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Avant-garde queen gets a little
help from some hip new friends

Yoko Ono - Yes, I'm A Witch
(Astralwerks Records)
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Jan. 3, 2007
Yoko Ono

Review by Tony Bonyata

Funny how the credibility of John Lennon's career couldn't help sway people's perception of his wife's music when she started recording in the late '60s. Maybe it's because people thought he was blinded by his own love of her as both a soul mate and conceptual artist to really hear her music from an objective point of view. Or perhaps it was just that as a musician, and more accurately as a vocalist, Ono's approach was so far off in left field from the pop rock that her husband was creating at the time that it came as a jolt to the public.

While still definitely not everyone's cup of tea, Ono's music has slowly been gaining more and more acceptance over the last couple of decades. Along with collaborating with experimental avant-garde musicians such as John Cage and Ornette Coleman, artists such as Lene Lovich and The B-52's began incorporating some of Ono's vocal stylings into their own quirky brand of late '70s new wave music (influences which at the time thrilled Lennon to no end).

Now almost 39 years since her first commercial recording with her late husband, Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins, Ono's music has been embraced by not only the dance club circuit (the 2003 remixes of her 1981 single "Walking On Thin Ice" by Pet Shop Boys, Danny Tenaglia and other top DJs landed her at the top of Billboard's "Dance / Club" chart that same year), but also by a multitude of indie, alrternative and outsider artists and musicians.

And it's this new breed of musician that has not only embraced Ono's music, but has also added to it on the soon-to-be-released collection cheekily entitled Yes, I'm A Witch. On it a wealth of today's groundbreaking artists such as The Flaming Lips, Le Tigre, Cat Power, Spiritualized, The Apples in Stereo and others remix and rework seventeen of Ono's originals into often captivating works of art.

Afforded with the opportunity to do anything they'd like with the original recordings, most artists have opted to incorporate Ono's most radical of instrumentation - her voice - into these remixes. Peaches turns the song "Kiss Kiss Kiss" into an irresistible robotic dance workout, while the piano balladry of Cat Power's version of "Revelations" puts more emphasis on Ono's message of channeling negativity into something positive as the two trade off lyrics in a stark cabaret fashion, "Bless you for your greed, It's a sign of great capacity. (Transform the energy to giving. Give as much as you wish to take and you will receive satisfaction)." Antony (leader of Antony and the Johnsons), likewise, adds a sense of theatrical beauty to the more pop derived "Toy Boat." Public Enemy producer Hank Shocklee opens up the collection with "Witch Shocktronica Intro," a brooding slice of techno pop that fits in nicely with her electronica work, while The Brother Brothers add some deft heavy metal into the rocking title track, which would fit as comfortably on the dance floor as it would in the thick of a metal moshpit. Stripping the dance element cleanly from "Walking On Thin Ice," Spiritualized turns the number into an epic moment of guitar-powered, psychedelic grandeaur.

There's probably no other artist on this collection that best exemplifies Ono's own sense of artistic expression within her own music than The Flaming Lips. On their driving, avant-garde jazz reworking of the already "out there" number "Cambridge 1969," from Unfinished Music No. 2: Life With The Lions, The Lips create a hypnotic, hallucinogenic wondermint, perfectly utilizing Ono's distressed vocal warblings and angst-ridden screams as an integral instrument into this insanely madcap masterpiece.

It's been said that after first hearing The B-52s' "Rock Lobster" (a song which incorporated the unique vocalizations of Ono) in a New York nightclub in the late '70s John Lennon excitedly phoned his wife and exclaimed, "They're finally ready for us, love!" Although still a bit premature at the time, with so many of today's respected musical influences paying tribute to this experimental artist it appears that John is finally getting his wish.

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