Ruth Ruth
Are You My Friend?
(RCA)
  ½


New Yorkers Ruth Ruth craft the kind of loud but melodic guitar rock that first came into vogue in the mid-’80s thanks to bands like The Connells and The Pixies. Originally a power trio with two previous albums on two different record labels, Ruth Ruth has now added an expatriot from Eve’s Plum on guitar (Michael Kotch) to beef up their sound and they’ve moved to RCA; the result is Are You My Friend?, a catchy, chimey mix of upbeat guitar rock complete with the occasional fit of bubblegum handclaps (“Her From Planet Fur”). The latter song also features spacey synthesizers before kicking in the guitars for a punky power anthem.

It’s not all no-holds-barred rock on this CD, though. “Agent 99” finds a laidback tender groove with Chris Kennedy crooning some falsettoes and mournful strings hiding out in the coatroom. And ‘Dedicate It To You” starts out with a mechanical but quiet guitar strum that’s reminiscient of Smashing Pumpkins’ “Perfect” before the vocals come in with a late ‘70s Graham Parker kind of attack. Definitely a different mix.

There’s nothing earthshatteringly original on Are You My Friend?, but it is a solid collection power pop with some retro touches, lots of background harmonies and well-done heavy guitar riffing. The band sounds like a good bet to catch live, and, as it happens, they’re scheduled to play Chicago’s Metro on Sept. 22.

 

Dag
Apartment #635
(Columbia)
   ½


I haven’t heard anyone use the quirky Casio-ish synthesizers that pop out repeatedly on this pop-funk-rock disc since the early ‘80s outtings of Cameo, The Time and Prince. But that only makes those tinkly cheeps and blurps more endearing. Singer Bobby Patterson owes a lot to Prince — in many ways this sounds like a Paisley Park-produced project. In fact, this is more consistently funky and catchy than any album Prince has recorded since he pulled together the New Power Generation.

Apartment #635 leads with the summer’s best “cheeky” number — a groovin’ bit of lover-putdown in “Our Love Would Be Much Better (If I Gave A Damn About You).” With echoes of Prince and long-lost ‘80s funksters The Blowmonkeys, this song is a must-hear for any party. “You Make Me Feel” cops ballad riffs from the Stevie Wonder songbook, and the title track rests on a Princian “You Got The Look”-era electronic drum track and “Kiss” style funk guitar riff. Other tracks pick through the songbook of other rockin’ funksters like Lenny Kravitz. But while they shamelessly borrow a lot, Dag pull it together with a hooky polish that’s impossible to resist. This is an album that just dares you to try not to shake your groove thing. If you can take that dare and win, I’d say you also lose — it just means that you have no soul.

 

Mediaeval Baebes
Salva Nos

(Virgin)
  ½


Here’s something a little different. The head of English vocal group Miranda Sex Garden (yes, they’re a bit different, themselves) pulled together some of her friends to sing ancient medieaval liturgical vocal pieces as a lark. That lark ended up as a group of 12 women collaborating to create this album of truly “classic” mediaeval ballads and church chorales. It’s a mix of the echoey chanting kind of stuff you’d expect from monks and nuns along with lilting songs of the kind you’d expect to hear between acts of a good production of a Shakespeare play. But this is no collection of straight-laced schoolmarms with plastic glasses and ankle length heavy dresses from the historical society handling these classics. These girls are young provacateurs with tattoos they’re unafraid of showing — not surprising, since several of them were exotic dancers in a former vocation. Call them the Spice Baebes?

Whatever their reportedly racy concert attire, their album shows the talent and grace that you’d expect from a classically trained choir singing songs 600 years old. The album’s both haunting and beautiful — and some of these pastoral European bits of history are darned catchy, even if the stylings are a few centuries out of date. For example, the trilling flute and French lyric of “Ah Si Mon Moine” are both shockingly bouncy and racy for their time (the song deals with a maiden’s lust for a friar). While much of this is sung in ancient dialect and/or a non-English tongue, the Mediaeval Baebes have made it surprisingly accessible to those of us weaned on rock ‘n’ roll. And there are a couple of hymns that will be familiar to most — the Babes make “Veni Veni” (“O Come O Come Emmanuel”) a thing of dramatic beauty again instead of a habit of churchly duty, and they give a traditional run-through of “The Coventry Carol,” which actually turns out to be one of the disc’s less interesting or successful numbers (they sing it so slow that it becomes a dirge). This will be a good disc to pull out as the seasons turn darker and a bit of contemplative atmosphere is called for from your stereo.

 

Online Special:


The new CD from Hole was released this week, but for those who want a sneak peek at the sound of the new disc before buying, the Hole website at www.geffen.com/hole offers a free download of the title track, “Celebrity Skin” for fans. To listen to the track, web surfers do need to download the Liquid Audio free player from www.liquidaudio.com.

 

Pop Collections:


Columbia/Legacy has pulled together two new hits collections from ‘80s artists Patty Smyth and Men At Work. Patty Smyth’s Greatest Hits (Featuring Scandal) covers the singers early ‘80s big rock Scandal productions like ‘The Warrior” and “Goodbye To You” as well as her beautiful acoustic 1993 return to the charts with “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough,” co-written with one-time Styx guitarist Glen Burtnick. The disc also includes a new Burtnick-Smyth co-write, a string and huge guitars duet from the Armageddon soundtrack, “Wish I Were You.” There are also two other previously unreleased tracks on the disc.

The Men At Work hits package is actually a live recording from the band’s recent South American tour. Brazil features original singer Colin Hay and the rest of the band running through familiar ‘80s hits like “Overkill,” “Down Under,” “Dr. Heckyll & Mr. Jive,” “It’s A Mistake” and “Be Good Johnny.”

 

Items of Very Specific Appeal:


Columbia/Legacy has released two Greatest Hits packages from ‘50s-’60s hitmaker Jerry Vale (Greatest Hits and Sings The Great Italian Hits, along with two discs that have never been previously available on CD: Till and Sings The Great Hits of Nat King Cole...Rhino has pulled together a couple of collections of cartoon theme songs. How many people are likely to play these repeatedly in their homes is open to question, but The Best of Anime includes the English language themes to “Astro Boy,” “Gigantor, “ “Speed Racer” and Japanese songs from Megazone 23, Urusei Yatsura, Windaria, Cat Girl Nuku Nuku and more. The disc has laso been released with two different CD covers, one from “Speed Racer” and the other featuring a still from “New Cutey Honey.” Rhino has also released a collection of songs from “Scooby-Doo.’ Scooby-Doo’s Snack Tracks: The Ultimate Collection includes 19 songs, including the theme song, a club mix of dialogue and samples fro mthe three “Scooby” series and a track from Monkee Davy Jones, “I Can Make You Happy.”