August 18, 1996
Reviews of Crowded House, Arturo Sandoval, Cartoon Classics and more.
By our musical staff
Hanna-Barbera's Pic-A-Nic Basket of Cartoon Classics (Rhino)
Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera have done a lot for cartooning over the years.
A lot of good and, sad to say, a lot of schlock.
The good, like the Flintstones, is among the best strong characters played by actors with strong, unique and easily recognizable voices that overcome somewhat shoddy animation.
Even the so-so, like Top Cat, Johnny Quest, Magilla Gorilla, Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear, are enjoyable, for the same reasons. But the low production values really stand out in such crap as Wheelie ? Chopper Bunch and Hong Kong Phooey . And, it nearly kills off cartoons as entertainment suitable for those over five who do not get up early on Saturday mornings.
Ah, but there's always the soundtrack.
Theme songs. Underscores. Boinks, whizz-klonks and ba-wongs.
Homer Simpson's ancestral aural heritage is wonderfully packaged on Hanna-Barbera's Pic-A-Nic Basket of Cartoon Classics, a four-CD compilation of H-B's entire music library.
Though less complex and musically thinner than Carl Stalling's work with Warner Brothers, which produced Bugs Bunny et al., the works of Hoyt Curtin are memorable nonetheless.
Like Stalling, Curtin used orchestral arrangements and big band scoring to intimate motion. Like Stalling, his work is unforgettable. Nearly everyone who has ever turned on a TV knows the sound of Fred Flintstone's feet hitting the ground, or the whizz-klonk of the stone newspaper bouncing off Fred's noggin.
All that, plus the theme songs from every H-B classic can be found in this set. Plus, 70-odd sound effects, marred only by a phoney Fred trying his damnedest to imitate the voice of Alan Reed.
A stereophonic cut of that all-time '60s classic, "The Bedrock Twitch."
Recurring Dream: The Very Best of CH (Capitol)
The success and subsequent nosedive of Crowded House is certainly not due to lack of original variations upon pop's grand thematic schematic. Their sound exists somewhere between the clever and the calculated never a safe bet. The former wackily theatrical Split Enz songwriter/ guitarist Neil Finn and drummer Paul Hester formed CH as a leaner version of the Enz, allowing drama and humor to exist in bristling six-string, brushed-drum, skiffle-laden pop.
Finn sang and jingled along about love gone wrong, gone silly, or gone good on tunes like the jangly faux soul of "Fall At Your Feet" and the neo-traditionalist round robin of "Pineapple Head."
On "It's Only Natural," the twangy Hawaiian guitars and yearning lyrics sung in anglo-nasal-Everly style is a ripe fruit ready to burst. Simplistic ballads like "Into Temptation" and "Don't Dream It's Over" are made romantic with lyrics like "counting the steps to the door of your heart." The tunes "When You Come" and "World Where You Live" seem lost and pointless. The final CH tracks recorded for this disc "Not The Girl" and "Instinct" sound like the type of John Lennon imitation that could never be flattering. It's a shame to dream that it's over, but perhaps the Finn brothers can continue in the vein of earlier glories. It was such a nice house.
Neil & Tim Finn
Finn Brothers (Discovery Discs)
Given the recent breakup of American cult favorites, Crowded House, it is both a relief and a pleasure to pour oneself a Sweet Tart-earful of the Finn Brothers' self-titled debut. Big Brother Tim is as keen a pure pop songwriter as Little Brother Neil, and his 1994 solo album fits nicely into Neil's four-album Crowded House canon. (In fact, Tim was in Crowded House for that band's third outing, Alone Together.)
The Finns, alone together, offer first-rate songsmithery with a bit less of the production sheen of a full-fledged Crowded House work, allowing closer attention to be paid to the lyrical wit and bonafide melodies. "Bullets in My Hairdo" is an out-of-fashion anti-consumerism tune, clear kin to CH's "Chocolate Cake." Other numbers, notably "Last Day of June," offer affecting romance. The Finn Brothers are the rarest of postmodern pop stars: They are genuinely conscious of both cynicism and love and they don't insist on mixing the two.
Swingin' (GRP Records)
It's been only six years since Arturo Sandoval walked into a U.S. embassy and defected from his native Cuba, but he's already established himself as one of the champions of the trumpet. Sandoval first raised eyebrows as the featured screecher with Dizzy Gillespie's United Nations Orchestra in the late '80s. On Swingin', he dives into bebop and straight-ahead styles, along with an all-star cast and special guests. "Moontrane," the opening track, explodes in a barrage of stellar solos from the ensemble. Arturo is the picture of precision, attacking lightning-fast phrases and running effortlessly. The rhythm section Joey Calderazzo, John Patitucci, and Gregory Hutchinson is almost uncannily tight throughout the album, and manages to be both tasteful and energetic.
Most of Sandoval's original songs are actually quite lyrical, although the title track is a disappointing, bland flgel-clarinet duet with Eddie Daniels. The ballads on Swingin' are particularly nice, and evoke wistful solos from Sandoval and guitarist Mike Stern. Arturo's pensive balladry comes across with conviction no small feat for a musician who has been known almost exclusively for technical prowess.
Of course, Swingin'has its awkward moments, since Sandoval's brassy tone will always sound slightly out of place in a jazz combo. His solos on the uptempo selections are impressive but somewhat contrived, and it's quite obvious that this is not his most natural setting. In addition, the album spends most of its energy in strict emulation of bebop a practice already honed to near-perfection by the likes of Roy Hargrove and friends. All in all, Swingin'is a nice addition to the Sandoval library, but don't expect to hear anything you haven't heard before.