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MIKE BOEHM : Enticing Earful for Personal Listening Pleasure

'93 / The Year in Review. The local music scene declines

December 30, 1993|MIKE BOEHM

A couple of things to keep in mind regarding these lists of my favorite things of '93: First, I didn't hear every worthwhile album or concert. Listed are the best I happened to come across.

Second, my own pleasure is the sole criterion I use in compiling lists of favorites.

I don't care what music was deemed "important" by the rest of the pop cognoscenti. I don't give extra credit for music merely because it serves as a document of its times or defines an influential trend. I have no affirmative-action quotas that apportion slots on the list by gender, race, nationality or stylistic category.

All I have is my own taste. These lists consist of the albums that were most enticing to my ears, that most engaged my mind and spoke most deeply to my heart. They probably are not representative of what the year in pop was all about--whatever that might have been. But they are the records that gave me the most pleasure in 1993, and which I expect will continue to be rewarding when I return to them in years to come.

Favorite Albums 1. Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians, "Respect" (A&M). Utterly out of step with the grunge trend, poor Robyn didn't win much respect, or attention, with his second straight brilliant album (following 1991's "Perspex Island"). But this is masterful pure-pop, invested with craftsmanship, wit and heart as Hitchcock ranges from cosmic questions of mortality and faith to celebrations of eros as a life force. He plays the pop game on an elevated plane, with the '60s rock classics as his guide and an imaginative and metaphoric gift that is all his own.

2. Jimmie Dale Gilmore, "Spinning Around the Sun" (Elektra). So much country music is dauntingly generic, but Gilmore's streak of singularity is as wide as his native Texas. A work of haunting beauty, philosophic depth and an embracing humanity.

3. Belly, "Star" (Sire/Reprise). Tanya Donelly gave up playing second fiddle in the excellent band Throwing Muses to build a new band around her own musical vision. The result: an alluring album that can be sweetly poppy and exuberant, but that also swims in deeper, more disturbing currents.

4. Slim Dunlap, "The Old New Me" (Medium Cool/Twin/Tone). If Keith Richards had cut this album note-for-note, it would have been most critics' album of the year. Assured, Stones-style rockin' and earthy wit make this the best solo album by an ex-Replacement.

5. Frank Black, "Frank Black" (4 AD/Elektra). The first solo album by the former Pixies front man was as fanciful and pop-savvy as ever. Black's fixation on space travel and other oddities remains, but he invested them with metaphoric significance, singing not from mere whimsy, but to illustrate his feeling of displacement.

6. Midnight Oil, "Earth and Sun and Moon" (Columbia). These Aussies' forte is marrying impassioned political commentary to rock music that is rousing, muscular and expertly-wrought. Tougher and more consistent than their last studio outing, "Blue Sky Mining," and this time they showed a hint of the personal dimension that has been their chief lack.

7. Archie Roach, "Jamu Dreaming" (HighTone). One of the world's best country singers lives in the Southern Hemisphere. Roach is supremely affecting as he sings about the oppression he has suffered as an Australian aborigine and of the peace he has found in family life and his strong sense of peoplehood. Earthy Archie and Cosmic Jimmie Dale--now, that would be a double bill.

8. American Music Club, "Mercury" (Reprise). Bangs and whimpers alike as songwriter Mark Eitzel sings about the way one's inner world freezes over as terminal despondency sets in. Recommended for Elvis Costello fans who like Costello's rock 'n' roll better than his chamber music.

9. Mazzy Star, "So Tonight That I Might See" (Capitol). Another despondent one as partners Hope Sandoval and David Roback weave an extended spooky, meditative, played-out, dreamlike mood piece set in the depths of night. A cousin to Neil Young's "Tonight's the Night," but with no "New Mama" dawning in sight.

10. Dramarama, "Hi-Fi Sci-Fi" (Chameleon/Elektra). Too many drugs and too little success are the problems bugging singer John Easdale and band mates. You can never have too much pop savvy, though, and Dramarama delivers it with its hardest-hitting and most affecting album.

Another dozen (in alphabetical order): Arthur Alexander, "Lonely Just Like Me" (Elektra Nonesuch); Dave Alvin, "Museum of Heart" (HighTone); Cracker, "Kerosene Hat" (Virgin); Dick Dale, "Tribal Thunder," (HighTone); Rick Danko, Jonas Fjeld, Eric Andersen, "Danko/Fjeld/Andersen" (Rykodisc); Paul Geremia, "Gamblin' Woman Blues" (Red House); Lisa Germano, "Happiness," (Capitol); P.J. Harvey, "Rid of Me" (Island); John Hiatt, "Perfectly Good Guitar," (A&M); Liquor Giants, "You're Always Welcome," (Lucky); Madder Rose, "Bring It Down," (Seed); Nirvana, "In Utero," (Geffen/Sub Pop).

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