|Sonidero||2up / Johnson||7:11|
|Sonidero [Fusi, Johnson Remix]||2up / Johnson||7:30|
Marbles is Robert Schneider of Apples in Stereo's solo project, and Expo marks the first full-length album since Schneider mothballed the name with the formation of the Apples in 1993. The m.o. is very Apples-like, with loads of their trademark catchy melodies, slightly trippy lyrics, swirling guitars, and sonic textures. But instead of the usual '60s psych-pop influences and song structures, ELO seems to be the major influence at work, with tracks like "When You Open" and the pulsating "Magic" sounding like an unlikely lo-fi Jeff Lynne project. The record is filled with vocoders, electronically treated vocals, cheap drum machines, tinny synths, and robotic beats. At its best on songs like "Move On" (wait for the moving guitar/synth duet at the song's climax) and the dreamy "Out of the Zone," the electronics are added somewhat organically and give Schneider's sometimes reedy vocals and simple songs a much-needed boost. A few of the songs don't work quite as well; "Circuit"'s vocoder and the song's nagging melody give the song an overly gimmicky sound, and the record's instrumentals ("Jewel of India," "Hello Sun," and "Blossoms") aren't of much interest. These are small flaws, and the strength of the rest of the record makes up for them.
The record was mixed by Mark Linnett of Beach Boys and SMiLE revisited fame, and he shows his versatility by creating a sound almost directly opposite to the lush SMiLE sound, instead making Expo sound like it was recorded in Schneider's sock drawer. In a good way, though. Like Guided By Voices, Marbles (and the Apples) work better when they sound small and full to bursting, and Expo is no exception to that rule. Apples in Stereo fans will dig this record.
Trombonist Jonathan Voltzok makes a fine debut recording with More to Come. A native of Israel who came to the U.
S. on scholarship to study at the New School in New York City, he went on to work with the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Band as well as bands led by Slide Hampton and Jimmy Heath. His rhythm section includes the talented but underrated pianist Aaron Goldberg, bassist Barak Mori, and drummer Ali Jackson. Like some of the bop masters of trombone, Voltzok excels in up tempo settings, such as his breezy original "More to Come" that serves as an excellent opener. He tackles Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight" in a slow, thoughtful setting, never overplaying his hand, with Goldberg's lush, inventive chords providing a perfect backdrop. Hampton is a special guest in a powerful, swinging chart of "Con Alma" and a snappy blistering take of "Shaw Nuff," while alto saxophonist Antonio Hart appears in Voltzok's driving samba "A Moment of Sunshine" and the trombonist's elegant jazz waltz "The Fire Dance." This is an enjoyable first effort by Jonathan Voltzok.
In 1977, 1978, and 1979, Gladys Knight & the Pips put a lot of effort into recording separately. Minus Knight, the Pips recorded two LPs as a trio (1977's At Last The Pips and 1978's Callin', both on Casablanca), while Knight provided her first two solo albums (1978's Miss Gladys Knight on Buddah/Arista and 1979's Gladys Knight on Columbia). But by 1980, the group itself was their top priority again. The R&B department at Columbia had very high hopes for this album, and they weren't disappointed. Both creatively and commercially, About Love was Gladys Knight & the Pips' most successful album since 1974's I Feel a Song. The people they can thank for the album's excellence are the husband and wife team of Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, who wrote and produced all of the material. The ballad "Landlord" soared to number three on Billboard's R&B singles charts, and the uptempo dance items "Bourgie, Bourgie" (originally recorded by Ashford & Simpson as an instrumental) and "Taste of Bitter Love" also became hits.
Meanwhile, About Love also contains its share of gems that weren't released as singles, including the dramatic "Add It Up" and the smooth "Friendly Persuasion." This impressively consistent LP indicated that Gladys Knight & the Pips still had a lot of life left in them as a group, and sure enough, they stayed together for another ten years before parting company for good in 1990.