Jewel (Atlantic)

Move over, Madonna. There's a new club queen on the scene and her name is...Jewel. Last year a remix of "Serve the Ego," off Jewel's last disc, 2001 This Way, surprisingly hit No. 1 on the Billboard dance chart. Now the singer-songwriter kicks up her heels throughout her fifth album, forgoing her signature folk pop for rhythmic grooves and light electronica beats. The results of this extreme musical makeover, though, are mixed. On the first single, "Intuition," Jewel, 29, seems like she's trying desperately to keep up with the TRL generation; in fact, the track, with its hip-hoppish drum programming and quirky accordion part, sounds like a ripoff of teen-pop star Stacie Orrico's recent hit "Stuck." Meanwhile gauzy Euro-disco numbers like "Run 2 U" would better suit Kylie Minogue. Unusually mindless lyrics on some songs don't help matters. "Old Spice is nice/ But sweat is better," Jewel coos on the '80s throwback "U &c Me=Love." Still, Jewel effectively incorporates some new facets on 0304, adding Asian-influenced keyboards on the ambient opener "Stand" and muted trumpet on the jazz-kissed "Leave the Lights On." She sparkles most, though, on "Doin' Fine," using her trademark acoustic guitars to create a jangle-pop effervescence that brings to mind the '90s British group the Sundays.

BOTTOM LINE: Flawed Jewel

B.B. King (MCA/UME)
Critic's Choice

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B.B. King, who is to the blues what the moon is to the tide, sounds almost upbeat on this entertaining album of 13 of his favorite pop standards. Who'd have ever thought we'd live to hear him sing the Louis Armstrong classic "What a Wonderful World"? He does so, splendidly, along with other surprisingly cheerful covers like the ultraromantic "There I've Said It Again" and "(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons" (both of which were hits for Nat King Cole). King, of course, informs even the sunniest song with a certain world-weary subtext, thanks to that thick, beautifully aged voice. Producer Simon Climie, who also worked on King's 2000 collaboration with Eric Clapton, Riding with the King, exploits the singer-guitarist's natural tendencies, backing him with a veteran band that includes the bluesy keyboards of Joe Sample and the western swing guitar of Doyle Bramhall II. At 77, King still rules.

BOTTOM LINE: Memorable Reflections

Steely Dan (Reprise)

Steely Dan's last CD, 2000's Two Against Nature, which was the group's first disc of new material in 20 years, launched a major comeback that culminated in an Album of the Year Grammy. The pioneer jazz-rock duo, which consists of Donald Fagen (lead vocals, keyboards) and Walter Becker (bass, guitar and, for the first time, lead vocals on "Slang of Ages"), continues its revival with Everything, a typically cool work that will have you smooth-grooving like it's 1975. While none of these nine tracks will make you forget such classic Steely songs as "Rikki Don't Lose That Number," "Peg" and "Hey Nineteen," they demonstrate that Fagen and Becker have lost little of their fusionary finesse. They also still display a wry way with a lyric: "I move to dissolve the corporation in a pool of margaritas," on the bluesy title tune.

BOTTOM LINE: Solid Steely

Radiohead (Capitol)

On Radiohead's praiseworthy sixth album, the Brit alt quintet returns to the more traditional rock sound that defined its 1997 breakthrough OK Computer, surrounding crunching electric guitars with horns and piano. Still, the group hasn't forgotten the experimental, spacey soundscapes that marked 2000's Kid A. On "Stand Up. Sit Down" frontman Thorn Yorke sings about raindrops, backed by a cascade of computer-generated blips. "A Punchup at a Wedding" layers Yorke's signature wail with electronica beats, but the standout is the aching, folky "A Wolf at the Door."

BOTTOM LINE: All Hail Radiohead

  • Contributors:
  • Chuck Arnold,
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Sona Charaipotra.