Time Life Music’s Singers & Songwriters: 1976-1977 collects 24 radio hits over the span of two discs. Despite the title, the compilation doesn’t just favor traditional singer/songwriters like Al Stewart, Linda Ronstadt, and England Dan & John Ford Coley, though they are represented here. Group contributions include Orleans (“Still the One”), Fleetwood Mac (“Say You Love Me”), Chicago (“If You Leave Me Now”), and Bread (“Lost Without Your Love”), but it’s the solo acts that provide the most recognizable hits.
With 1998's "Slyfi", Dave's fourth solo release, he finally achieves complete musical success that eluded him on his three previous outings. Here, Dave sounds up to date and even joyous. Great songs like "Happy To Be Here", "Leaving This Earth", "Even The Bad Times (Were Good Times)" and "AWOL" make this release worth owning. All 10 tracks fit together very nicely with minimal filler or waste. Dave tones down "Greetings From The Gutter"'s heavy r&b influence and blends it with electronica here for nice effect. I find it interesting that one year before reuniting with Annie Lennox for "Peace" that Dave Stewart was making some really great music that was absent from "Peace", which is perhaps why "Peace" didn't sell well in America among other things. If you are a fan of Dave's music or the Eurythmics, "Slyfi" is definitely worth owning.
For something less traditional but no less killing, try Melvin Taylor & The Slack Band’s Bang That Bell. A post-Hendrix exercise in funky-blue wah-wah wailing, this one has more allusions to Prince and the Isley Brothers than Muddy and the Wolf. In the course of a single tune (“Another Bad Day”) he can blend jazzy, Wes Montgomery-styled octaves with over-the-top wah-wah work and metalesque speed picking. But in spite of all the virtuosic six-string technique, Taylor can also get up into some nasty real-deal shuffles and earthy funk, as he proves so convincingly on “It’s Later than You Think,” which features some brilliant harmonica playing by Sugar Blue, and on a super-funky updating of the Earl King classic “Trick Bag.” And he digs into a slow blues, “A Quitter Never Wins,” with fangs bared. The closer, “Even Trolls Love Rock & Roll,” is a wild fretboard scorcher featuring guest guitar slinger Eric Gales. A tremendous guitarist and soulful singer, Taylor is a major versatile talent on the crossover blues-rock circuit that includes the likes of Robert Cray, Jonny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
Return of Saturn is an almost defiantly mature record about two things: Stefani's exploration of a troubled romance and her own romantic ideals, plus a serious attempt by the group to not only keep new wave alive, but to make that adolescent music relevant to an older audience. It's a high concept, but Return of Saturn is filled with satisfying contradictions. It's melodic, but deceptively complex; it can seem frothy, but it's never frivolous. No Doubt's desire to expand the emotional template of new wave is the perfect match for Stefani's themes – she may be writing about love, but she's not writing adolescent love songs. Fragments of her teenaged romantic fantasies remain, but she's writing as a woman in her late 20s. She's tired of being another "ex-girlfriend" – she wants to fall in love, get married, and have a family. It's a subject that's surprisingly uncommon in pop music, which would alone make Return of Saturn an interesting album. What makes it a successful one is that the band delivers an aural equivalent of Stefani's lyrical themes.