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OPINION: New releases by Anka, Iglesias, Mad Season

April 18, 2013
By MARK MILLER - Staff writer , The Herald-Star

This week I review three CDs from artists part of the Sony family of labels.

Julio Iglesias - "NO. 1 Deluxe Edition

Ok, so I'll be the first to admit that Latin pop star Julio Iglesias isn't exactly my cup of tea, but trying to keep an open mind as a music critic I thought I'd give it a go.

Iglesias was a popular singer not only in Latin American but also in the U.S. for his sexy, suave voice and approach. There are worst things in the world than being a first-rate pop singer, and this compilation shows that's exactly what Iglesias was/is.

This two-CD, one-DVD package, released last week by Sony, is a extravaganza featuring Iglesias' No. 1 pop hits here and abroad. And you know what? It ain't too bad after all.

We often think that nothing could be worse than yesterday's "disposable" pop music, but Iglesias really does seem to care about the material he's singing about, for the most part.

Yeah, there are some questionable moments - we could probably have done without another version of "Begin the Beguine," which is kind of pompous to begin with. Iglesias dons his Latin lover hat for the phoned in duet with Willie Nelson, "To All the Girls I've Loved Before." I'm also not too crazy about his duet with Art Garfunkel, "Let it be Me," which seems to be striving for some kind of record in syrupy sentimentality and new heights of bombasticity.

But there are some surprising winners, such as the tasteful cover of Willie's "Crazy," along with the Beatles' "And I Love Her"; "Starry, Starry Night," Don McLean's wonderful and moving portrait of artist Vincent Van Gogh; a really cool version of "Summer Wind" in a duet with Frank Sinatra; and excellent, well-produced duets with Sting, Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton and Diana Ross. There are plenty of his Latin hits with sexy-sounding, Spanish "come-hither" titles, which are kind of exotic and endearing.

There's also a bonus concert DVD with Iglesias in all his Latin glory, and it's enjoyable as well, if nothing else for the cheese factor. A lot of this music was made when there still was a market for pop hits that weren't machine-tooled or watered-down gangsta/dance or insipid, so-called "country" music hitting the charts, and it brings back a nostalgic yearning when mega-corporations didn't "mind control" its listeners. Charming.

Paul Anka - "Duets"

Uhg. Just plain Ugh from the start. I think I've heard enough duets albums to last me the rest of my life, and this new, totally unnecessary and kind of lame duets album from the legendary Paul Anka could be the worst of all.

Sure, there are plenty of guest stars singing some good songs here, including some that are even still alive. Let's take a look at Anka's partners in crime - Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Leon Russell, Patti LaBelle, Gloria Estafan, Peter Cetera, Tom Jones, trumpetist Chris Botti, Michael Jackson and Frank Sinatra.

Anka co-wrote "My Way," Sinatra's late-in-life anthem, which is covered by the two here, and the result is no chemistry whatsoever. I guess it's kind of tough to have a connection when your singing partner is dead, as I can find no evidence this was done when both were alive, making it a "necro-duet," which I hate. And even worse, Frank sounds better dead than Anka does on his own song.

The Jackson duet with Anka was written by the two in the 1980s and retitled "This is It." It sounds great - until Anka opens his soul-less mouth. Again, I have no idea whether this was recorded when both were alive. A little creepy, if you ask me.

In fact, that's the problem with the entire album - all of Anka's partners sing better than he does, who's vocals at best could be called "irrelevant." There's absolutely no interaction, and you can tell these were mostly "phoned in," meaning they probably weren't even in the same studio at the same time. To me a duet is cut live, like Sinatra used to do back in the day with Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Keeley Smith and Ella Fitzgerald. Those had chemistry and class, not to mention excitement.

The contemporary production tries to make Anka hip, but that's kind of hard for the guy who sang "Having My Baby" back in the innocent 1970s. The best cut by far is his duet with Tom Jones on "She's a Lady," with, again, Jones bringing the heat and Anka limping to the finish line.

Anka fans might find this the greatest thing since disposable diapers, but the worst thing about Anka's new duets album is Anka himself, who just sounds bored, flat and dull. Avoid like the bird flu.

Mad Season - "Deluxe Edition"

Mad Season is yet another one of those albums that earned a reputation due to its Seattle-based, grunge-era superstars, including Layne Staley of Alice in Chains on vocals, Mike McCready of Pearl Jam on lead guitar, Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin and bassist John Baker Saunders of the Lamont Cranston Band. The highly respected songsmith Mark Lanagan - Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age - also helped with some vocals and lyrical content.

Every one of these guys had bona-fide rock chops and were in the best bands the world had to offer at that time. But like most superbands, the project looked better on paper than it does sonically. What may have sounded profound and exciting in 1993 doesn't really cut it now, and if you take the band on its own merits and disregard the superstar band members, you come up with a really so-so album.

To its credit, Mad Season didn't try to sound like Alice in Chains or Pearl Jam, and while that's a good thing, its surprising such a team of inspired musicians came up with such a well, normal sounding rock record.

Listening to it today might be a nice nostalgia trip for the children of grunge, but I found it to be rather underwhelming - not really bad, but not really very good, either.

Fans of "Mad Season Deluxe" also get an extra disc of unreleased stuff and tunes finished with Mark Lanagan talking over vocal chores since the death of Staley. There's also a somewhat lo-fi recording of "Live at the Moore" CD and DVD of the concert, which again left me feeling like there were too many cooks in the kitchen.

This is recommended for flannel flying fans of the early to mid-90s Seattle crowd, but others unfamiliar with the scene that was may be left wondering what all the hoopla was about.

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