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By Michael Henningsen

AUGUST 10, 1998: 

Alibi Rating Scale:
!!!!!= Phat
!!!!= Phab
!!!= Phair
!!= Phaulty
!= Phucked

Mitchell Froom Dopamine (Atlantic)

Since putting the finishing touches on the Del Fuegos' Slash Records debut back in 1982--the label asked Mitchell Froom to produce solely on the strength of music he composed and recorded as a soundtrack to the classic porn film Cafe Flesh--he's added his slightly off-kilter recording, arranging and producing techniques to recordings by Los Lobos, Richard Thompson, Suzanne Vega (his wife) and a host of others who, when it comes to the control room, swear by Froom.

As a producer and performer (most recently as a member of the Latin Playboys), Froom's spacious signatures are easy to identify, but far more difficult to define. Dopamine, his first "real" solo project, plays on the most obvious incarnation of Froom's wildly diverse approach to sound sculpting: oddball synthesizer sounds, "found" percussion and unlikely pairings of understated (and, in some cases, virtually unknown) instruments. Anyone with the desire and some noisy devices can build sound collages, but Froom's peculiar genius lies in his ability to manipulate the individual colors and elements into pop songs. Granted, Dopamine is not a pop record in the traditional sense. It flits voraciously between disturbing bursts of psychosis and twisted, campy excursions into Esquivel's LSD lounge, but it is a pop record nonetheless.

Dopamine's most notable quality is that it doesn't come off like some jerk-off exercise in self-absorption. Instead, Froom drew on his formidable expertise as a keyboardist, producer and arranger to create beds of varying firmness upon which he then allowed several of his favorite musicians and collaborators to lay melodies and vocal passages. The results, as one might guess, are all over the map but carry with them the thread of Froom's own musical consciousness. The title track, guest hosted by Suzanne Vega, sounds like an outtake from the 1996 sessions that produced her phenomenal Nine Objects of Desire (produced by Froom), but the rest of the tracks--David Hidalgo's Middle Eastern-flavored "Tastes Good," "The Bunny," featuring Soul Coughing's M. Doughty and the stunning Mark Eitzel-driven "Watery Eyes"--help to comprise what is perhaps the most ambitious proto-pop record in decades. The best records are those painful few that inspire and require the listener to seek out their purpose, to delve into the recordings' innermost depths. Dopamine is one of those records, and its rewards are many. !!!! 1/2

Various Artists Boss Soul: The Genius of Barry White (Del-Fi)

Barry White is most widely known for his deep, come-hither voice and mastery of sexy soul music of the mid-'60s. But while he was busy recording hits for Del-Fi Records, he was also moonlighting as the label's resident producer, engineer, songwriter and A&R man. Under White's direction, Del-Fi imprints Bronco and Mustang Records released a slew of hits by Viola Wills, Johnny Wyatt, Felice Taylor and White himself.

To the best of my knowledge, none of the 16 sides presented on Boss Soul have ever been available on CD. The record includes White's debut as a vocalist ("I Don't Need It") and the first singles he produced for the three aforementioned artists, including both Top 50 hits by Felice Taylor ("Don't Kiss Me Hello" and "Under the Influence of Love").

The songs included on Boss Soul speak for themselves, so the best service I can provide is to passionately exclaim that the sound quality--due in large part to expert remastering by the Del-Fi camp--is second to none.

That White had little formal training is remarkable. He showed ability on nearly every instrument employed in the soul and R&B music of the era, had a keen ear as a producer and songwriter and carried out his A&R duties like a seasoned professional with twice the experience. Some of the fruits of his labors are represented here, in stunning form.

The Johnny Wyatt tracks, in particular, are standouts. Wyatt's voice was an incorporation of Marvin Gaye's sensitive croon and Curtis Mayfield's fiery soul. But nothing on the record outshines White's performance on "Don't Take Your Love Away From Me." In all, Boss Soul is a reminder of the many triumphs of soul and R&B outside the Motown stable. And a stellar reminder at that. !!!!!

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