Lari White (Lyric Street)

If nothing else, this album is a demonstration that today's best pop songwriters show up in country music. Melodious, witty, pointed and well-suited to White's direct, mainstream Nashville style, the 11 songs here are models of intelligent pop. White, a native of Dunedin, Fla., and a former backup singer for Rodney Crowell, collaborated with Craig Wiseman and David Kent in writing the title tune, which deftly points out the thin line between stumbling blocks and stepping stones. Austin Cunningham, Jerry Boonstra and Doak Snead wrote "John Wayne Walking Away," which graphically evokes the kind of neo-Duke stoicism that appeals to some men: "Don't show your cards, don't show your pain/ Keep tellin' yourself it's either me or your freedom."

White's sweet sound on this fourth studio album also benefits from a vocal duet with the rougher-toned Toby Keith on "Only God Could Stop Me Loving You."

On the rest of the album, White is more or less on her own, but that's not exactly a tragedy. She sounds lively, engaged and comfortable with her material.

Bottom Line: Country songs with a sophisticated turn

Various Artists (Slimstyle/Beyond)

Album of the week

The fogies among us remember when it was understood that you touched the person you were dancing with. So they can only applaud the swing-dancing craze that has resurfaced in the past few years, especially since the 1996 movie Swingers, and is now finding its way into clubs across the U.S.

And they should also appreciate the music that motivates those dancers. This compilation includes 15 bands, some of whom—Boston's Bellevue Cadillac, New York City's Crescent City Maulers, San Francisco's The New Morty Show—display more imagination in their names than they do in their music. (Among the better-known groups: the Brian Setzer Orchestra, fronted by the former Stray Cats guitarist.) But despite occasional shortcomings, these bands generally honor the great musical tradition of their Big Band Era forebears.

There are hints of Cab Calloway in the scatty vocals, echoes of Gene Krupa in the propulsive drum work, of Charlie Christian in the introspective guitar solos and even—in the Cherry Poppin' Daddies' "Ding Dong Daddy of the D-Car Line"—a reminder of Phil Baxter's old novelty tune "I'm a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas." These are mostly small groups of 10 or less, and more reminiscent of Count Basie's edgy Kansas City jazz than the fluid big bands of Goodman, Lunceford or Shaw. But there are some terrific players here; it's reassuring to hear young musicians who can improvise and who don't act as if there were no enviable musical influences before 1983.

Bottom Line: Hand me down my jitterbug shoes

Juliana Hatfield (Zoë)

Before Alanis Morissette and Liz Phair, there was Hatfield, alternative rock's prototypical angry young woman. Tough but sweet, she cultivated a devoted following as a singer, songwriter and bass player for the Blake Babies in Boston in the late '80s and early '90s. The standout tracks on this, her fourth full-length solo album (on which she plays guitar and keyboards), highlight what she does best: innocent songs about stormy relationships. Trouble is, the once-precocious singer hasn't progressed much, either lyrically or musically, beyond her signature outraged stance. Hatfield can still wield her girlish voice like a stiletto, as she does on "Sneaking Around," a rage-filled account of an adulterous fling, but the song's snide lyrics and languid arrangement don't cut nearly as deep. It's as if Hatfield were still upset with a lover whose name she can't recall, or as she sings on "Bad Day," "I made my bed all by myself/ Now I don't sleep in it so well."

Bottom Line: Strong talent sleepwalks

Clint Black

On his current 110-concert tour to promote his latest album, Nothin' But the Taillights, country singer Clint Black has accumulate more than travel miles; he has also collected 41,000 pairs of shoes. The footwear—a charitable tie-in inspired by his single "The Shoes You're Wearing"—has been brought to his concerts by Black's fans and distributed to the needy in cities along his tour route.

How did you come up with the shoe-donation idea?

We all know the proverb about the man who cried because he had no shoes until he saw a man who had no feet. It just made me think about all the people out there with no shoes and how many of us have an extra pair that we never get around to wearing.

Personally, aren't you more of a boot man?

I wear boots and sneakers and flip-flops. Too much time in the boots will wear you out.

Do you have a closetful?

I'm not an Imelda Marcos of cowboy boots, but I have 10, 15 pairs. I have some I keep on the bus for the shows and others that are for kicking around town. But I only have two hats.

Would your boots be hard to fill? I'm an 8½.

  • Contributors:
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Alec Foege,
  • Monica Rizzo.