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Passion Plays

Love is a many-splendored disc

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Love waxes and wanes. If young men's thoughts turn to amour in springtime, mine are preoccupied with good summer soundtracks. So consider this a blueprint towards devising an audiophile's cure for the summertime blues.

Personally, I have sought illumination and sonic succor in Marvin Gaye's ol' skool masterpiece Here, My Dear this season. One of its few dance-floor worthy tracks, "A Funky Space Reincarnation," appears on the new Gaye DVD, The Real Thing in Performance, 1964-1981 (Motown; ****), which traces the late singer-songwriter's descent from fresh-faced Tammi Terrell duet partner in sharkskin (see the giddily optimistic "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" clip) to flesh-flashin' cocaine Lothario delivering steamy odes to his underage baby mama, model Janis Hunter ("Let's Get It On"). The DVD also features an unintentionally hilarious late-1970s vintage disco promo of the Sepia Sinatra grooving with spandexed sistahs in a dry ice fog (Great fuckin' band, though).

Of course, were I a true daughter of this region, I likely would've reached first for The Essential George Jones (Epic/Legacy; ****) instead of Gaye's peerless "When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You." The two-disc collection includes such classics as "She Thinks I Still Care," "If Drinkin' Don't Kill Me (Her Memory Will)" and "He Stopped Loving Her Today." Seasonal good news regarding Ole Possum abounds, as Jones is set to record with the Hag (aka, California country titan Merle Haggard) this summer.

Now, before one's reduced to purloining a neighbor's John Deere lawn mower for a trip to the nearest ABC store á la Possum, here's some other heartworn picks for y'all prone to remark the shadow in the sunshine of endless summer:

Sony has also seen fit to drop a Roy Orbison anthology of late, The Essential Roy Orbison (Legacy/Orbison Records; ***). Could that celestial voice crooning "Only the Lonely" and "Love Hurts" ever fail?

Speaking of cosmic: I'm certain that if Possum hailed from the Western Sudan and was a vainglorious scion of the regal clan of 12th century Malian emperor Sundiata the Great, he would definitely drop Salif Keita's new M'bemba (Decca; ****), featuring twang theme worthy "Tu Vas Me Manquer" ("I'm Going to Miss You").

For an update on the same classic pop era when Orbison thrived, there's another reissue: Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend (Legacy/Volcano; ****), with its clarion power-pop tones, New York rock supporting heroes (the late Robert Quine, Richard Lloyd) and '60s film still cover. From the blazing shimmer of "Divine Intervention" (which some of us could sorely use about now) through high lonesome weeper "You Don't Love Me," Sweet's heartbreak cycle has not diminished since its 1991 release. A companion disc, Goodfriend, a Girlfriend reprise, includes Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer."

Chris Stills, son of Stephen (on tour this summer with Crosby, Nash & Young), takes a similar yet even more postmodern approach to the '60s jangle rock palette Sweet mined on new EP, When the Pain Dies Down -- Live in Paris (V2; ***1/2). Although to the Canyon born (as in Laurel), Stills the Younger looks beyond El Lay's groovy precincts to recognize this era's globalism and cultural mash-ups. Drawing on the vieille école strengths of both the father and the chansonnier legacy of his French mother, the singer Véronique Sanson, my favorite Americana rocker of Southern descent takes a pause from Ryan Adams accompaniment to work towards a millennial, bilingual version of Tim Buckley swing-meets-Witchseason folk that can break your heart. Not only does Stills attain the keening magnificence of Buckley père et fils, as well as Cosmic Americana architect Gram Parsons, but he daringly delivers the Band's "The Weight" in a great French version entitled "Fanny." Mon frère Christophe ain't reached the Mountaintop yet, but his journey will definitely be something to behold.

Before becoming a mid-1970s R. Kelly (and no, we ain't happy about de judge excluding The Tape from evidence in Robert the Stepper's trial), Marvin Gaye, Stills' soul-deep forebear, released the other masterpiece of his career: What's Goin' On. As Gaye is my ailing mother's favorite singer, the DVD's astonishing performance of that recording's title track underscores the greatest love of all. Motherlove, music is love, the undying love for my people instilled in me by my parents before their own black liberation unraveled into rancor -- all of these forms of primeval truth come into focus during "What's Goin' On." As tear-jerking footage of early-1970s, black summertime Arcadia reels, rhythmic sustenance from deceased Funk Brothers Eddie "Bongo" Brown and Charleston, SC, bass master James Jamerson playing those immortal syncopated licks with one finger replaces one's heartbeat.

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