Celebrating his 20th anniversary as a Columbia recording artist, and his upcoming 40th birthday, Columbia Records has releasted Popular Songs: the Best of Wynton Marsalis. The disc includes a dozen of the grammy-winning jazz trumpeter’s tracks spanning 1987-1999. Included are "Black Codes," "Sunflowers," "Down Home with Homey" and "Soon All Will Know," among others.… Carlos Santana has been given the remix treatment by Bill Laswell. The new Columbia release Carlos Santana/Divine Light: Reconstruction & Mix Translation by Bill Laswell finds Laswell revamping songs from Santana’s two spiritual albums from the early ‘70s, Illuminations and Love Devotion Surrrender….He has never garnered a big audience on these shores, but English folk rocker Roy Harper has plenty of big name fans in his home country. Best known here for vocals on Pink Floyd’s "Have A Cigar" (from Wish You Were Here) and as the influence for Led Zeppelin’s "Hats Off To Harper," the singer-songwriter has a long body of his own work. The Right Stuff label has pulled together 14 songs from across his 40-year career, many of them collaborations with members of Pink Floyd, The Who, Ian Anderson, Yes and Led Zeppelin as well as with Kate Bush and Paul and Linda McCartney. The disc includes a 29-page booklet with Harper’s track-by-track commentary reflecting the stories behind the songs…

Urbana, Illinois’ Parasol Records has consistently put out some of the most adventurous and catchy pop and alternative music from both little known college acts and refugees from major labels over the last several years. Recently I reviewed a Parasol sampler collection here. Tonight, four Parasol artists will play a show at Chicago’s Metro. Neilson Hubbard (whose Why Men Fail disc was given a 4-star review here on January 25), Autoliner, Absinthe Blind and The Beauty Shop will all demonstrate why Parasol is one of the best independent labels going right now. Following are reviews of albums by a couple of the bands on the Thursday night bill:


Autoliner - BeAutoliner

This is the best power pop album I’ve heard all year! With guitar hooks from the Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band era, la-la-las and ooohs lifted from the heyday of The Beach Boys, and front wheel guitar drive from the songbook of Material Issue and The Posies, this band just doesn’t stop churning out one radio-friendly song after another. There’s a sheen of ‘70s AM radio throughout, with constant three-part harmonies and horn and string arrangements reminiscient of the production tricks of Electric Light Orchestra.

Who are these pop geniuses? Guitarist/vocalist Brian Leach hails from Champaign-Urbana’s long-lost Last Gentlemen (who put out one ‘90s album on Zoo Records after a successful "college band" career downstate), bassist/singer John Ross is formerly from Vivian Section and they’re backed by drummer/singer Tom Curless.

Be opens with the pounding beat and trade-off vocals of "Weakened," a play on words as the band hits hard with an upbeat chorus that sounds a lot more like: "Are you ready for the weekend." You just can’t get better harmony vocals in a pop song than on "Misunderstood" and "Supersonic Baby (In Disguise)." And the dramatic strings and delicate vocals of "Lighthouse" tread closely on "Eleanor Rigby" territory.

If this was the ‘70s, Autoliner would be huge stars. But instead, the band remains local, with this, their second album out on Urbana’s Parasol label.


Beauty Shop - Yr Money Or Yr Life The Beauty Shop
Yr Money Or Yr Life

With a singer sporting the same low-voiced deadpan delivery as Canada’s Crash Test Dummies and a song and guitar style that owes more to back porch pickin’ than to slick pop production, The Beauty Shop is a quirky hybrid that delivers 13 fascinating dirges on Yr Money Or Yr Life. Singer John Hoeffleur paints grim but fascinating pictures, from his "Death March" love song where he at first wishes, "I hope in my heart/in this desert scene/I’ll live to lick the last drops from a corpse’s canteen" only to find later that "I’m a spirit now, just a ghost/and of all the things I miss, I miss you most."

In what may be sharp insight or bitter cynicism, in "I Got Issues" he claims "The only really perfect love is one that gets away." Fans of Nick Cave’s dark visions will appreciate the whiskey-drenched visions of Yr Money Or Yr Life. These are simple songs with a quiet but heavy power and shadowy attraction.

For more information on these and other Parasol releases, check the web site at www.parasol.com.