Recordings

Bands like Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet clearly need to stop playing Lazarus. Come on--they weren't that good to begin with. On the other hand, the music of smarter Reagan-era pop groups like the Thompson Twins has worn well. "Lies" and "Doctor Doctor" are still worthy flashbacks. But unlike Duran Duran--a band that refuses to admit the Eighties are dead and buried--the Thompson Twins knew when to quit and refocus.

Tom Bailey and Alannah Currie, two of the three Twins, disbanded the group at the turn of the decade and set off to reinvent themselves--both as people and as musicians. The two journeyed to India and then to New Zealand, where they built a coastal fortress and went tribal: absorbing Maori rhythms, writing a lot of poetry and constructing their own recording studio.

Bailey and Currie reemerged in 1993 as Babble. Ether, the band's second album, is an erotic aural walkabout of spacy sounds and even spacier lyrics. Ambient synth effects and classic Indian instrumentals swirl over driving funk rhythms to produce an eerie and powerful whole--this is rave music for the morning after. Babble's dreamy melodies have the same penetrating yet soothing effect as the best trance-techno, especially when Currie is at the mike. Bailey sounds too much like his old self, and the spell is partially broken whenever he opens his mouth.

For those who fondly remember the Thompson Twins, songs like "Come Down" will sound hauntingly familiar, as Bailey's voice flexes with the same strength (and nearly the same lyrics) as the Twins' hit "Lay Your Hands on Me." But this album is no rehash job. It's clear from potent tracks such as "Just Like You" that Babble has struck a thoroughly modern balance of high-tech presentation and spiritual intent.

Now if only Simon Le Bon would disappear to Borneo, we might have a useful trend on our hands.--Tony Ortega

Woody Guthrie
Ballads of Sacco & Vanzetti
(Smithsonian Folkways Records)

In 1945, Smithsonian Folkways Records founder Moses Asch commissioned Woody Guthrie to document, in song, the tale of Sacco and Vanzetti, Italian immigrants and anarchist labor organizers who were wrongly convicted of murder and executed in Boston in 1927.

Compare that case to the O.J. Simpson trial, with its publicity circus, questionable witnesses, tainted evidence (the 1927 trial even included a hat that didn't fit) and the deep, social divisions both cases brought to light. Better yet, compare Ballads of Sacco & Vanzetti to the recently released The Ghost of Tom Joad, Bruce Springsteen's Guthrie-esque look at the hot issues of immigration and worker exploitation; still hot subjects after all these years. From any angle, this album of 50-year-old songs that tells a 70-year-old story is clearly as relevant today as it ever was.

With just a rambling guitar and a raw voice, Guthrie offers 11 takes on the first "trial of the century." Using stock folk melodies and techniques, the master songwriter starts by painting a backdrop of postwar prosperity and growing worker unrest ("The Flood and the Storm"); then introduces his characters ("Two Good Men"); gives the details of the trial ("Suassos Lane," "You Souls of Boston"); explains the political motivations at work ("Red Wine"); reports the city's mood ("Root Hog and Die"); relays the doomed pair's last plea of innocence ("Vanzetti's Letter"); and ends with musings on a world choked with misunderstanding ("We Welcome to Heaven"). Guthrie--a people's poet if there ever was one--never combined his humanism and politics better than he did here. This is one reissue that cries out to be heard.--Roni Sarig

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