various artists,
Liberty Heights
(Atlantic, 2000)

Tom Waits, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presly and James Brown on one single compilation? That's right. And that should say it all.

This album is the true test of people who like to answer "everything" to those who ask, "What kind of music do you listen to?" Besides Elvis's stunning performance of the oldies radio staple "Blue Moon," Carl Perkins and Big Joe Turner add to the '50s flavor with "Honey Don't" and "Shake, Rattle & Roll."

But there is a second and even a third genre of music fighting for attention on this album. Louis Armstrong's "If" is one of the most outstanding jazz performances of his early period. If you want more contemporary-sounding jazz, try Brenda Russel's "Baby Eyes" or "When Love Walked In." Perhaps one step above any of those selections is the legendary Nat King Cole's "Darling, Je Vous Aime Beaucoup."

Then, of course, there is Tom Waits, who has apparently devoted his career to busting the screws out of any category in which critics try to place him. Simply put, there is every kind of music, and there is Tom Waits. His "Putting on the Dog" sounds like a step in a new direction for him, while using the musical sounds of his acclaimed '80s and '90s output. It is another fantastic Waits song, featuring the bleak soundscape expected of his music, but there is a fuller sound on this one. A piano shrills through the rhythmic mess of congas, bongos, sax, electric guitar, bass, shaker and, yes, even a train whistle, played by none other than the man himself. "It's Over" is a blander track, quite similar to "Strange Weather" from 1988's Big Time, which is also heavy with accordian and accoustic guitar.

Surprisingly, the James Brown pieces feature a very young Brown, one who I had never heard before. His "Please, Please, Please" and "Chonnie-On-Chon" are both thumping '50s rock 'n' roll blasts remeniscent of Little Richard or Ricky Nelson. Both songs are fantastic and destined to get even the stiffest among us moving aorund. After discovering these selections from Brown's early days, I am going to look for some more.

It is doubtful that many people will love every song on here, but that does not mean that there are any bad tracks. Every song is listenable. However, the styles are so varied that the inconsistency may have some skipping listeners around a little. Generally, the Liberty Heights soundtrack is a gem, and it definitely offers something for everyone. That is why it is likely to leave most people smiling. For those who were there, the 1950s rock and older jazz classics will induce a nostalgic grin, for others, the new Tom Waits songs will win him some new fans and leave veterans thirsting for his follow up to the Grammy-nominated "Mule Variations," released in 1999. I would say this album is as close to a must-buy as could be.

- Rambles, written
by Gianmarc Manzione

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