WHO I AM
Alan Jackson (Arista 18759)
It's hard not to like Alan Jackson. Even in a field where good manners and a friendly demeanor are assumed to be standard equipment, Jackson stands out as one of country music's most amenable personalities. Yet that all-around nice guy image is precisely the problem with Jackson's third album, "Who I Am." Being so full with good intentions, he seems virtually incapable of putting any kind of edge on the music, and while that isn't a problem on touching, confessional songs like "Job Description," it pretty much takes the teeth out of up-tempo material like his remake of "Summertime Blues." Worse, with 13 songs on the album (though Jackson, being "just a tad superstitious," numbers them 1-12and then skips to 14), all that low-key charm eventually accumulates into such mind-numbing monotony that some listeners may need No-Doz to make it to the album's end.
The Benzedrine Monks of Santo Domonica (Rhino 76025)
Ever wonder what it would sound like if the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos -- the Spanish recluses whose million-selling "Chant" album put Gregorian Chant into the Top-40 for the first time in six centuries -- sang rock 'n' roll? Me neither. Apparently someone has, else how would we have wound up with the Benzedrine Monks of Santo Domonica and "Chantmania"? As gags go, this one is pretty simple: Take a few well-known rock songs, strip away the harmony and backbeat, add reverb, and chill. Instant chants. Needless to say, some of the jokes are more than a little forced, as with "(Theme From) The Monkees" (get it? MONK-ees?), and more often than not the laughs peter out early on. Still, it is scary to note how easily "Losing My Religion" translates into plainsong. Could it be these guys know something R.E.M. doesn't?
NO, NO, NO
Dawn Penn (Big Beat/Atlantic 92365)
For all the roughneck aggression meted out by most dancehall stars, it's worth noting that Jamaican pop still has its sweet side, and few singers can put that point across as convincingly as Dawn Penn does on "No, No, No." It isn't just the way her languid, drawling delivery plays off the slow, hypnotic pulse in "You Don't Love Me (No, No, No)"; what ultimately gives this album its kick is that she's just as at home with perky, pop-oriented stuff like "I Want a Love I Can See" or "First Cut Is the Deepest." Yet as obviously as the album flirts with mainstream accessibility, it never compromises its ragga roots, keeping the grooves deep and simple, from the slick, club-oriented "Samfi Boy" to the minimalist throb of "My Love Takes Over."
L.A. HARDCORE VOL. 1
Various Artists (Drive 45001)
It used to be that when musicians spoke of L.A. hardcore, what they meant was the punkish proto-thrash doled out by bands like Germs or Black Flag. Not now, though. What we get on "L.A. Hardcore, Vol. 1" is pure, bass-pumping techno, a sound as insistent and uncompromising as the late '80s Belgian hardcore sound that inspired it. Rough-edged and abrasive, the music is full of ear-grating synths and sexually provocative sound bites, generating a sound that truly gives no quarter. But those with the stamina to endure their unrelenting assault, the best tracks here are like a jolt of pure adrenalin, from Xpando's heavy-breathing "Panties" to Mr. Kool Ade & Marco's pop-inflected "I Need You."