Blues Traveler “Straight On Till Morning” (A&M;)
New York blues-rock band sticks to its guns on its fifth studio album, and its first since its multiplatinum breakthrough of 1994. Typified by its hit lead single, “Carolina Blues,” the album features loose song structures that allow front man John Popper to run wild with his chromatic harmonica solos. Other highlights include “Canadian Rose,” “Most Precious” and “Felicia,” any of which could catch on at mainstream rock radio. A band that has built a huge following on a relatively simple but highly effective blueprint and continues to ride that sound to maximum effect.
Radiohead “OK Computer” (Capitol)
As Garry Kasparov could probably tell us, signs are that in the battle of man vs. machine, the carbon-based systems are losing ground. With its third album, “OK Computer,” Radiohead has wrought a dissenting diary of life prey to numbing technologies and corporate/political soul snuffing. It’s an immensely powerful mix of eulogy and call to arms, fulfilling the promise of the band’s left-field stunner from ‘95, “The Bends” (whose slow-burning popularity paved the way for the debut of “OK Computer” at No. 21 in the last issue’s Billboard 200). The haunting first single, “Let Down,” is an ideal calling card for an album whose rich textures reward repeat listenings with emotional depth and grand musicality.
Sarah McLachlan “Surfacing” (Arista)
Canadian artiste Sarah McLachlan follows up her 1994 commercial breakthrough album, “Fumbling Towards Ecstasy” with a record showcasing her crystalline voice, profound lyrics and talent for penning subtly beautiful, powerful tunes. Standout tracks on the shiningly consistent album include the sumptuous first single, “Building A Mystery” (which has already caught fire internationally), the k.d. lang-reminiscent “Sweet Surrender,” the gorgeous piano ballad “Adia,” and the sultry “Black & White.” McLachlan’s considerable base at modern rock, triple-A and AC, and headlining spot on her Lilith Fair festival, should set the table for a long-running, successful album.