Alice in Chains
Jar of Flies

Wherein another conglomeration of grunge heroes tries to prevent its career from dribbling away into an increasingly irrelevant pool of stereotypes. But unlike Nirvana, which established its credibility last time around by releasing a disc (In Utero) so calculatingly grating that it separated true believers from poseurs, Alice has chosen instead to up its accessibility. By comparison with Dirt, the band's last album, this EP sports less distortion, more acoustic instruments (including a string section on the out-of-character instrumental "Whale & Wasp" and a lazy harmonica on "Don't Follow") and a muted approach that leaves these seven songs seeming more like the latest from Robert Wyatt than a whole-hog assault from Seattle's finest. That doesn't mean that the tunes constitute artistic breakthroughs: Several lope without direction or dissolve into a mist of pretension and seriositude. Still, "Rotten Apple" produces a unique, memorably gloomy aura, the downbeat lyrics hold a certain cynical fascination and the CD package itself represents a design first: simulated dead flies in the jewel box! That's entertainment.

--Michael Roberts

Shirley Horn
Light Out of Darkness (A Tribute to Ray Charles)
(Verve/Gitanes Jazz)

Jazz pianist/vocalist Horn has the magic touch, as well as the voice and the jazz sensibility to make any music her own. This acoustic collection of Ray Charles classics is her first outing as her own producer, but you'd never know it from the album's quality. From the snapping, hard-nosed "Hit the Road, Jack" to the lyrical title tune, everything here is superb. Horn, alto saxophonist Gary Bartz, guitarist/bassist Charles Ables and drummer Steve Williams help make this a musical salute that won't leave you longing to hear the originals. Light Out of Darkness is a fine set of jazz interpretations that proves there's more than one way to do a song--and do it well.--Linda Gruno

Modern Life Is Rubbish

Seventy-minute concept albums usually don't cut it as works of art, even if they include fifteen songs, two bonus tracks, an "Intermission" and a "Commercial Break." Neither do the lyrics and guitar chords on Blur's recent release pass for cleverness. Rubbish does offer a handful of highlights, though, including the destined-to-be-overplayed "Chemical World" and "Coping," a gloomy, introspective piece. But while songs such as "Sunday Sunday" and "Oily Water" have their place and time (Great Britain in the Sixties), this CD lacks the Mancunian simplicity of 1990's Leisure.--Susan Dunlap

Meryn Cadell

At first, Cadell recalls k.d. lang--no surprise, considering that she co-wrote Bombazine with longtime lang collaborator Ben Mink. Lyrically, however, she is capable of wry, detailed insights into the vicissitudes of daily experience that far surpass anything her fellow Canadian has sung and mark her as a folk humorist skilled at finding whimsy in the mundane. For example, "Jonny and Betty" (billed as the flipside to Cadell's 1992 single "The Sweater") succinctly describes the story of suburban high school steadies who turn out to be gay, get bashed and decide to get married. Cadell speak-sings this seemingly bleak tale in a chipper voice, creating a contradiction that forces the listener to think. Other songs on Bombazine, including the purely spoken "super," the haunting "Abelyne" and the beautifully crooned "Window of Opportunity," are equally memorable, because they entertain even as they stimulate the intellect.--Justin McLean

Beastie Boys
Some Old Bullshit
(Grand Royal)

The world has known for some time that the Beasties have a lot of nerve, but who would've figured they had this much? I mean, if early in his career the average rock star had recorded and released an EP as terrible as Polly Wog Stew (which constitutes the majority of this 28-minute offering), he would purchase and burn all the unsold copies as soon as humanly possible. Not the Boys: They're apparently so proud of this second-rate hardcore that they've reissued it to a new generation of unsuspecting fans. The latter will likely appreciate the inclusion of four tracks from Cooky Puss, the group's first twelve-inch, because they point in the cool rap-hybrid direction the Beasties ultimately chose. Which leaves the rest of us to enjoy the CD's extremely accurate title.--Roberts


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