Dwight Yoakam “Under the Covers” (Reprise)
Yes, but is it country? With his last album, “Gone,” Yoakam did everything you’re supposed to do to get country airplay, and not much happened. This time out, apparently, he did only what he wanted to do, and this collection of wildly eclectic covers is all over the musical map and mostly works. Roy Orbison’s “Claudette” has him back on country radio. Yoakam’s reworking of the Clash’s “Train in Vain” as a bluegrass lament with the great Ralph Stanley, is brilliant and finally makes that song intelligible. Dwight can do whatever he likes.
Mansun “Attack of the Grey Lantern” (Epic)
In the U.K., where singles still serve a vital need in the marketplace, rock quartet Mansun garnered so much acclaim for its first batch of EPs that it won the coveted Brit Award for best band even before this album - its debut - had shipped. Fortunately, the full-length release lives up to its weighty expectations, thanks to Mansun mastermind Paul Draper’s inspired songwriting and strong, crystalline voice and the band’s penchant for musically inspired arrangements. Highlights include the string-soaked “The Chad Who Loved Me”; “Naked Twister”; the cleverly titled “Mansun’s Only Love Song”; the snide, Beatle-esque “Taxloss”; and lead single “Wide Open Space,” which is making a strong showing on the Modern Rock Tracks chart. A band that melds orchestral music and psychedelic rock without succumbing to the pretensions of either.
Puff Daddy & The Family “No Way Out” (Bad Boy/Arista)
As if we needed it, here’s more proof that commercial success doesn’t necessarily equal artistic merit. Purportedly a mature, reflective, death-haunted work, Sean “Puffy” Combs’ solo debut is actually plagued by the same old specters of misanthropy, misogyny, and self-aggrandizing melodrama. Preening mafioso poses and pseudo-corporate pretensions abound throughout “No Way Out” and its packaging, effectively snuffing any glimmer of genuine emotion. The writing is banal at best, and - perhaps worse for a producer’s album - the production itself is tired. Even the constellation of guest stars - the late Notorious B.I.G., Busta Rhymes, Mase, Lil’ Kim, Carl Thomas, Jay-Z, Black Rob, the Lox, Ginuwine, Twista, Foxy Brown, Faith Evans, 112, and Kelly Price - can’t put a shine on a record as mediocre as this.
Various Artists “Nothing To Lose - Music From and Inspired by the Motion Picture” (Tommy Boy)
The Soundtrack to the summer flick starring Martin Lawrence and Tim Robbins features some of the biggest names in hip-hop: Naughty By Nature, Lil’ Kim (featuring Left Eye, Missy Elliott, and Angie Martinez), Coolio (featuring the 40 Thevz), Oran “Juice” Jones, OutKast, Queen Latifah, Stetsasonic, Quad City DJ’s and others. It also includes Des’Ree’s topically appropriate, non-rap tune “Crazy Maze” from her breakthrough album, “I Ain’t Movin.”’ Despite tired gangsta posturing and cliche peddling on several tracks, including single “Not Tonight” (by Lil’ Kim et al.), the album has some inspired moments, especially Coolio’s “C U When U Get There.” A sampling of the state of the art in hip-hop.
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