Jennifer Love Hewitt (Jive)

Long before Britney and Christina came along, Jennifer Love Hewitt made her U.S. recording debut in 1995 at 16. Now 23 and signed to Britney's label for her first album since 1996, the actress-singer sounds like she wants to be Pink. Unfortunately Hewitt's sound is a pale imitation of the edgy, introspective pop rock on Pink's latest, M!ssundaztood. With singer Meredith Brooks, who scored a hit in 1997 with "Bitch," serving as producer, Hewitt attempts to bare her soul on organic-sounding, guitar-based mid-tempo tracks such as the title tune. But Hewitt, who had a hand in writing eight of 12 songs, lacks the lyrical insight to pull it off: "You gotta know when to rock and not to roll," she sings on "Rock the Roll." At least Hewitt displays a surprisingly strong voice, especially on her bluesy cover of "Me and Bobby McGee," on which she is accompanied only by hand drums. Still, Janis Joplin she's not.

Bottom Line: Not much to love

Bon Jovi (Island)

During their big-haired heyday in the '80s, they gave perms a bad name. But Bon Jovi has proven to be one of the most enduring rock acts from the Spandex Decade, its members still cranking out their not-too-heavy metal in their 40s (the youngest of the quartet, frontman Jon Bon Jovi, hit the big 4-0 in March). Their solid but unspectacular eighth studio album sounds a lot like the other seven: full of driving, arena-ready rockers and lighter-waving power ballads that still display a youthful exuberance and rebellious spirit. On the first single, "Everyday," with its grinding guitars and rumbling bass, Bon Jovi defiantly wails, "I ain't here to play/ Gonna live my life every day." Later, on the upbeat title tune, he brashly vows that "nothing's gonna keep me down." Not even the events of Sept. 11, which inspired New Jersey natives Bon Jovi and guitarist Richie Sambora to write the fist-pumping if formulaic "Undivided."

Elsewhere the group turns to the big and small screens for ideas, with mixed results: One ballad, "You Had Me from Hello," tritely takes its title from a line in 1996's Jerry Maguire, while another, the affecting "Open All Night," was motivated by Bon Jovi's recurring role on Ally McBeal. On the latter he sings, "I've been around that block a time or two," sounding like a man who just might be ready to take his first steps into middle age.

Bottom Line: B-minus Jovi

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (Warner Bros.)
Album of the week

bgwhite    



Tom Petty, 51, is starting to sound as acerbic as Neil Young. On his 13th studio album with the Heartbreakers, Petty takes the music industry to task on tracks such as the deceptively jaunty title tune, which rails against radio's program-by-numbers mind-set. On the bluesy "Money Becomes King," Petty, in his distinctive drawl, sings about a sellout rock star who now only leaves his fans with "a craving for lite beer." Tender moments, including a couple of sweet love songs, temper the biting commentary. With its lush orchestration and nostalgic lyric about a place where "the air smelled good," "Dreamville" evokes just that.

Bottom Line: Worth spinning

John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers (Eagle)

At 68, Mayall—whose band the Bluesbreakers featured Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac's John McVie and ex-Rolling Stone Mick Taylor at points in the '60s—continues to possess an uncanny ability to find and foster talented musicians. While the British bluesman's reedy singing and boogie-woogieish organ playing are still prominently featured on this, his 52nd album, his current band makes a bright showing, especially resourceful guitarist Buddy Whittington and keyboard player Tom Canning. The disc's 14 tracks include "Oh, Leadbelly," on which Mayall and company pay fitting tribute to early blues pioneer Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter.

Bottom Line: Another fine chapter in a storied career

  • Contributors:
  • Chuck Arnold,
  • Ralph Novak.