A Compelling 'Aquashow'

Elliott Murphy's 1973 debut album, "Aquashow," mixed the keyboards and harmonica punctuation of "Blonde on Blonde" with snappy, imaginative rhymes so effortlessly that Rolling Stone called Murphy the best Bob Dylan since 1968. And, yes, the New York singer-songwriter did seem likely someone who would matter in rock, even though "Aquashow" was not a big seller.

But a lot has happened since then to give an ironic and bittersweet twist to that Rolling Stone suggestion. Not only did the real Dylan return to the rock 'n' roll trail in 1974 after years of semi-retirement, but Bruce Springsteen released "Born to Run" in 1975 and largely satisfied the yearning for a new Dylan.

Murphy continued to do engaging work in subsequent albums for Columbia and RCA, but he has remained a cult figure. His band of fans are rewarded with occasional new releases on Murphy's own Courtisane Records label and periodic installments of a Murphy fanzine. Mostly, however, they think about the magic and promise of that debut album.

Now, they can listen to "Aquashow" on CD. It is one of two prized budget collections from PolyGram.

Elliott Murphy's "Aquashow"--The song on this album about Gatsby isn't Murphy's only link with F. Scott Fitzgerald. Like the novelist, Murphy exhibits in "Aquashow" a romanticism, ambition and fascination with the privileged class. Fifteen years later, the lyrics to the best of these songs--including "Last of the Rock Stars" and "Hangin' Out"--remain compelling looks at such matters as searching for identity and status. Yet there is also a thinness and delicateness to Murphy's singing and the music itself that makes you now see how the more confident and authoritative Springsteen--in a repeat of history--would emerge as the Hemingway who would again overshadow his rival. *** 1/2.

Tim Hardin's "Reason to Believe" (The Best of)--Of all the folk-oriented artists who surfaced in the '60s, only Dylan and Leonard Cohen perhaps were able to write such deeply moving love songs as Hardin. There was a soulful intimacy to his best music--an elegant, yet powerful blend of jazz, blues, country and folk instincts--that was made even more poignant by Hardin's delicate, quivering vocals.

There's something sad, yet prophetic about the fact that the title song--one of the most haunting expressions of romantic obsession and doubt ever put on record--only lasts a minute and 55 seconds. Like the tune, Hardin's productive years were all too brief. Fourteen of the 15 selections on this CD-only package were taken from his 1967 and 1968 albums on Verve Records. Plagued by drugs and other personal problems, Hardin, who died in 1981, spent most of the '70s in seclusion or on the comeback trail. ****

BONUS TRACKS: Pleased by the response to its two Ray Charles CD retrospectives last year, Dunhill Records has shipped three more Charles collections: "Genius + Soul = Jazz" and "Ray Charles and Betty Carter"--both originally released on ABC-Paramount and out of print for more than 18 years--and "Greatest Country & Western Hits"--a new compilation of the classic Charles country recordings of the early '60s. . . . "Treacherous," Rhino Records' highly recommended 1986 Neville Brothers "best of" set, is available as a two-disc set. . .Pete Howard's ICE Newsletter reports that PolyGram is finally getting around to putting Hank Williams on CD. A two-disc package (featuring 40 songs) is due in October.

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