Andy BellThe band Alabama has helped define country music over the last 25 years, and its members have just pulled together a three-CD box set documenting their career. Released by RCA/Legacy, Livin' Lovin' Rockin' Rollin' The 25 th Anniversary Collection offers eight previously unreleased tracks among its 51 songs. Included are the hits “Feels So Right,” “Close Enough to Perfect,” “Take Me Down,” and a live medley of “Deep River Woman” and “When We Make Love.”

For old-fashioned ‘70s radio style country music, take a listen to two independently released discs by Skyla Spencer and Rustie Blue.

Blue's first release pairs her for an infectious “love's slipping away” duet with Whisperin' Bill Anderson on the title track, “Chip Chip.” Anderson also co-wrote the tilte cut as well as two other tunes on the album, and there are plenty of fiddles, honkey tonk piano and twanging guitars for the traditional roadhouse country lover. For music samples and more information, check her site at www.rustieblue.com.

Rustie BlueSpencer is a West Virginian who relocated to Nashville at the start of the decade and in 2001 was named New Female Vocalist of the Year at the Golden Music Awards there. Her latest CD is “You Said You'd Call Me,” which also happens to be the disc's first track. It's a fun rip on a love ‘em and leave ‘em guy who pops back up on the phone only to get the “you're so five minutes ago” treatment. She offers a chugging train vocal for “Chug Choo Choo” and a sweet, twanging ballad in “If I Were Rain,” dedicated to U.S. troops overseas. For music samples and more information on her disc, check www.skylaspencer.com.

Tresa Street , another female country artist, has found a new life for Baby It's You , a country disc originally released 10 years ago that has been remixed and re-issued on CD by A.M.I. Records. The disc mixes adult contemporary ballads like the Burt Bacharach title track and the cry-in-your-beer closing song “Everytime I Think It's Over” with toe-tapping pedal-steel rich dancehall country like “Last Light.” For more information check www.tresastreet.com.

 

Andy Bell Andy Bell
Electric Blue
(Sanctuary)

For the past 20 years, Andy Bell has been the soulful voice balancing out the electronic sterility of the instruments in the techno duo Erasure, who scored a couple of early ‘90s smashes with “Chains of Love” and “A Little Respect.”

Erasure is still very much on the map; they released an album last year and have one due this spring. But for the first time in his career, Bell has also taken some time to record a solo album.

While the material still pits Bell's smoky vocals against an electronic dancey backdrop, it also pairs him with a handful of new songwriters. The result is a percollating swirl of pop that sounds familiar, but yet distinct. This is not an Erasure rip-off album by any means.

On the effervescent “Caught in a Spin” the production team meld a Spanish guitar trill with synth sirens and a galloping beat for an exotic, intoxicating mix. That slips into the pure techno candy of “Crazy,” the CD's first single and probably best track. Bell's performance is amazing, as he builds from singing of holding hands to a soul-baring declaration of how he's being driven “crazy” with desire.

In “Love Oneself,” he duets with Claudia Brucken (former singer of Propaganda and Act ) to create a Madonna-esque electronica track with a strong message: “we only have one life/this is not a rehearsal” they both sing.

Bell moves from one duet to another; on “I Thought It Was You,” he spins a disco-happy bit of frenzy with Scissor Sister 's Jake Shears that will make you think of Donna Summer for a moment before you have to stop yourself from spontaneously dancing around the living room.

Much of the album has a meld of modern throbbing techno with the classic galloping beat sounds of late ‘70s disco. While it doesn't all reach the irresistable aural candy level of “Crazy,” “Love Oneself” and “I Thought It Was You,” Bell's charisma sells even the most average songs. For Erasure fans, it's a must-have; aside from hearing Bell step up the dance again, they will enjoy picking out the occasional parts that sound reminiscient of Bell's “other” band. On “Jealous” he references some vocal melodies and instrument effects that Erasure used on tracks like “Chorus” and “Oh L'Amour.”

Electric Blue proves that Andy Bell can spin great pop candy on his own. Given that he's also still working with Vince Clarke on Erasure projects, it means double the pleasure for fans of smart, sultry synth-pop!