- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 8, 2001

ANNE MURRAY
What a Wonderful Christmas
(Sparrow)
This two-disc album is Miss Murray's second since her return to the musical scene in 1999 when she released "What a Wonderful World." An accomplished singer with 32 albums to her credit, Miss Murray says her recent success has been "a revitalization of the career."
A native Canadian, she began in the 1970s as a pop singer and continued to garner notice through the years as she earned many different awards, including induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1993.
The first CD contains Christmas songs such as "O Come All Ye Faithful" and "The Coventry Carol." The arrangements are mostly traditional, occasionally with a quiet, bluesy feel.
A soft, deep alto, Miss Murray's vocal quality enhances comforting carols such as "O Holy Night." She is joined by the London Symphony Orchestra for six of her selections. She subtly shifts styles for "Go Tell It on the Mountain," surprising her listeners with gospel swing.
"Winter Wonderland" and "Jolly Old St. Nicholas" are enhanced by a rhythmic piano background and geared for the young audience that Miss Murray has touched with her past recordings. The album also features a few less well-known songs, such as "The Season Will Never Grow Old," which encourages listeners to keep the Christmas spirit all year. Kristin Henderson

BARBRA STREISAND
Christmas Memories
(Columbia Records)
In 1967, Miss Streisand released "A Christmas Album." Now she returns with "Christmas Memories."
This new 12-track album contains more contemporary music than the one of three decades ago. The highlights are "I'll Be Home For Christmas," "Grown-Up Christmas List" and "It Must Have Been the Mistletoe." On Miss Streisand's first Christmas album, she recorded Charles Gounod's version of "Ave Maria"; she records Franz Schubert's version on "Christmas Memories."
Other songs include the nonholiday "I Remember," which was written by Stephen Sondheim originally for a TV musical. A new verse was added to make it more suitable for a Christmas album. The song "Closer," which Miss Streisand dedicates to a friend who died, is about losing someone you love. Also on the album are "A Christmas Love Song," "Christmas Lullaby" and "One God," originally recorded by Johnny Mathis in 1958.
Do yourself a favor this holiday: Enjoy "A Christmas Album" and skip "Christmas Memories." Miss Streisand should remember the adage that some things cannot be improved. Amy Baskerville

OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN
The Christmas Collection
(Hip-O Records)
Olivia Newton-John, the pop star from the 1970s and early 1980s, delivers her first full-length Christmas album. The CD features Christmas standards and guest appearances by Kenny Loggins, Vince Gill, Clint Black and the London Symphony Orchestra.
Four of the songs on the 12-track album "Silent Night," "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" "White Christmas" and "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" are from a Loggins Christmas show in 1999.
Standouts include "The First Noel," and Miss Newton-John's performances of "O Holy Night" and "What Child Is This," featuring the London Symphony Orchestra. "Christmas Never Felt Like This Before" was co-written by Miss Newton-John.
This album will get you into the Christmas spirit. A.B.

RADIOHEAD
I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings
(Capitol Records)
Radiohead's last two experimental albums, "Kid A" and "Amnesiac," have divided its fan base between those who long for the group's more rock-oriented days and those who embrace the new, techno-influenced sound. Oddly enough, both camps should be happy with this third single from "Amnesiac," a mini-EP with seven live tracks taken from those two albums, plus one new song, the fan-favorite "True Love Waits."
Because the band canceled its two D.C. dates, the opportunity to hear live takes of these newer songs is of special interest to local fans. Many of the more experimental trappings of the studio albums are ditched in performance here (which should please the rock fans), and attempts to re-create them (such as replaying singer-guitarist Thom Yorke's voice on "Everything in Its Right Place) don't always turn out for the better.
The two best tracks here stand out only with Mr. Yorke's soaring voice and minimal accompaniment to carry them. On "True Love Waits," which recalls the group's classic "Street Spirit (Fade Out)," Mr. Yorke sings the somber ballad with only an acoustic guitar as backing.
The other high point is a rendition of the "Amnesiac" track "Like Spinning Plates." On the studio album, the melody is played backward and sounds so warped that it serves as little more than atmospheric noise behind Mr. Yorke's vocals. Here, a simple piano line elevates the song from mere album filler to an almost political anthem as Mr. Yorke wails, "While you make pretty speeches/I'm being cut to shreds."
Rock fans should also be pleased that guitarists Ed O'Brien and Jonny Greenwood have a far more prominent place than on the studio albums. Their guitars add a needed punch to songs such as "The National Anthem" and "I Might Be Wrong." In fact, with drummer Phil Selway pounding the daylights out of "Idioteque" and bassist Colin Greenwood filling out the rhythm section, all those early press reports about Radiohead's new work heralding the "death of rock" seem a bit premature. Derek Simmonsen

BELA FLECK
Perpetual Motion
(Sony Classical)
Mr. Fleck has made his mark with a banjo in the worlds of bluegrass, jazz, pop and rock. Now he shows off his enormous talents in the classical arena, where he squares off with the likes of Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy and Tchaikovsky.
The banjo wizard tackles the classical world with apparent ease and more than enough ability to win over even its most ardent fans. At first, the crisp, tangy sound of the banjo is a bit strange, but then it grows on you. Obviously, you just don't strum your way through Chopin's intricate keyboard works, and dazzling jazz riffs simply don't cut it on the sweet melodies of Tchaikovsky. So what we get is some of the most interesting sounds likely ever heard from the instrument.
Mr. Fleck's dexterity is astounding, and the light accompaniments by standard orchestral instruments accent his virtuosity beautifully. Paganini's "Moto Perpetuo," the title track, is a riveting example. When you listen to the traditional, full-scale recordings of some of these pieces for comparison, you'll appreciate Mr. Fleck's work and these 20 adaptations even more.
Scripps Howard News Service

THE SMASHING PUMPKINS
Greatest Hits
(Virgin)
Before reaching their grandiose finale, the Smashing Pumpkins were innovative, inspiring and influential. The rock group unleashed its signature psychedelic metal on Chicago in 1988 and helped launch the grunge phenomenon in the next decade's dawn.
But by the time they broke up last year, the Pumpkins were more of a punch line, in part because of public infighting. They had kicked out their powerhouse drummer, Jimmy Chamberlin, and released a dour electronica detour, "Adore." After they rehired Mr. Chamberlin, bassist D'Arcy Wretzky quit. The notoriously volatile singer, Billy Corgan, threatened disbanding as if lamenting the tragic fall of an empire.
Mr. Corgan's hubris defined the band's best and worst efforts. His uncompromising vision made a masterpiece of 1993's "Siamese Dream." The album's layered guitars and cathartic dynamism elevated it to classic status, overshadowed in its time only by Nirvana's "Nevermind."
But the singer's self-indulgence yielded some maudlin drivel, some of which is ceremoniously exhibited on "Judas O," the second disc included in "Greatest Hits." This ostensible collection of B-sides sounds contains few keepers (notably produced by Flood) and several clunkers.
"Lucky 13" kicks off the opus with its strongest song, a riff-driven complement of guitar and keyboard. But "Judas" spirals into mediocrity and sappy navel-gazing, as in the colorless "Winterlong," "Waiting" and "Sparrow." To make things worse, guitarist James Iha sings on "Believe," adding his own anemic ballad to the imbroglio. "Rock On" dissolves in feckless rambling.
But the first disc, "Rotten Apples" is a decent retrospective of the band's best work. Earlier tracks such as "Siva," "Cherub Rock" and "Drown" showcase the group's raw power. "Disarm," "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" and "Zero" display disaffected brilliance; "Today" and "Stand Inside Your Love" bristle with unbridled optimism. Two new songs are included, both good but hardly hits.
"Greatest Hits" should appeal to nonfans and die-hard ones. For the uninitiated, it offers a solid introduction to the Pumpkins' genius. Admirers may relish the 12 previously unreleased tracks, but "Greatest" would have been greater without them.
Bruce Hamilton

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