GNR bassist hits the target with 'Believe in Me'


Duff McKagan (Geffen 46052)


Want to know how to tell when a rock act has gotten too big for its britches? Just wait for the guys in the back of the band to release solo albums. So if the news that Guns N' Roses bassist Duff McKagan had an album on the way left you thinking "ego trip," that's all right -- provided you don't let that keep you from actually listening to "Believe in Me." Because instead of sounding like the work of a guy who couldn't get his other band to take his songs seriously, "Believe in Me" is as hard-rocking and credible as any recent GNR project. It helps, of course, that McKagan has first-rate help here, with cameos by Lenny Kravitz (on "The Majority"), Jeff Beck (a blistering solo on "Swamp Song") and Skid Row's Sebastian Bach (on "Trouble"). But the album's real strength is the writing, and McKagan acquits himself superbly from the raucous title tune to the funk-edged "Beyond Belief."



Sting (A&M; 31454)

Usually, soundtrack albums boast one or two good songs and a whole lot of worthless filler. But Sting's "Demolition Man" -- an EP spun off from the Sylvester Stallone/Wesley Snipes film of the same title -- offers exactly the opposite balance. Although the ostensible draw is the title tune, it's hard to imagine why anyone who owns the original Police version of the song would want to waste money on this overwrought, ineffective remake. But the "filler" here -- five songs,concert performances by Sting and his current band -- is anything but. His extended take on "It's Probably Me" is more emotionally compelling than the album version, while "A Day in the Life" offers an affectionate and revealing perspective on the Beatle chestnut.


Shaggy (Virgin 87953)

Like most of the dancehall stars who have made waves on the American airwaves, Shaggy was a star in Britain before he was ever heard in America. Indeed, his biggest single, "Oh Carolina," was a smash throughout Europe. But after spending time with his American debut, "Pure Pleasure," it's hard to imagine that Shaggy's appeal will translate to this market. Granted, he has all the vocal power you'd expect of a dancehall rapper, with all the guttural edge of Shabba Ranks and phrasing almost as subtle as VTC Supercat's. Trouble is, his vocal skills are consistently undercut by the ultra-corny rhythm tracks, which at times sound like some Caribbean parody gone horribly awry. Pleasure? Only if you're looking for a good laugh.


Mark O'Connor (Warner Bros. 45257)

It should hardly come as news that Mark O'Connor likes to fiddle around; heck, he's been Nashville's favorite bow-slinger for almost a decade. But even his most devoted fans will be surprised by the lengths he goes to on "Heroes." Although the album's bring-on-the-guest-artists format seems straight Nashville, the range of guests O'Connor works with may raise eyebrows. Because in addition to country fare like the all-star bash on "The Devil Comes Back to Georgia" (which features Johnny Cash, Marty Stuart and Travis Tritt in addition to Charlie Daniels), "Heroes" also finds O'Connor matching licks with the likes of fusion great Jean-Luc Ponty and symphony star Pinchas Zukerman. And if you think O'Connor knows his way around a bluegrass tune, wait till you hear what he does with Indian classical music when he joins L. Shankar for "Nomad." An amazing album.