Rosanne Cash

It's hard to believe that a collection of rough drafts—for no particular reason, 11 of them comprise this 10 Song Demo—can sound so much like a finished product. Following in the footsteps of rockers like PJ Harvey who have released their work in raw, unpolished form, Cash has come far from the bemused woman who, over the chugging rockabilly groove of her 1981 hit "My Baby Thinks He's a Train," marveled at the way her restless sweetheart "drags me 'round just like an old caboose."

Continuing in the more highbrow, folk-pop vein of her two previous efforts, 1990's Interiors and 1993's The Wheel, the former queen of C&W blues comes across on her eighth album as a more confessional Mary Chapin Carpenter with a bigger chip on her shoulder. Cash may possess extraordinary musical talent, but she's a victim of commonplace heartbreak—she and singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell divorced in 1992—and on such spare, delicate plaints as "Western Wall" and "Don't Talk About It," she presents an irrefutable argument: Living, like loving, leaves permanent scars.

There's only so much variety a musician can offer with such a solemn message and stripped arrangements dominated by keyboards and acoustic guitars—perhaps that's why Cash limited the CD to 36 minutes—but the pitch of her alto, which just oozes bittersweet resignation, and her sharp lyricism go a mighty long way here: "I see myself defiled on every page and every screen/ 'Cause I don't weigh a hundred pounds/I'm not 20 anymore/Nor would I want to be," she spits at one point. You go, girl! (Capitol)

Jacky Terrasson

One of the hottest young talents in jazz, pianist Terrasson is more a sound sculptor than a spinner of spontaneous melodic skeins. He will hit you between the eyes with an insistent trill or turn a repeated rhythmic figure into aural Shiatsu. He will kick up splashy rooster-tail chords, then sail into a pastel sunset of his own making. The French émigré, 30, comes by his penchant for prettiness honestly—he probably has as much Debussy in his veins as he has Duke.

Terrasson may be the kind of artist you either love or hate. While his talent is deep, his technique sure, his imagination, depending on your view, is either breathtaking or hyperactive and a bit flitty. Fans might say, after hearing him disassemble a standard, "Gosh, after the first few bars, I had no idea what tune he was playing." Precisely the problem, a detractor might say.

Actually the standards on Reach, Terrasson's second album, are among its strongest cuts, providing him with a sophisticated melodic armature to follow. His "I Should Care" is passionate, ruminative and quixotic. "Baby Plum," a ballad as simple as it is tender, shows him growing as a composer. Love him or hate him, there's absolutely no mistaking Terrasson for anyone else. (Blue Note)

Rosemary Clooney

If this tribute to master arranger Nelson Riddle does not have the thematic cohesiveness of Clooney's masterly Demi-Centennial and Still on the Road, it has plenty of its own rewards. One could happily listen twice to these arrangements, transcribed from the syndicated 1956-57 television program The Rosemary Clooney Show: once for the instrumentation, then again for the singer herself. On such songs as Hoagy Carmichael and Harold Adamson's richly melodic "A Woman Likes to Be Told" and Alec Wilder's paean to the simple life, "It's So Peaceful in the Country," Clooney's diction is crisp, her phrasing immaculate—as easy and relaxed as though she's singing over the backyard fence. (Concord Jazz)

Patti Rothberg

Hollywood may have its It Girls, but pop has its Grit Girls—women on the verge of a nervous breakdown who write concept albums about tortured love and subsequent redemption. Recently a new generation has emerged including, among others, Alanis Morissette, Poe, Courtney Love and, now, Patti Rothberg.

Predictably, this raspy singer (who was discovered busking in a New York City subway station, hence the album's title) spends most of her impressive debut excoriating insensitive and/or unfaithful boyfriends. Unlike her rowdy, often profane, peers, she writes hook-heavy melodies flavored with restrained R&B riffs that belie the lyrical fury in songs like "Treat, Me like Dirt," "Change Your Ways" and "Out of My Mind." Shrewdly mixing folk, ballads and power rock on this 13-song effort, Rothberg distinguishes herself from the screamers by showing her spunk without the punk. (EMI)

Barenaked Ladies

This third full-length album from the Canadian quartet is their best yet, a pure pop gem. Born on a Pirate Ship is outrageous and contradictory too. The relentlessly melodic lilt of the tunes is hard to resist, but the lyrics of songs like "This Is Where It Ends," "I Live with It Every Day" and "The Old Apartment" cover such grim-and-gritty topics as mental illness, childhood guilt and abusive boyfriends. The clever contrasts make this a memorable disc—and a contender for Album of the Year honors from the American Psychological Association. (Reprise)

>Kevin Bacon

THOSE FABULOUS BACON BOYS

As swaggering astronaut Jack Swigert in Apollo 13, Kevin Bacon kept his cool in the face of impending disaster. But the 37-year-old didn't fare as well the first time he took the stage in Pawling, N.Y., as one of the Bacon Brothers, the band he formed with his older brother and Emmy-winning composer Michael, 46, in 1994. "I was shaking, and I got that smelly kind of sweat you only get when you're scared," says the veteran actor, who performs in small northeastern clubs when he's not making movies or home in northwestern Connecticut with his wife, actress Kyra Sedgwick, and their two kids. "But I love it. Playing with my brother, we have such a connection."

How did the band get started?

My brother and I have written songs together before, and a friend who was involved in rock promotion in Philly, where we grew up, wanted us to get together to play a gig. One thing led to another; even without a manager or a record deal, we kept getting gigs. I call our style of music fo-ro-so-co, which stands for folk, rock, soul and country. We do original songs and some covers. I knew people would shout out, "Footloose," because no matter where I go—a bar mitzvah, a wedding—the deejay puts it on, and a crowd forms and starts clapping and wants me to do flips and stuff like a trained animal. So we play the song but do it kind of tongue-in-cheek.

Is your wife supportive?

She's great. Here I am, pushing 40 and saying, "Hey, I want to play rock music onstage!" For the first gig or two, Kyra came up onstage, and we did the old Marvin Gaye-Kim Weston song "It Takes Two." It was terrific.

So will you give up your day job?

I can't afford to. I'm amazed at how little this rock-and-roll thing pays. I'm way in the red.

  • Contributors:
  • Jeremy Helligar,
  • Eric Levin,
  • Joanne Kaufman,
  • Peter Castro,
  • Craig Tomashoff,
  • Andrew Abrahams.