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John Peel 


Wednesday, Jan 1 2003
Saying that mix CDs are a dime a dozen gives them too much value. The worst of the lot sit pathetically -- and in great quantity -- on the shelves at Tower and Virgin, dressed up with photos of skinny disco-dollies in bikinis and sequins. The graphics serve as mere window dressing for the contents, usually made up of the DJs' own songs or ones they've been paid to hawk.

In this oversaturated corner of the marketplace, it's difficult for musically meritorious collections, like John Peel's FABRICLIVE. 07, to stand out. Peel, 63, has been a popular DJ on the British airwaves for 35 years, nurturing generations of adventurous listeners with his show on the BBC's Radio 1 network. (He's best-known on these shores for the "Peel Sessions," in which bands perform live sets that are often commercially released or widely bootlegged.) Miles away from the predetermined-playlist hell of America's corporate radio stations, Peel's program covers the spectrum of punk, indie, electronica, reggae, and soul. His first mix CD, part of a bimonthly series issued by the London nightclub "Fabric," holds true to his show's ideals, offering listeners a wide palette of musical genres.

Peel's love of raw electric guitar is obvious right from the first track, "Break 'Em on Down," a snarling blues tune by Ohio's Soledad Brothers. Never one to care about the size or status of a band, Peel places the Brothers and other newcomers alongside enduring '80s icons like Joy Division ("Love Will Tear Us Apart") and the Fall ("Mr. Pharmacist"). He also displays a typically British sense of humor, picking two countrified punk covers: Bad Livers' bluegrass-y take on Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life," and the Kingswoods' retooling of the Sex Pistols' "Pretty Vacant" as "Purty Vacant."

Elsewhere, Peel selects the island riddims of Don Carlos and Culture and forsakes the usual house-music divas for more aggressive techno and drum 'n' bass artists. The DJ mixes these latter acts -- Smith and Selway, MC DET, Sinthetix, Elementz of Noise -- in with the rock groups, highlighting the individual songs instead of letting them run together anonymously, as many dance CDs do. With FABRICLIVE. 07, Peel shows off a deliciously schizophrenic musical mind: as rare as a two-headed nickel and worth far more.

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Tamara Palmer


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