The Phantom Tollbooth
November '98 Pick of the Month
Album Cover
RIM v.beta
Artist: Various
Label: Ricochet Music
Time: 67:44 / 16 tracks
Price: $7.00

Are you suspicious of samplers? Not phobic, mind you, merely questioning of the overtly mercenary motives beyond them? You're not alone. Samplers, as that description suggests, offer samples. At least little sonic appetizers to whet your appetite for the main course, if not an outright shameless buy-this-album-now plug complete with coupons. This one, Ricochet Music's v. beta, at least seems well intentioned beyond the mere record-level marketing gimmick. In fact, it promotes a web site, not a label, and does so with style by offering songs that are either hard to get or impossible to find anywhere else. This makes it a sampler of a different flavor.

Much of this album consists of standard modern rock fare of varying styles: the kind common to radio for the past few years, maybe even starting to bore you a bit. None of the songs here are either drivel or overly distinctive. For example, you may not be prompted to run right out and pick up albums by bands like Battered Fish and Simple Mary's Diary, but neither will you feel an overwhelming compulsion to dis them. Every Day Life's energetic rap and roll, "Time to Change," stands out from the rest. A few songs represent more mellow traditions, and Kevin Clay's "Coffee with Caffeine" is the best among them. The rest of the album is a wild hodgepodge from techno to punk tunes.

The real value of this collection is in the uniqueness of some of these tracks. Michael Knott offers a previously unreleased song called "Miss Understanding" from his current demo, and the Vigilantes of Love spared an estimable out-take from To The Roof of the Sky called "Rising, Although Slow." Both of these otherwise lost gems are highlights here. Others include Farewell to Juliet's "Holiday on Ice," Moby's "Dog Heaven," evanescence's "Understanding," and The Huntington's "Dokken Roll," which collectively point to this album's diversity. Where else would you find such a sundry mix of artists and bands on the same disc? The diversity is effectively broad without being painfully disparate. Two other cuts worth special recognition include Farewell to Juliet's Jeff Elbel's solo effort "Miracle Rain," which is one of the most truly alternative sounding songs on the album and a pleasant surprise. The other is Sunny Day Roses's cover of Stryper's "You Know What to Do," which is done with only a wink of recognition to the original and, subsequently, may produce a warranted smile.

Many samplers, it seems, are often slapped together in slipshod fashion; greater care went into this one. For example, effort was made to arrange the songs in a listen-able fashion with an effective pace. This was done primarily by grouping songs together well, like evanescence's song following Moby's, or Michael Knott's preceding Jeff Elbel's. Not all the transitions are fluid, nor could be, but the fact that the producers made an attempt is admirable. On the flip side, the packaging lacks pizzaz, but the pithy liner notes make for fun reading.

Some of these artists have sizeable fan followings while others are essentially unknowns. None of them currently have a top-ten hit on the CCM charts, though they would in a better world. That makes this collection unusual and not nearly so mediocre as most. All in all, it's diverse, recommendable, affordable.  Best of all, it's most enjoyable.

By Steven Stuart Baldwin

for a sampler

Order information:
Send a check or money order for only $7 to:
        Bigwig Enterprises
        413 W. Fourth Street, Second Floor
        North Little Rock, AR 72114-5357

Track listing:
1.) Every Day Life: "Time to Change"
2.) Battered Fish: "Sometimes"
3.) Fuzzy Matthews: "I'm Gone"
4.) Farewell to Juliet: "Holiday on Ice"
5.) Kevin Clay: "Coffee with Caffeine"
6.) Adam: "Written on the Body"
7.) Moby (performing as Voodoo Child): "Dog Heaven"
8.) evanescence: "Understanding"
9.) The Huntingtons: "Dokken Roll"
10.)  Michael Knott: "Miss Understanding"
11.)  Jeff Elbel: "Miracle Rain"
12.)  Simple Mary's Diary: "Magnetic Baby"
13.)  Bon Voyage: "Be What I Need"
14.)  Britannika: "How We Shipwrecked Our Lives"
15.)  Sunny Day Roses: "You Know What to Do"
16.)  Vigilantes of Love: "Rising, Although Slow"