RICHIE HAVENS has released three CDs recently: a greatest hits anthology culled from five albums, a 72-minute record devoted entirely to tunes composed by either the Beatles or Bob Dylan and a new collection of contemporary pop songs. But choosing among them isn't all that hard once you hear a few minutes of the Beatles/Dylan tribute. It couldn't be more disappointing.
It's a shame, too. At least on paper at least, it's the album that held out the most promise, since Havens has recorded some striking interpretations of songs by the Beatles and Dylan in the past. But not this time around. Except for an acoustic version of Dylan's "License to Kill" and a couple of other tunes, the album "Beatles and Dylan" is severely marred by a seemingly endless series of soulless and glossy arrangements. Lots of frilly electronic keyboards and mechanical rhythms simply do it in.
Far better is "Collection," which for the most part restores Havens' fiercely percussive guitar to the center of the mix and contains emotionally compelling versions of several '60s warhorses, including "What's Going On" and "What About Me." Moreover, Havens' live rendition of George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun" is vastly superior to just about every track that appears on the Beatles/Dylan CD.
As for Havens' new album, "Simple Things," it'll take some getting used to, at least for listeners who find his rousing baritone best suited to an acoustic setting. Here Havens abandons his guitar in favor of a more pop sound. Synthesizers and electronic drums are the rule, and on one tune, "Shouldn't We All Be Having a Good Time" a 40-plus voice choir even chimes in. But unlike the Beatles/Dylan album, the arrangements don't sound as if they were tacked on at the last minute. They're intelligently conceived and executed. More importantly, the songs, while hardly exceptional, are certainly tuneful, and Havens delivers them with typical feeling and conviction.
RICHIE HAVENS --
"Sings the Beatles and Bob Dylan" (Rykodisc RCD 235); Collection" (Rykodisc RCD 236); "Simple Things" (RBI RBIC 1400). Appearing at Blues Alley through Sunday.