Reviews of CDs by Billionaire, Terry Radigan and the "Oxford American Southern Sampler 2000" 

Now Hear This

Various, "Oxford American Southern Sampler 2000" (Oxford American) — Each summer, the Oxford American Southern writing magazine publishes an outstanding issue where music is the focus. Stories feature south-of-the-Mason-Dixon-line performers from the past to the present. As a bonus, the magazine includes a "Southern Sampler" compilation CD that showcases the magazine's subjects. Without a doubt, year after year, these little recording gems become a favored addition to my CD collection.

This year's 23-cut compilation includes the usual wide range of styles. Doc and Merle Watson kick it off with some fancy picking. Some modern zydeco from Keith Frank follows. Todd Snider's rock 'n' roll leads into the hypnotic blues of the little-known Asie Payton. There's some Memphis soul from the Hodges Brothers and Randy Newman's masterpiece, "Louisiana 1927," is a welcome highlight. Mose Allison, Tom Petty and Kelly Willis follow as do Dolly Parton, Kevin Kinney, The Derailers, Alejandro Escovedo and Gov. Jimmie Davis, among many others. There are always some real oddball twists included. Last year's sampler featured an amazing recording of Oliver Hardy singing "Shine on Harvest Moon" from one of the Laurel and Hardy movies. This year, we get Robert Mitchum and Lillian Gish offering "Leaning" from the delightfully twisted 1955 movie "The Night of the Hunter." There's also a surprising version of "He's Got You" by Dean Martin. The stylistic approach and title are different from Patsy Cline's "She's Got You" version, but the heart and soul are amazingly similar. This is only a partial list of the great music included on this CD. It's a must for any fan of American music.

— Ames Arnold

Billionaire, "Ascension" (Republic/Universal Records) - Atlanta's Billionaire emerges from a city with a thriving rock 'n' roll scene that at one time produced such national acts as The Black Crowes and The Georgia Satellites. When I use the term rock 'n' roll in reference to Billionaire, it's actually more of a fusion of the many styles that have made rock music so versatile. The group's new album "Ascension" serves up a 13-track, 57-minute collection of tunes reminiscent of songs one might have heard during the last 40 years of rock history. The song "Someday I'll Leave it All" covers the feel of 1960s beat in its chorus, while others like the Brit-pop molded "Someone" and the Oasislike "Sunny Sunday Afternoon" are present in all of their shoe-gazing glory. The modern vein of alternative is well represented by the hard-charging numbers "Never Get Enough" and "Joymaker" plus the moody "Universal." Sorry, there's no typical Southern rock here.

"Ascension" is a timely rock album whose creators made the effort to pay homage to many of the artists who came before them without ripping those originators — or the listener — off. Billionaire's agreeable major-label debut says a lot about the city the group calls home and how being based in Atlanta affects it musically. As frontman Marc Tompkins says, "With three out of four of us being Southerners, we do kind of have that [Southern] identity." Their fresh sound stems from that identity, I'm sure.

— Angelo DeFranzo

Terry Radigan, "Radigan" (Vanguard) — This multi-instrumentalist-songwriter's first CD is 40 minutes of lush, mature, unabashed pop-music soul. Recorded mostly by Radigan in her attic and lovingly co-produced by Music City's Kenny Greenberg and Justin Niebank, the singer played most of the instruments, created many of the studio effects, and also wrote or co-wrote 10 of the 12 cuts. Styles range from heart heavy ballads to light rock to languid pop and her tough but fragile voice proves a supple instrument throughout. Each song offers its own pleasures but "Love Wouldn't Lie to Me" showcases the singer's intimate falsetto as the trust held in the title gently shatters. Likewise, "The Things You Do" is a candlelit look at the lessons of the heart. Radigan's name may not be familiar, but her musical resume goes back to the early '80s when the Brooklyn-born musician took over vocal duties after Shawn Colvin left the New York band Grace Pool. Radigan later moved to Nashville where Trisha Yearwood and Patty Loveless cut her tunes. Now on her own, Radigan sounds up to the task. With some promotion and luck, the young woman could catch the ear of those looking for something more honest than Shania Twain, or less bombastic than Celine Dion.

— A.A.


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