Aural Pleasure 

'Witch' Craft

You either respect Yoko Ono as an artist, the presence that loomed so heavily in John Lennon's post-Beatles career, or loathe her as a more pretentious Linda McCartney who broke up the band. Either way, she's part of pop history.

For Yes I'm a Witch, Ono's tapped a who's-who of alt-rockers to remix and retool her originals, including the title track, which shows she's at least got a sense of humor about it all. Irony is giving the remix-album idea an even heftier creative overhaul. (All the participants chose to work only with her vocals.) Ono's strength as a musician isn't her skills - she sings off-key and is prone to sing-song lyrics. It's her sincerity. And that's framed nicely throughout this album, from the hushed confessionals to bizarre squawks.

Peaches turns in an appropriately pop-electro track for the sugar-sweet "Kiss, Kiss, Kiss," Le Tigre lays down a lo-fi but anthemic "Sisters O Sisters," and Ono's earnestness is undeniable on each. When she sings "Bless you for your fear/It's wisdom" on the Cat Power-rendered piano tinkle of "Revelations," she reaches Marianne Faithfull/Leonard Cohen heights.

Throw in some inevitable Beatles referencing (the Sgt. Pepper-y horns of the Polyphonic Spree's "You and I" and the Flaming Lips biting George Harrison's "It's All Too Much" for the all-too-much "Cambridge 1969/2007") and Witch becomes a deeper mix of emotion and styles that ripens with each listen. Ono is nothing if not a risk-taker; as she sings on Spiritualized's shiny, bruised-blues take on "Walking on Thin Ice," "I paid the price." Witch or no, she has.

- Hobey Echlin

 


Coloring Book

By the mid-'70s, anyone who loved rock 'n' roll had to feel demoralized about where the music was heading. Between the bombast of art rock, the grating stupidity of Top 40 radio, and the self-important decadence of everything in between, the sense of fun and freshness that had made rock popular in the first place was a fading memory.

Punk rockers responded to this creeping sense of boredom with nihilism, by willfully trashing everything in their path. Another faction of disgruntled youth took a less sensationalistic course. They bought smart matching suits and Rickenbacker guitars, and  turned to the spirit of British Invasion pop circa 1964-65, before rock permanently became artsy.

This form of verse-chorus-verse revivalism, usually pegged as "power-pop," manifested itself in the work of the Shoes, the Records, the Nerves, and a host of other bands.

The Krayolas were San Antonio's answer to this movement, and one of its best practitioners. Anchored by singer/guitarist Hector Saldaña (currently a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News) and his drumming brother David, the Krayolas stormed out of the gate in 1977 with a double-sided 45rpm gem, "All I Do Is Try"/"Sometime."  Between them, these two songs encapsulated the qualities that would carry the Krayolas for more than a decade.

The Krayolas were all about teenage kicks (even their frustrations were so giddily expressed they sounded like kicks). "All I Do Is Try" finds Hector Saldaña ripping into an anxious raver with a voice that suggests a Tex-Mex Robin Zander. "Sometime" captures the dreamier, more optimistic side of the Krayolas' pop utopia, with billowy harmonies that reveal considerable command for a group of teenagers in the studio for the first time.

For many bands of their era, power-pop required a certain practiced innocence. Take the Knack's Doug Fieger: With all that leering over "what the little girls do," he came on like the old dude who tries to pick up girls at high-school pep rallies.

The Krayolas' innocence felt real, a function of their youth and unironic affection for pop simplicity. At least half of the 16 songs on this career-spanning collection would effortlessly fit on Rhino's DIY series American Power Pop compilations, with the big highlights being "Aw Tonight" (think In Color-era Cheap Trick) and "Cry Cry, Laugh Laugh" (a grittier Beau Brummels).

Eventually, the Krayolas began incorporating horns and keyboards, with less consistent results (the disc's weakest track, "Roadrunner," is a bar-band blues that fails to play to their melodic strengths). But Best Riffs Only is the kind of collection that only grows with time, because its virtues are so rare these days.

- Gilbert Garcia


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