The Liverpool duo Red Flag (brothers Chris and Mark Reynolds) released their debut album, Naïve Art, in 1989. Red Flag, like other late-'80s/early-'90s bands such as Camouflage and Cause & Effect, offer a similar mix of gloomy, synthesizer-driven dance-pop made popular by synth rock kings Depeche Mode. Derivative yet melodic, Naïve Art is a decent debut, though it eventually runs out of steam. Red Flag's obvious debt to Depeche Mode is immediately apparent in the minor club hits "If I Ever" and "Russian Radio." Though the production is a bit rough around the edges, the combination of cold synth beats and the emotionless vocal approach (similar to Depeche's Martin Gore) makes perfect dancefloor fodder for the disaffected goth pop club crowd. Like Depeche Mode's best work, what makes Naïve Art bearable is Red Flag's obvious gift of songcraft. Both "If I Ever" and "Russian Radio" are comparable to some of Depeche's best work, and although much of Naïve Art sounds the same after a while, the album flows along quite nicely. Those who criticize Depeche Mode for being pretentious and "wimpy" certainly won't find any redeeming qualities in Red Flag, but Naïve Art should satisfy fans of the genre. Recommended.
Under the watchful eye of famed producer Michael Cuscuna, this nine-CD set serves as a compilation of Stitt's 1950s and 1960s Roost LPs. This release also features a 28-page booklet consisting of comprehensively annotated liners. Moreover, the record label does its best to convey the artistic element via a series of black-and-white photos of Stitt and his sidemen amid anecdotes by many of the late saxophonist's affiliates. Interestingly enough, seven of the original LPs did not list personnel. In some instances, guesses were made, although most of these tracks are well-documented, thanks to the producer's diligence and painstaking research. Artists such as drummer Roy Haynes, bassist/composer Charles Mingus, and pianist Harold Maber represent but a few of Stitt's accompanists.
The second half of the '90s was difficult for the Cranberries, not just because of changing fashions, but because the group embraced both a social consciousness and a prog rock infatuation, crystallized by the Storm Thorgerson cover of Bury the Hatchet. Thorgerson has been retained for their fifth effort, Wake Up and Smell the Coffee, but the group has hardly pursued the indulgent tendencies of their previous collaboration with him – instead, they've re-teamed with producer Stephen Street and come up with an album that's as reminiscent of their debut as anything they've done since. So, even if it's wrapped in new clothing, this is essentially a return to basics, and it's a welcome one, since it's melodic, stately, and somber – perhaps not with the post-Sundays grace of "Linger," but with a dogged sense of decorum that keeps not just the group's musical excesses in check, but also O'Riordan's political polemics (although she still sneaks in cringe-inducing lines like "Looks like we've screwed up the ozone layer/I wonder if the politicians care").
If you're looking for the roots of alternative rock or obscure college playlist fodder, look elsewhere; this is prime-time '80s pop chart glory, as seen on MTV (over and over and over). Though the songs here cover a breadth of style and genre (if not necessarily substance), there's a remarkable unity of purpose and hook-laden musical accomplishment that's sorely missed. If this collection woefully shortchanges hip-hop, it still underscores a distinctly irony-free era where style admittedly triumphed over substance, as opposed to the '90s, where style caricatured substance.
The music on Wizard of the Vibes features Milt Jackson with the Thelonious Monk Quartet in a 1948 session combined with a 1952 date with his bandmates from the Modern Jazz Quartet (at that time including John Lewis, Percy Heath, and Kenny Clarke) along with alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson, who was oddly credited as the leader of the date on the original release, though it clearly seems to be Jackson in charge. The chemistry between Jackson and Monk on classics like "Misterioso," "Evidence," "I Mean You," and "Epistrophy" is immediately apparent, although Kenny "Pancho" Hagood's vocals on the standards "All the Things You Are" and "I Should Care" remain an acquired taste…