Valentine's Day Music

Travis Tritt - The Lovin' Side Lookin' for a little country Valentine's Day music?

Warner Bros. and Rhino Records have just issued a 16-track compilation from Travis Tritt called The Lovin' Side.

The disc includes "For You," "When I Touch You," "More Than You'll Ever Know," "Can I Trust You with My Heart" and more. The label also has issued a companion, The Rockin' Side, which includes another 16 Tritt tracks, ranging from "Rough Around the Edges" and "T-R-O-U-B-L-E," to his covers of Jude Cole's "Start the Car" and The Eagles "Take it Easy" and his collaborations with Marty Stuart on "Double Trouble" and "The Whiskey Ain't Workin'."

For those looking for more traditional crooning for Valentine's Day, Columbia has a new 40-song, two-CD collection of Barbra Streisand's greatest hits. The Essential Barbra Streisand includes "Woman in Love," "Comin' in and Out of Your Life," "Memory," "Send in the Clowns," "The Way We Were," "Evergreen," and her duets "Guilty" with Barry Gibb, "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" with Neil Diamond, and "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)" with Donna Summer. It also includes two recordings previously unavailable on CD "Someday My Prince Will Come" and "You'll Never Walk Alone," the latter from her performance at the 2001 Emmy Awards.


Live Review

A couple of weeks back, I reviewed Concrete Blonde's first album in eight years, Group Therapy. Last Friday, the trio sold out Chicago's Vic Theatre and put on a triumphant reunion show.

Leader Johnette Napolitano introduced and sat in with the opening act, Mojacar, a duo consisting of an acoustic Mexican guitarist and flamenco dancer. It was a quirky, subdued choice of opening performers for a rock concert, but Concrete Blonde's mission has always been about following your muse, and Napolitano's has always led her south of the border for inspiration (witness the title to their fourth album, Mexican Moon).

Concrete Blonde took the stage with a cover of George Harrison's "Beware of Darkness" and peppered the rest of their set with old favorites like the fist-raising "Still in Hollywood," "God Is a Bullet," "Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)," "Days and Days," and "Someday," as well as with a hybrid version of their biggest hit, "Joey," which Napolitano spliced with the Irish traditional "Whiskey in the Jar 'O."

But the band wasn't just playing a greatest hits show they introduced the crowd to a handful of new songs. The show ended with a crackling version of the ballad "Someday," which had the crowd screaming, and the band's staple-pounding anthem "Still in Hollywood." Despite an eight-year absence, Napolitano's voice is still in powerful top form, and the band, while crafting some slower, darker new material than its past work, remains a vital force.


Cracker - Forever Cracker
(Back Porch/Virgin)

The quintessential "alternative rock" band starts 2002 with one of its strongest sets yet. Formed a decade ago from the ashes of '80s cult band Camper Van Beethoven, Cracker hit rock-chart success quickly with "Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)," "Happy Birthday to Me," "Eurotrash Girl," and "Get off This."

Its past couple of discs have failed to capture that same stride, but with Forever, it seems back in form, augmenting its sassy, cynical down-home garage rock sound with plenty of memorable riffs and a parade of background singers. There's an irresistible pounding snarl of a rocker in "Guarded by Monkeys," a funky '70s pop-nodding hit-waiting-to-happen in "Ain't that Strange," and a stirring, oblique melancholy exercise in "Brides of Neptune," which includes evocative lyrics like "I tried dating a mermaid" and "that mysterious cargo is still guarded by monkeys."

While Cracker has had the capacity to "drone" on in the past, Forever never gets stale, with a variety of tempos and tones. "Miss Santa Cruz County" could bring the band a rock hit along the lines of "Teen Angst," with its gritty, crunching guitar riff and easily-to-identify-with chorus of "Let's all be someone else/I'm tired of being myself."


Earl Scruggs Earl Scruggs
Earl Scruggs and Friends

Country bluegrass fans need no introduction to banjo-master Earl Scruggs, who has spent the past 50 years performing and weathering a hundred fads in pop music.

Even fans who have done their best to avoid ever hearing any country music have heard Scruggs' work, through his theme song to TV's "The Beverly Hillbillies," or his "Bonnie & Clyde" soundtrack hit "Foggy Mountain Breakdown." On this new 12-song disc, a host of pop luminaries drop in at the microphone to pair up with the picker on both new and classic songs, guaranteeing that more than just the faithful will learn more about the talent of Earl Scruggs.

Elton John contributes and guests on the moving down-home ballad "Country Comfort," Dwight Yoakam turns up for a run-through of his "Borrowed Love," and Billy Bob Thornton turns in a solid, smooth performance of the Johnny Cash classic (written by his wife, June Carter with Merle Kilgore) "Ring of Fire." Johnny Cash, himself, turns up for a vocal recitation alongside Don Henley on a Cash original "Passin' Thru" and Rosanne Cash pairs with Vince Gill to sing a new track written with Scruggs called "I Found Love." John Fogerty sings the traditional "Blue Ridge Mountain Blues."