Sonic Youth (Geffen)

Kim Gordon and her band-and-matrimony mate, Thurston Moore, had been turning out noisy, feedback-drenched art-rock for a full decade before Nirvana's Kurt Cobain hailed them as the avatars of grunge and Vanity Fair magazine anointed Gordon "the godmother...of alternative rock." Now, 17 years after the group formed, Sonic Youth (with bassist Gordon, now 45, guitarists Moore, 39, Lee Ranaldo, 42, and drummer Steve Shelley, 35) are still making music that ventures toward the furthest fringes of pop. Utilizing all manner of sound effects, from what seems like snatches of radio static and pumping steam pistons to dissonant guitar feedback, the band creates eerily hypnotic soundscapes over which Gordon's vocals sound ethereal, angry or bemused, as if she's talking out loud during a bad dream. Moore's vocals, meanwhile, sound like those of Neil Young, whose disdain for traditional pop song structure he also seems to share. Some tracks are standouts, including "Sunday," Gordon's "Female Mechanic Now on Duty" and Moore's "Wildflower Soul," and they demonstrate why this New York City-based band has survived so long.

Bottom Line: Noisy but inventive, as always


Album of the week

Thanks to the dramatic vocal style of lead singer Raul Malo, who sounds like a cross between Roy Or-bison and Marty Robbins, and to his band's tight, country-swing sound, the Mavericks have scored a moderate number of hits and an immoderate number of awards, including the Country Music Association's Vocal Group of the Year honors two years running (1995 and 1996). With this ambitious, wildly diverse album, Malo just might be bucking for another. Here he leads his four-member core group (including bassist Robert Reynolds, the husband of country star Trisha Year-wood), as well as a small army of sidemen. Malo, a 32-year-old Miamian who also serves as the group's guitarist, songwriter, coproducer and co-arranger, sits in on drums and piano, plucks a six-string bass and even plays an instrument that might make some Grand Ole Opry stalwarts head for the exits—an electric sitar. Tackling gospel, rock, honky-tonk and even tunes from the '20s, Malo seems intent on expanding his, and country music's, reach. Thanks to his gorgeous vocals and his band's virtuoso playing, most listeners will be happy for the stretch. Only Nashville diehards may miss the one quality this polished CD lacks: grand ole country grit.

Bottom Line: A smooth ride beyond country's boundaries

Tori Amos (Atlantic)

Some talking points for parents of teenage Amos fans:

As always, avoid further alienation by emphasizing the positive. In conversations with your child, note Amos's accomplished musicianship, her years of classical training, her soaring soprano, the complex structure of her songs. No need to mention that you find her music repetitive, boring and in dire need of a backbeat. Pretend you can't understand everything Amos says—she slurs most of the bad words anyway—and if you happen to read the lyric sheet, shun sarcastic remarks about phrases like "Lollipop Gestapo" and "ice cream assassin." Discuss less obscure songs on this CD, like "Jackie's Strength." It includes a line about "lunch boxes worshipping David Cassidy," a perfect opening for an anecdote or two about pop stars in your day. Or "Playboy Mommy," which actually has a story to tell. Above all, be convincing. The more you pretend to like this album, the less your kids will want to listen to it.

Bottom Line: A mess; don't linger here for long

Danny Wilde and the Rembrandts (EastWest)

For the Rembrandts, the theme from Friends was a friend indeed. In 1995, "I'll Be There for You," the hit single from the hit sitcom, gave Southern California-based pals Danny Wilde and Phil Solem a shot at stardom. Unfortunately, the duo's bland follow-up album rarely matched the bubbly, Beatle-esque harmonies on "Be There," a song they didn't even write. Then, in 1997, Solem split. Now Wilde, with three backup players, has revived the duo's original sound—sunny vocals mixed with catchy melodies—and created the first Rembrandts album truly worth owning.

Bottom Line: A potential one-hit wonder bounces back

>George Jones

Country counterattack

With a feisty March ad in Billboard, 66-year-old Johnny Cash publicly criticized country music radio stations who ignore new singles by older Nashville stars. Among his allies is George Jones, also 66, whose latest CD, It Don't Get Any Better Than This, recently arrived in stores.

Whats your problem with country radio programmers?

They say we don't put out the type of music that the new artists are putting out But there's many people out there that still would rather hear the traditional music.... When you get down to it, age discrimination is what it is.

What songs do many country stations ignore?

They're leaving cheating songs out. They don't have songs about drinking anymore. And more people are drinking and cheating today than they was back then. What they've done is took the heart and soul out of country music. They've uptempoed it to play dance music for the young kids.

Aren't you afraid of a radio backlash?

They're not going to get rid of me. I'm going to worry them to death.

  • Contributors:
  • Steve Dougherty,
  • Alec Foege,
  • Lorna Grisby.