Alice in Chains breaks free of a style



Alice in Chains (Columbia 52475)

If you think the last thing the world needs right now is yet another mega-metallic sludge band from Seattle, it's probably only because you haven't heard Alice in Chains yet. Sure, the band's second album, "Dirt," relies on the same sort of menacing guitar and slo-mo riffage that took Soundgarden and Pearl Jam to the top, but that's where the similarities end. Dark and foreboding as its sound often is, Alice in Chains never lets its sound get so heavy that it weighs the songs down. As such, tunes like the bruisingly aggressive "Them Bones" or the ominously churning "Sickman" stay light on their feet even as they pound each hook home with pile-driver insistence.


Michael Bolton (Columbia 52783)

Given the amount of grief he's gotten for his renditions of "Dock of the Bay" and "When a Man Loves a Woman," we can only assume that the real motivation behind Michael Bolton's "Timeless: The Classics" -- an entire album of gut-busting remakes -- would be to torment his critics. And he's certainly succeeded; personally, I can only think of one thing more painful than having to listen to him massacre "Bring It on Home to Me," and that would be having to sit through his overblown croaking on "Hold On, I'm Coming" again. Give him credit for one thing, though -- anybody who would try to prove that "a great song can live forever" by doing his best to murder the likes of "Reach Out I'll Be There" has one hell of a sense of humor.


Keith Jarrett (ECM 1481)

Mention the term "solo concert" to the average jazz fan, and one name immediately springs to mind: Keith Jarrett. No wonder, since no one has explored the concept with such success (as with the enormously popular "Koln Concert") or at such length (remember the 10-album "Sun Bear Concerts"?). What makes his latest solo venture, the 68-minute "Vienna Concert," interesting,

though, is the extent to which it reflects his growing interest in the classics. Whether he's letting his ideas uncoil with Schumann-like lyricism, or coaxing an almost Lisztian fury from his keyboard, Jarrett's playing is never less than dazzling.


Red Hot Chili Peppers

EMI 94762)

Why did it take more than six years for the Red Hot Chili Peppers to build an audience for itself? You might think it was because the band's punk/funk fusion was simply years ahead of its time, but the group's new best-of album, "What Hits!?," suggests a different reason: The Chili Peppers' early work simply stank. That's not to say this album is a total loss, since it does include later gems like "Knock Me Down" and "Under the Bridge," but only the most besotted could find merit in the likes of "Fight Like a Brave" or "Catholic School Girls Rule."

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