Few things in this world are less broke than "Amazing Grace." So it's gratifying that the mellow-voiced Travis doesn't try to fix it, singing the great hymn in a quietly moving, no-frills style on the veteran country star's first gospel album.
Produced by Travis's longtime collaborator Kyle Lehning, the CD sticks mostly to reverent inspirational songs, including "Shallow Water," "Baptism," "Feet on the Rock" and "Walk with Me." But Travis also includes "Which Way Will You Choose," a faith-at-the-crossroads song sung to a Charlie Daniels-style fiddle riff, and "Don't Ever Sell Your Saddle," about an old gunslinger's advice to his son. Travis, who cowrote three of these tunes, gets a boost from guest vocalist Jessi Colter on one of them, "The Carpenter."
Bottom Line: Dignified, satisfying venture into gospel
Album of the week
Nobody makes pain feel as good as Sade. Since her 1984 debut, somber chanteuse Sade Adu and her moody groovers Stuart Matthewman (on guitar and sax), Andrew Hale (keyboards) and Paul Spencer Denman (bass) have made a successful career out of their downbeat, down-tempo odes to love and loss. In the eight years since they released their last studio album, Love Deluxe, Sade has, if anything, gotten gloomier. And with today's marketplace dominated by hyperperky teen pop, she returns as the Anti-Britney.
With a sound that's strikingly organic for these digitized times, Lovers Rock doesn't look only at the rocky side of romance. The disc-opening single, "By Your Side," with its stripped-down arrangement laying bare a simple yet poignant lyric, is positively uplifting. Even such sad songs as "King of Sorrow," "Somebody Already Broke My Heart" and the achingly beautiful ballad "It's Only Love That Gets You Through" attest to the adage that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. And with Sade, the melancholy makes for some mesmerizing music.
Bottom Line: Rock-solid
Until this critically acclaimed CD was released to great fanfare last month, the Atlanta-based duo of Big Boi (real name: Antwan Patton) and Andre 3000 (Andre Benjamin) was best known for a fresh but unremarkable dance-party sound and a controversy: They were sued by civil rights heroine Rosa Parks, who objected to their 1998 hit single bearing her name. (A federal judge later dismissed the suit, citing the group's right of free speech.) Steadily, over the course of three albums, OutKast has progressed far beyond its old good-time sound. Now, with the loud, enjoyable Stankonia, the pair collaborating with members of the Atlanta hip-hop group Goodie Mob) has hit full stride. Whether begging forgiveness from the in-laws on the doo-wop flavored "Ms. Jackson" or creating a near cacophony of beats and bombast ("B.O.B."), OutKast fuses greasy funk, electronica, art rock, screaming guitars and the cushiony beats of the southern hip-hop style called bounce. The result is exhilarating.
Bottom Line: Fierce, funky and fine
Patti LaBelle (MCA)
The pairing of Patti LaBelle and songwriter Diane Warren produces some inspired moments despite the latter's occasional maudlin streak. R&B vet LaBelle is an evocative, emotionally charged singer with a flair for drama. Warren has created pop-soul hits, including Toni Braxton's "Unbreak My Heart" and Celine Dion's "Because You Loved Me." At her best, as on this album's "Too Many Tears" and "Time Will," Warren's songs pulse with an empowering, you-go-girl drive. The result here is equal parts Oprah
and slumber party, a woman-to-woman catalog of love's ups and downs delivered by an artist who lends dignity and soul to everything and everyone she takes on.
Bottom Line: Still magic
Not that long ago in Nashville—back in the days of Shenandoah, Restless Heart and, of course, the grand old men of country's big-band powerhouses Alabama and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band—you couldn't swing a mike stand without hitting a band like this one. While sextet Ricochet may not be breaking any new ground, it is a vigorous, tuneful group with a strong collective ear for ingratiating country songs. This album, the group's third, includes tunes by such stalwarts as Stephony Smith, Deryl Dodd and Mickey Newbury as well as Ricochet members Greg Cook and Eddie Kilgallon. But the highlight of the 10 tracks is "Fall of the Year"—a lament about a romantic tumble, not a season—by Tom Paden and Lenny Wallace. Are big country bands an idea whose time has come and gone? Producers David Malloy (Reba McEntire), Blake Chancey (Dixie Chicks) and Ron Chancey (Oak Ridge Boys) obviously don't think so. This album suggests they're right.
Bottom Line: Everything old is new again
Shyne (Bad Boy)
Long before Jamal Barrow (also known as Shyne) released this debut rap album, he had a rap sheet. The 22-year-old native of Belize, who grew up in Brooklyn, was charged with attempted murder last December after a shooting incident involving his mentor Sean "Puffy" Combs at a New York City nightclub. (Shyne, who pleaded not guilty, is awaiting trial.) He had been the object of a fierce label bidding war, due largely to his uncanny vocal resemblance to the late Notorious B.I.G. From the sound of Shyne, the young man is serious about gunplay. His hardcore rhymes, delivered in an emotionless baritone, dwell on guns, drugs and various illegal activities. Shyne's reports from the mean streets can be compelling, especially when his crisp, cutting words are accompanied by equally concise beats, as on the island-flavored single "Bad Boyz," featuring reggae star Barrington Levy. Yet much of this CD is dark, dreary and without compassion.
Bottom Line: Keeping it all too real
>WISH I WAS IN HEAVEN SITTING DOWN R.L Burnside (Fat Possum) The 70-something Mississippi bluesman creates an unlikely but mesmerizing blues and alt-rock hybrid by mixing traditional styles with techno's tape-looping studio effects.
HEY KANDI... Kandi (Columbia) After writing TLC's Grammy-winning "No Scrubs" and "Bills, Bills, Bills" for Destiny's Child, former Xscape artist Kandi Burruss struts her stuff on this sassy debut with tunes like "Don't Think I'm Not."
YOU WIN AGAIN Van Morrison & Linda Gail Lewis (Exile/Virgin) The Belfast Cowboy belts out some honky-tonk faves, including three by Hank Williams. His duet partner is Jerry Lee Lewis's sister, who does indeed contribute some killer piano licks.
Jim Morrison died of heart failure in 1971 at age 27 and was buried in Paris's storied Père Lachaise cemetery. But Morrison's controversial spirit lives on: The families of surrounding grave dwellers want Morrison's removed because of the throngs of rock pilgrims who flock to his graffiti-covered tomb. (A thief swiped his headstone in 1990.) "I can see why they want to throw him out," says Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, 61. "He's still causing trouble."
Meanwhile, the Doors' surviving members—Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger, 54, and drummer John Densmore, 55—keep the music alive. On Stoned Immaculate: The Music of the Doors (Elektra), they play alongside Creed and Smash Mouth for new renditions of classic songs. And they employed a who's who of Morrison-inspired singers, including Perry Farrell (formerly of Jane's Addiction) and Scott Weiland (of Stone Temple Pilots), for VH1 Storytellers: The Doors. There's even a new symphonic recording of their music, Riders on the Storm: The Doors Concerto. For Manzarek, revisiting the past was second nature. "Playing 'Light My Fire' was like riding a bike," he says. "You just don't forget it.
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Randy Travis (Warner Bros./Atlantic)