Tina Struts into the Sports Arena
By Dirk Sutro
Legs. Long, lean, smooth brown legs that churn like a riverboat paddlewheel from atop high, high heels that make muscles flex for balance. Legs of a teenage figure skater, on a woman who qualifies for some senior discounts. Legs that logged a million miles moving to "River Deep, Mountain High," "Proud Mary," "What’s Love Got To Do with It." Legs that matched Mick Jagger stride for stride during Live Aid. Legs that followed Mad Max beyond the Thunderdome. Legs that carry a national ad campaign for Hanes hosiery.
Tina Turner owns these world-class gams, inspirations to women everywhere—as was her escape from then-husband Ike’s abuses and her subsequent emergence as a strong, independent woman whose career spans five decades. Turner will strut her stuff for San Diegans May 9 at the Sports Arena, and one hopes she assembles a retrospective of her best material, rather than leaning on her new album. Wildest Dreams is a tame, overproduced, strings-drenched exercise in movie-theme music that won’t make much of a concert program.
It’s always bothersome when artists smother strong voices beneath security blankets of studio bollocks such as synthesizers and symphony orchestras—and it’s not just singers, although the list includes Sheryl Crow and Diane Schuur. Also guilty are Pat Metheny, Elvis Costello and scores of others, including many of the musicians you hear on commercial jazz and country radio stations. In fact, most any artist with enough of a following to be afforded a de-
cent production budget succumbs at some point to the studio sirens.
Wildest Dreams camouflages Turner’s voice beneath volumes of extraneous accompaniment and effects, on tracks that are mostly romantic and include "Goldeneye," the Bono/Edge anthem for the James Bond movie. "Thief of Hearts" puts up a wall of synth-disco, like something from Madonna; "On Silent Wings" drowns Turner beneath dripping, lovey-dovey strings; and the mushy "Confidential" comes across as anything but, with its anonymous replay of the old high-hat-driven disco dance beat.
Perhaps in concert the new stuff will be stripped to bare essentials, allowing Turner’s assets to shine. Maybe she’ll dust off some gems dating back to her 1960s days with the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. And maybe she’ll include a few odd career highlights, such as the version of "The Acid Queen" she performed in the movie edition of The Who’s rock opera, Tommy. After all, rock and roll helped power her back to the heights of stardom, following her late 1970s low from the physical and emotional trauma she endured from Ike.
But Turner’s a consummate showwoman, and regardless what shape her live show takes this time out, it should be well worth the admission.
San Diego guitarists Billy Thompson and Micky Maga both have self-produced CDs out this spring. Thompson picks up where he left off when he disbanded the Mighty Penguins. He lends his stinging Fender Telecaster and gritty vocals to several original tunes, including the ’90s-inspired "Downsizing." Maga and San Diego vocalist Lisa Hightower team up as Second Wind on the album Walkin’ in the Waves, produced by Leucadia guitarist Peter Sprague and including several of Sprague’s favorite musicians.
Thompson has been on the brink of breaking through to broader success for years. He toured with bluesman Larry Davis during the early 1990s and had been asked to record before Davis passed away. He backed Little Milton at the House of Blues in Los Angeles two years ago, has played live with Chuck Berry and has opened shows for numerous national acts, including Etta James, Robert Cray and Robben Ford.
On the CD Tangerine Sky, due in local music stores by June, Thompson puts his soulful voice and biting guitar to good use. The sentimental title track is particularly strong, as Thompson wrings out maximum emotion while a horn section punches up the impact. Together, his voice and guitar are favorably reminiscent of Robert Cray. Thompson also turns in some searing slide on "I Chose To Let Ya." Get hold of this CD, and also catch Thompson Tuesday nights at Blind Melons in Pacific Beach, where he fronts a house band with a changing cast of top local players.
Micky Maga was a commercial real estate broker in North County until a few years ago, when he heard jazz legends Barney Kessel and Herb Ellis and decided to abandon the capitalist fast track. Already an accomplished rock-and-roll guitarist, he vowed to tackle jazz. After lessons with San Diegan Kiko Cibrian (currently bandleader for global pop star Luis Miguel) and months of woodshedding, Maga has moved into Latin-flavored jazz in his collaboration with former rock-and-roller Hightower.
Together, Maga’s Larry Carlton–smooth guitar and Hightower’s Astrud Gilberto–inspired vocals combine to make sounds redolent of Brazilian rain forests on Walkin’ in the Waves, a collection of eight original tunes, plus one by Sprague and "Midnight at the Oasis." Hightower, with her intuitive, tasteful phrasing and sexy, whispery vocals, is a pleasant surprise. She’s easily as gifted as a young Kevyn Lettau, the Del Mar singer who landed a major recording deal and achieved national radio play.
Throughout, Second Wind’s CD is warm, romantic and strong on composition and musicianship. Rights to one of the duo’s tunes were purchased a few months back by a TV producer, who used it as background music on the soap The Bold and the Beautiful. Maga, who lives in Leucadia, follows his heart now. This album is evidence his heart’s in a good place.
Humphrey’s Concerts by the Bay launches its impressively diverse ’97 series on May 4 with Ringo Starr & His All Starr Band, including Peter Frampton, Dave Mason, Jack Bruce and other rock stalwarts. At $55, it’s the series’ priciest offering. This month’s lineup also includes Los Lobos (May 16), REO Speedwagon (May 22) and the Robert Cray Band (May 30). Coming up are John Lee Hooker (June 12), Chris Isaak (June 16 and 17), Emmylou Harris (June 24), a tribute to Jobim (June 25), Hall & Oates (July 20) and Randy Travis (July 30). The series runs through October.
Tracks: Inspiring jazz meets provocative architecture in a concert series presented by the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library at the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla. The series includes a "Flute Summit" on May 3 featuring Steve Kujala, Holly Hofmann, Buddy Collette and Paul Horn, followed May 10 by pianist Cedar Walton’s Eastern Rebellion. ... Immortal soulman James Brown is slated to sweat out his moves at the Sycuan Casino in Dehesa on May 20. ... Gwen Stefani and her magnificent navel will visit the Sports Arena, when her band No Doubt headlines on June 3. The bill also includes hard-driving alternative rock band Weezer. ... Seasoned blues guitarist Sonny Rhodes is at Blind Melons in Pacific Beach May 17. ... Lots of new music out this spring by local alternative bands. Especially worth checking out are CDs by fluf (Waikiki) and Optiganally Yours (Spotlight On...).
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