Now Playing
A roundup of recently released CDs and DVDs
By Alan Sculley

New Releases of Note

Zwan / Mary Sister Of The Sea / Martha's Music/Reprise Records

The legions of fans who bemoaned the breakup of the Smashing Pumpkins can be quiet now. With Mary Sister Of The Sea, former Pumpkin-head Billy Corgan offers convincing evidence he made the right move by busting up his former group and starting Zwan. Since Zwan includes singer/guitarist Corgan (the Pumpkins' singer/songwriter), as well as former Pumpkin drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, it's no surprise that this group sounds a lot like the Pumpkins. The new songs retain much of the dramatic sweep of the Pumpkins, but are poppier and concise. They're often great, too, with "Lyric," "Ride A Black Swan," and "Baby Let's Rock!" rivaling Corgan's best songs. Here's to new beginnings. A-|

Everclear / Slow Motion Daydream /Capitol Records

Everclear frontman Art Alexakis is not one of rock's more versatile songwriters. Hits like "Santa Monica," "I Will Buy You A New Life," and "Everything To Everyone" have all featured the same kind of surging chorus built around stop-and-start guitar riffs and a rolling drum pattern. Slow Motion Daydream, milks the formula once again on songs like "Volvo Driving Soccer Mom," "New Blue Champion," and "Blackjack." But particularly with the latter tune, the pure energy and catchiness of the song is undeniable. And songs that do find Alexakis and his bandmates branching beyond their frequent signature ("I Want To Die A Beautiful Death," "New York Times," or "TV Show") help keep Slow Motion Daydream from sounding like a retread. Rating: B

Lou Reed / The Raven / Sire/Reprise Records

If any rock musician is qualified to do a CD inspired by the eerie world of Edgar Allan Poe, Lou Reed is the man. Assisted by a stellar cast of actors and musicians (including wife Laurie Anderson, saxophonist Ornette Coleman, David Bowie, and actors Willem Dafoe and Steve Buscemi), Reed liberally reinterprets Poe in his lyrics-frequently to dark comical effect. Musically, The Raven is all over the stylistic map and uneven in quality, but the best moments-such as the hilarious stomper "Edgar Allan Poe" and the gospel-ish "I Wanna Know (The Pit and the Pendulum)," which features the Blind Boys Of Alabama-outshine the weaker material. The Raven is available in both a CD (with more of the spoken word performances) and pared-down single-disc format. Rating B-.

Ministry / Animositisomina / Sanctuary Records

The pioneering industrial band open a new era with their first release for Sanctuary Records after years on Warner Bros. On Animositisomina, Ministry is back to the familiar tricks, combining mayhem and melody throughout the CD's 10 tracks. But where some past CDs, such as Filth Pig and Dark Side Of The Spoon were sometimes abrasive to the point of distraction, this time out Al Jourgensen and crew build substantial riff-driven melody into tracks like "Lockbox," "Unsung," and "Broken." Ministry may no longer sound revolutionary, but Animositisomina sounds as energized as anything Ministry has done since 1992's Psalm 69. Rating: B

Sleepers (waking up to some overlooked gems)

Mark Selby / Dirt / Vanguard Records

Mark Selby already has established himself as an ace songwriter, having written the Dixie Chicks' number-one hit "There's Your Trouble," Kenny Wayne Shepherd's "Blue On Black," as well as tunes for Trisha Yearwood, Keb' Mo', and Wynonna Judd. But those who heard Selby's 2000 debut, More Storms Comin' know he saved some prime material for himself. Dirt lives up to the promise of the auspicious debut. With a sound that's more blues and rock than country, Selby delivers the goods on gritty rockers like "Reason Enough" and "One Man," and stellar ballads like the soulful "Moon Over My Shoulder" and "Back Door To My Heart." Rating: A

White Light Motorcade / Thank You, Goodnight / Octone Records

This foursome is billed in their publicity as the "new face of the New York rock revival." That sounds like an attempt to put the band in the company of the much-lauded Big Apple band, The Strokes. Thank You, Goodnight makes a strong case that White Light Motorcade belong in such promising company. That's not to say this group is a Strokes clone. As opposed to the Strokes' understated, yet taut sound, White Light Motorcade blast out tunes that are big, brash and as hooky as hooky gets. Songs like "Looking At Stars," "Open Your Eyes," and "It's Happening" are among several should-be radio hits. The Strokes and The White Stripes were the buzz bands of 2001, the Hive and Vines all the rage in 2002. White Light Motorcade should be this year's model. Rating: A

Bombs Away (or CDs that miss the mark)

Solange / Solo Star / Columbia Records

Solo Star will gain attention because it's the debut album by Solange, the younger sister of Beyoncé Knowles of Destiny's Child. That's about the only reason to take note of this fabulously unexceptional effort. Not only are most of these R&B songs as melodically flat as a CD itself, the attempts to inject hip-hop into the mix aren't exactly seamless either. Solange's unremarkable voice does little to help the material either. Even the song writing help of big sister Beyoncé on a couple of tracks can't save Solo Star from being a solo snooze. Rating C-

Adrian Sherwood / Never Trust A Hippy / Real World Records

Sherwood boasts an impressive resume as a producer (Nine Inch Nails, The Cure, Ministry) and a mixer. And Never Trust A Hippy is a fun title. But while Sherwood knows his way around sonics and electronics, someone needs to point out the value of melody and song structure. The ping-pong beats and blip-and-beep instrumentation that fill most of Never Trust A Hippy may play well with a tranced-out dance club crowd. But on CD, this makes for sterile and static listening. Rating: C-

Play It Again (newly reissued CDs)

Uncle Tupelo / No Depression; Still Feel Gone; March 16-20, 1992 / Columbia Legacy

Now that Jeff Tweedy (of Wilco) has become a certifiable star and Jay Farrar has had his moments fronting Son Volt as well, it's a good time to see how these fine songwriters got their start in Uncle Tupelo. No Depression, Still Feel Gone, and March 16-20, 1992 (due for release in April) are the albums by the original trio of Tweedy, Farrar, and drummer Mike Heidorn, and the collision of spiky rock and twanged out country on these CDs inspired the entire sub-genre of alternative country. No Depression and Still Feel Gone are especially essential, and all three re-issues include worthy unreleased bonus cuts. Rating: No Depression: A-; Still Feel Gone: A; March 16-20, 1992: B

Ozzy Osbourne / The Essential Ozzy Osbourne / Epic Legacy

Ozzy-mania may be showing signs of dying down, meaning this two-disc anthology arrives perhaps a bit late. But for fans who were into Osbourne before he became an MTV and pop culture phenomenon, timing will be of little consequence. They'll be happy to see Osbourne's post-Black Sabbath solo career summarized nicely with these 29 tracks, enough to cover most of the worthy material from a two-decade solo career that started strong, but has had its share of uneven efforts since the mid-1980s. Rating: B+

Screen Plays (DVD reviews)

Willie Dixon / I Am The Blues / Quantum Leap/MVD

The title is a major statement, but Dixon has earned it. With Chess Records, he wrote some of the most famous songs in blues, including Muddy Waters' "I Just Want To Make Love To You," Koko Taylor's "Wang Dang Doodle," Howlin' Wolf's "Spoonful" (later covered by Cream). He was also the staff producer and bandleader for dozens of landmark blues albums. I Am The Blues presents footage of the late blues master performing some of his classic material before a club audience. Unfortunately the DVD includes no information on when and where the show was recorded (other than a 1984 copyright), but these performances are worth the DVD price alone. Interviews with Dixon and other extras round out a program that is both historic and entertaining. Rating: B

George Harrison / The Quiet One / Waterfall Home Entertainment

This package sounds complete, with a DVD, an "in his own words" audio CD and a 32-page booklet. But appearances are deceiving. The audio CD, made up from snippets of Beatles interviews, is totally pointless. On the DVD, Harrison's life story is told from the perspective of two colleagues-one-time Beatles PR man Tony Calder and Beatles' producer George Martin (whose interview includes particularly insightful comments)-as well as a childhood friend. News clips add detail, but frequently only pad the story. Obviously, the makers of The Quiet One lacked access to nearly everyone close to Harrison, and they struggle to cover for this serious shortcoming. Still, the DVD provides some insight into Harrison's personality and beliefs. But it's hardly the well rounded portrait the DVD promises-or that Harrison deserved. Rating: D+