RECORDINGS

Recordings

Tom Petty
Wildflowers
(Warner Bros.)

You've grown up with Tom Petty. You first saw him all scraggly and snotty in the Seventies, and you couldn't miss his smug pug and godzillion-selling records through the Eighties.

Now, with the release of Wildflowers, the 43-year-old singer/songwriter plays the part of the wise but lonely geezer. He sounds like an old hippie rolling joints and admitting he's "too alone to be proud" on the album's debut single, "You Don't Know How It Feels." And later, on "To Find a Friend," which features graybeard buddy Ringo Starr on drums, Petty leans back and remembers how "Days went by/Like paper in the wind/Everything changed/And changed again." By album's end, Petty has slowed to sub-ballad speed with "Wake Up Time," an ode to pending midlife crisis: "You spend your life dreaming, running 'round in a trance/You hang out forever and still miss the dance . . . /It's wake up time."

What saves all this from rocking-chair stupor is the sleepy-eyed Petty himself. The guy wears well, even when he sounds worn out. And Petty's still able to kick himself in the ass with an occasional scorcher, as is evident on "You Wreck Me," his best up-tempo tune in years.

Wildflowers proves Petty's nowhere close to pushing up daisies. The old boy's got himself another winner, wrinkles and all.--Ted Simons

Various Artists
The Rebirth of Cool Volume 2
(4th & B'Way/Island)

Wow.
World music meets jazz and hip-hop, and no one gets hurt. Indeed, the resulting kinetic noise on this second Rebirth of Cool compilation makes for some of the most exciting sounds going of late.

The CD's title suggests heavy nods to Miles Davis, but any notion of muted trumpets is trampled by a stampede of exotic vocals, recurring tape samples and all sorts of percussion led by the James Brown memorial quick-striking snare.

And that's just the first blush. Songs like "Cantamilla," by Tranquility Bass, bring other treasures to the party, in this case, Herbie Hancock's old Headhunters riff on a stick. Even better is an outfit named Palmskin Productions and its "Spock With a Beard," which fuses trad-jazz and Zappalike blitzes with snippets of James T. Kirk sound bites. The song eventually requires a picking up of one's jaw off the floor.

Other keepers include a four-year-old jazz-heavy dub from Burning Spear, and some measured, sway-back hip-hop from Tricky, an act that sounds like Basehead with more ideas.

The Rebirth of Cool Volume 2 (and, to a slightly lesser extent, last year's first volume) makes similar hybrid efforts like Acid Jazz seem like so much soft Jell-O. Somewhere, Miles is almost smiling.--Ted Simons

Various Artists
The Best of 415 Records
(Columbia/415/Legacy)

Remember those snappy, early-Eighties New Wave songs from fresh, danceable bands like Wire Train, Translator and Romeo Void?

Prepare to meet your memories head-on.
The Best of 415 Records is a compilation of label-specific bands that hatched in those heady days, back when 415 was a major minor industry player. The Bay Area label was founded as an indie by self-styled gadfly Howie Klein, who eventually made a deal with the devil (in this case, Columbia Records), with predictable results.

But Klein really had something for a while: Rickenbacker ring with Translator, U.S. Euro-pop with Wire Train and campy synth-doodle with Until December. Those bands, along with Red Rockers and Romeo Void, are represented on the retrospective, but, alas, they all sound dishearteningly dated. Was Translator really that stilted? Was Wire Train always just a Flock of American Seagulls? And was Until December as incredibly silly as it now sounds?

The answers, all in the affirmative, are obvious with every cut, unless you've got a soft spot in your head for the good ol' days. Then the answers, even the questions, really don't matter.--Ted Simons

Paul Kelly
Wanted Man
(Vanguard)

Australian guy Paul Kelly's a subtle sort. His songs are smart and sure, and his voice has a way of sneaking up and nibbling on your ears.

Kelly's work was especially strong with his backing band, the Messengers, back in the mid-Eighties. Kelly's solo material, though still potent, is slightly less convincing. Lyrics and chords that were once gloriously glancing now sometimes either miss completely or simply hammer their targets with little imagination, as with the tedious "God's Hotel," co-written by the often-tedious Nick Cave.

But Kelly's songcraft, for the most part, remains considerable. And he's not afraid to take chances. Wanted Man includes a reggae-flavored ditty ("We've Started a Fire"), a whamma-lamma rocker ("Ball and Chain") and a swipe at martini music ("Lately"), replete with cocktail croon and smoky sax.

Those experiments all work, and they all look good on Kelly's r‚sum‚, but Wanted Man's strongest songs, "Surrender" and "Nukkanya," the first and last cuts on the disc, feature Kelly at his best, singing gorgeous ballads with a clear mind and voice. They're the kind of songs that keep Kelly's talent in focus and his promise intact.--Ted Simons

 
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