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Sound Bites: Audio Reviews

April 20, 1999

``Wander This World″ (A&M) _ Jonny Lang

This teen-ager’s exceptional first album, the 1996 ``Lie to Me,″ like any such startling debut, raised more questions than it answered.

This, his second release, answers them profoundly. Jonny is for real and this disc is a must. His ability, at age 18, is intimidating. As a singer, Jonny is settling down. As a guitarist, his play and sophisticated variety are astonishing.

Already a darling of teen fanzines, he has powerful friends like Mick Jagger, B.B. King and Buddy Guy. The sharpest track of this disc, ``Still Rainin’,″ has been getting rock radio exposure. Lang could emerge as Stevie Ray Vaughan once did in attracting a pop-weary audience to the blues.

But he is truest on his own, with some nicely written songs, refreshing variety and soulful vocals that remind us of Steve Marriot, a gravelly young Stevie Winwood, perhaps even Lang’s own idol, Otis Redding.

Lang’s covers of Luther Allison’s ``Cherry Red Wine″ and Prince’s ``I Am″ show a range that would be the envy of many pros who have been at it since before this kid was born.

_ By Ralph Siegel, Associated Press Writer.


``Give Yourself a Hand″ (Arista) _ Crash Test Dummies

If artsy, pretentious lyrics laid over rhythm and blues riffs are your thing, you might want to consider buying ``Give Yourself a Hand,″ the latest from Crash Test Dummies.

After whispering their way through the funk-laced first track, ``Keep a Lid on Things,″ this Canadian quintet spends the rest of the album imitating various voices that appear not to be their own. Whether it’s the growling psycho-killer voice on ``A Cigarette Is All You Get″ or the blissed-out freak on ``I Want to Par-tay!″, the Dummies go through one musical identity crisis after another. Only keyboardist and part-time vocalist Ellen Reid fronts solidly and with true passion on three songs.

The album is more frustrating because the poor vocals (aside from Reid) obscure some of the smoothest multilayered bass lines and beats of recent memory. Too bad that musical high ground isn’t enough to weather the storm of complacent songwriting.

The Dummies should move Reid to full-time lead singer or start working on instrumental albums.

_ By Ron Harris, Associated Press Writer.


``The Living End″ (Reprise) _ The Living End

This is a very strong self-titled debut album from The Living End, a power-punk trio from Melbourne, Australia. The lads gained a following after supporting Green Day on the Australian leg of a 1996 tour and haven’t looked back since.

The hard-hitting band forges bravely ahead through the punk renaissance, laying down track after track with verve and authority behind the vocals of Chris Cheney. ``Prisoner of Society″ and ``Bloody Mary″ are two of the strongest, but all 14 tracks are memorable.

Cheney’s full-speed and twangy guitar work is exceptional as The Living End sings about the ills of society, not with the quite the edge of The Clash or The Sex Pistols, but punky and infectious just the same.

It would be easy to write them off as Green Day Jr., three guys with a similar look and sound, but don’t let this album slide by. The Living End is a solid group on its own and should quickly find a receptive U.S. audience.

_ By Ron Harris, Associated Press Writer.


``The Best of Rockline″ (Priority Records LLC) _ Various Artists

``Rockline,″ the weekly live radio interview/music show that airs nationally Monday nights, unplugged its guests long before MTV cornered the concept. But instead of focusing on the long and varied past of the program, this compilation focuses on newer stars _ with mixed results.

Most of the guests, who include alternative rock staples like the Wallflowers, Brother Cane, and 7 Mary 3, tend to play it straight with their versions of their best-known singles. But there are some bright spots, notably a keyed-down Lenny Kravitz with just two accompanying guitars on the touching ``Circus.″ And Matthew Sweet’s incisive guitar style on ``Into Your Drug″ cuts through the live-in-studio format better than anything else on the record.

Everyone else plays it by the numbers, which is too bad, given the alternative slant of the roster.

_ By James Pilcher, Associated Press Writer.


``Homesick for the Road″ (Telarc) _ Kenny Neal, Debbie Davies, Tab Benoit

Cross the smooth approach of B.B. King, the gruff vocals of Bonnie Raitt, and the grittiness of John Lee Hooker and you come close to the composite style of this trio of talented blues guitarists. All three are good enough to front an entire record on their own _ and they all have _ but this arrangement works better, with each trading off vocals and lead duties and riffing on each other.

The record’s best cuts include the Davies-led ``So Cold,″ an acoustic-tinged slow rocker, and the organ-driven ``Luberta.″ The rest of the record is equally excellent traditional electric blues, but isn’t a rip-off of the aforementioned legends. Instead, Neal, Davies and Benoit stay true to their own styles while taking the genre another step.

_ James Pilcher, Associated Press Writer.


``Garage Inc.″ (Elektra Records) _ Metallica

If you think that if you’ve heard one heavy metal record, you’ve heard them all, then hear this. ``Garage Inc.,″ Metallica’s collection of covers and tributes to its predecessors incorporates almost the entire history of the genre into two CDs _ one filled with new tracks and another with previous covers. And while the results are spotty, the highlights make the project worth a listen, especially since one of heavy metal’s biggest acts digs deep into its past.

Metallica is usually at its best when it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and that applies here. The four-piece band’s rapid-fire cover of Budgie’s ``Crash Course in Brain Surgery″ stays just on the right side of camp. And on Diamondhead’s ``It’s Electric,″ Metallica shows its knack for finding the hook among all the power chords.

Those looking for the crossover appeal will cuddle up to the band’s edgy take on the Bob Seger road-blues classic ``Turn the Page,″ but the musical highlight of the collection is the melancholy ``Loverman,″ originally produced by Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds. The track shows how Metallica can tone it down while staying true to their heavy metal roots.

``Garage Inc.″ shows Metallica also has a sense of history, but more importantly, fun.

_ By James Pilcher, Associated Press Writer


``Valence Street″ (Columbia Records) _ The Neville Brothers

Art Neville began turning out versions of what he was listening to on his street in the 1950s. Brother Aaron hit it big in 1967 with ``Tell It Like It Is.″ And yet the four brothers, including saxophonist Charles and percussionist Cyril, still manage to keep their sound fresh, as evidenced on their 14th record, ``Valence Street.″

The record is named for the New Orleans street where the brothers grew up, and like that city, the band is a melting pot of styles. The record swings from the soaring soul of ``A Little Piece of Heaven″ to a funked-up version of the folk standard ``If I Had a Hammer″ to the smooth jazz of the instrumental title track. The highlight is something that doesn’t sound good on paper _ a collaboration with rapper Wyclef Jean.

But the Nevilles’ classic sound only complements the toned-down hip hop on ``Mona Lisa.″ Maybe the reason for the Neville Brothers’ longevity is their timeless music. Or, as shown on ``Valence Street,″ maybe it’s because they have made it timeless, and uniquely their own.

_ By James Pilcher, Associated Press Writer.

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