Saturday, May 26, 2001

Declassified Grooves(Label M)
One can be forgiven for not knowing the band Black Heat. The short-lived funk group was only around for three years, released four albums, had one hit single (well, it cracked the R&B charts anyway) and then disappeared. So the reasoning behind resurrecting two of the bands albums, 1972s “Black Heat” and 1974s “No Time to Burn,” should be a mystery, except that Black Heats brand of funk is actually pretty up-to-date.
The double-CD set opens with “The Jungle,” a strutting, jazzy number in which saxophones wail, guitars warble and the bass sets a walking pace for a night on the town. Many of the tracks are instrumental only, which is a notable plus because most of the lyrics (in true funk style) are write-offs. It doesnt matter what lead vocalist and guitarist Bradley Owens growls as long as a good beat is behind it.
The second album, “No Time to Burn,” which launched the hit single by the same name, isnt quite as innovative as the bands debut, but it still holds strong with standouts such as “Check It All Out” and “Super Cool.”
The release of two CDs is a bit excessive for a band that will be lost forever in the mists of time, but the material is remarkably strong. With eight group members playing everything from guitars and keyboards to trumpet, conga drums, flute and harmonica, the album has a do-it-yourself appeal that is lacking in the works of many current artists who strive to re-create the funk sound through electronic means only.
Of course, James Brown, Sly Stone, George Clinton and others deserve credit for launching and perfecting funk, but Black Heat deserves some applause for releasing a handful of albums that perfectly capture the breadth of the genre. — Derek Simmonsen

Two Steps From the Blues
Pundits who decry a “culture of victimhood” clearly dont understand what they would have us miss. Take, for instance, Bobby “Blue” Blands “Two Steps From the Blues,” released in 1961 and recently reissued on CD. Life and love have done him wrong, and he lets us know all about it. Good thing, too.
From the mournful opening notes of the title track, Mr. Bland paints a picture of a man who has been walked all over — and is prepared to let it happen again: “One month from the day I first met you/Your promises proved to be untrue./So step by step, Ive been a fool./Now Im just two steps from the blues,” he sings. He hasnt learned his lesson, though: “Oh, it makes no difference what you say or do./Im so forgiving. Im so forgiving./And I cant go on living two steps from the blues.”
His patient attitude shows up on “Im Not Ashamed,” too: “Although you lie/scandalize my name/But I still love you just the same.” The waiting and worrying seem to have paid off on “Dont Cry No More” and “Lead Me On,” but soon enough, on “I Pity the Fool,” Mr. Bland is back to lamenting, “I said I pity the fool/That falls in love with you/And expects you to be true./Oh, I pity the fool.”
Call it the blues, call it co-dependency; either way, it sounds great coming from Mr. Bland. The title, “Two Steps From the Blues,” is apt in describing not only the singers state of mind, but also the style of music on this album. “I Dont Want No Woman” brings the Chicago style of blues to mind, but generally the music lacks the rawness that characterizes blues. Mr. Bland simply doesnt sound like the kind of man who would shoot his woman, or even drink whiskey. In tempering pure blues with soul stylings and more sophisticated instrumentation, though, “Two Steps From the Blues” makes up for that lost edge by showing a certain exquisite beauty in hopelessness and desperation.
The reissue includes two songs, “How Does a Cheatin Woman Feel” and “Close to You,” that werent on the original album. They were, however, recorded during the same period and with the same personnel as most of the songs on “Two Steps From the Blues” and fit in so seamlessly that one wonders why they werent on the original release — especially since, even with the bonus tracks, the reissue only clocks in at 35:10. If theres a complaint about this album, its that in the age of 70-minute-plus CDs, this one feels kind of skimpy. Every minute of “Two Steps From the Blues,” though, is worth listening to.— Tom Ellington

Weezer is back. After a five-year absence from the music scene (and seven years since the bands last hit album), the four California rockers have returned with a record full of catchy riffs, big hooks and choruses that make one hum. “Weezer” — or “The Green Album,” as its being referred to (the band members pose against a green backdrop on the cover) — is more of a return to the bands roots in lighter alternative rock, with only a few lapses into the darker themes and heavier music that marked Weezers last album, “Pinkerton.”
The first single, “Hashpipe,” has one of the strongest opening riffs in the bands history, a guttural guitar pattern that resembles the theme to the film “Jaws” in its repetitive intensity. In describing a world passing around him, lead singer-guitarist Rivers Cuomo keeps returning to the chorus of “Ive got my hashpipe” in a helpless way that mirrors the overpowering guitar sound.
Oddly enough, the band does not dwell too much on these heavier visions. One of the albums best tracks is “Island in the Sun,” in which Mr. Cuomo wistfully sings, “On an island in the sun/Well be playing and having fun” to a backup chorus of “hip, hip.” Its one of the most easygoing songs the band has put out, showing that Weezer still can have fun while striving to be serious.
Most of the songs return to familiar subject matter — guys feeling heartbroken. In the opening track, “Dont Go,” Mr. Cuomo sings, “Ill be down on my knees/Beggin for that girl to stay,” somewhat bland lyrics from the same writer who alluded to a dying relationship in a more clever way on the bands first album with, “If you want to destroy my sweater/Pull this thread as I walk away.”
While “Weezer” is on par with the bands earlier work, at roughly half an hour, fans may feel a little ripped off by the lack of material. Five years is a long time to wait for 10 songs, although with the rabid fan base Weezer has, its doubtful most fans will complain.
In a music scene dominated by rap-metal, hip-hop and teen pop, Weezers return is a welcome reminder of those glory days of early 1990s rock. — D.S.

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