Course of Empire

Course of Empire's sophomore release arrives with all the subtlety of a runaway 18-wheeler. Driven by dual drummers Chad Lowell and Michael Jerome, COE's sound is a dense one. Like Skrew, another superior dual-percussive act, Dallas' COE uses this added dimension to thicken its hard-edged, alternative sound. Topping the tribal beats with noisy, frantic guitar spasms, Initiation showcases the band best on tracks like "White Vision Blowout" and "Hiss," while the rockabilly-style rhythm of "Infested" displays diversity and humor. And even though the studio version of COE can't quite capture the all-out, cathartic intensity of the band in a live setting (kettle drums are tossed into the audience to add a new dimension to its already-over-the-top percussive sound), Initiation provides a good introduction to a promising, adventurous band.--Joy Lambert

The dB's
Ride the Wild TomTom

Why aren't the dB's famous? Was the band too clever for its era? Were the songs too intelligent, too perfectly crafted? Were the dB's just too damn good? The answer is yes. To everything. Songwriters Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple created a wonderful chunk of pop music through the group's 1978 to 88 lifetime (though Stamey went solo in 82), enough so that the dB's will always have their own little niche in rock history.

In other words, the critics loved em more than the general public did.
Which brings us to this release, a 26-cut collection of home and field recordings that were mostly made before the group's Stands for deciBels debut in 1981. These are studio-quality demos that go from squeaky-clean, New Wave hypermelodies (Bad Reputation," "What's the Matter With Me?") to twisted hooks (Dynamite") to honestly wrenching ballads (Nothing Is Wrong"). Longtime fans will recognize a few numbers that surfaced on actual albums, but don't think the mystery titles are unfamiliar because they stink; there's nary a bum track here. TomTom contains the sound of a young band as hopeful and energetic as it was--at the time--unknown. If this were a perfect world, the dB's would still be riding high, and we'd all be whistling these songs.--Peter Gilstrap Various Artists

First and Last Forever: A Tribute to the Sisters of Mercy

Let it be known that Sisters of Mercy, the gloom-rock gothic band of the Eighties, has reached idol status. Like Kiss, Frank Sinatra, Neil Young, and the Monkees, the band has its very own tribute album. And who is paying? A mālange of unknown, Sisters-influenced bands from around the country, including Flesh of My Flesh from Scottsdale.

The covers are all taken from the album First and Last and Always--go figure--and a few early-Eighties singles that are being rereleased now. And at the risk of upsetting diehard fans, I dare say some versions are more interesting than the originals--the Sisters are shown no mercy. Highlights here are Automatic Head Detonator's industrial version of "Black Planet" and Eleven Shadows' vampirish take of "Afterhours." I'm also partial to the Shroud's cover of "Alice" and Flesh of My Flesh's "Marian." These artists have definitely paid their respects, and well.--Evelyn Sheinkopf

Michael Bolton
The One Thing

The one thing that'll stop nine million women from buying The One Thing is if the king of Adult Contemporary Pop were to empty a fully loaded Uzi into a cluster of small schoolchildren. That's about as likely to happen as nine million men buying this or any Bolton title. Yet a marketing strategy may already be under way to win over the men forced to live with Bolton fanatics. No, he doesn't get around to singing about power tools or hand-to-hand combat, but at least he desecrates only one soul classic this time, "Lean on Me."

Def Leppard producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange has been tapped to toughen up the proceedings and collaborate with Bolton in the songwriting department. A cursory glance at the lyrics of "Ain't Got Nothing If You Ain't Got Love," the lone rocker here, reveals Bolton trying to be one of the boys. If he were to insert a few "misters" here and there, the song could be mistaken for a Springsteen outtake from Human Touch. Also, the CD booklet is advertising Michael Bolton's Winning Softball, an instructional videotape giving irrefutable proof that he wants to impress someone else besides his dyed-in-the-wool female following.--Serene Dominic Artie Shaw

More Last Recordings
(MusicMasters Jazz)

Though More Last Recordings may seem a bit of a non sequitur--kind of like being almost pregnant--what's actually on this CD makes perfect sense. What you will hear is Shaw's quintet (augmented on a few tracks by guitarists Tal Farlow and Joe Puma); the group had been playing at Embers, the hip Manhattan jazz club, for five weeks when these sessions took place in February and March of 1954. The players were accustomed to each other, and it shows. Shaw's playing is subtle and always inventive, whether the clarinetist is digging into his bag of hits (Stardust," "Begin the Beguine") or bop (How High the Moon") or easygoing tunes like "Don't Take Your Love From Me" and "I've Got a Crush on You." Shaw quit music and moved to Spain in 1955, because he was "getting bored," according to the liner notes. On More Last Recordings, you'd never know it.--Peter Gilstrap

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