Work of Chicago comedian, Zion pop band honored on new releases

Bob Newhart AnthologyLong before Bob Newhart was a television star, he was a popular stand-up comedian. The Oak Park, IL native (and onetime accountant) made his first mark on the entertainment world with his zany breed of one-sided storytelling. His early routines, written for radio, revolved around what were essentially character sketches – Newhart pretended as if he were having a conversation with someone, with the "someone’s" responses reflected in Newhart’s own pregnant pauses and answers. His conversation with Abraham Lincoln on "sticking to the speech we wrote for you" as well as his "Driving Instructor" bits were two of the pieces that propelled his first album, The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart to the #1 spot on the album charts in 1960. That disc was followed later the same year by The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back! which also hit #1. In fact, Newhart held the record for the longest simultaneous #1 and #2 albums on the Billboard charts for those discs for some 30 years (until it was broken by Guns N’ Roses). His persona of a "regular guy who stares in amazement at a world gone mad" struck a chord with audiences throughout the ‘60s and resulted in a string of hit comedy albums and "Tonight Show" appearances. This all eventually landed him his first self-titled TV show, the successful "The Bob Newhart Show." Rhino Records has now gone back to the beginning and collected 24 sketches from his seven LP releases of the ‘60s. Something Like This…The Bob Newhart Anthology is comedy from another time, and yet, Newhart’s dryly humorous approach still makes me laugh as much as these records did 25 years ago, when my friends and I discovered worn-out, scratchy copies of the original LPs in our parents’ record cabinets. If you want a good clean laugh that’s as entertaining to (and safe for!) kids as it is adults, pick this two-disc set up.

Shoe Fetish - A Tribute to ShoesZion, IL is best known in the rock music world for producing Shoes, a power pop act who nicked the Top 100 Billboard singles chart just once in 1979 with "Too Late." While pop chart success eluded them, the group built an underground following over the next decade that eventually resulted in regional hits with "Feel The Way That I Do" and "Your Devotion," two tracks from their independently released Stolen Wishes album, which seemed to be played just about every hour on WXRT-FM in 1989. Now southern Illinois (Urbana) label Parasol has put together a tribute album to the northern Illinois band in Shoe Fetish: A Tribute to Shoes. With 22 songs and bands, the CD covers all the phases of Shoes’ 25-year recording history. Some of the tribute artists are known masters of the chimey guitar power pop form themselves, with the likes of Matthew Sweet crooning "Karen," Don Dixon & Marti Jones softpeddling "Only in My Sleep" and the Raspberries’ Scott McCarl singing "Never Had It Better." Australia’s DM3 covers "Too Late," The Spongetones handle "Curiousity" and Big Hello (featuring former Elvis Brothers drummer Brad Elvis) do a memorable job on Shoes’ trademark bass romp "Tomorrow Night." While most of the artists on this disc will be unfamiliar to the majority of listeners, those lovers of independent, homegrown guitar pop with sweetly layered harmony vocals will welcome this tribute with open arms. (For more information check the label’s web site at www.parasol.com)

Fans of R&B band LeVert can now get The Best of LeVert on Rhino records. The disc includes 14 songs from five of their six Atlantic albums released from 1986-1997, including their #1 R&B hit "(Pop, Pop, Pop, Pop) Goes My Mind," as well as "Casanova and an extended remix of "Just Coolin’."

If you need a little more Mardi Gras, Tomorrow Recordings offers a live album from Buckwheat Zydeco in Just the Facts. Filled with the trademark Hammond B-3 organ and accordion that has cemented the band’s 20+ year career as one of the best known progenitors of funky cajun music, and including an energetic run-through of the band’s signature zydeco dancefloor anthem, "What You Gonna Do?" this is a great backyard party CD. (For more information, check www.buckwheatzydeco.com.)

Chris Duarte - Love is Greater Than MeMiss the classic swamp blues rock of Stevie Ray Vaughn? Then you need to seek out Chris Duarte’s new Rounder/Zoe Records release Love Is Greater Than Me. While Duarte doesn’t quite have the vocal depth of Vaughn, his guitar sings in an undeniable Vaughn vein, and he’s helped out by one-time Vaughan collaborator Doyle Bramhall. A native of San Antonio, Texas, Duarte’s music is tinged with the rough tones of the southern roadhouse and the melancholy strains of the working man’s blues. His debut album in 1994 earned him a Best New Talent notice in Guitar Player magazine and his followup album continued to push the envelope of guitar blues rock. Love Is Greater Than Me is his third album and it runs the classic rock gamut from hints of Howlin’ Wolf to nods at Hendrix to a grungey homage to Kurt Cobain in "Metaphor." For fans of roots rock, this is the real deal. (For more information, check the Rounder Records/Zoe web site at www.rounder.com).