Steely Dan - Two Against Nature Steely Dan
Two Against Nature
(Giant)
½


From 1971-1982, Steely Dan pulled 15 smoothly cool FM hits out of their tight jazz-funk closet, from "Rikki Don’t Lose That Number," "Hey Nineteen" and "Peg" to "Kid Charlemagne," "Deacon Blues" and "FM (No Static At All)."

The core of Steely Dan was always singer Donald Fagen and guitarist Walter Becker, and expectations for their return to the studio have been riding high among fans since they reunited for the concert trail several years ago.

After nearly two decades of silence, those expectations may have risen a little too high. Steely Dan’s nine-song return is long on those trademark tight cropped guitar passages — cool funk with a jazz attitude — but short on catchy hooks like "Hey Nineteen" or "FM (No Static At All)."

Vocally Fagen sounds as smooth as ever, but lyrically seems a little lost on top of these meandering tunes. The album’s catchiest music, "Cousin Dupree" unfortunately also sports its most inane lyric: "we used to play when we were three/how about a kiss for your cousin Dupree."

If you were listening in a late night lounge, Two Against Nature would be the perfect sleep-in-your-beer backdrop.But after 20 years, shouldn’t the return of Steely Dan make you feel like something other than sleep?

Or did I miss something the first time around?

 

November Project - A Thousand Days November Project
A Thousand Days


In the mid-’90s, a band called October Project released two beautiful albums on Epic before being dropped by the label. The band wove gorgeous melodies with the same sort of folk-meets-pop flair that would later bring success to Loreena McKennitt. Unfortunately, October Project as a band didn’t recover from its poor label experience, but its core songwriting team of Julie Flanders and Emil Adler did. Five years on from October Project’s swan song, Falling Farther In, the two have resurfaced with a new six-piece band in November Project, and pick up where their old outfit left off.

The five songs on their independent debut are stirring creations of depth and beauty, centering around newcomer lead vocalist Maryanne Marino. If you were ever enamored with the softspoken yet hard-hitting beauty of October Project, or were a fan of other atmospheric, timeless acts like Lorreena McKennitt, Grace Pool, Over The Rhine or Milla, you need to seek this CDout.

For more information, see their web site at www.novemberproject.com.

 

Notre-Dame de Paris Various Artists
Notre-Dame de Paris
(Epic)


The top quality doesn’t always get to the top. We saw that with the Betamax VCR. And we see it with music all the time. Epic has just released this soundtrack to a musical adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, titled Notre-Dame de Paris. In includes a guest appearance by Celine Dion and a handful of appearances by Australian pop singer Tina Arena.

It’s also boring.

After the success of Les Miserables, more than a couple people thought another piece of Victor Hugo would be a good gamble for success on the musical stage. It should come as no surprise that there are some artistic fights going on out there over who can produce Hunchback and how. Disney got the animated movie and Styx’s Dennis DeYoung thought he had the jump on the musical stage. The jump, however, didn’t give him the lock. His musical production hit the stage in Nashville in 1997 — in neck-and-neck competition with Disney’s movie. Nobody picked up his soundtrack, which he eventually began selling on his own label at shows and through the Internet (www.grandillusionmusic.com).

Whoever put the bucks behind the latest stage production of a Hunchback musical for Epic clearly picked the wrong horse. Star power at the mic certainly helps, but the music behind Notre-Dame de Paris has none of the fierce anthemic drama that made Les Miserables so memorable and none of the pop hooks that should have made DeYoung’s more captivating score an easy sell.

Like DeYoung’s Hunchback of Notre Dame score, one of the centerpieces of this new musical version of Hunchback is a duet between the fair Esmerelda (sung by Arena) and Quasimodo. But unlike "With Every Heartbeat," the gorgeous tear-jerker that DeYoung wrote for his musical’s core, Notre-Dame de Paris’ "The Birds They Put In Cages," goes by without coming close to wetting an eye.

Let’s hope DeYoung can eventually get his show staged again and show them how the story really should be sung.

 

Pop Stops Mailbag:


I received a letter last week from Pop Stops reader James Brindy regarding a recent review of Dementia 2000: Dr. Demento’s 30th Anniversary Collection.

Brindy writes:

"Your article on Dr. Demento sure revived my memories of him from a few, many, years ago. I always tuned him in, I believe it was on Sundays from California. I always taped him, and due to a home invasion, lost many things, including my autobiography manuscript of 22 years writings and the tapes. You mention he is still broadcasting, but did not mention how he could be found.

Will be watching for more of your articles. At the age of 79, I am a lover of all music, even Demento’s.

Thanks for writing, James! For anyone else who’s lost touch with the "Dr. Demento Show," which features novelty records, it still airs in Chicago on WLUP (97.9 FM) on Sunday nights at 11 p.m.