Culture Club
VH1 Storytellers/Greatest Moments
(Virgin)
   


Those ‘80s Grammy-winning hitmakers Culture Club have reformed this summer to cash some nostalgia checks and to gear up to record a new studio album, their first in more than a decade. The band plays Rosemont Horizon on Saturday, and has released VH1 Storytellers/Greatest Moments, a two-CD set on Virgin Records. The Storytellers live disc includes their hits “Church of the Poison Mind,” “Miss Me Blind,” “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya,” “Karma Chameleon,” “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” and more. The Greatest Moments CD includes the studio versions of those hits as well as three new songs (one of which, “I Just Want To Be Loved” is also given a live treatment on the VH1 disc)

 

Bic Runga
Drive
(Columbia)
  


If you went to the Lilith Fair at The World Theatre last week, you might have caught the set of singer-songwriter Bic Runga on one of the side stages. Runga is a diminuitive Asian New Zealander who sings with a gentle caressing flow of emotion over light rock beds of acoustic guitars and throbbing basslines. Her first single “Sway” includes a melancholy underpinning of strings and echoes the sound of another exotic singer from a couple years back — Milla. It’s a captivating song filled with yearning, charm and infectious sound.

Runga’s upper vocal range and acoustic sing-song pop numbers like “Drive” and the slow guitar arpeggio-ed “Hey” also bring to mind the “waif” sound of Australia’s Frente.
While there are moments when Runga kicks in some overdrive guitars and belts out passion at the mic, for the most part, Drive is a sweet, intimate album with a feather touch.

 

Nanci Griffith
Other Voices, Too (A Trip Back To Bountiful)
(Elektra)
  


Nanci Griffith is one of the finest songwriters in the genre of crossover country pop. She's penned hits for Bette Midler and others and has crafted some stirring, gorgeous country-folk-pop albums on her own. But with Other Voices, Too (a sequel to her 1993 Other Voices | Other Rooms disc) she covers some of her own favorite folk and country songs by the likes of Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Sonny Curtis and Sandy Denny, often with the help of the original artists or famous friends like Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams and John Prine. The result is a mixed bag. For the Other Voices albums Griffith has favored folksier arrangements than those on her albums of originals, and many of the songs simply don't stand up as deep or interesting as Griffith's own material.

She leads this one off on a good path, covering Richard Thompson's "Wall of Death," though her somewhat wispy, quavery pipes don't exactly carry the heavy burden of the tune like Thompson does. Thompson himself turns up later on the album on guitar helping Griffith cover the jangly 1965 hit by We Five, "You Were On My Mind."  Sonny Curtis, who also sang on Griffith's last CD covering his own "I Fought The Law" helps out this time on duet vocals on his old hit "Walk Right Back." Griffith is joined by songwriter Guy Clark (who also appeared on the original Other Voices disc) as well as by Thompson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell and Jimmie Dale Gilmore on "Desperadoes Waiting For A Train."

This album is filled with guest performances: Lyle Lovett sings along on "Dress of Laces" by John Grimaudo & Saylor White, and members of Toad The Wet Sprocket (who, ironically, once recorded a song about Nanci Griffith) and Hootie and the Blowfish turn up on different tracks. Emmylou Harris and John Prine are two more "guests" who worked on both Other Voices albums. For all the names, though, this is essentially a harmony, acoustic guitar and light background rhythm album. An easygoing strum session, tackling everyone's favorite oldies. Griffith is especially effective with Crowell's help covering Johnny Cash's gentle 1958 hymn "I Still Miss Someone" and with Lovett's help on the beautifully melancholy "Dress of Laces."

If you enjoy the music of old Americana, the harmonies of the still prairie, you'll fall in love instantly with this collection. It's a fine backdrop to a quiet summer sunset. Those who prefer Griffith's bigger "Blue Moon Orchestra" sound, however, might find this one comes up a bit too twangy and folksy.

 

Counting Crows
Across A Wire: Live In New York
(DGC)
   ½


It's a little unusual for a band with only two original albums on the shelf to put out a live disc. Counting Crows have put out two! Across A Wire is a two-disc set that collects a mostly acoustic set the band recorded for the VH1 "Storytellers" program and an "electric" set recorded for MTV's "Live From The 10 Spot" program.

Fans who caught the band last year at the World Theatre or Aragon Ballroom know that the band has a penchant for expanding its songs in concert and for singer Adam Duritz to add whole new verses. On the VH1 set, for example, he splices The Byrds' "So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star"  into the opening of a completely restructured "Mr. Jones," in a perfect marriage of tone and intent.

Those spontaneous and expansive elements and the fact that the band plays many of the same songs but in completely different arrangements on the two discs are what make this set an exciting and necessary event for a band that might otherwise be considered "too young" to have a double live album. The only critique I'd voice of the set is that the "Storytellers" disc doesn't include the thing that makes that program unique - the band describing the "stories" behind their songs. In fact, Duritz talks more on the MTV disc than the VH1. A minor complaint.

The Crows had problems with their sound mixing the last couple times they were in Chicago, rendering Duritz's vocals almost unintelligible. On these live recordings, however, his lyrics are front and center and crisply intelligible on emotional tracks like "A Long December," "Rain King," and "Anna Begins." The  band plays musical chairs with their instruments on the VH-1 set, lending it a "looser" feel than the MTV set in some regards. But it's in the version of "Round Here" on the MTV set that Duritz takes the song to a mammoth 10 minutes as in the middle of it he references the lyrics of "Have You Seen Me Lately?" and expands on "Round Here"'s themes of loneliness and alienation.

Counting Crows is a band that does more in concert than just dutifully recreate the notes its members record on studio albums. This double set captures  both the stage spirit and the ever-evolving songs of one of modern rock's most vital and promising young acts.

 

For Kids


Kids must really have enjoyed last year’s Space Ghost album Bar-B-Que, because Rhino and the Cartoon Network have teamed up to release another Space Ghost disc. The new Surf & Turf disc offers songs from the show like “Pokin’ Around,” “It’s Not Easy Being Evil” and “Highway 40 Revisited,” as well as two previously unreleased songs...