IF I WERE A CARPENTER
Various Artists (A&M; 314540258)
Few acts would seem less likely figures for alterna-rock beatification than the Carpenters. After all, when this brother-sister act was still charting singles, they were considered the epitome of un-cool. Yet as the tribute album "If I Were a Carpenter" makes plain, there's a surprising resonance to both the innocent optimism and deep melancholy of the group's material. Granted, that doesn't always come through in these performances, as a few renditions -- like Babes in Toyland's take on "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft" -- seem more interested in playing up the camp potential. Others, though, convey the full sweetness of these songs without compromising their own aesthetic, whether it's Shonen Knife bringing a buoyant, punk enthusiasm to "Top of the World," the Cranberries stressing the heartbreak simplicity of "(They Long to Be) Close to You," or Grant Lee Buffalo simply pulling the most from the melody of "We've Only Just Begun."
The Pet Shop Boys (EMI 28105)
Too often, remix albums exist simply as an excuse to sell the same music twice. But the Pet Shop Boys' "Disco 2" is hardly just a club-conscious retread of old material. For one thing, it's not all old; included on the disc are two songs that weren't available on earlier albums: the more-than-slightly salacious "We All Feel Better In the Dark," and the theme from the English TV hit, "Absolutely Fabulous." Even better, these remixes are more like re-inventions, sometimes just changing the original's mood, at other times reducing the whole to a few essential hooks. You'll find this a let-down if Neil Tennant's dry tenor is your favorite aspect of the Pet Shop Boys' sound (his voice is entirely absent on some tracks), but otherwise, its beat-savvy production and disco-ready megamix format make it a party unto itself.
McCoy Tyner & Bobby Hutcherson (Blue Not 28423)
Given the similarities between their backgrounds and taste, it's no wonder pianist McCoy Tyner and mallet percussionist Bobby Hutcherson make an empathetic pair. Even so, those familiar with their individual work may be somewhat surprised by the music they make as a duo on "Manhattan Moods." Instead of stressing the percussive ferocity the two share, this collection of duets is generally quite low-key, tending more toward understatement than improvisational excess. That's not to say the playing doesn't get heated at times -- Hutcherson's marimba solo on "Blue Monk" is evidence enough of that -- just that the album emphasizes the "moods" over the Manhattan.
Eddi Reader (Reprise 45713)
Some singers apply themselves to making music that sounds good on the radio; others devote themselves to cutting albums that feel as honest as they sound. Eddi Reader belongs to the latter camp. In her solo debut, "Eddi Reader," the former Fairground Attraction singer shapes a series of autobiographical sketches into a wonderfully evocative set of pop miniatures -- songs that vividly evoke the twinge of heartbreak and the bliss of new love without ever losing their melodic allure. That may not be enough to give Reader the kind of radio audience she so richly deserved, but it does make songs like "Patience of Angels" and "Wonderful Lie" as memorable as they are catchy. Besides, if there's an audience for Sheryl Crow and Sam Phillips, there's got to be listeners out there who are ready for Reader.