The Specials
Guilty 'Til Proved Innocent

Two decades ago, The Specials created the popular ska movement with their first two albums and self-created ska-devoted 2-Tone label. The band split in the early '80s, forming Fun Boy Three and Skecial AKA and has been relatively quiet ever since. While this reunion would have been more exciting had founder Jerry Dammers and original vocalist Terry Hall been onboard, the band still proves itself capable of setting up a solid bouncing bass, horn sass and percolating beat.

The Specials brief fire of ska revival from 1979-81 had a profound influence on the current crop of ska bands like Mighty Mighty Bosstones, No Doubt, Sublime, Dance Hall Crashers, Save Ferris and more. While this reunion disc doesn't exactly eclipse the work of their genre progeny, their organ and trumpet punctuated mix is certainly ripe for dancehall play.

The band was scheduled to play Chicago's Metro last night but if you missed that show, there are plans for a return to town on July 17.


Sensual Sensual

Flamenco guitars and ambient synthesizer music do mix. Sometimes, in fact, they make for a stirring combination. Sensual Sensual doesn't hit the mark as often as its predecessor, 1995's Suave Suave, due mainly to the lack of dance music vocalist Deborah Blando, who guested on that prior album. Her vocals softened the mix leader Claus Zundel created with flamenco guitars and quavering, scale-climbing male Spanish vocals on that album, and contributed to the ethereal dreaming quality of the music. She is sorely missed on Sensual Sensual, which still yields an enticing mix of exotic acoustic guitars and warm tapestries of synthesizers. But the guttural, Spanish male vocals that pepper the landscape tend to distract rather than add to the beauty of the instrumental bed. While I'd recommend Suave Suave first, Sensual Sensual would make for a fine background to a romantic Mexican dinner.


Deep Forest III
(550 Music)

Speaking of ambient world music, Deep Forest, the studio band that made world music Top 40 material with its signature hit "Deep Forest," has returned with a new album combining highly rhythmic Western dance music with African, Cuban and Arabian vocals. This time around, the team of Eric Mouquet and Michel Sanchez have utilized a good dose of cajun rhythms and sonic textures (accordions and the like) in addition to their usual engaging dance beats and exotic vocalists. It's a heady, bouncy mix (if unintelligible to most English speaking Americans) and a great addition to a CD collection that could use something "a little different."

While the vocals might be in another language, rhythm is universal. Whether it's the Celtic borrowing of "Green and Blue" or the quick step cajun reel of "Comparsa" or the rainforest calls of "Earthquake," Deep Forest offers an engaging listen; a world tour of musical styles and energies.


Greatest Hits Live

Recorded at various stadiums between 1981-1983, this 16-song collection recently discovered rotting away in the Columbia tape vaults captures Journey at the height of its creative and performing powers. Steve Perry's signature rock vocals are powerful and fluid, Jonathan Cain's piano and synthesizer fills are inspiring and the guitar and bass riffs of Neal Schon and Ross Valory never miss. With Steve Smith anchoring it all on the drums, this aural snapshot of one of the '70s' and early '80s' premier stadium rock acts is a nostalgic reminder of the days when flannels meant you were from Montana and earrings were only worn by girls and sailors.

Every song here is precious metal: from "Don't Stop Believin'," "Faithfully" and "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)," to "Any Way You Want It," "Open Arms," "Lights" and "Wheel In The Sky." I'd forgotten how exciting Journey once was until I put this album into the player. It's a welcome scrapbook.


New On The Shelves:

The swan song from Seattle trio Presidents of the United States of America, Pure Frosting is out. The disc includes previously unreleased tracks, live songs, b-sides, cover songs like "Video Killed the Radio Star" and "Cleveland Rocks" (a studio version of the song used on the "Drew Carey Show"). Computer users can also listen and view the band's biggest hits the videos of "Lump," "Peaches" and "Mach 5" as well as "Dune Buggy" are included...

Got a "Best Of" CD from an artist that you never listen to? Rhino Records will be happy to take it off your hands and exchange it for a CD of their own. Rhino's INSANE CD EXCHANGE PROGRAM will apply to any reissue collection (best of, various artist compilation, or album reissue). The program will run through December 31, 1998, and will be limited to one CD exchange per household. For contest rules and details, call their toll-free phone number (1-888-615-3885) or visit their website ( Garson Foos, Rhino's Vice President of Marketing, says of the program, "We are so convinced that to know us is at least to like us, that we're willing to spend some serious money making the introduction. Send us your disappointing, lacking-in-luxury reissue CDs, and we'll put a smile on your face with a lovable Rhino disc of your choice." What will Rhino do with all the unwanted, inferior CDs? Well, the label plans to put them to good use. As part of its environmentally conscious nature, five years ago Rhino created flooring in the lobby of its West Los Angeles headquarters made from recycled CDs, cassettes, LPs, and 8-tracks. The label now plans to redecorate its A&R department by removing the existing carpeting and replacing it with similar flooring made from the pulverized, recycled compilations and reissues it receives as part of the INSANE CD EXCHANGE PROGRAM.