EASY COME EASY GO
George Strait (MCA 10907)
He may not be as good-looking as Clint Black or as charismatic as Garth Brooks, but when it comes down to putting a song across simply and effectively, George Strait tops 'em all. So even though there isn't anything flashy or trendy about the sound of "Easy Come Easy Go," it would be hard to imagine the country fan who could resist it. Not only is Strait utterly at home with the Texas twang of dance tunes like the fiddle-driven "I Wasn't Fooling Around" or the ultra-catchy "Lovebug," but as "The Man in Love With You" and the title tune make plain, he's turning into one of the greatest balladeers of his generation. Where Strait really shows his stuff, though, is on the album-closing "We Must Be Loving Right," a slow, swinging ballad that underscores the jazz instincts of his phrasing while preserving the purity of his country roots.
'Weird Al' Yankovic (Scotti Bros. 75415)
Considering that "Weird Al" Yankovic made his name by writing joke lyrics for existing pop hits, it may seem silly to complain that his music isn't very original. Still, it's worth wondering why some of the songs on "Alapalooza" seem eerily familiar even when they're not billed as parody songs. It's one thing to come up with the sort of comic twist that perfectly skewers a pop pestilence like "Achy Breaky Heart," like Yankovic's "Achy Breaky Song" (sample lyric: "You can clear the room/ By playing Debbie Boone . . ."), quite another to pass off "Traffic Jam" as an "original" when the music bears a more than passing resemblance to Prince's "Let's Go Crazy."
DAZED AND CONFUSED
Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Medicine 24533)
Anyone who went through high school in the '70s knows the secret shame of not only having worn polyester, but having thought it cool. Even so, there's no surer gauge of how much a mark living in the '70s left on your psyche than the soundtrack to Richard Linklater's film, "Dazed and Confused." It's not too bad if thinking about songs like Rick Derringer's "Rock and Roll Hootchie Koo," Deep Purple's "Highway Star" or Black Oak Arkansas's "Jim Dandy" leave you awash in a wave of nostalgia, but if you find yourself humming each tune as you read the title, it's time to worry. And if you find yourself sorry you got rid of your old 8-tracks, well . . . have you considered seeing a specialist?
Afghan Whigs (Elektra 61501)
Even though the Afghan Whigs made their name on Sub Pop, there's nothing grungy about this band. Instead of building their sound around the muscular slam of semi-metal guitars (like most grunge bands), the Whigs rely on an itchy, funk-inflected beat and edgy, angular guitar lines. It's hardly the alternative rock flavor of the month, but the band is better for it -- particularly when those anxious rhythms and vaguely dissonant guitars underscore the anger and desperation in Greg Dulli's voice. As such, songs like "Be Sweet," "What Jail Is Like" and "Now You Know" possess a power that's all too rare in rock today.