Bob Schneider (Universal)

No wonder Sandra Bullock likes him. This easygoing Texas-based alterna-rocker (and Bullock's swain) draws on country, pop, rock, blues and even a touch of Austin rap to create a sound as broad as the Southwest. At one point, on the catchy "Round & Round," Schneider dresses up a childish ditty in evening clothes, adding a sample from an aria sung by Sandra's late mother, opera singer Helga Bullock.

Michigan-born, Schneider lived in Germany during the 1970s, and by age 10 he would don a leisure suit and play drums to back up his musician father, Bob Sr., who taught him to master the pop catalog from the '40s through the '70s. He learned a thing or two about lyrics along the way: His wordplay recalls Randy Newman's on such tracks as the bluesy "Big Blue Sea," the country rap "Bullets" and the well-crafted ballad "The World Exploded into Love." Vocally, Schneider can handle romantic cooing or match Tom Waits's throaty, whiskey-soaked roar. Having won 10 plaques at the 2001 Austin Music Awards, including one for Musician of the Year, Schneider is ready to bust out nationwide.

Bottom Line: Mighty impressive Texas range

Yolanda Adams (Elektra)

Album of the week

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Normally the only eternal being worshiped at the Soul Train Music Awards is Don Cornelius, but at this year's show devotional music took center stage in the person of Yolanda Adams. At the 15th annual gala she topped Mary J. Blige, Jill Scott and Erykah Badu to take the prize for best female R&B/soul single. Adams was virtually unknown outside the flock of Christian-music listeners until her emotional 1999 crossover hit album, Mountain High...Valley Low, made her a mainstay on R&B radio and video. But big radio may soon be marching to the beat of her drummer, not the other way around. On her latest CD, recorded live at Washington, D.C.'s DAR Constitution Hall in November, Adams revels in her faith, praising her Lord with a clear-throated yet understated intensity. It's balm for the ears. Whether revisiting her gentle hit single from last year, "Open My Heart," or triumphantly covering R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" without succumbing to his taste for overwrought production, Adams lends the material the stirring power of her convictions.

Bottom Line: Amazingly graceful

Leslie Satcher (Warner Bros.)

Anyone who has ever wondered what a heavenly chorus might sound like need only listen to the opening track, "Love Letters from Old Mexico," on this performing debut by one of Nashville's most successful songwriters. On that lovely tune, Emmylou Harris and Alison Krauss provide backing vocals, helping Satcher create an angelic, ethereal sound. The song, one of Satcher's bittersweet explorations of romance, touches on the emotional potency of letters, those thoughtful writings people used to send each other before e-mail came along.

Satcher, who approaches Harris's rare ability to shift moods and also echoes her purity of tone and clarity of diction, sings mostly her own material here, notably "I Will Survive," a country cousin of Gloria Gaynor's disco hit of the '70s, and "Texarkana" ("I need a one-horse town and wide-open spaces"), a salute to her Paris, Texas, roots. But Satcher also successfully revives "Ode to Billie Joe," the corny country-pop hit written by Bobbie Gentry. This album is bad news for Nashville's other singers, since Satcher, whose songs have been recorded by the likes of Pam Tillis and Vince Gill, may be tempted to keep her best work for herself from now on. But it's great news for the rest of us, since a terrific new singer is stepping forward.

Bottom Line: A welcome entrance from behind the scenes

Bond (Decca)

Roll over, Beethoven, and tell the Spice Girls the news. Bond may look as if its members were recruited through a classified ad that read "Girl group wanted, no musical ability necessary," but don't be fooled. This is a formally trained string quartet that likes to shake its collective groove thang by adding house and dance rhythms to classical melodies that sound like TV jingles or something we heard during nap time at Cousin Emily's recital. In England the resulting mini-craze got Born, the group's debut album, all the way to No. 2 on the classical album chart before it was bounced for being too pop.

The tracks range from spectacular to silly. "Quixote" opens the album with a mesmerizing combination of Romantic-period melodies set to a house backbeat; "Victory" is a winner featuring sassy strings percolating to Latin rhythms and a horn section; and the disco beats of "Winter' are irresistible ear candy. At times, though, the girls fall on their pretty faces: "The 1812" is a schlocky take on Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. But mistakes aside, Bond is a classical gas that is sure to pump a little fresh air into the closed-off worlds of both the stodgy and the spacey.

Bottom Line: Bach with a beat

>Crazy Town

Most bands crash and burn after they scale the top of the charts, but the Los Angeles-based hip-hop/rock crew Crazy Town did things in reverse. Three years before their single "Butterfly" flew to the No. 1 spot on Billboard's Hot 100 chart last month, the band's founding rappers, Bret "Epic" Mazur and Seth "Shifty Shellshock" Binzer, were in separate rehab centers trying to get their lives together. "We wrote letters to each other," says Mazur, "saying, 'When we get out, let's just do this and not stop until we get a record deal. Let's stop messing around.' "

Within a year Mazur, who had worked in L.A. for a decade as a hip-hop producer (MC Lyte, Bell Biv DeVoe), and his cohorts released their 1999 debut, The Gift of Game. Soon they were promoting it nonstop on the road. But the band spun out of control again after Binzer, while enduring emotional problems, suffered a relapse. Taking no chances, the band's management pulled Crazy Town from their gig on last summer's heavy-metal blowout Ozzfest, sending them back to L.A. to regroup. "We almost threw it all away," says Mazur, 31, who adopted his tag Epic after reading Homer. "We had to prove to our managers that they had a real band on their hands."

Now Mazur (whose dad, Irwin, is a music-publishing exec who once managed Billy Joel) and his tattooed partner Binzer, 27, have mounted another comeback on the wings of "Butterfly," a runaway hit on radio and MTV. "This is where the real work begins," says Mazur. "This is what we asked for."

  • Contributors:
  • Nick Charles,
  • Amy Linden,
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Joseph V. Tirella.