Compared to the nocturnal New York cool of the Strokes, Albert Hammond, Jr.'s solo album Yours to Keep is a sunny California afternoon. It's not quite as radical a departure as, say, James Iha's solo album Let It Come Down was from his work with the Smashing Pumpkins, but Hammond's endearing pop miniatures have their own identity without feeling too self-consciously different from the Strokes. Even the songs that were adapted from his music for the Strokes' fan club tour DVD, like the chugging "In Transit," aren't as hard-edged as his day job's music, and Hammond's sweet, unaffected voice gives lyrics like "Everyone Gets a Star"'s "I know it gets so confusing/Sometimes it all seems to drag me down" a much different feel than they would coming out of Julian Casablancas' world-weary mouth. Actually, two of the most notable influences on Yours to Keep are the Beach Boys and Buddy Holly, artists both far removed in time and sound from the Strokes and the main inspirations on their music. The opening track "Cartoon Music for Superheroes" sounds like a lullaby version of Brian Wilson and company's take on "The Sloop John B." and "Holiday" rhymes "Jamaica" and "take ya," conjuring up "Kokomo." The affectionate covers of Holly's "Well...All Right" and Guided by Voices' "Postal Blowfish" which appear on the U.S. version of the album, give further insight into its friendly, unpretentious vibe and immediate melodies.
Yours to Keep's eclectic feel adds to its unassuming charm, with whimsical tracks like "Call an Ambulance" and the folky "Blue Skies" sounding natural but not predictable next to "101" and "Bright Young Thing," which both have surprisingly bittersweet passages that come on like sudden rain showers. And while most of the album's songs are to the point -- which only adds to their appeal -- "Hard to Live in the City"'s lengthy, brassy coda makes it feel like an impromptu party breaks out at the end of the song. A small-scale project with big results, Yours to Keep is a very enjoyable musical sketchbook. In its own concise, unassuming way, it could even charm those who aren't fans of the Strokes.
This 1994 British studio cast recording of Lionel Bart's musical Oliver! features a strong cast led by character actor Victor Spinetti, who has a long series of West End credits and a Tony Award, but who remains best-known to American audiences for his supporting roles in the Beatles movies A Hard Day's Night and Help! Spinetti's Fagin is a good, detailed portrayal, and it's matched by Bonnie Langford's Nancy. The score, of course, remains tuneful, and the West End Concert Orchestra conducted by Matthew Freeman plays lively arrangements, even if the chorus often sounds a bit too properly British to be believable as a bunch of poverty-stricken boys. Originally recorded for the U.K. Carlton Shows Collection, this version was reissued as a low-priced disc available in the U.S. starting in the spring of 2001. It is not in the same league as the original London cast album, the original Broadway cast album, the original soundtrack, or the 1994 London revival cast album, but it is a pleasant enough recording, especially at a discount price.