In the Pursuit of Leisure
Sugar Ray (Atlantic)

Since their 1997 breakthrough hit "Fly," Sugar Ray has built a career out of pop-rock ear candy. The quintet's fluffy fifth album once again features enough sweet hooks to keep them on the radio and VH1, but the CD ultimately leaves you hungry for more. The disc's first single, "Mr. Bartender (It's So Easy)," is cheesy fun meant for crowds who have stretched happy hour well into the evening. It's a frat-party song with a lite-metal guitar riff, '80s hip-hop scratching by DJ Homicide, a guest rap by ProHoeZak and a feel-good chorus (lifted from Midnight Star's 1983 funk hit "No Parking on the Dance Floor"), in which singer Mark McGrath encourages you to "rock it all night." Elsewhere Sugar Ray's pleasant but pointless cover of Joe Jackson's "Is She Really Going Out with Him?" is the stuff that bar bands are made of, while the group displays rudimentary rhyming skills on the country-tinged "In Through the Doggie Door": "My life is complicated/Our love is kind of jaded." Through it all one can't help but wish that Sugar Ray had a little more substance.

BOTTOM LINE: A trivial Pursuit

What If It All Means Something
Chantal Kreviazuk (Columbia)
Critic's Choice

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Although she made her debut in 1997, Chantal Kreviazuk has been standing in the shadows of such other Canadian female singer-songwriters as Alanis Morissette and Sarah McLachlan. She steps out from the crowd, though, with her third album, which showcases Kreviazuk's Lilith Fair-ready style to artful effect. Clean, unfussy production keeps the focus on Kreviazuk's easy tunefulness and pure soprano. Twelve soothing songs—four of which she cowrote with husband Raine Maida, frontman of the band Our Lady Peace—range from folk-pop to soft rock to light R&B. They include the lilting "Julia," which seems to be about a certain movie star: "Your hair was like a fire/Such a pretty woman."

BOTTOM LINE: Something to talk about

Falling Uphill
LilliX (Maverick)

If Avril Lavigne joined the Bangles, they might sound like this all-female pop-rock band. In fact, Lillix's passable debut features two songs produced by the Matrix, the studio team behind Lavigne's Let's Go. With their melodic punch and guitar crunch, both Matrix-produced cuts (including the single "It's About Time") sound like Lavigne leftovers. Meanwhile, the Canadian quartet's pretty harmonies and breezy effervescence recall the Bangles on tracks like the ballad "Invisible." Best, though, is Lillix's girl-powered cover of the Romantics' "What I Like About You," the theme song to the WB sitcom of the same name.

BOTTOM LINE: Decent if not distinguished

Soul
Kentucky Headhunters (Audium)

It's hard to imagine any future discussion of country blues that does not include this tangy, marvelously musical disc. The Headhunters, who indeed are from Kentucky, still depend heavily on the versatile singing of Doug Phelps, whose voice alternately suggests Count Basie's storied blues shouter Jimmy Rushing and the laid-back cool of Eagle Glenn Frey. Phelps and Richard Young, who share lead vocals, are vigorously backed by the first-class drumming of Fred K. Young (Richard's brother) and the ringing electric guitar of Greg Martin. The 11 songs include "Last Night I Met Carl Perkins," a witty salute to the great rockabilly artist.

BOTTOM LINE: Soaring Soul

JAZZ ALBUMS

The RH Factor: Hard Groove, Roy Hargrove (Verve)

To such friends as D'Angelo and Erykah Badu—both of whom pitch in with vocals—this trumpeter is known as Roy "Hard Groove." Hear why on a fluid disc that jams and jolts with P-funk, electric Miles and jazzy hip-hop.

Soulive, Soulive (Blue Note) Culled from gigs last year, Soulive's third disc captures the dynamic keyboard-guitar-drums trio performing nine tracks of high-energy jazz-funk-rock.

Ritmo Caliente, Eddie Palmieri (Concord Picante) Pianist Palmieri, a key figure in Latin jazz, mixes it up with salsa, mambo and boleros driven by his own hot rhythms.

Paganini: After a Dream, Regina Carter (Verve) The large, bold sound of Paganini's vaunted violin defines this jazz fiddler's blues-tinged renditions of familiar classical works.

  • Contributors:
  • Chuck Arnold,
  • Ralph Novak,
  • V.R. Peterson.