Various Artists

Rare on Air, Vol. 4

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Rare on Air, Vol. 4 Review

by Jack Rabid

L.A.'s public station KCRW gets a fine array of artists to troop into its basement studios and play live, unplugged, or electronic for its long-running Morning Becomes Eclectic program (a reference to Eugene O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra). The selections always sound crisp -- in particular, Lou Barlow's haunting, solo debut of Sebadoh's later "Willing to Wait" (as "Beautiful Friend") on volume two. This time around, it's Radiohead who quietly dazzle. The harrowing Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood debut ("never been played before") of eventual OK Computer track "Subterranean Homesick Alien" is still a frozen beauty, sans bass, drums, and two other guitars -- think Nirvana's unplugged "All Apologies." But right up there with them is Mazzy Star's absolutely glistening, harmonica-dipped "Flowers in December," Jeff Buckley singing from beyond a tragic grave with his flailing, Sting-like voice on "So Real," and the biggest surprise, the lovely Squeeze-like melody/harmony in Tim and Neil Finn's "Only Talking Sense." Perhaps Ani DiFranco has shown more emotion than on her atypically nondescript "Gravel," but she still sounds like she's simmering below the surface. Likewise, Randy Newman alone with his piano shows off his three-decade somber troubadour skills on "Louisiana 1927." And the trip-hop/Latin flavor of Ozomatli, the hyper-Mexican dance of Café Tacuba, the energetic, deep-bass, non-weary-sounding reggae of Zap Mama, and chamber ambience of Gus Gus are truly "eclectic" pleasures, as is cool and craggy Tom Waits' "The Fall of Troy." Hell, even Sarah McLachlan sounds reflective with just her piano and an understated vocal. On the gag-me side, the less said of the overrated Joan Osborne (she always oversings) and the worthless grunge-lite of Marcy Playground the better, and Soul Coughing's avant-garde sound clashes seem curious but pointless. But there's too much unfiltered, live, and direct joy here to avoid a strong recommendation.

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