From the Cradle
This blues tribute disc was a good idea for three reasons: Much of Clapton's best work has been in the idiom; following up the incredibly successful (and massively overrated) Unplugged with an album of covers automatically lowers expectations; and the format ensures that nothing like "Lay Down, Sally" could slip under the radar. Still, From the Cradle is not the purist's wet dream it could have been, in large part because Clapton has chosen to play alongside white session pros such as Andy Fairweather Low, Jerry Portnoy and Jim Keltner rather than hook up with the genuine article. Moreover, the star of the show sings many of these numbers (particularly the lead track, "Blues Before Sunrise") in a self-consciously "authentic" blues-shouter voice that makes him sound like an insecure mimic rather than a confident interpreter. Thank goodness, then, that Clapton's guitar makes up for a multitude of sins. His versions of overcovered compositions such as "Hoochie Coochie Man" and "Motherless Child" aren't exactly revelatory, but his work on the Eddie Boyd/Willie Dixon-penned "Third Degree" is delicate and passionate, while "Five Long Years" comes across as a positively Creamy raveup. And since most everything was cut live, the album occasionally sounds almost sloppy. Only kidding.--Michael Roberts
The Jesus and Mary Chain
Stoned and Dethroned
For most bands, an unplugged CD means slower, quieter tunes with granola-fied lyrics. But for the Jesus and Mary Chain, acoustic simply translates to an absence of feedback. The songs on Stoned and Dethroned (all seventeen of them) move at the same pace as most of the material on 1992's very amplified Honey's Dead. And, of course, the Reid brothers are still adhering to the Beach Boys school of chord progression and playing with depraved or blasphemous subjects in the same manner they have for the past nine years. However, "Sometimes Always," a duet between Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval and an uncharacteristically twangy Jim Reid, defies easy pigeonholing, and "Save Me" could pass for a straight-faced Cracker number. In addition, "Dirty Water" reflects a familiarity with the Rolling Stones, who may or may not be referenced in the album's title. Whatever the intended result, the entire disc sounds as if Psychocandy had been rerecorded with twelve-string acoustics rather than brash, high-pitched, off-key electric guitars.--Susan Dunlap
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Khan is best known to listeners for his work with Steely Dan, Billy Joel, Hubert Laws, George Benson and Larry Coryell, as well as his highly visible mid-Seventies stint as lead guitarist for the Brecker Brothers. But he is also the son of famous lyricist Sammy Cahn, whose long and fruitful career presented the guitarist with his hardest act to follow. On Crossings, his first release since the death of his father in early 1993, Khan takes the challenge: He describes the album as "a public forum to make some kind of statement to [Cahn's] memory." Unfortunately, the work as a whole is not revelatory. Khan--joined by percussionist Manolo Badrena and bassist Anthony Jackson (from Khan's early Eighties band, Eyewitness), plus drummer Dennis Chambers and guest saxman Michael Brecker--offers a fluid, Latin-based collection featuring songs by Khan and Cahn, along with covers of compositions from Thelonious Monk, Wayne Shorter, Lee Morgan, Tony Williams and Joe Henderson. With this type of material, one expects a decent outcome. Too bad Crossings didn't achieve something more. The album drives in a modern fusion style, but it does not swing. It's pleasant enough, but more slick than substantial.--Linda Gruno
Pretty Little Lonely
To many of us, the term "folk" calls to mind earnest young men in dusty coveralls slowly strumming guitars while crooning 27-verse songs about lousy relationships and narcissism. Thank goodness, then, that this strange, wiry fellow has no time for such cliches. The title cut to this energetic wreck of an album tips you to Petak's approach: It's about lousy relationships and narcissism, too, but he subverts the stereotypes inherent in tunes like this by singing the self-consciously overwrought lyrics through a telephone in a voice that slides more out of control with each line. Musically, Petak's songs always sound on the verge of falling apart, and producer T-Bone Burnett (whose work with Counting Crows was too tasty for words) wisely allows anarchy to reign. The styles here range from the standard strumming of "Medicinal Purposes" to the near-grunge of "Mr. Smile" and back again, yet Pretty Little Lonely hangs together, thanks to Petak's endearing sensitivity/nuttiness. This probably will make John Gorka fans nervous--which is recommendation enough for me.--Roberts