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PAUL CARRACK (Buy CDs by this artist)
Nightbird (UK Vertigo) 1980
Suburban Voodoo (Epic) 1982
Ace Mechanic (UK Demon) 1987
One Good Reason (Chrysalis) 1987
The Carrack Collection (Chrysalis) 1988
Groove Approved (Chrysalis) 1989

In one of rock's circuitous success stories, Paul Carrack was the lead-singing keyboardist in Ace, a pub-rock outfit before "pub-rock" became a rock press sub-genre — strictly background music for soaking up suds. Ace hadn't the faintest idea what to do when Carrack's catchy (if banal) "How Long" became an international hit in 1975, and proved it with three LPs of boring laid-backism. Carrack hung on through Ace's dissolution and his all-too-pat first solo LP, Nightbird. He got a real boost, though, when Squeeze hired him to replace Jools Holland. It was only for the East Side Story album — just one Carrack lead vocal, but that's on "Tempted," one of Squeeze's most popular numbers. That song became a Carrack calling card, too.

The Squeeze album also brought him into contact with the Elvis Costello/Nick Lowe axis (EC produced the Squeeze LP, Lowe had produced Elvis, both were managed by Jake Riviera). Carrack and Lowe then formed Noise to Go, a Rockpilish arrangement in which the two alternated top billing. No surprise, then, that Suburban Voodoo sounds like the souled-up flipside of Nick the Knife — if anything, it's better. Yet it succeeds because of Lowe's production and composing presence, which complements Carrack's excellent voice with the kind of pop smarts that bring out his best.

Carrack next found employment with Mike & the Mechanics (Mike Rutherford's extra-Genesis sideline), and wound up singing strangely anonymous-sounding lead on that group's big hit, "Silent Running." This exposure got Carrack a 1987 touring-band job with Roger Waters after Pink Floyd's split.

Half of One Good Reason is decent-to-good, and the rest is mediocre-to-poor. Produced by former Hall and Oates overseer Christopher Neil, it's got more radio-music slickness than Carrack's had in years, but at the cost of some identity. (Although Carrack is clearly to blame for the demolition of "When You Walk in the Room.") It did yield a genuine not-bad pop hit ("Don't Shed a Tear").

Groove Approved is a pretty fair title: lots of good old-fashioned R&B grooves, often garnished with Carrack's tasty Hammond organ licks. Unfortunately, the synthetic drums sometimes slicken or stiffen the rhythm too much (they just don't get greasy, y'know?). Despite such co-writers as Lowe, Chris Difford, John Wesley Harding and ex-Doobie Michael McDonald, the songs aren't unforgettable, but they're mostly painless. Bassist T-Bone Wolk, with whom Carrack co-authored three tracks, produced.

The 14-track Demon compilation samples everything (Ace, Squeeze, M + the Ms, solo) Carrack recorded before signing with Chrysalis; that label's compilation covers the same stuff, but less of it.

Carrack has since returned to the Squeeze fold a time or three.

[Jim Green]