- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 20, 2001

PAT BOONEThe Best of Pat Boone (MCA)

Generally speaking, it's a positive when record companies twist their remastering dials to resuscitate old songs that sound better on CD than when new on vinyl. In the case of Pat Boone, however, Mr. Goody-Two-Shoes of the rock 'n' roll '50s, the reissue mostly reminds us how limited his vocal talents were.

Most young music fans of that era — at least those of the white persuasion — divided neatly into two camps. Elvis Presley, with his greasy black hair and gyrating hips, appealed to shrieking girls and the motorcycle crowd. Mr. Boone, with his boy-next-door looks and white buck shoes, attracted listeners more inclined to ask Dad for the keys to the family Oldsmobile.

Undeniably, Mr. Presley was the more talented and honest artist. He was what he was, whether you loved or hated his relatively hard rock numbers with their roots in Southern black culture. Mr. Boone mostly ripped off black musicians by "borrowing" their songs to make big bucks from white customers at a time when there was very little crossing over between the races, musically or otherwise.

Perhaps the best example was "Ain't That a Shame," a decent number that Mr. Boone rode to the top of the charts though Fats Domino did it much better. On such ballad hits as "Friendly Persuasion," "April Love" and "It's Too Soon to Know," Mr. Boone's limited range — about a half-octave, I'd say — is sadly evident.

Gospel singing has been a big part of Mr. Boone's life and career, so it's no surprise that the best number on this set of 12 tunes is the rollicking "A Wonderful Time Up There." Compared with the work of contemporaries such as Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Nat King Cole, however, Mr. Boone's offerings in the '50s and '60s were mediocre at best. By all public accounts, Mr. Boone, now 66, is a wonderful man — but a wonderful singer he never was.— Dick HellerRALPH STANLEY & THECLINCH MOUNTAIN BOYSMan of Constant Sorrow(Rebel Records)

The buzz in bluegrass circles for the past month has been the soundtrack for the Coen Brothers' film "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" a screenplay set in Mississippi and based loosely on Homer's "The Odyssey."

Music director T Bone Burnett pulled together some of the biggest names in bluegrass for fresh recordings and compiled some classic traditional recordings for the musical score. Featured prominently in the film — in which the characters also "play" bluegrass music — is the song "Man of Constant Sorrow," performed by the film cast under the name of the Soggy Bottom Boys (featuring guitar and mandolin wiz Dan Tyminski) and also by guitarist Norman Blake and folk-banjo legend John Hartford at other places in the movie.

Bluegrass banjo legend Ralph Stanley was tapped for two songs in the film, though not for "Man of Constant Sorrow," which is the title track of his most recent offering from Rebel Records, a compilation of songs from several previous Rebel recordings issued to capitalize on the film soundtrack.

The disc features several Stanley signature songs that are performed by various artists, including Mr. Stanley, in the movie. Five of the 13 tracks never have been issued on CD before. Two of those are on the film soundtrack: the traditional "Oh Death," which Mr. Stanley sings in the movie, and "I Am Weary (Let Me Rest)," written by Pete Roberts and performed in the film by the Cox Family.

The other Stanley contribution in the film is a 1955 recording of the Jefferson Hascall and W.B. Bradbury song "Angel Band." The latest Stanley disc features a more recent rendition of that song, but the movie soundtrack uses the classic Stanley Brothers version. Ralph Stanley is the younger of the two brothers. Carter Stanley died in 1966.

The soundtrack has some big names — Gillian Welch, Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, Dobro master Jerry Douglas, fiddlers Tim O'Brien and Stuart Duncan, mandolin maestro Sam Bush, the Whites, Irish-turned-Nashville vocalist Maura O'Connell and even T Bone Burnett's wife, rocker Leslie "Sam" Phillips.

The Stanley disc has something else altogether: the unmistakably authentic bluegrass singing and banjo playing of Ralph Stanley at the top of his form.

Soundtracks come and go, and frankly, film treatment of bluegrass music hasn't done much for the genre. Television hasn't done the music any favors, either. Broader exposure for bluegrass always has seemed to backfire.

If the film did nothing more than prompt Rebel Records to release this outstanding compilation, it accomplished something worthwhile. — Jay VotelTHE PIERCESSelf-titled (Epic Records)

The Alabama-bred Pierce sisters have managed to craft a solid and even affecting debut with their self-titled collection of folkish pop.

Catherine and Allison developed a cult following in their native Birmingham and later at Auburn University. On their debut album, it's easy to see why. In addition to their drop-dead model looks, they have beautiful voices that blend in easy, close harmony. They also have a knack for writing traditional singer-songwriter-type tunes that echo the Indigo Girls and Fiona Apple.

Check out particularly the opening track, "The Way."— Sean ScullyCHERThe Way of Love (MCA Records)"The Way of Love" is a collection of Cher's songs from 1965 to 1979. This era includes her early solo work, along with the music she created with former husband the late Sonny Bono.

This two-disc, 40-selection album includes the Sonny and Cher favorites "I Got You Babe" and "The Beat Goes On" along with other songs, such as "When You Say Love" and "A Cowboy's Work Is Never Done."Cher's solo efforts on the album include her first Top 20 single hit, "All I Really Want to Do"; "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)"; and "You Better Sit Down Kids," which Cher sang from the husband's point of view. The well-known numbers "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves," "I Hate to Sleep Alone" and "Half Breed," which played on the public's belief that Cher was of Indian heritage though she is of Armenian descent, add to the collection.

This might be a good album for fans who were around when the songs first were released. I wasn't, and I don't find them particularly enjoyable.— Amy BaskervilleJOHN ROBILETTEPiano Concerti(Musicians Showcase)

This is a very smooth performance by Mr. Robilette, who made his debut at the Kennedy Center in 1984.

Here he performs three old chestnuts: Ludwig van Beethoven's Concerto No. 4 in G. Major, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Concert Rondo for Piano and Orchestra in D Major and Camille Saint-Saens' Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor. Of them all, the Saint-Saens piece is my favorite because of its beautiful melodies. This French composer was amazingly prolific; he took only three weeks to spin off this concerto. "I produce music as an apple tree produces apples," he once said.

This CD, recorded at the Place of Culture in Sofia, Bulgaria, from Aug. 2 through 6, 1999, features the New Symphony Orchestra of Sofia. Mr. Robilette, whose style is first-class, went on to debut in London this past spring, at Wigmore Hall.— Julia Duin

VARIOUS ARTISTSCommunion With God(Windham Hill)

Leave it to Windham Hill to try to make some money out of the current craze in spirituality by stringing together releases by its artists that mention God in some way.

The collection is introduced by Neale Donald Walsch, a New Age author living in southern Oregon who has made a mint on books such as "Conversations With God, an Uncommon Dialogue." Mr. Neale gives God's responses to his questions about love, faith and evil — quite a feat when various saints and patriarchs throughout the millenniums have tried unsuccessfully to get the Almighty to explain Himself.

As for the music, some of it has a spiritual message; other selections are merely pretty. Liz Story's "Sacred Nights" is based on a traditional hymn, which should have gotten credit on the album. Artist Cecilia's "The Prayer" is haunting and beautiful. Her soprano sounds like that of Sarah Brightman.

Other good picks: David Arkenstone's "Continue to Be" and Cathy Bolton's "The Wind Beneath My Wings," the latter featuring a female vocalist on a guitar, a la Joan Baez. Rhonda Larson's "Be Still My Soul," which borrows its tune from "Finlandia," takes off on some lyrical flute variations.

If nothing else, this thoughtful, meditative CD quiets the listener. It is not worship, however. And a libretto would help.— J.D.

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