Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Music In Brief

Most people first encounter Shel Silverstein as an artist and writer of children's poems and stories, but Silverstein found other outlets for his talents. A frequent cartoonist for Playboy, he parlayed his skills with words into a career as a highly sought-after writer of clever, sometimes sentimental, often silly songs. He gave Johnny Cash one of his biggest hits with "A Boy Named Sue," palled around with Kris Kristofferson and Bobby Bare, helped launch Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show on their path of destruction, and even cut some sides of his own. The Best Of Shel Silverstein: His Words His Songs His Friends (Columbia/Legacy) offers a nice survey of Silverstein's recordings, mixing his songs and readings of his beloved children's poems with hits cut by others…

A one-man phenomenon that never was, The Toms (a.k.a. Tom Marolda) cut one self-titled album in 1979. But what an album. Released, ignored, then later reclaimed by power-pop nuts, The Toms (Not Lame) is muscled-up Beatles pop at its finest, 12 songs about girls and music. This expansion of the 1997 CD keeps that version's bonus tracks and adds a whole second disc of other Marolda tracks. The too-appropriate title: Greatest Mrs…

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A regional superstar thanks to his ubiquitous presence on Chicago's Maxwell Street, Blind Arvella Gray influenced many and entertained more, but left only a handful of singles, a compilation appearance, and a single album, 1972's The Singing Drifter (Conjuroo). It's been impossible to find for years, but a new CD corrects that while confirming Gray's talent as a charismatic performer, particularly on a hypnotic, sprawling rendition of "John Henry." And he did it all sightless, with missing fingers, and playing a dobro that doubled as a weapon against those who would rob a blind man…

Amy Rigby is now nearly a decade into her second-act career as a pop-and-country-blending singer-songwriter with a gift for joining hooks to tales of adult heartbreak and (less frequently) happiness. The new Little Fugitive (Signature Sounds) isn't quite as consistent as some of those earlier efforts, but the best songs find Rigby in top form, whether eviscerating "Needy Men" or singing the pleasures of steady, reliable, grown-up love on "That's The Time"…

Ever wish you had more time to enjoy the music of the New York subway? (Not that one guy who plays along to pre-recorded smooth jazz, but the really good performers.) NYC Subway: Songs From The Underground (Headset) offers a cross-section of New York's best busking talent, from the warm vocals of Krystle Warren to vibraphonist Sean McCaul. They tailor their work for mass consumption, so there isn't much of an edge, but it's all pleasant stuff that suggests the artists would do well if given some room to grow. And a portion of the proceeds go to the volunteer charity New York Cares, so everyone comes out a winner…

Madness is back, but don't get too excited. It's just a new covers album called The Dangermen Sessions: Volume One (V2), and it's not particularly good.