Luscious Jackson, "Greatest Hits" (Capitol)
Jill Cunniff, "City Beach" (MIlitia Group)
Proteges of the Beastie Boys, the four underrated women of Luscious
Jackson were perpetual also-rans in the alt-rock sweepstakes of the '90s,
but they deserve to be remembered for one brilliant, sexy, funky effort --
the Daniel Lanois-produced "Fever In Fever Out" (1996) -- and two good but
not great discs, one preceding their masterpiece and one following in 1999
after keyboardist Vivian Trimble quit. The band broke up shortly thereafter.
Given that Luscious Jackson only scored one hit -- "Naked Eye" made it to
No. 36 on the Billboard pop chart in 1997 -- it's difficult to accept that
it deserves a greatest-hits disc. "Fever In Fever Out" remains a must-own
and the best introduction to the band. The new compilation includes several
stray rarities and alternate mixes, but most of the non-"Fever" songs show
the group working toward that peak or petering out afterwards.
Much more rewarding for fans and new initiates is the solo debut by Jill
Cunniff, Luscious Jackson's bassist and most distinctive singer. Aside from
a handful of impressive collaborations -- Emmylou Harris adds vocals to
"Disconnect," and Chicago singer-songwriter Rachel Yamagata contributes keys
and vocals to "Kaleidoscope" -- Cunniff plays most of the instruments
herself, creating swirling, gently rhythmic, minimalist-but-melodic settings
for a strong set of tunes.
This a bucolic disc; "Hey lazy girls and laidback boys / You got it
right, life's to enjoy," Cunniff sings on the opening "Lazy Girls." But
the energy and varied influences of New York street culture still permeate
the mix, making for a much more interesting, entrancing, sexy-sweet
gentility than Norah Jones or similarly conservative cabaret chanteuses.
Sneakers, "Nonsequitur of Silence" (Collector's Choice)
The missing link between Southern cult legends Big Star and today's
legions of power-pop bands, as well as trailblazers for the indie/alternative-era
success of groups such as R.E.M. and the B-52's, North Carolina's Sneakers
are the oft-mentioned but seldom-heard collaboration between future dB Chris
Stamey and future Let's Active frontman Mitch Easter. Recording largely on a
TEAC four-track and only issuing two hard-to-find D.I.Y. recordings during
its lifespan, the band finally gets the archival overview it's long deserved
on this 21-track collection of its late '70s recordings.
The sketchy quality of some of the home recordings make for uneven
listening, but this disc is a must for power-pop aficionados, and songs such
as "Decline and Fall" and "S'il Vous Plait" still boast a sparkling energy
and surprisingly sophisticated vision of the ideal mixture of British
Invasion hooks and post-punk art-rock experimentation.