Neil Young (Reprise 45057)
Although the title and timing seem to suggest that "Harvest Moon" is Neil Young's attempt to recapture the 20-year-old magic of the enduringly popular "Harvest," its sound argues that this new album is actually more of an update than a remake. Gone are the occasional flashes of orchestral grandeur -- the one aspect of the original that now seems hokey -- and Young plays down the stoner despair of songs like "Old Man" or "The Needle and the Damage Done" in favor of the laid-back lassitude of country rockers like "From Hank to Hendrix" and "Natural Beauty." He retains not only much of the original album's cast (including guests vocalists James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt) but also its chemistry, and that's enough to pull the most from achingly beautiful ballads like "You and Me" or "One of These Days."
Sade (Epic 53178)
It isn't always easy for a successful pop act to keep up with the times. Four years ago, when Sade's last album hit the streets, its slick, jazz-inflected rhythms came across as the essence of soulful sophistication. Now, however, that approach seems hopelessly dated, and so "Love Deluxe" moves to a different groove. Taking its cue from the bass-heavy sound of Soul II Soul, the band's pulse alludes to house and dancehall rhythms even as it maintains its cool veneer of jazz chords and saxophone obbligati. But as well as that works with low-key groovers like "Kiss of Life" or the dreamy "Like a Tattoo," the band seems utterly lifeless once the drum machine kicks in on "No Ordinary Love" or "I Couldn't Love You More."
Keith Richards (Virgin 86499)
Everybody knows that Keith Richards' ragged voice and edgy rhythm guitar have been the heart of the Rolling Stones in recent years, so it should come as no surprise that his third solo album, "Main Offender," is built around those elements. Trouble is, ragged vocals and edgy rhythm is about all it has to offer. Unlike the elegant and soulful "Talk Is Cheap," the songs on this album come across as little more than sketches, delivering lots of atmosphere and groove but little in the way of melody or focus. As such, only "Hate It When You Leave" bears up under repeated listening, making this an album for hard-core Stones fans only.
WHUT? THEE ALBUM
Redman (RAL/Chaos 52967)
Why has the Hitsquad -- which includes EPMD, Das EFX, K-Solo and others -- become the hottest production and performance crew in rap today? Some of it may have to do with the way these guys have tapped into the current consciousness of the hip-hop nation, striking a perfect balance between politicized anger and party-hearty fun. But if Redman's "Whut? Thee Album" is any indication, it mostly has to do with the music, which manages to stay fresh no matter how much it draws from classic funk.