Recordings

Various artists
There's Something About Mary
(Capitol Records)

The Farrelly brothers are carving out a unique niche for themselves. These are the guys who are making rude, crude, socially unacceptable and screamingly funny movies. The kind of movies that make you laugh really hard at the same time you are hoping that no one from work is there to see you.

Besides enjoying a good inappropriate laugh, the brothers are also big music fans. Who could forget the sight of big John Popper and Blues Traveler in full Amish drag jamming away out in a field at the end of Kingpin? That film also featured a brief singing appearance by one of the great unsung heroes of rock 'n' roll, Jonathan Richman.

The former king of the Modern Lovers is back with a larger role in Mary, serving as a traveling troubadour commenting in song on the unfolding love story. His guileless looks and oh-so-sincere delivery have been winning fans for nearly 30 years of beloved cultdom, and it's great--if somewhat strange--to see them bigger than life at the local multiplex. Though this collection boasts a variety of artists, Richman's songs clearly are the selling points and the thematic hooks.

The Farrellys have assembled a rare film soundtrack that can stand on its own. The CD includes old favorites such as the Foundations' 1969 R&B chestnut "Build Me Up, Buttercup" and every loser-in-love's theme song, "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" by Joe Jackson. Newer material includes Ben Lee's acoustic rocker "How to Survive a Broken Heart," the Dandy Warhols' pop-electronica anthem "Every Day Should Be a Holiday" and a kickin' little accordion-based tune from the Push Stars called "Everything Shines." Add the Propellerheads' collaboration with Shirley Bassey and her sexy growl on "History Repeating" and this soundtrack sounds like a chunk of programming from a radio station you might actually want to listen in on. But the real gems in this collection are the three new recordings from the aforementioned Mr. Richman.

The uplifting theme song is full of his idiosyncratic word play ("Your friends would say stop whinin'") and is sung with a bittersweet smile in his voice. "True Love Is Not Nice" is a stark and spare recording with just Jonathan, his guitar and Tucsonan Tommy Larkins on drums. It's the sort of intimate production in which you hear the fingers sliding on the strings between chords. This tune is particularly downbeat, and displays the sometimes-awkward sincerity that Richman's fans have come to cherish through the years. Finally, there is a short reprise of the classic "Let Her Go Into the Darkness," with a fiercely lyrical fuzz-tone guitar solo that fades just as it's beginning to smoke. It's a reminder that Richman can rip on an electric when he has a mind to.

In this era of soundtracks that are overloaded with castoffs from company-favor bands, it's a pleasure to find a compilation that stands up to repeated listening. It also makes for a worthy introduction to the always-quirky work of Jonathan Richman.

--David Gofstein

Eva Cassidy
Songbird
(Blix Street)

I knew Eva Cassidy slightly when I lived in Washington, D.C., in the late '80s. Her brother Dan, a superb jazz and blues fiddler, was one of my best friends there. He often spoke of a sister whose singing knocked him out, and one night I was invited to hear them both sit in with a D.C. rock band called Method Actor. It was immediately apparent that his praises weren't just the product of fraternal pride--Eva was unforgettable. It seemed almost impossible that this soul-stirring, oceanwide voice could be coming out of this anxious-looking little person.

I met her several times after that evening; she was always sweet and quietly funny, but shy nearly to the point of wariness. It was two Christmases ago that I learned that Eva had died of cancer the month before, not long after the release of her first solo album, Live at Blues Alley, to great reviews. A second solo album, Eva by Heart, appeared shortly thereafter. This new collection comprises 10 cuts, nine from the two solo albums and one--"Over the Rainbow"--from The Other Side, an album she made in collaboration with bluesman Chuck Brown.

The selections range from contemporary pop like Sting's "Fields of Gold" and Christine McVie's title cut to more vintage romantic ballads like Johnny Mercer's "Autumn Leaves"; heartbreakers like "I Know You by Heart" (accompanied by Dan on the violin) and "Time Is a Healer"; gospel/soul like Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready"; folk like Pete Seeger's "Oh, Had I a Golden Thread"; and, best of all, traditionals like "Wayfaring Stranger" and a magnificent version of "Wade in the Water." Quite simply, they're all flawlessly performed--passionate and powerful without a hint of Star Search-style showing off, shot through with melancholy but never syrupy, and with a stunning instinct for dramatic phrasing.

It's easy to be suspicious of posthumous raves for a promising artist who has passed on too young, but listen to this album once and you aren't likely to think I've exaggerated. The only thing wrong with Songbird is that it isn't long enough, which is, alas, also the only thing that was wrong with Eva Cassidy's career.

--M. V. Moorhead

 
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