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©2003 gtslade

Black Barbarella?


There blow through every musical life several works that take flight, cyclone-like, with pure musical energy.

I can recall first hearing Mendelssohn's A Major Symphony on WQXR in New York. I knew it was special then as I do now. Some pop music brings pleasure as consistently. Revolver and Black & White are two favourites.

Streetcar Named Desire {EMI, 1982} is different in that I never heard of Ava Cherry, purchasing her album on a whim. Something about the jacket cover may have sucked me in. Maybe I thought she was related to Don Cherry.

I have CDs of the aforementioned gems (even the original Szell/Cleveland performance of Mendessohn that dazzled me in my adolescence), but I'm stuck listening to Streetcar on cassette because this ready-for-digital album has never been released on compact disc. The album begins and ends with Mark Isham solos. Those passages never sounded perfect and, fortunately, every scratchy hiss is captured on tape. That is unsatisfactory, a reminder of why I hated records, a transitional system like Microsoft Windows for computers.

In Streetcar, Ava stays on track. Most concept albums stray at some point. That's not necessarily bad. With only the loosest thread tying it together, Sgt. Pepper is a pretty cool album. On Streetcar, Ava works it to a climax. It's sexy and tongue-in-chic — major aspects of my so-called life.

The lyrics on side one are all hers. After the syntroduction ("Having Been Near"), Ava gets down with the metaphoric title song. It's too wild to take seriously. "If you wanna ride, you gotta pay," segues beautifully into the next cut, "Fast Lover," with its mesmerising beat. The effects on "I Love To Be Touched" are great. The chorus consists of repeating that phrase, but never seems excessive. Another great segue into "Protection." No, it's not the Donna Summer song off the album of the same name. It's more of a kinky stalker tune. There's "no protection from me. You can't hide from my love." It's all cute, not scary, and Isham is terrific on fluegal horn. "Don't try and get away."

  You can disguise yourself,
  change the colour of your hair

  But when you least expect it, I'll be there

You can hit the sky

Side two (it's a record) begins with one of my all-time favourites, "Awkward Situation," a dance number by Jan Michael Alejandro and Arnold McCuller, highlighted by the absolute best chat at the end. The awkward situation? Too many guys. "All three of them at once." Which is not to say the singing isn't terrific. I can never hear this song too many times. It's a trip.

Ava shifts gears with a lovely ballad, "This Time Around." It's soft (pop, pop goes the vinyl) and almost jazzy, but it's really just Ava with more great horn playing. "Street Victim" is not about living on the street, it's another love song. "Used to be lost, now we're gonna find ourselves." Then comes "Techno Love," an incredible synthesiser tune by Isham. Cherry needs "a man to raise my voltage higher." By the end, the sparks start flying, "the juice is flowing, flowing, flowing."

It's time to turn the AC on
Let's plug it in and let it run
Oh, yeah!
I need some techno lovin' tonight

The party ends with "Having Been Far," another Isham piece. So there are really eight full-length songs, plus intro and outro, but it leaves me thinking it's too good to be from Hollywood. Streetcar is a true classic. It should be available on compact disc.

Giving credit where it's due, kudos to producers Paul Delph and Bob Esty, her three-keyboard player band (Zoo Drive) and photography by Olivier Ferrand — without which, I might never have picked up the album. Even though she didn't write it entirely, it's very Cherry. She possesses the material. In case I was too subtle, I adore this album. Cherry may be an acquired taste, like Betty Davis, or maybe she's hot.

Picture Me Picture Me {Capitol-EMI 1987} is a perfectly delightful follow-up that was released on CD. It's not as special as Streetcar, but offers abundant pleasures of its own. In fact, it's #8 on my 18-year listening list. I've played it nearly one hundred times.

Great production and great musicians including Luther Vandross, Alyson Williams, Glen Ballard and real brass instruments. None of the songs are written by Ava Cherry, but they sound as if they could have been.

Ava is in fine form, proving the incredible Streetcar wasn't just a fluke. In fact, this work revives the same themes. It's not at that altitude, but there are several fine songs, including the tight reggae, "Intimate Sin," that I really enjoy. Other great songs are "Good Intentions," "Beautiful Thief" and the lingering ballad, "Last Lover." If you see this disc somewhere, get it. If it had no music, it would be worth it for the photo of Ava in a snake skin — and nothing else.

In 1994, I was delighted to see a new Ava Cherry effort, an EP of "Forget-Me-Nots," the Patrice Rushen song women like to cover. It's on Critique (BMG). I hoped there would be an album. No such luck.


Recently on CD, an old album surfaced. People From Bad Homes, features Ava and the Astronettes. It proves that David Bowie is after my women. First Ava, whom he worked with on this album, the great Linda Lewis, then Iman, whom he married, from one of my personal favourite movies, "The Human Factor." Now Gail Ann is his bassist. The man is shadowing me. We may have to meet at sunrise and draw each other.

I read in some Web feature that Ava was his romantic partner for awhile, while Bowie was her protege. Hell! I should have been a rock musician. By now I'd be Mrs Naomi Campbell.
Nah! More likely, I'd be the kind of musician who plays with himself.

People From Bad Homes' value is more historic than artistic because Ava only sings on some of the songs. Those featuring her are fun. I'll bet she'd be cool in concert.

Mark Isham
Mark Isham is famous for his film ("Never Cry Wolf," "Afterglow") and television theme ("Chicago Hope") music. He has an album: Vapor Drawings. His playing really holds Streetcar together.

& ©1998, 1999 gt slade    

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