- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 2, 2002

U2
The Best and the B-Sides of 1990-2000
(Island)
What a difference a decade makes. In the span of just 10 years, U2 went from the groundbreaking sound of 1991's "Achtung Baby" to the experimental fringes with "Zooropa," full circle back to grand stadium rock with "All That You Can't Leave Behind."
Fans haven't always been along for the journey and U2's critical and commercial luster fell quite a bit mid-decade. In fact, it was really 1998's "The Best of 1980-1990" that made people remember why they liked the Irish quartet so much in the first place.
So pulling together tracks from the band's supposed worst years seems a losing wager from the start. The surprise here is how good some of these neglected tracks are, and how U2 has managed to hold onto its signature style even while spreading its creative wings.
The songs from "Achtung Baby" stand among some of the best in the collection, not to mention some of the best of U2's career. "Even Better Than the Real Thing," "Until the End of the World" and the mega-successes "One" and "Mysterious Ways" are represented here, showing how the Edge's guitar heroics and Bono's massive wail have remained a constant.
Only two tracks are culled from their last album the eminently hummable "Beautiful Day" and "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of." While "Elevation" and "Walk On" might have been welcome additions, it makes sense to limit the number of recent tracks, as most fans likely already have the full album.
The biggest disappointments are actually the new tracks the Brit-pop influenced "Electrical Storm" and the maudlin "The Hands That Built America" (Theme From "Gangs of New York"). "Hands" is a fairly predictable movie love song, that doesn't really stand out against the power of a song like "One."
What should surprise most fans are the tunes that were not commercial successes. "Miss Sarejevo" is a pretty, soaring ballad featuring (no joke) Luciano Pavarotti, taken from the "Passengers: Original Soundtracks 1" album. This odd chestnut of a record was a unique collaboration between U2 and experimental mastermind Brian Eno.
The often derided "Zooropa" and "Pop" records also have a few gems here notably "Stay (Faraway, So Close)," "Numb," which features the Edge singing in a hypnotic monotone, and "Staring At the Sun." Purists will be sad to see that many of these songs are here in "new mix" form, but the difference between the originals isn't all that noticable.
The B-sides are really a mixed-bag this time around, featuring throwaway mixes of some old tunes ("Even Better Than the Real Thing" and "Lemon"), along with a couple of genuine rarities that only die-hard fans will want.
Derek Simmonsen

BUDDY MILLER
Midnight and Lonesome
(Hightone Records)
How do you top a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Folk Album? If you're Buddy Miller, you strap on your guitar and venture back into the viscous swamp of rocking Southern country music. With feeling.
His fifth "solo" recording features wife Julie Miller prominently as a songwriting collaborator and backing vocalist, and has a sound that strays not far from last year's "Buddy and Julie Miller" album which won wide acclaim.
Here, however, Mr. Miller spreads his wings a bit. He's still playing that thickly processed country electric lead guitar on a lot of these songs which include deft covers of the Everly Brothers' "The Price of Love," Jesse Winchester's "Showman's Life" and Percy Mayfield's soulful, loungy "Please Send Me Someone to Love."
Mr. Miller pushes the envelope to great effect with his scratchy "When It Comes to You," which he performs on a crude sampler prototype instrument called an Optigan. And he adds a bit of bayou flavoring to the mix with Mrs. Miller's song, "Oh Fait Pitie D'Amour (Love Have Mercy on Me)."
Mrs. Miller wrote the title track as well as the closing gospel-tinged piece, "Quecreek," a tribute to the rescue of the nine Pennsylvania miners in July, which was written and recorded the last day the disc was in the mixing stages.
"The miners were buried three nights and three days," the Millers sing. "But like Jesus Sunday morning all nine men were raised." The song adds both immediacy and timelessness to Mr. Miller's most widely ranging recording to date.
The disc also features harmonies by Emmylou Harris in whose Spyboy band Mr. Miller toured and Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year Lee Ann Womack, whose cover of Mr. Miller's "Does My Ring Burn Your Finger" was a top-selling single, named song of the year for 2001 by USA Today.
Will someone out in mainstream country-land get their ears out of their hats long enough to hear what real, soulful country can sound like?
Jay Votel

THE STREETS
Original Pirate Material
(Atlantic/Vice)
Birmingham, England, isn't exactly well-known for its rap scene, but then again, the Streets isn't exactly a rap group. The one-man band is the brainchild of producer and rapper Mike Skinner, a 22-year old garage/two step/House music disciple who has been dropping his underground singles on the U.K. dance scene for the past two years.
The album was on the short list for Britain's acclaimed Mercury Prize and those judges claimed it "articulates what it's like to be young and British in 2002." That's part of the reason why it's taken a little while for the album to gain a U.S. release Mr. Skinner's world of curry takeout, house music and drugs paints a stark portrait of working class Britain, and some of its references are likely to fly over the heads of American audiences.
Which is a shame, as the Streets is good enough to gain a larger audience. Mr. Skinner hints at it himself when he sings (on "Push Things Forward") "You say that everything sounds the same/then you go buy them/there's no excuses my friend/let's push things forward."
His quick-witted lyrics fly over the quick drum 'n' bass beat, providing an easy listen and a welcome alternative to both the stale dance scene and the American-dominated hip-hop genre. Whether the Streets will make a name for itself here remains to be seen, but Mr. Skinner is definitely a musical voice to watch from across the pond.
D.S.

FRANK SINATRA
Classic Duets
(Capitol Records)
What's "Nice Work If You Can Get It"? Performing a duet with Frank Sinatra, a job that can be relived by many on a soon-to-be-released album.
"Classic Duets," with its rare duos from the late singer's TV shows and specials from the late 1950s, features his favorites with added spice from other top-notch performers.
"Birth of the Blues" leads the way with Mr. Sinatra and Louis Armstrong, and the cast of characters only gets better. Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., among others, collaborate for a collectible album, scheduled for release on Tuesday.
"Something's Gotta Give" with the McGuire Sisters is one of the liveliest, jazziest numbers on the album. Mr. Sinatra makes his grand entrance in the number by asking, "Is there any room for me ladies?" The line makes it easy to visualize Frank and the gals at the microphone, and his personality shines through. The McGuire Sisters' harmony is a perfect compliment to Mr. Sinatra's voice.
Several medleys are also featured, all nice compilations with smooth transitions. However, some songs such as "Paper Moon" appear so briefly that just as you start singing along, the duet has moved on to something else. But after hearing your favorites time and time again, the medleys can also be a refreshing change.
The classic Sinatra sound only gets better when coupled with so many others who are also a integral part of music history.
Jenine Zimmers

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Barber Shop Music From the Motion Picture Soundtrack
(Sony)
The soundtrack for "Barber Shop" could use a trim and some highlights.
The music on the album is fine, but predictable, and doesn't stir the same emotions the movie did with its well-crafted script and thoughtful message. Aside from a few older numbers, this is mostly a totally-hits kind of CD with P. Diddy and others in the mainstream right now. A little creativity with musical selection could have gone a long way.
The soundtrack is nice for rap and R&B; lovers, but doesn't enhance the film's message, which shows what the barber shop has meant to the black community through the years.
On a side note, many of these performers get creative with their spelling, but for some of us, Fabolous, Ginuwine, Ghostface Killah and Ruff Endz read like a high school English paper after a student forgot to spellcheck.
If you want a real cut of the "Barber Shop," you're better off seeing the movie.
J.Z.

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