aesthetic in which the best popular music derives from and is aimed back at subcultural audiences the artist can smell and touch. Play any disc and you'll soon be rummaging around for the first booklet, where all the track listings are. So that's James Reese Europe! Ella Mae Morse! Geeshie Wiley! Only isn't it "Geechie"? And who the hell are Polk Miller and His Old South Quartette? A

THE ANDREWS SISTERS: Greatest Hits: 60th Anniversary Edition (MCA) From all-American Minneapolis, half Norwegian and half Greek, the biggest-selling girl group of all time. Although Patti's soggy "I Wanna Be Loved" states explicitly that "loved" doesn't stop with "kissed" and my wife swears "Want Some Sea Food Mama" can't just mean butterfish, their considerable sex appeal is all in their wholesome eagerness to let their hair down. By concentrating on close-harmony uptempo smashes, this 16-song best-of-the-best minimizes mawk as well as travelogues like "Rum and Coca-Cola" and "Bongo, bongo, bongo/I don't want to leave the Congo." Only one "polka," for instance. Averred their music director: "I hated 'Beer Barrel Polka' and arranged it as badly as I could, but it turned out to be their biggest hit. So I gave up trying to do anything musically worthwhile." Now do you believe they were on the side of the angels?A MINUS

PICK HIT: Mamas and Papas
PICK HIT: Mamas and Papas

BOBBY BLAND: Greatest Hits Volume One— The Duke Recordings (MCA) His strapping young voice set apart by his trademarked gargling snort as well as a falsetto he claims he found when he had his tonsils out, Bland was never more puissant than when knuckling under the broad thumb of Don Robey, the label owner (they hadn't invented executive producers yet) who surfaces in parentheses as song-copywriter Deadric Malone. "Turn On Your Love Light," "Farther up the Road," "I Pity the Fool"— you'd think they'd always been there, so familiar are their tropes and tunes. But they were tailored to a specific voice and market, defining upwardly mobile blues in a moment when r&b was wide open. Later Bland would lean into the soul beat of "These Hands (Small but Mighty)" and the pop-Latin lilt of "Call on Me," incite harmonettes into chirping "Yield not to temptation." But postblues are his home ground. And most of the time, Jabo Starks is his drummer.A

DUKE ELLINGTON: The Best of Early Ellington (MCA) Although it doesn't approach RCA's long-lost Flaming Youth and touches fewer famous classics than Columbia's fainter, cleaner two-CD Okeh Ellington, this warm, scratchy disc leads out of his tangled discography into his '20s music, which traffics in a rinky-dink novelty more rock and roll than his glossy big-band dance charts. At first only a few familiar tunes stand out from the delicate audacity and raucous detail of the sound. But soon every theme kicks in, every silky clarinet solo and bumptious plunger mute. Ellington called this jungle music because white folks would never have believed he heard the modern city so much better than they did. They learned, kind of.A

GANG OF FOUR: 100 Flowers Bloom (Rhino) In a year of exploitations and misconceptions— Newman box (his albums sell cheap), Bacharach box (when will Dionne get her miniset?), Mayfield overkill-then-downsize (MCA's two-CD 1992 Anthology nails him)— the synchronic programming, live tracks, and five songs from 1995's disappearing Shrinkwrapped make this double look like another rogue Rhino. Far from it. Gof4's Warner albums always worked as albums, as they will again when they're finally rereleased, and Warner's Brief History of the 20th Century posits a proper beginning, middle, and end. What this jumble does is establish new interconnections— the concert versions and studio remixes hold songs you know up to the light, and mixed in among the old electrofunk adventures their recent techno moves sound principled and in character. Gof4's radical critique/embrace of commodification remains a truth, not the whole truth, so help me God. But it sure hasn't lost relevance. And when their albums do come back whole, as commodification makes inevitable, this version of their vision will still get in your face.A

HARD ROCK CAFE: PARTY ROCK(Hard Rock/Rhino) Lead track: "Addicted to Love." Best track: "Addicted to Love." Also includes: "Hot Blooded," "What I Like About You," "Can't Get Enough." Oldest track: "Joy to the World." Second-worst track (after "Do You Feel Like We Do"): "Joy to the World." Author of notes: singer of "Joy to the World." Black artists: one. Newest track: Tone-Loc's "Wild Thing." Tracks by legitimate album artists: one ("Gimme Three Steps"). Conflicts with Dazed and Confused: two. Conflicts with Jock Jams or Frat Rock: zero. In short: best stupid-rock comp in many a year. A

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