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$25 Guide : Exploring Consciences

September 21, 1986|ROBERT HILBURN

A monthly guide to what I'd buy if I only had $25 to spend on records. Discounts are widely available, but we assume here that an album costs $8, an EP $6, a 12-inch single $4 and a seven-inch single $2. This month's purchases:

Albums:

Paul Simon's "Graceland" (Warner Bros.). There has been so much written about the fact that Simon worked extensively with South African musicians on this album that it's easy to assume "Graceland" is some sort of anti-apartheid concept collection--perhaps even a follow-up to last year's fiery "Sun City" project. While the presence of these musicians (plus Louisiana's Good Rockin' Dopsie and East L.A.'s Los Lobos) adds a sense of universality, Simon continues to explore the questions of social conscience and personal serenity that have long been the cornerstones of his music. Though firmly established as one of our most sophisticated writers, Simon demonstrates added maturity and heartwarming range with these frequently wistful, embracing songs. One of the year's freshest and most original works.

Phil Alvin's "Un 'Sung Stories"' (Slash): Much of the strength of the Blasters' roots-based, socially conscious music grew out of the tension between songwriter-guitarist Dave Alvin's enthusiasm for a hard-edged contemporary stance and singer Phil's fascination with the older, blues-related American music forms. Now that Dave has moved on to X, Phil takes a break from the Blasters to explore his private musical passions in this solo LP. Where a collection of mostly pre-World War II "story" songs taken from gospel, country, blues and even Tin Pan Alley sources might sound of interest only to cultists, Alvin's forceful arrangements fuses the material with dark, funny, frightening and inspiring edges. The result is an album that suggests a heroic grappling with the struggles involved in daily living.

The Smithereens' "Especially for You" (Enigma): Even though one song is called "Groovy Tuesday" and echoes of the effervescent, '60s Mersey Beat sound ricochet all through the album, the Smithereens aren't just another archivist group. There is a sense of rock history here--"Time and Time Again" is like a mix of the anxious romanticism of Roy Orbison and the unyielding aggression of Elvis Costello, but the New Jersey quartet's songs are filled with wry, ironic undercurrents.

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