2& 3 Car Garage (Mercury 314 558 399)
Sittin' on Top of the World (Curb 77901)
Kids grow up so fast these days. One minute, they're singing around the house, then the next thing you know, they're on MTV and TNN and all over the charts.
Or so it must seem in the Hanson and Rimes households these days. Two years ago, both LeAnn Rimes and the three Hanson brothers were all but unknown outside their hometowns; now, they're teen pop stars with platinum albums to their credit.
Prolific pop stars, to boot. Rimes just released her fourth album in two years, "Sittin' on Top of the World," while Hanson has followed its million-selling "Middle of Nowhere" and Christmas albums with "3 Car Garage." In neither case is this plethora of product likely to be seen as glutting the market, as the audience for each act seems to have an inexhaustible interest in these teens' tunes.
That would almost have to be a necessity in the case of "3 Car Garage." Essentially a re-release of the group's out-of-print indie album, "MMMBop," the album offers a chance to turn back the clock and hear these kids when they were just, um, younger kids. Admittedly, the 11 songs included on the album do make a case for the trio's potential, but they also show just how much the group had to grow to make it to "Middle of Nowhere."
For one thing, the group had to learn to write. Sure, there are flashes of potential in these songs - notice how neatly the three work the harmonies in the chorus to "Thinking of You" - but elsewhere, they seem mired in cliche. "Surely As the Sun" is laughably boyish in its attempt to seem manly, while the treacly "Soldier" is interesting mainly for its hokey introduction.
Music historians hoping to chronicle the group's development will doubtless make much of the two "Garage" songs that later turned up on "Nowhere." Even in its nascent state, "MMMBop" is undeniably catchy, if unfocused (it's obvious that the Dust Brothers, who produced the hit version of the song, added more to the song than some turntable scratching).
Far more instructive, though, are the changes evident in "With You in Your Dreams." Unlike the desperately emotional "Nowhere" version, this early take comes across as self-conscious and stagy, sounding as if Isaac were paying closer attention to the shape of the melody than the sense of the lyrics.
If Hanson has opted for juvenalia this time out, Rimes' "Sittin' on Top of the World" seems intended to show how she has put away childish things. She's all dolled up on the album cover, looking far more mature than her 15 years, while the material finds her handling such adult emotions as lost love and romantic commitment.
There's no denying that she has voice enough to handle the sort of showy singing such songs demand. She powers through the honky-tonk cadences of "These Arms of Mine" with ease, while the way she belts out "Rock Me" is enough to make Linda Ronstadt seem like a meek-voiced mumbler.
As impressive though her pipes may be, Rimes is still a maddeningly unsatisfying performer. What made the great country singers of the past so compelling was their credibility; when they sang of heartache, happiness or betrayal, they made it sound as if they were sharing personal experiences with the listener.
Rimes, by contrast, seems to share only her fondness for showy singing. When she sings "When Am I Gonna Get Over You," she may as well be referring to a cold, while her version of "Purple Rain" completely misses the sorrow at the song's core. And it's downright creepy to hear this kid sing about wanting "someone who'll worship my body" in the song "Commitment."
Kids grow up too fast these days, that's for sure. And from the sound of "Sittin' on Top of the World," LeAnn Rimes needs to slow down and enjoy childhood while she still has it.
River Under the Road (Lazy SOB 002)
Even with a crack band behind her, Austin artist Ana Egge delivers pro-forma country/folk on "River Under the Road." Her tunes are pleasant enough, but it's hard not to compare her affectless voice and uninspired lyrics to a country/folk classic like "Any Day Now," Joan Baez's inspired tribute to Bob Dylan, elevated to melodic poetry by ace Nashville musicians. Once in a while, Egge breaks out of her rut. "Talco Girl," for example, fools around with a bluesy feel that lends a refreshingly playful twist to an otherwise monotonous album. **
At Budokan: The Complete Concert (Epic/Legacy 65527)
Like "big in Japan," "Live at Budokan" has become a music industry catchphrase, and for that we can thank Cheap Trick. Before the group's breakthrough album, "Cheap Trick Live at Budokan," the Tokyo hall (originally built for sumo matches) was unknown outside Japan; afterward, the name became synonymous with shrieking girls and fan hysteria. "At Budokan: The Complete Concert" marks the 20th anniversary of that performance with you-are-there audio verite, giving us everything from pre-performance chatter to post-encore ovations. By restoring the performance to its original order, the double-disc set not only gives a better sense of the band's pacing, but adds impact to such standout performances as "Surrender" and "I Want You to Want Me." ***1/2
Remix Album: Happy End of You (Matador OLE 282)
Sometimes, remixing an album simply means adding dance beats, but Pizzicato Five's "Happy End of You" is less a remix album than a total reinvention, remaking tracks from "Happy End of the World" so completely that they are at times utterly unrecognizable. Though the two takes on "Porno 3003" maintain little of the original beyond Maki Nomiya's narration, both stunningly reinvent its mood, with DJ Dara replaying it as breathless drum 'n' bass while Gusgus reconfigure the groove as itchy ambient dub. Admittedly, the album's strongest melodic elements often get lost in these remixes, with "My Baby Portable Player Sound" reducing the original tune to a two-word hook, but "Happy End of You" generally offers an entertaining new spin on the album. ***
The Horse Whisperer
Songs from and Inspired by the Motion Picture (MCA 70025)
These days, country music's connection to the Western tradition rarely runs deeper than boots and Stetsons. But the songs compiled for the soundtrack to Robert Redford's film "The Horse Whisperer" not only reach back to the age of yodeling cowboys and tumbling tumbleweeds, but also remind us of how much country vocal styles owe to that era. Naturally, much of the music arrives courtesy of neo-traditionalists like Iris Dement, who soars with the spooky "Whispering Pines," and Don Walser, who brings a strong sense of swing to "Big Ball's in Cowtown." But it's the big stars who shine brightest, from Dwight Yoakam's yearning, yodel-filled "Cattle Call" to George Strait's stately, understated reading of "Red River Valley." ***
Suite for Javanese Gamelan & Synthesizer (Dorian 80161)
Western composers have been inspired by the swirling melodies and percussive timbre of Indonesian gamelan music since the days of Debussy, but few have captured its spirit as completely as Robert Macht does on "Suite for Javanese Gamelan & Synthesizer." In addition to the soundscape he creates using the gongs and vibraphone-like instruments of the Javanese gamelan term that describes both the instruments and the music they make), he uses the synths to add an air of unreality to the music, giving an almost dreamy quality to the gently undulating pulse to "String of Pearls," putting extra punch in the percussive push of Ripples" and adding an airy ambience to "Song Without Words." Well worth hearing. ***
* = poor
** = fair
*** = good
**** = excellent
Pub Date: 5/14/98