Terri Clark (Mercury)

Clark's third album at times makes her seem like a pop singer who wandered into Nashville by mistake. The Canadian-born vocalist is no classic country performer (one listens in vain for a twang or a catch in the throat), but she does have the same casual approach and ability to express emotion shared by some of Nashville's best women singers. This is a lively package that showcases her versatile, rhythmic style.

The album includes sterling contributions by some country songwriting stalwarts. Leslie Satcher and Larry Cordle's "Cure for the Common Heartache" could become a classic, as could "Getting Even with the Blues," a collaboration by Clark, Chris Waters and Tom Shapiro. Clark herself writes fluently. She did the glib "Not Getting Over You" and cowrote five of the CD's other 11 tunes. So if she isn't a run-of-the-barn-dance country singer, no matter; there are worse things than being atypical.

Bottom Line: Lively country music with a twist of pop

Dave Matthews Band (RCA)

Album of the week

Buoyed by the success of Hollywood's epic movie, the Titanic soundtrack enjoyed a 16-week run atop the Billboard pop album chart. Then a torpedo struck in the form of this unlikely pop hit, an ambitious CD loaded with dark, unsettling lyrics unsuitable for sing-alongs ("Must a baby's bones this hungry fire feed?") and an orchestral wall of sound that won't be heard at many dance parties. Matthews, a white South African émigré whose band includes three black American jazz musicians, has always been something of a pop music anomaly. Even so, since its start in 1991 his band has released two multimillion-selling albums, as well as last year's Live at Red Rocks 8.15.95. Here, Matthews and his mates—violinist Boyd Tinsley, saxman LeRoi Moore, bassist Stefan Lessard and drummer Carter Beauford—are joined by a diverse cast, including the neo-classical Kronos Quartet, banjo picker Bela Fleck and angst diva Alanis Morissette. An alternately joyous and bitter cycle of songs about love and death, heaven and hell, the album is a conceptual and musical tour de force. Carried along by churning, locomotive rhythms and Matthews's virtuoso vocals, it shines above much of today's disposable pop fare.

Bottom Line: Jazz-rock fusion at its soaring best

Various Artists (The Smithsonian Collection of Recordings)

This five-CD, 104-track boxed set is a godsend for fans of pop music in general and jazz in particular. Even if you argue with the lineup of singers, there's plenty of enjoyment to be had from selections by stars like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Williams. It's also great to hear such relatively obscure vocalists as Julia Lee, Ivie Anderson and Hot Lips Page. (One quibble: Why include Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Mahalia Jackson, whose connection to jazz is tangential, when Frank Sinatra, Nina Simone and Mildred Bailey appear only once, and Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee and Bobby Short don't appear at all?) The collection also includes strong performances by the sidemen who backed up the singers: trumpeter Bunny Berigan, pianist Teddy Wilson, saxophonist Lester Young and others. Whether you listen to the splendid voices on the surface or the musicians playing behind them, this set is a tribute to the best of popular music.

Bottom Line: Fine collection that will leave you humming

>Steve Wariner

Nashville's Hottest Hitman

As a songwriter with 13 No. 1 country hits already to his credit, Steve Wariner, 43, isn't heading for a porch rocker just yet. In recent months he has cowritten songs recorded by Garth Brooks ("Long-neck Bottle"), Clint Black ("Nothin' but the Taillights") and Bryan White ("One Small Miracle") and returned to the Top 5 with his own single "Holes in the Floor of Heaven."

Do you believe there are holes in heaven's floor?

I believe our loved ones who've passed on know what's going on. The night I was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry [in 1996], I think Minnie Pearl, who had just passed away, was smiling because I sang her favorite song, "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You."

Were you really just 17 when Dottie West put you in her band?

People ask me if I went to college, and I say, "Yeah, the Dottie West College of Music." She was my first mentor on the song-writing side.

You quit singing for three years to concentrate on writing; did it help?

My 14-year-old son, Ryan, looked at me recently and said, "Dad, who'd have thought you being a bum for the last three years would've paid off like this?" Jane Sanderson Wariner has written 200 songs.

  • Contributors:
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Steve Dougherty,
  • Jane Sanderson.