- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 4, 2001

HUEY LEWIS AND THE NEWS
Plan B
(Silvertone Records)
On "We're Not Here for a Long Time," the live-for-today anthem opener on "Plan B," Huey Lewis observes that the musical offerings at the party he's attending consist of "rhythm, a little blues and a whole lot of soul."
That also would pretty well describe the 11 tracks on "Plan B," which is blue-eyed soul in the tradition of Hall & Oates and Boz Scaggs (if not as Top 40-esque).
Those looking for the sort of party-pop confections of Huey Lewis and the News' 1980s incarnation (e.g., "The Power of Love," "If This Is It" and "The Heart of Rock 'n' Roll") won't find it on this CD, except for the aforementioned "We're Not Here." The R&B;, blues and jazz musings on "Plan B" — punctuated with blues-guitar riffs, dense horns and Newsman Sean Hopper's swirling organ strains — are stylistically better suited for WHUR-FM or WJZW-FM than Top 40 WWZZ-FM (Z104) or WITH-FM (Hot 99.5). Given what passes for Top 40 these days, however, that's probably a good thing.
Mr. Lewis' vocals are raspier than on his '80s offerings but well-suited to this material. He purrs on "I'm Not in Love Yet," a sparkling duet with an improbable, albeit sultry, duet partner, country's Wynonna Judd, and growls on the in-denial "I Never Think About You" ("I'm as happy as I've ever been/well, I pretend that I am"), with its aptly snarling guitars and its organ strains reminiscent of those on "The House of the Rising Sun."
On the oddly titled but exceptional, bluesy "Thank You #19," Mr. Lewis exultantly evokes the love songs of Marvin Gaye and Sam & Dave, among others, to help him express his delirious gratitude for his woman's love.
Although there are no bad tracks here, the rest of the best includes a deft, organ-drenched cover of Nick Lowe's wisdom-for-the-pain "When I Write the Book" ("The pain will be written on every page in tears/when I write the book about my love"); the cautionary what-goes-around-comes-around "My Other Woman," on which the protagonist is dismayed (although not surprised) by his mistress's infidelity ("My other woman's got another man"); and the album closer, a remake of HL&N;'s own "So Little Kindness," from 1996's "Time Flies."
On "So Little Kindness," included here because the band felt the song didn't get the exposure it deserved then, Mr. Lewis convincingly vents frustration and resignation over an ex-lover with a chip on her shoulder and an industrial-strength grudge.
"Plan B" is the first album in five years by the Mill Valley, Calif., group, and it was well worth the wait.
Huey Lewis and the News perform at 8 tomorrow night at Wolf Trap. — Peter Parisi

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Morning Becomes Eclectic
(Palm)
If there just were more stations like KCRW-FM in Santa Monica, Calif., the world would be a better place. The public radio station, run from Santa Monica College, has a diverse playlist and a flagship show, "Morning Becomes Eclectic," that features rising stars, familiar faces and, simply put, some of the best new music available.
The second benefit album from the station, also titled "Morning Becomes Eclectic," opens with the soft strains of Yo-Yo Ma's cello as he elegantly tackles Bach.
Oddly enough, the country-tinged tunes stand out the most. Beck sings his heart out on the cowboy ballad "Lonesome Whistle" as if vying for an opening on a Willie Nelson tour, and the Dandy Warhols get in touch with their honky-tonk side on the bluesy "Country Leaver."
Other standouts include a nice live version of "Driftwood" by Brit pop stars Travis, a lower-key take on "Babylon" by troubadour David Gray and classic numbers by legends Willie Nelson and Patti Smith. Not only is it refreshing to find an album filled with musicians trying out new things live, but also a radio station willing to take risks for good music. — Derek Simmonsen

BUILT TO SPILL
Ancient Melodies of the Future
(Warner Bros.)
British superband Radiohead and indie legends Built to Spill from Boise, Idaho, might seem to have little in common, but these two equally talented bands charted an eerily similar creative path early in their careers.
Radiohead started achieving critical acclaim with 1995's classic, searing guitar-fueled alt-pop album, "The Bends." Built to Spill similarly first gained notice, albeit on a much smaller scale, with the release of 1994's "There's Nothing Wrong With Love," a brilliant collection of clever, catchy, guitar-fueled pop songs. Both bands expanded their sound in 1997, with Radiohead's dark and futuristic "OK Computer" going on to become a blockbuster while Built to Spill's equally complex "Perfect From Now On," a thickly textured guitar album every bit as good as "OK Computer," largely was ignored even as it cemented bandleader Doug Martsch's status as an indie guitar hero.
After 1997, their paths diverged. Radiohead made its fans wait more than three years before releasing the disturbingly self-important electronic mess "Kid A," which sounds like elevator music on Prozac. The downturn continued a few months later with "Amnesiac," an album that is being praised because, well, it's not as totally indecipherable as "Kid A."
Meanwhile, Mr. Martsch went on creating perfect melodic pop-rock gems with 1999's "Keep It Like a Secret" and now this, the seventh Built to Spill release, "Ancient Melodies of the Future."
As on previous albums, Mr. Martsch's boyish vocals sound best when reciting the pithy lyrics that capture basic human characteristics, as on "In Your Mind," a driving, hypnotic ode to selective memory. Throw in gorgeous, mood-altering songs such as "You Are" and "The Weather," and you have yet another truly rewarding listening experience.
Thousands of Radiohead fans will flock to Bull Run Special Events Center in Centreville this month and pretend to be awed by guitar stud Johnny Greenwood's keyboard plinkings. Hundreds of Built to Spill fans will gather at the 9:30 Club next month and see their guitar hero do what he does best. A moment of silence for the Radiohead fans and a tip of the cap to Built to Spill loyalists. They were the lucky ones, after all. — Joe Schaeffer

JEFFREY GAINES
Always Be
(Artemis Records)
One would think that after more than nine years of playing confessional, melancholy-filled love songs, a singer might get a little more peppy.
Not Jeffrey Gaines.
In fact, his latest album, "Always Be," is so wistful and repetitive it makes you want to scream: "Get your love life together, buddy. You're putting us to sleep."
The 13-track album is Mr. Gaines' fourth since breaking onto the pop scene with his 1992 self-titled album and the song "Hero in Me," which is redone nicely on this recording.
I have a habit of listening to the first five seconds of each song on a CD to determine variety and catch a feel for the album. Except for soulful cover of Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" and the up-tempo cuts "Fall You Fool" and "Take Me Back," the songs on "Always" are so repetitive and monotonous that you had better have a pillow and a blankie nearby because you're going to fall asleep when listening to it.
On past albums, the native of Harrisburg, Pa., has tried to sound like one of the Beatles or Paul Simon. "Always" has him striving to be an R&B; singer crooning about love lost and chances gone. The only problem is that Mr. Gaines is a folk artist, and a good one, who can write heartfelt love songs with his acoustic guitar.
By and large, songs such as "Shake It off," "I'll Have You" and "Your Town" simply fall flat because they sound so much alike. Occasionally, Mr. Gaines gets a little rough and throws in some heavy guitar riffs for effect (he's a rock star, too), but even the most innocent ear can tell he's trying too hard to be something he is not. — Dan Drummond

TOM T. HALL
Ultimate Collection
(Hip-O Records)
The problem with "greatest hits" or "best of" collections is that unless the artist spends his or her entire career on the same record label, the album more likely than not won't truly have all the hits on it.
That's not a problem, per se, for "Ultimate Collection," because Tom T. Hall recorded most of his hits for Mercury. The final few were on Columbia (before he returned to Mercury for a last hurrah), and both labels are represented here.
"Ultimate" nonetheless is a misnomer in that it brings together only 23 of Mr. Hall's 41 country Top-40 hits from 1967 through 1985 and one previously unreleased song (on which, more later).
Still, while most of the selections here are the same as those on Mercury's 22-song 1983 "Greatest Hits, Volumes I & II" compilation, "Ultimate" is preferable if only because of its insightful 10-page essay about Mr. Hall and his often wry story-songs. The liner notes also indicate how high each song rose on the country charts. ("Vols. I & II" included neither of the above.)
All of Mr. Hall's best songs are here, among them the heartfelt ballads "The Year That Clayton Delaney Died" and "Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon Wine," the Tex-Mex-flavored "Ravishing Ruby," the touching "I Love" and the catchy "Country Is." The latter was Mr. Hall's 1974 riposte to some in the country-and-Western establishment who were upset that Olivia Newton-John had won a Country Music Association award. (That may explain why its melody and harmony vocals in places consciously evoke Miss Newton-John's "If You Love Me Let Me Know.")
A few hits have been left out, notably 1972's goofy "The Monkey That Became President," which I would have liked to have seen included, and there are a couple of others — "You Show Me Your Heart (And I'll Show You Mine)" and "Jesus on the Radio (Daddy on the Phone)" — that I could have done without. Without question, though, the oddest decision was to include a perfectly dreadful acoustic cover of "Harper Valley PTA," which Mr. Hall wrote. It should have remained unreleased. — P.P.

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