Looking back while moving forward: oldies reissued
Once upon a time, Dominic Chianese worked summer stock theater, and strummed a guitar and sang folk songs in the heyday of Green-wich Village. He was a club emcee who introduced the famous people. Fast forward 40 years, and Chianese is the famous person known for his role as Uncle Junior on HBO's "The Sopranos." His newfound celebrity has allowed him to go back to his roots crooning old classics and strumming the guitar. The independent Madacy Entertainment Group has released the 70-year-old singer's first CD, Hits, a collection of timeworn tunes like "For the Good Times," "Guantanamera," and "Amazing Grace," along with a couple of originals written by Chianese (the quiet "Love Is Real" and "True Love Still on My Mind" and the Dixieland "Typical New Yorker"). Chianese isn't going to soar up the pop charts with this material; it sounds like the kind of crooner LP that might have been waxed in the '50s or '60s. But older fans of "The Sopranos" who remember those earlier times will probably appreciate its quiet arrangements and familiar songs.
Closer to home, but just as relaxing, is an instrumental piano and strings album by an artist simply known as Rene. The pianist's Poet of the Heart, recorded at Governor State University and at studios in Homewood and Chicago, and released by Chicago Heights' Polyphony Music through Serge Entertainment Group, is a collection of gentle, meditative New Age songs arranged with the kind of melancholy beauty that Jim Brickman fans will appreciate. Somehow song titles like "Love for All Seasons," "A Hero's Tale," "Love Eternal" and "Forever Yours" sound like they must be covers of previous hit songs. But actually, these are all Rene's compositions, with the exception of Bach's "Ave Maria." To order Rene's disc, check the Serge Entertainment Group's Web site at www.serge.org/shopping.htm.
Still in a mellow mood, but want something a little more modern-sounding? MCA Records has released Volume Eight of its Various Artists Café Del Mar series, which features tranquil remixes and original versions of ambient music by techno artists. This edition features Dido's "Worthless" and Lamb's "Gabriel," as well as tracks by lesser known artists such as Afterlife, Lux, Scripture, Goldtrapp, Mari Boine, Illumination and more. It's a good disc for background playing or meditation, with many long instrumental passages and electronic-leaning soundscapes, ranging from Spanish guitar interludes to eerie pop melodies to blankets of techno samples and keyboard washes, surrounding lightly danceable beats.
Columbia's Legacy label has released a 16-track compilation charting the 1978-1992 string of hits by rocker Eddie Money. The Best of Eddie Money features "Two Tickets to Paradise," "Think I'm in Love," "Walk on Water," Shakin'" "Take Me Home Tonight," "Baby Hold On," and more.
In listening to the newly reissued 1982 album The Days of Wine and Roses from the guitar band The Dream Syndicate, I can't hear what the fuss was all about. Jangly, droney guitars and Steve Wynn's unimpressive vocals make up the bulk of the original nine-song album. From my perspective, the only good thing to come out of the Syndicate was bassist Kendra Smith's solo career (she released the excellently moody Five Ways of Disappearing on 4AD in 1995). But Steve Wynn's solo career has continued over the past two decades, and fans still cite The Days of Wine and Roses as his formative band's best effort. Consequently, Rhino Records has re-released the disc, along with eight bonus tracks taken from 1981 rehearsals, an early '82 EP and Wynn's previous band, 15 Minutes. If nothing else, it is definitely a product of its time, easily compared sonically to early albums by garage guitar bands like Violent Femmes, with spare but present bass lines, always slightly out-of-tune sounding guitar riffs and loosely sung vocals. It reminds me of half the bands I saw play at a little bar called Mabel's in Champaign-Urbana during the mid-'80s.
Rhino Records has also mined the Warner Bros. archives to put together a comprehensive package overview of a more pervasive and well-known product of the '80s Echo & The Bunnymen. The band's Crystal Days 1979-1999, is a four-disc box set that includes 72 tracks, including 17 previously unreleased recordings and 21 cuts that were never before available on CD. The box spans the Bunnymen's career, from their very first recording, "Monkeys," through songs from What Are You Going to Do With Your Life, their second album in the late '90s after singer Ian McCulloch reunited with Will Sergeant and Les Pattinson, following almost a decade of separation (the band cut one album without McCulloch in 1990 Reverberation that is not represented on this compilation). In their celebrated highpoint during the mid- to late-'80s, the band only scored a couple of singles that came close to charting on these shores ("Bring on the Dancing Horses" and "Lips Like Sugar") and never even cracked Billboard's Top 40 Singles charts. But they drew a loyal cult following to their neo-psychedelic gloom and mood sound, with albums like Crocodiles, Heaven Up Here, Porcupine, Echo & The Bunnymen and Ocean Rain. Listening to this extensive compilation, their sometimes jangly psychedelic-derived pop songs and other-times polished synthesizer-augmented slivers of sugary mood still hold up well today.