Clint Black
COUNTRY
CRITIC'S CHOICE

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On his first studio album since 1999's D'Lectrified, Clint Black shows that there's more going on underneath his cowboy hat than some might have realized. Indeed, the country veteran practically waxes philosophical on this appealingly smart disc. Maybe it's advancing age (he's 42). Maybe it's fatherhood (he has a 2-year-old daughter, Lily Pearl, with actress wife Lisa Hartman Black). Or maybe it's just that he has been around long enough to comfortably experiment. While Black once sang about "Killin' Time" on his 1989 debut of the same name, here he sings, "I'm gonna spend my time like it's going out of style" on the easygoing title track. The singer, who had a hand in writing all 12 songs, also gets reflective on the rueful "What Ever Happened?" and the unapologetic "A Lover's Clown."

Not that Black has forgotten how to loosen up after all these years, though. The catchy "The Boogie Man," which he cowrote with accomplished com poser Will Jennings ("My Heart Will Go On"), is as playful and honky-tonky a tune as Black has ever recorded, spiced by his own harmonica playing, Matt Rollings's boogie-woogie piano and Brent Mason's fluid guitar. Meanwhile, "Just Like You and Me" is warm and fuzzy enough to join Black's catalog of memorable romantic songs. For long time fans, Spend My Time is gratifying, and for the uninitiated, it serves as an inviting introduction to this reliably entertaining country artist.

Melissa Etheridge
ROCK

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"I want to see how lucky Lucky can be," sings Melissa Etheridge on the buoyant title track of her eighth studio disc. The singer-guitarist, whose nickname is Lucky, must be feeling fortunate these days, judging from the upbeat tone of her latest. After her last album, 2001's Skin, reflected the painful breakup of her 12-year relationship with filmmaker Julie Cypher, Lucky explores the happy beginnings of Etheridge's new love with actress Tammy Lynn Michaels (The L Word), whom the rocker married in a ceremony last year. Songs such as the driving midtempo "This Moment" and the country-tinged ballad "When You Find the One" are unabashedly romantic, while the acoustic-guitar-laced "Will You Still Love Me" addresses the doubts and fears that accompany any new relationship. Musically, Etheridge continues to crank out solid if unsurprising rockers. She does, however, experiment with Moby-style gospel sampling on the highlight "Tuesday Morning," which pays tribute to Mark Bingham, a gay man who on Sept. 11 helped overpower the hijackers on Flight 93 before it crashed in Pennsylvania.

Nellie McKay
POP

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There are so many styles paraded on the two-disc debut from this 19-year-old singer-songwriter-pianist that you maybe left saying, "Whoa, Nellie!" From '50s pop to hip-hop, from cabaret jazz to synth-driven dance, from Latin to Asian accents, McKay pours it all into her musical melting pot. While the results are sometimes jarring, they are almost always invigorating. McKay's lyrical bent is equally bracing: "Yeah I'll have my coffee black/ Hey look we're bombing Iraq," she sings in her pure, warm tone on the whimsical "Toto Dies," which takes its "Oh we oh" refrain from The Wizard of Oz. Meanwhile, on the Doris Day-esque "I Wanna Get Married," she wryly croons, "I wanna pack cute little lunches/For my Brady bunches/Then read Danielle Steel."

Eamon
R&B

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Eamon's hit "F**k It (I Don't Want You Back)" may go down as one of the most bitter breakup songs in history. Against a deceptively sweet street-corner-soul backdrop, the 20-year-old Staten Island native lets the F-word rip as he curses out his cheating girlfriend. Eamon's coarse language on his debut CD may not be radio-ready, but it brings a gritty realism to these tracks that is rarely heard on nonrap recordings. It helps detract from the fact that Eamon, whose voice at times brings to mind a less polished Justin Timberlake, is only an average singer. Even so, his blend of hip-hop and doo-wop, which Eamon has dubbed "ho-wop," puts a fresh spin on pop-R&B tracks like "I Want You So Bad" and "I Love Them H**s."

Rick Springfield

It has been—gulp!—23 years since Springfield, 54, hit No. 1 with "Jessie's Girl." The rocker, who has two sons with wife Barbara Porter, is back with shock/denial/anger/acceptance.

ON HIS CD'S TITLE Shock, denial, anger, acceptance are the four stages of healing. All the songs come from a dark place. It was a hard period of my life. I was going through a lot of stuff. I can't write when I'm in a good mood.

ON TODAY'S POP HEATTHROBS I don't know their music that well, but I'm not going to put it down because I always think there's some reason a guy is successful, and it's not just because he's cute.

ON WHISHING HE HAD "JESSIE'S GIRL" It was a very universal theme, the love triangle and I-want-her-but-I-can't-have-her thing. A lot of people related to that. I'm very thankful it hit.

ON WHY HE STILL PLAYS HIS OLDIES I went to see Elton John once, and he started to play a new song, and I got into line to go to the bathroom. The guy in front of me turned around and said, "New song, huh?"

  • Contributors:
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Chuck Arnold,
  • Monica Rizzo.