Give the Gift of UniMoth

Lymon's oeuvre is less mythic than he is. Forced to sit through his Bear Family box, adepts luxuriate in nostalgia or read trauma and triumph into every piece of crap George Goldner handed him while outsiders smile indulgently at his una-poppa-cow or kvell about a New York street music better understood as a democratic multiplicity. Fact is, the 16-song package is kinder than the 20-track it condenses. Lymon possessed the strongest instrument of any youngteenager on record, including Tanya Tucker, Arlene Smith, Brenda Lee, LeAnn Rimes, and Michael Jackson himself. Aware that this little kid was a pimp before he got fucked on the hit parade, we can hear the knowingness of the voice's innocence as both thrilling and chilling. But note as well how much his street music owes the showbiz razzmatazz every teenager of the time encountered on radio and television but few were canny enough to put to use. Then we should admit that on the few pieces of B material here, he's just reading his lines, stuck in a rut that can't accommodate his drive to rise above. And then we'll try and forget all that, as Lymon had to if his records were to make any sense as the teen dreams they were and remain. A

TAJ MAHAL
The Best of Taj Mahal(Columbia/Legacy)
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Though the box is too much as usual, rest assured that none of his albums have gotten worse. But since not everyone's a natural sucker for John Hurt's love child moved down to New Orleans and taken up with a St. Kitts woman, here's where to find out how much you care. Five of 17 songs are also on the paradigm-shifting 1992 comp Taj's Blues, which also begins (and why not?) with "Statesboro Blues" and "Leaving Trunk." But starting with 1969's The Natch'l Blues, say, would mean missing, to name just two, Dave Dudley's Teamster-certified "Six Days on the Road" and the Pointer Sisters' sashaying backup on "Cakewalk Into Town." Don't die without hearing that one. It's reason to live all by itself. A

OHIO PLAYERS
The Best of Ohio Players: 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection(Mercury)
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A snazzier gleaning would include "Far East Mississippi" and some Westbound hits. But as competing UniMoth entries by the Gap Band, Trick James, and LTD make clear, this Dayton crew got the funk. What seemed like novelty ad infinitum in the '70s was in fact kompletely kinky, and not in the sense of honey-covered cover girls or (too bad) fresh interpretations of "Lola" and "You Really Got Me"—just wound-tight bass and drums and three horny men following turn for turn. Topping all was Leroy Bonner's falsetto etc., as toon-town as Bootsy yet, like Bootsy, soulful to the nth when it chose. Remember the 1974 ballad "I Want to Be Free"? No? Well, rent Spike Lee's Kings of Comedy, where a whole arena in Charlotte knows every word. A

RICHARD PRYOR
. . . And It's Deep Too!: The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings (1975-1992)(Rhino)
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Not music. Nine original-package CDs that could squeeze onto six. Lists for $80. Yet while I'll note that Pryor's outrages are synergistic with hip-hop's—each naturalizes, enriches, and critiques the other—I'd be recommending this luxury item over my own dead principles even if they weren't. His woman problems can vex, but not only hasn't he dated, he's gained stature. These albums comprise a great body of performed literature, their only drawback their lack of videos. So bargain hunt. I located it at non-union-busting (if nonunion) CDNow for $56. A PLUS

JIMMY REED
Blues Masters: The Very Best of Jimmy Reed(Rhino)
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He was a paragon of mush-mouthed warmth and congenial ineptitude, the crudest hitmaker in pop history and one of the bestselling bluesmen ever. People pretend to understand how he happened, but they don't. Sure the boogie shuffle Eddie Taylor got out of his guitar was new and inviting, but was it novel, or compelling? And Fats Domino, a plausible analogy, was infinitely cleaner and slicker. Rhino's selection includes the prized "Odds and Ends," in which a violinist on shore leave from the Chicago Symphony goes crazy and can't figure out how to get back. Seems like a parable, only what exactly is the point? The point is that with Jimmy Reed, you never know. A

SMOOTH GROOVES: THE ESSENTIAL COLLECTION
(Rhino)
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Finally, after truckloads of fluff and baloney, a quiet-storm comp worthy of a 70-minute man. Access definitive Delfonics, Stylistics, Spinners, Blue Magic! Enjoy essential Green and Gaye! Hear Lou Rawls succumb to Gamble & Huff! Find out why Kool & the Gang did slow ones! Climax simultaneously with Barry White! Wake up next to Heatwave in the morning! A

DIONNE WARWICK
The Very Best of Dionne Warwick(Rhino)
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Warwick aged terribly—rid of Burt Bacharach, she immediately immersed in the ritual emotion of divahood. But as his ingenue she was a model of self-possessed vulnerability. Though this chart-determined 16-song budget CD skips such lovely moments as "You'll Never Get to Heaven" and "I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself," it still leaves her on the right side of 30, which for the purposes of this argument means 29. Dry with a sweetness like affordable champagne, she was girl-group's big sister, her natural sense of style based on close readings of Harper's Bazaarand sage advice from her Uncle Burt—who was in the business, who lost his touch when she wasn't there to dress anymore, and who didn't regain it when she came back her own woman. A

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