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APRIL 24, 2000: 

***1/2 Travis THE MAN WHO (Epic)

The mood of Travis on their second album can be gauged from its final listed song, "Slide Show," which alludes in its lyrics to Oasis ("There is not a wonderwall to climb") and Manic Street Preachers ("There is no design for life"), and from the two hidden tracks. This pensive trilogy reveals the Glasgow pop foursome to be moving away from the raucous Britpop hopefulness of their engaging 1997 debut, Good Feeling, and toward more-melancholy, acoustic-guitar-based pop. Singer/guitarist Fran Healy opts this time for a greater number of gentle, sentimental tunes; the poignant ache of mortality in "The Fear" and "The Last Laugh of the Laughter" is conveyed by her lucid, seductive voice. "As You Are" reprises Good Feeling's rockin' slowcore single "All I Wanna Do Is Rock" in both form and feeling as it builds with lust and longing. But in the end even that track takes on the wearied air of a last waltz on an empty ballroom floor. -- Linda Laban

*** Pantera REINVENTING THE STEEL (Elektra)

Although you could hardly say they've reinvented themselves, Pantera's latest rebounds from 1996's unfocused The Great Southern Trendkill, which saw the rowdy Texans fading into the background while younger, feistier metalheads were bringing heavy music back into the mainstream. Reinventing the Steel has the same bludgeoning power and bad attitude that put Pantera on top of the metal heap when Metallica began to falter in the early '90s, even if age has changed lead screamer Philip Anselmo's tune a little. The jubilant, redemption-through-metal-lifestyle lyrics of "Goddamn Electric" and "You've Got To Belong to It" would have been totally out of place among Anselmo's outbursts of old, but 10 years down the road his sincerity sounds tougher than any macho posturing. Even when their music was purely for raging, Pantera always created a groove worth smiling about, and their amped-up version of your basic shitkicking Southern boogie sounds as good as it ever did. Sure, the squealin'-guitar-and-cowbell breakdown on "Revolution Is My Name" sounds more ZZ Top than modern rock. But the breakneck speeds and recurring bouts of extreme noise on Reinventing the Steel are undeniably contemporary, making the album an essential bridge between metal's old and new generations. -- Sean Richardson

*** Melvins THE CRYBABY (Ipecac)

This is just barely a Melvins album: the vocals and much of the music are handled by other people. Which I'll forgive them for, since this is their third album (all for Mike Patton's Ipecac label) in the past 12 months. And really, every band should make an album like this at least once in their careers -- inviting all your friends along, no matter how far-flung, to come as they are, as they were, as you want them to be.

Hank Williams III does one of his grandpappy's songs and one of Merle Haggard's, a couple of American gothic masterpieces with Helmet's Henry Bogden on haunting pedal steel (who knew?). Jesus Lizard's David Yow gives voice to a cover of one of his own songs as well as to a typically pulverizing new one by the Melvins themselves. Tool stops by, and Foetus, and of course Patton, and Skeleton Key, and the Pain Teens' Bliss Blood, and Brutal Truth's Kevin Sharp, and they all sorta do their thing -- spooky art metal, or industrial-strength free-associative tone-poems, or faux ethnic techno, or post-gothic noise cabaret -- and because it's the Melvins' house, it all fits, it all feels right at home. Think of this as the metal equivalent of Willie Nelson's picnics, right down to the part where Leif Garrett gets up like an old drunk and belts out what might as well be the national anthem -- some old geezer of a number written by a dead former Melvins roadie -- except he nails it, and you realize that the Melvins are about to come to terms with that ol' crybaby Kurt the only way they know how, by making a joke out of him and then deciding not to make a joke out of him, and when you hear Leif latch on to the words "a denial," it all comes flooding back. Shit, I think I got something in my eye. God bless America. God bless Kurt. God bless the Melvins. -- Carly Carioli


For the past several years, Goodheart's piano has been lighting up Bay Area free-jazz ensembles featuring saxophonists Glenn Spearman and Marco Eniedi, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, and others. This solo album puts the spotlight on one of the most distinctive new voices on the instrument to emerge in some time.

Goodheart is an original in the American vein, with a two-handed piano vocabulary that draws on sources as diverse as Charles Ives, Cecil Taylor, Earl Hines, and Albert Ammons. His playing is harmonically dense; at times it's busy with several lines moving at once, at others it's spacious with charged silences and single notes. Goodheart's sensitive touch also makes him one of the most subtle and skilled colorists among improvising pianists. Despite the complexities, there's a relaxed clarity to his delivery. Energized ripples of notes swell into towering waves through which swim chiming chords. "Structure for Piano No. 2" is an elegantly designed improvisation of dramatic contrasts. The music rises and falls through different densities and velocities, passages of stark power and elaborate filigree, quick staccato jabs and rounded fluid lines. "Can One Letter 'Om'?", a dedication to Ornette Coleman, is a cosmic urban hoedown, full of free-floating jangled rhythms and abstracted blues. Beyond the impressive technique and assured handling of the material, there's a twilight sense of mystery and ambiguity haunting Goodheart's music that makes it fascinating listening. -- Ed Hazell

*** Joshua Redman BEYOND (Warner Bros.)

Since winning the 1991 Thelonious Monk Competition, young Redman has become the mainstream saxophone star. It's not his chops that draw the crowds so much as his ability to shape a solo and a tune, build intensity, and take a piece to a satisfying emotional climax -- all without compromising the jazz-ness of his conception.

That doesn't always come through as clearly on albums as it does in concerts, and Redman's last album, a jazzified mix of covers by the likes of Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan, was his sleepiest (if most adventurous) yet. But Beyond is all Redman originals, and if particular patterns sound too familiar (oh, those endless streams of perfectly articulated eighth notes!), the overall drift achieves the kind of narrative shape that makes Redman Redman. His publicity material refers to all sorts of complex time signatures and mixed metrics, but what you're likely to notice is the brooding, storytelling flow of each piece, the band's elastic sensitivity to dynamics and shifting rhythms -- the way the piano will lay out for a section of spare tenor/sax/drums or a tune will begin with a dark, thrumming Jimmy Garrison-style bass solo, or how Redman holds the final note of a ballad beyond the breaking point. -- Jon Garelick

*** Diggin in the Crates D.I.T.C. (Tommy Boy)

D.I.T.C. is the long-awaited album from the NYC Diggin in the Crates conglomerate, which features Fat Joe, producer/rapper Diamond (whose 1992 debut solo joint is revered as an underground classic), OC, Show and AG, producer Buckwild, sorely missed street lyricist Big L (immortalized on Gangstarr's "Full Clip"), and legendary freestyle maven Lord Finesse. Big Pun and Bronx bomber KRS-One also make guest shots. DJ Premier laces the first single, "Thick," with Big L, and L's nasal flow (think post-pubescent Mike D) steals the show. "Get Yours," "Day One," "Stand Strong," and the Premo remix of L's solo joint "Ebonics" offer a further taste of what some said was the best rapper the East Coast has ever boasted. Another undaground legend, Lord Finesse, surfaces as the Funky Technician. "Day One" is Finesse at his metaphor-slinging best: "Rap apostle/You dig me like fossils/We the cats with groovy soul/Lotta rappers out here acting without movie roles." There's nothing groundbreaking or revolutionary here, just pure straight-up hip-hop done right. -- Chris Conti

*** Built To Spill LIVE ALBUM (Warner Bros.)

Recorded during various dates on Built To Spill's 1999 tour, Live Album charts the Boise trio's curious evolution from concise lo-fi rockers to vaguely psychedelic rock band with a fondness for sprawling jams. Indeed, there's only one track here to suggest that the band had a recorded history before 1997; most of Live is divided between material from the band's past two albums and inspired oddities like "Virginia Reel Around the Fountain," which was resurrected from frontman Doug Martsch's days in the Halo Benders. Martsch, whose plaintive, nasal whine has always made him sound like Neil Young anyway, oversees a cover of Young's famed "Cortez the Killer" that's reverent and fine, even though, clocking in at more than 20 minutes, it's stretched to lengths that Young might never have imagined. But Martsch also knows when to leave well enough alone: "Car," the neo-stoner BTS classic, is dispensed within a brisk three minutes. And these days, that's as close to a traditional pop song as Built To Spill are willing to get. -- Allison Stewart

*1/2 Beanie Sigel THE TRUTH (Roc-A-Fella/Island/Def Jam)

Beanie Sigel sounds best when he's spitting verses for his mentor Jay-Z. On frothy Jay-Z clubthumpers like "Do It Again (Put Ya Hands Up)" and "Pop 4 Roc," he's about as playful as a prison cell, delivering slow, dense rhymes where every word counts.

Now he's got his own album, The Truth, which showcases both his mike skills and his claustrophobic sensibility. On the most memorable track, "What Your Life Like," he describes the horrors of incarceration: "They got you stuck in a can/White man got you fucking your hand/Your wife on land, fucking your man." The problem is Sigel's limited range. He's only got two modes, gloomy and stern, and even fans may have trouble telling them apart. What's worse, he doesn't have much talent for songwriting. "Mac Man," in which he compares himself to old video-game characters, sounds like an English-class exercise gone awry; "Remember Them Days," a duet with fellow Philadelphian Eve, sounds as if it had been written by a (skillful) thug-ballad robot. The lyrics are clever, but it's hard to listen to the whole album without yearning for the sweet-toothed pleasures of, say, Sisqo's "Thong Song." The Truth ends abruptly with Jay-Z's irresistible "Anything," which is based on a best-left-forgotten snippet from the musical Oliver! -- a track on which Sigel doesn't appear. It's a generous gift from a veteran to a rookie, but hardly a vote of confidence. -- Kelefa Sanneh

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