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Opening Act



Just Like Candy


Paradise Vendors -- Candy (independent): In the home of masking, it's no surprise when bands make music that suggests the accompanying wardrobe. What is unusual is how many of these bands make music that survives the leap from the stage to the CD; too often, such bands let their laundry do the heavy lifting.

The Paradise Vendors' new Candy is a good example. The CD and stage attire refer to exotica, stereo test records, spy and tiki music, but in the privacy of your own iPod, the music still evokes the luxuriousness of artists like Les Baxter or John Barry. Robert Vicknair's echo-drenched guitar on "Ginki Itchy Hara," for example, suggests a romantic night on the beach, an effect heightened by Elzy Lindsey's cymbals crashing like waves on the beach.

The music that inspired the band was designed to be soundtrack or background music, but on Candy, that sensibility is hooked to songs, the most effective being "Proloft." Over a cocktail jazz groove, keyboardist Anton Gussoni pings out an ethereal melody matching Jeanne Stallworth's soft-focus vocal, the combination mimicking the gentle, elegant distance created by Prozac, Zoloft and the like. With darkly funny lyrics and an instantly catchy chorus, the song is the band at its smartest.

Candy often recalls another very smart pop band -- Blondie -- but with a different record collection from which to draw inspiration. Even when he's restrained, Lindsey has a lot of Clem Burke's rolling energy on drums, and Stallworth's vocals move like Debbie Harry's from a cool, reserved façade to the dramatically impassioned, sometimes within a phrase.

Like the first two Blondie albums, there's also a theatrical dimension to the Paradise Vendors' pop. Wardrobes aside, the songs feature fire-eaters, dominatrixes and risky entanglements with people with exotic names. As a result, you can argue -- as critics of early Blondie did -- that the material is cerebral and lacks heart. We could get philosophical and argue "heart" itself is an intellectual construct, but when pleasures of the mind are this luxurious, that really should be enough.

Little Richard -- King of Rock and Roll: The Complete Reprise Recordings (Rhino Handmade): Buddy Holly had all the luck. He made a handful of great singles, but he never had to deal with what to do five, 10 or 15 years later. He didn't have a Rick(y) Nelson-like "Garden Party" experience, the song recalling a Madison Square Garden show in 1971 when he played his then-current music instead of "Travelin' Man" and the oldies the angry crowd wanted to hear.

The raw commercial data suggests that no one cared a lot about Little Richard's post-1950s output, either, though last year's Get Down With It: The Okeh Sessions (Sony) and the new King of Rock and Roll: The Complete Reprise Recordings document an artist aging extremely gracefully. Neither his mid-1960s nor his early-70s tracks try to hang on to his past, piano-pounding glory. He's never "Good Golly Miss Molly"-wild again, but his music kept up with the times, even if not enough people listened to notice.

The material from 1970's The Rill Thing is reason enough to buy King of Rock and Roll. It's relentlessly funky with a hint of James Brown. Little Richard's performances are energetic, but never quite over the top, and his vocals on "Freedom Blues" and "Greenwood, Mississippi" are as electrifying as ever. In the latter case, a fuzztone guitar line leading into the chorus ramps up the excitement every time.

His 1971 King of Rock and Roll album -- the album that gives this collection its title -- is a disposable set of overproduced covers, and though it's fun to hear him sing "Brown Sugar" and "Setting the Woods on Fire," they're camp fun at best.

The 1972 Second Coming album features Earl Palmer on drums and Lee Allen on tenor sax, and you can hear the corporate wheels turning as the piano that defined his sound on his hits is featured prominently. Still, the songs all sound contemporary, particularly a take on "When the Saints Go Marching On" that is led by honking sax. There's a song called "Second Line" that doesn't sound much like a second line -- the lyrics coach dancers to electric slide almost as much as they instruct them to second line -- but it's awfully funky, anyway.

The final disc is the previously unreleased Southern Child, recorded at the same time as Second Coming, and it's as country-fried as soul comes. "Burning Up With Love," for example, has a lazy groove established by an acoustic guitar rhythm line. A psychedelic second guitar messes around in the margins of the song, leaving plenty of room for Little Richard's dynamic vocal.

Though the albums were unsuccessful attempts to capitalize on the '70s rock 'n' roll revival -- hence the titles -- they nonetheless seem like natural progressions from his '50s heyday and suggest he was prepared to grow with the times, even if record buyers and radio weren't prepared to grow with him. (King of Rock and Roll is only available in a limited edition from &127;

The music that inspired the Paradise Vendors was designed to be soundtrack or background music, but on Candy, that sensibility is hooked to songs.
  • The music that inspired the Paradise Vendors was designed to be soundtrack or background music, but on Candy, that sensibility is hooked to songs.

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