A3
Exile on Coldharbour Lane
(Geffen)
½


In general, I'm not a big personal fan of pure gospel, blues, country or acid house music. So in theory, I should hate A3, who profess to pedal that "sweet, pretty, country acid house music." (as if anyone else has ever peddled the like!) But this 11-person musical terrorist group has merged all of those disparate styles with a rock 'n' roll reverence to create a travelling revival show of undeniable spiritual power. "In the beginning was The Word, and The Word was ELVIS..." reads the band's biography and while the King is a little hard to find on Exile, the Very Reverend Dr. D. Wayne Love and Larry Love preach a distinctive brand of rock 'n' roll that will convert the hardest of ears.

The disc opens with "Converted," a female gospel choir-backed throbbing dance hymn that professes: "let's go back to church, it's been so long since we sung that song, let's go back to church." Now, with words like that, you might be able to sneak this into a tent revival without much fuss, but just know that this music isn't really meant for any church you're familiar with; the Loves are spreading the gospel of The First Presleyterian Church of Elvis The Divine (U.K.).

Yep, U.K.

These boys, who sound like they stepped out of both a Chicago techno club and a southern blues bar on the seedy side of the tracks, are actually a crew of Brits who've appropriated the music of America's Deep South for their own ingeniously twisted adventurous ends.They're known as Alabama 3 across the water (legal reasons have shortened it to A3 on these shores) and they make an American musical stew more potent than any you're likely to hear from bands that grew up in Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia or the like. The infusion of techno dance backbeats, an evil sense of prosletizing humor and great pop melody hooks turn this from just another roots revival album into a religious experience. Pick this one up, follow Dr. Love's 12-Step Plan and take a "Hypo Full of Love." You'll be converted for sure.

 

Scott McCarl
Play On
(Titan)
½


Rock history buffs will remember Scott McCarl as the bassist who stepped in during the latter days of pop rock group The Raspberries. McCarl cut one album in 1974 with the group before singer Eric Carmen went solo in 1975. Since then, McCarl has disappeared from the national eye, though he played in California clubs for years. His first solo album easily eclipses any of those of former Raspberries leader Carmen (and it includes a bonus track of the demo that got him hired for The Raspberries).

It shouldn't have taken more than 20 years for McCarl to hit the record shelves again — Play On is a feast of Beatlesque pop rock. McCarl does a wildly accurate John Lennon impression on several songs on this disc (most notably on the bonus tracks included at its end from the '70s). His cover of Lennon/McCartney's "Yes It Is" sounds uncannily like the original, and explains the offers (refused) for him to join both a reformed Badfinger and the cast of Beatlemania in the '70s. While sometimes drum machine backing leaves their "power" a little lacking, all of the songs on Play On stand as fine examples of catchy guitar power pop, with sweet harmonies and easy swaying rhythms. Those familiar with fellow power pop purveyor Kyle Vincent will have a good handle on the sound of this release (McCarl even covers a Kyle Vincent song.) And while the Beatles comparisons abound throughout the album ("Wait A Minute Girl" even blatantly tosses out a couple Beatle song titles in the lyrics), there are other pop influences here as well. A 1970 demo of "I Wanna Be Free" sounds as good as The Monkees take on the same song. Occasionally a Byrds-ish chiming guitar turns up. And the falsetto chorus and big harmonies of "Fallin' In Lovin'" sound like the song was written specifically for Christine McVie and Fleetwood Mac to perform.

This is a fine pop record by a talent too long tucked away. Fans of Beatlesque pop rock should not miss this. And the first 1,000 CDs ordered through Titan Records will be autographed (send Titan $15 in check or money order to P.O. Box 5443, Kansas City, MO 64131). McCarl also has a web page at: http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Lot/9442/

 

Snippets:


Do you constantly feel like you're "Working For The Weekend"? Do you find yourself screaming "Turn Me Loose"? Well, you might think you're just overworked, but what you're really suffering from is Loverboy deprivation. And you can finally cure that disease: after a decade long recording hiatus, the Canadian pop rockers who managed to turn both of those above titles into hits are back on the road. They've got a new album on the shelves and will play Chicago's House of Blues on February 3. Nostalgia is the reason to go to this show, however, not the band's new material. Six, released last year on CMC International Records, is a tired retreading of the band's old sound that manages to avoid offering any new irresistable anthems. The self-indulgent tinny wailing '80s guitar solos are back and Mike Reno's voice hasn't changed much, but there isn't a song half as catchy as "Working for the Weekend" in the lot. Which leads me to offer Loverboy this adage: if you haven't anything new to say...don't say anything...speaking of not delivering, Harry Connick, Jr.'s latest disc, To See You, on Columbia, will be a heavy disappointment for those who thought the Perry Como of the '90s had finally grown up with his cajun-flavored pop-rock detour, which started a couple years back with She. While the rock, jazz and creole influences of that album brought Connick's undeniable talents to bear on current pop stylings, To See You returns Connick to the well-worn crooning '50s style he first made a name copying. Soaring orchestra strings and Connick's most syrupy vocals make for a 180 degree turn from She. A dose of honey needs a leavening bit of vinegar, and this treacly offering has no edge whatsoever.