FOLK-ROCK

Devils & Dust
CRITIC'S CHOICE
[STARS 3.5]

Looking back on the Boss's 32-year career, it has been a tale of two Springsteens. One is the stadium rocker backed by the formidable E Street Band who can incite fans to chant "Bruuuuce!" with the promise of "Born to Run" or "Born in the U.S.A." The other is the intimate singer-songwriter heard on Nebraska and The Ghost of Tom Joad who just needs an acoustic guitar, a harmonica and a stool. The latter, less iconic Springsteen is the one keeping it raw and rootsy on the evocative mood piece Devils & Dust. After reuniting with the E Street Band for his last CD, 2002's arena-ready The Rising, and a mammoth tour that was heavy on the hits, Springsteen has pulled a total 180, much as he did by following up the rousing thunder of Born in the U.S.A. with the quiet beauty of Tunnel of Love. There are hardly any E Streeters to be found on the new disc, only Springsteen's wife, Patti Scialfa, and Soozie Tyrell singing backup on four tracks (with Tyrell doubling on fiddle on two cuts). The stripped-down approach puts the focus squarely on Springsteen on heartland rockers like "All the Way Home," which he originally wrote for Southside Johnny in 1991, and dusty ballads like "Silver Palomino" that are more country than most country music these days. The spare settings also lend an immediacy to these story songs, some of which were actually written before he began work on The Rising. On the plaintive "Reno," one of several tracks employing a string section and horns, he relates a man's encounter with a prostitute in such graphic detail that you will swear you were in the room with them. And on the haunting title tune, he conveys the conflicted emotions of a soldier on the front lines of the Iraq war. "I got my finger on the trigger/But I don't know who to trust," he opens. By the time the harmonica solo kicks in, Springsteen has hit another bull's-eye.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Devils & Dust"

R&B

Touch
[STARS 3]

On her 2002 hip-hop soul debut, All I Have, Amerie tried, with mixed results, to fill Mary J. Blige's Gucci heels. On this superior follow-up, the 27-year-old Washington, D.C., native sets her sights on another platinum-selling R&B diva, Beyoncé. And with the album's hot first single, "1 Thing," she nearly out-Beyoncés Beyoncé. The song, which first appeared on the Hitch soundtrack, plays like a sequel to Beyoncé's 2003 smash "Crazy in Love," with its old-school funk vibe, nonsensical vocal hooks and a booming drum break that sounds as if it were played by a marching band. All it's missing is a cool cameo from Jay-Z. Like "Crazy in Love," "1 Thing" was produced by Rich Harrison, the beatmaster behind Amerie's previous hit "Why Don't We Fall in Love" as well as most of Touch. In addition to rocking the clubs with tracks like the horn-infused "Talkin' About," Harrison and the supple-voiced Amerie smooth it out with such sensual, jazz-kissed mid-tempo numbers as "Rolling Down My Face," which deftly samples Roy Ayers's 1976 classic "Searching." Meanwhile, Lil Jon kicks in the nasty-girl title tune, a sinuous, Prince-influenced crunk jam. Imagine Ciara joining Vanity 6.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "1 Thing"

SPIRITUAL

As I Am
[STARS 3.5]

Understated, thoughtful and delicate going on intimate, this album is a splendid showcase for the varied talents of singer-actress Chenoweth, a Tony-winning performer who recently starred on Broadway in Wicked and has a recurring role on The West Wing. Chenoweth's carefully cultivated, soaring soprano is ideally suited to the religious numbers ("Poor, Wayfaring Stranger," "Upon This Rock") that make up a major part of the CD. There's also a great country singer in the romantic "It Will Be Me," and while "Taylor, the Latte Boy" is too cute ("Bring me Java, bring me joy"), its theatrical bent allows Chenoweth to display the skills that have won her raves onstage.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "It Will Be Me"

ALT-ROCK
Waiting for the Sirens' Call

[STARS 3]

Moby covers a New Order song on his latest; the group's Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook collaborated on Gwen Stefani's solo CD; and a slew of neo-new wave bands have drawn inspiration from the synth-pop pioneers (the Killers even took their name from a New Order video). So the timing couldn't be better for the return of New Order, whose sound is all of a sudden, well, new again. While nothing here will make you forget "Blue Monday," "Bizarre Love Triangle" or "True Faith," cuts like the pulsating "Morning Night and Day" and the jangle-rocker "Turn" will call those who haven't boogied since the '80s back to the dance floor.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Turn"

With the 70th anniversary of Elvis Presley's birth this year, the King is back in the spotlight. We asked celebs to name their most beloved Elvis tune.

ICE CUBE "Don't Be Cruel." I like the lyrics.

NATALIE COLE "Love Me Tender." I used to stick pictures of Elvis under my pillow.

GAVIN DEGRAW "Jailhouse Rock." Since I grew up in a prison town and my father is a prison guard.

MICHAEL McDONALD "It's Now or Never." It think it's one of the best marriages of artist and song. To me, it represents Elvis at his best.

DAVID DUCHOVNY "Burning Love." Because it sounds so good.

WILLIAM SHATNER "Blue Suede Shoes." The idea of blue suede shoes is so ridiculous that you know it had to be a great song subject.

CAMRYN MANHEIM "My Happiness." That's the song that Elvis went to Sun Records to record for his mother's birthday. I play his mother in the CBS miniseries Elvis [airing May 8 and 11].

For information on where to find our Download This picks, go to www.people.com/downloadthis or AOL (Keyword: People)

  • Contributors:
  • Chuck Arnold,
  • Ralph Novak.