It's the Stones. It's great. Buy it.
Little Jimmy Scott
America is a wonderful place. A country that, no matter how much misfortune comes your way, no matter how much you just plain fuck up, if you hang around long enough, things just may turn out all right in the end. Take Little Jimmy Scott. They don't call him "Little" for nothing; a nasty thing called Kallman's Syndrome left his height permanently stunted, and when he was 13, his mother died (55 years ago), forcing him out on his own. Things weren't too red hot after that; divorces, depression and sour business deals plagued the man.
But Scott had one thing going for him: a beautiful, soaring voice, with pitch and pain somewhere between Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. He had an up-and-down career for decades, singing with the likes of Ray Charles and Lionel Hampton, but by the Seventies he'd entered semiretirement.
Then, in 1991, a Sire Records bigwig heard the diminutive singer perform at the funeral of songwriting legend Doc Pomus, and the next year Scott found himself with a Grammy-nominated album, All the Way, and a second career in high gear. He packed shows, was acknowledged by Lou Reed, Madonna and the Grateful Dead; he even serenaded Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger at the couple's holy coupling.
And now Scott gives us Dream, an album by an artist who simply must be heard to be believed, singing songs to break your heart. These are ballads that make depression and misery a fine art; not since Sinatra's In the Wee Small Hours has there been anything quite as magnificently blue as this. Though many of the tracks on Dream may be unfamiliar to some, the feeling Little Jimmy Scott captures is not.
Pure and Simple
Rock's spiritual heir to Leather Tuscadero occupies a strange place in our black hearts. We like the idea of Ms. Jett more than we actually enjoy listening to her. Basically, Jett's a tough chick to fathom, especially for kids too young or insulated for P.J. Harvey, L7 and Courtney Love. She comes close to reclaiming her former Runaways toughness with the "Maybe I don't wanna, maybe I don't wanna wanna FUCK YOU!!!" chorus of "Spinster," and with her promising "I've got a gun!" on the sassy "Activity Grrrrl." But she proceeds to blow the image with "I'm Rubber, You're Glue," a schoolyard taunt to a former lover that sounds ridiculous coming from anyone older than 10. Why not just threaten someone with a brutal session of patty-cake?
Bad as that song is, Jett's attempts at being topical (read: important) are what undermine the best efforts of her more noteworthy (read: teen trash) material. On "Wonderin'," Jett asks if anyone sees the starving, homeless people that only seem visible to her. But you never get the sense that she's willing to give any of them the leather jacket off her back; at least, not without a video shoot scheduled around it. She collaborates with seasoned songwriting hack Desmond Child for the even worse "Brighter Day"--more of Joan watching the homeless suffer, the politicians lie, the bullets fly in our nation's playgrounds. Thank goodness Joan's doing her bit for humanity by telling us "we've got to find a way." When the military drums start to rat-a-tat behind her, as if it's "Ballad of the Green Berets" time, one thing is clear: Jett is a lot farther off track than the country.
Now that the Cocktail Nation has become the latest little wedge in the great pie of hipness, it's about time for the fabulous Esquivel to take his rightful place among the Martin Dennys, Les Baxters and Korla Pandits. These names came from the Fifties and early Sixties, the era of Easy Listening and Mood Music, a period where a good hi-fi was as important a tool of seduction as a dimmer switch and a highball.
While most artists back then were intent on putting across an exotically mellow atmosphere, Esquivel was making wrenching, fantastic stuff, throwing in sounds that moved across a good sound system like bold strokes across a canvas. Sure, the Mexico-born arranger/composer covered well-known standards--Begin the Beguine," "Bye Bye Blues," "Who's Sorry Now?"--but after additions of pumped-up bongos, pedal steel guitars gone mad, female choruses singing nothing more than zu zu zu or pow pow POW, all within unexpected ebbs and flows of volume and intensity, they seemed like completely new songs.
Variety magazine called him "the Mexican Duke Ellington . . . Esquivel is to pop music what Aaron Copland is to serious music or what a John Coltrane is to jazz." Bar None has compiled an excellent collection of 14 cuts of the maestro's best "space age bachelor pad music." A CD, quite simply, that no space age bachelor should be without.