Trace Adkins

Following up his platinum 1996 first CD, Trace Adkins delivers mostly first-rate songs from a mix of Nashville writers, with whom he collaborated on a few cuts. And although the 6'6" Louisianan sports the slithery moves of a bayou 'gator onstage, his sashaying can't hide a deep, born-for-country-music voice that glides with ease from slow-dance ballads to pine-floor honky-tonk rousers like the made-for-radio title cut.

There's some mind-numbing filler on the CD, such as "24/7," but it's hard not to smile at Adkins's "Snowball in El Paso" (cowritten with Trey Bruce): Anybody who can rhyme "lady razor" with "refrigerator" is way country-cool. (Capitol Nashville)

Everclear

Mix 1970s soft rock with 1990s punk rock and what's the result?. Everclear's sequel to their 1995 hit album Sparkle and Fade offers a pretty good idea. Awash in shimmery Beach Boys-style harmonies and jagged, humming electric guitars, So Much for the Afterglow makes the most of its musical contradictions.

At its best, as on the title track, this Portland trio blasts unexpectedly fresh air into potentially stale pop territory, although lead singer (and songwriter) Art Alexakis's jeering at a fellow, unnamed rock singer on "Like a California King" rings false. But hand the guy a banjo and a provocative topic (such as "Why I Don't Believe in God"), and Everclear shows why pop's past is their prelude. (Capitol)

Busta Rhymes

Some rappers flow. Busta Rhymes bellows. His trademark microphone style is part Sylvester the Cat, part Homer Simpson, an often ear-splitting mixture of profane aggression and gleeful insanity. The hip-hop veteran has become an MTV darling because of an outrageous over-the-top persona. But he has maintained his standing in the dog-shoot-dog realm of rap because of his unquestionable skills.

Those skills are evident on his seriously great second solo album, which contains the whacked-out party anthem of the moment, "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See." A tightly controlled and surprisingly subdued stream of unconsciousness, "Put Your Hands" proves that Busta can turn down the volume without muting his irrepressible bad-boy ballistics. (Elektra)

Billy Porter

What does Pittsburgh-born Billy Porter, 25, have on Maxwell, Kenny Lattimore and Tony Rich, last year's celebrated trio of R&B male singers? A muscular, church-trained, Broadway-tested voice (heard in Miss Saigon, Five Guys Named Moe, and Grease), which allows him to make the most of his vocal register—and with moving results. Though the material on this, his first solo CD, is often uneven, Porter is well-served by those songs—like the choir-backed "Love is on the Way"—that allow his undulating tenor to soar. The more reserved selections, however—especially a syrupy cover of "Show Me"—lack intensity and find Porter powering back on his performance, which is a shame. (DV8/A&M)

Love Spit Love

Until somebody invents a time machine, this CD will have to do. Of course it only takes you back to the early 1980s, when New Wave music from England was still washing up on our shores. But few bands were better at the genre than the Psychedelic Furs, which may be why Love Spit Love is so deliciously retro on its second CD. Its leader is former Furs singer Richard Butler, whose distinctive voice still comes across as a sort of moody moan, and the band's material tempers guitar-heavy, rhythm-light numbers with songs you can dance to. Trysome Eatone may not break new ground, but that's the beauty of a time machine. You can go back to what you like without having to take a chance on the future. (Maverick/Warner Bros.)

Patty Larkin

In Patty Larkin's poetic hands, a road, an unread book and a rear-view mirror become metaphors for life's fleeting moments. On the formidable singer-songwriter's seventh CD, which she produced at her Cape Cod home, Larkin chooses to forgo the use of drums, instead keeping time by tapping on stringed instruments. The rhythms blend well with her versatile alto, from the Latin-flavored "Pablo Neruda" to the frightening, uptempo rock fairy tale "Wolf at the Door." Larkin has displayed a wry wit and social conscience on previous albums, but this may be her most fully realized work, sure to enjoy a long shelf life. (High Street)

The Looney Tunes Gang

Presley purists may be appalled at the sacrilege of Foghorn Leghorn singing his filibuster version of "Love Me Tender" or Daffy Duck quacking out "Don't Be Cruel." But Elvis's grandiosity invited parody, and this is clearly the most affectionate of send ups. The Warner cartoon empire has not, of course, gotten over the death of Mel Blanc, whose subtle use of a superelastic voice defined the Looney Tunes characters. The characteristic speech defects—like Daffy's lisp—were never stressed the way they are here by Blanc's successors.

Bugs Bunny is one of the few titans of popular culture who matches up reasonably well with Elvis, just as Bugs's charisma and stature kept him from being fatally upstaged by Michael Jordan. One of the last lines on the album is, of course, "Bugs has left the building." (Kid Rhino/Kids' WB Music)

>Linda Eder of Jekyll & Hyde

HYDE'S MAID

IN THE BROADWAY HIT JEKYLL & HYDE, Linda Eder plays a hooker to the title character's hookee, but during one performance of the show's climactic scene, Mr. Hyde got a little too attached to her—when his vest buttons snagged her curly wig. "He took his knife, which is a fake, dull knife, and started slashing at the hair," Eder relates. "And finally—because he has to sing and carry on the scene—he just took off his vest [and] pulled my wig halfway off." Another catch: the 5'10½" Eder, 36, is so tall that her co-star Robert Cuccioli has to wear heels. "It wouldn't look very frightening to have a Hyde who was shorter than me," she explains.

But the leading lady can laugh now that her powerful soprano wins standing ovations each night from a loyal crowd of "Jekkies"; she can also be heard on her new album of big-band swing and standards It's Time (Atlantic). Much of the CD's music is by Jekyll & Hyde composer Frank Wildhorn, 39, whom she plans to marry on May 3 ("My parents' 40th anniversary"), after which she hopes to rest on her Brainerd, Minn., farm before starting a solo singing tour.

Though the show will undoubtedly go on, Eder will be leaving Jekyll & Hyde just before the wedding. Lately she finds herself craving moonlight more than footlights. Her ideal? "A little bit of performing," she says, "mixed with a lot of raising horses and dogs."

  • Contributors:
  • Randy Vest,
  • Alec Foege,
  • Amy Linden,
  • Nick Charles,
  • Craig Tomashoff,
  • Lyndon Stambler,
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Kyle Smith.