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APRIL 26, 1999: 

** The Cranberries

BURY THE HATCHET

(Island)

In the three years since their last release, the strident To the Faithful Departed, the members of this Irish quartet may have buried the hatchet with one another, but for the most part singer Dolores O'Riordan and guitarist Noel Hogan are just as angry and shrill. None of the tunes on Bury the Hatchet, which comes out this Tuesday, is as relentlessly catchy or haunting as "Dreams," "Linger," or "Zombie," though there are a couple of lovely and simple numbers: "Saving Grace," a sweet ode to O'Riordan's newborn baby, and "Just My Imagination," which is as wistful as the band's best work. Otherwise, the foursome's mannerisms have hardened into a bitter formula: slushy arrangements, lyrics that mix accusation with recrimination (notably in the single "Promises" and in "Delilah"), and O'Riordan's annoying shellshock tic of endlessly repeating syllables and phrases. In "Copycat," she rails against the sameness of rock radio, which is full of acts who copy one another or themselves. Apparently the irony is lost on her.

-- Gary Susman


*** Rosie Flores

DANCE HALL DREAMS

(Rounder)

When they call Rosie Flores "Queen of the Honky-Tonks," they mean it in a good way. Because Rosie is an all-around gal, a crafty songwriter in traditional country, folk, and rockabilly ways, a fine guitar picker and an earnest, spirited singer who's been leading bands since she was literally a child. It's been more than a decade since her big-label debut (on CD as A Honky Tonk Reprise) entered the annals of truly great country releases, but Rosie's as hot as ever down in Texas, where she recorded this set live and uncluttered in two days, alongside stellar folks like steel-guitar player Cindy Cashdollar.

The only cover here is a smoldering, twanging take on the Wanda Jackson hit "Funnel of Love." Otherwise, Dance Hall Dreams ranges from buoyant rockabilly grooves to several softer cuts, only one or two of which lack distinction. The depth of Flores's roadhouse resourcefulness shows in the clever cowboy-swing CD opener, "Little Bit More," a ditty she wrote a decade ago but never previously committed to tape. And the simple, swaying "Bring It On" would probably be a hit if country radio were only a little more adventurous.

-- Bill Kisliuk


***1/2

PRODIGY PRESENT . . . THE DIRTCHAMBER SESSIONS VOLUME ONE

(XL Recordings)

Back in the '70s, club and party DJs rocked crowds by selecting records that reflected their deep love for music of all stripes rather than a knowledge of chart positions or beats per minute. If you suggested to DJs today that they could purchase their groceries from just a single aisle at Star, they'd laugh at you; yet to judge from their monochromatic sets, that's how many seem to shop.

On The Dirtchamber Sessions, however, the Prodigy's Liam Howlett addresses the task as if he were going for gold on Supermarket Sweep, throwing a phenomenal array of cuts into the hopper with breathtaking dexterity. It's all here -- Rock (Primal Scream, Sex Pistols), early Turntablism (Mark the 45 King, Herbie Hancock's "Rockit"), Rare Grooves (Jimmy Castor Bunch), Rave Anthems (the KLF), oodles of Rap (Ultramagnetic MCs, Public Enemy, L.L. Cool J, Flash and Bambaataa), even au courant Big Beat (Fatboy Slim, Chemical Brothers) -- and mixed with deft edits that betray Howlett's roots as a competitive hip-hop jock. Worth the greenbacks for his interpolation of Jane's Addiction alone, The Dirtchamber Sessions provides a fantastic peek for Prodigy fans into Howlett's influences; everyone else will merely have to accept it as the best 60-minute party mix you didn't make yourself.

-- Kurt B. Reighley


***

OWSLEY

(Giant)

A few years back, another pure pop hopeful, Brendan Benson struck almost exactly the same pose on his album cover that Owsley does here: suspended in exuberant mid leap, electric guitar slung like a totem on his shoulder -- a pose that captured the carefree kicks of pop. It's hard to say what Benson's up to these days, but Owsley's future may prove brighter, given his good fortune and even better connections: after a stint as Amy Grant's tour guitarist, he was hired by über-producer Mutt Lange to duet with Shania Twain on programs like the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and, uh, Live with Regis & Kathie Lee. But don't hold that against him. Left to his own devices, Owsley prefers to paint lush pop-art pictures with an ELO-by-way-of-Fountains-of-Wayne brush, adding a few day-glo dollops of XTC ("Oh No the Radio") for good measure. Despite the occasional misstep into the pedestrian lane ("Good Old Days" sounds like watered-down Semisonic, and lines like "One day you'll be able to forget the sadness/Get into the gladness" are syrupy enough to clog an artery), he makes a promising, if not picture-perfect, leap.

-- Jonathan Perry


*** Mountain Brothers

SELF: VOLUME 1

(Pimpstrut)

Demonizing the major-label rap scene has become an obsession of underground MCs, but the Philadelphia-based Asian rap trio Mountain Brothers have a better excuse than most since they danced with and were dropped by Ruffhouse/Colombia in 1997. The artistic result of that dissolution is their self-produced debut, a sharp-focused window into the life of an unsigned, independent-minded hip-hop crew. "Day Job" details a world where humiliating jobs at fast-food joints and frustrating business dealings ("Sample clearances/In-store appearances/Production of beats and discussion of split-sheet percentages") threaten to overwhelm the thrill of rockin' the mike. But far from being a bitter meditation, Self bristles with a goofy-ass, Prince Paul-esque sense of humor that thumbs its nose at major-label playas while upstaging them with originality and straight-up funk.

-- Michael Endelman


*** Mark Elf

NEW YORK CATS

(Jen Bay Jazz)

This veteran guitarist has a long, impressive résumé, including several tours with the Heath Brothers. On this, his fourth album as a leader on his own Jen Bay label, he cuts back from his usual guest-star-studded quartets and sextets to a bare-bones trio. That gives him a chance to stretch out on super-uptempo flagwavers like Clifford Brown's "Brownie Speaks" and Cole Porter's "From This Moment On," aping an acknowledged hero, Tal Farlow, with driving, percussive, single-note lines.

Unlike Farlow's relaxed swing, though, Elf's solo style has a jittery, restless quality. He does a minimum of overdubbing to flesh out the textures (comping for himself on "Brownie Speaks" and Jobim's "No More Blues"). But his most impressive feats are accomplished without studio trickery -- the celesta-like harmonics on "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," the fancy picking that produces simultaneous melody, chords, and walking bass on "Lady Be Good" and his own lovely original lullaby, "Blues for Jenny." Bassist Jay Leonhart and drummer Dennis Mackrel are Elf's able foils.

-- Jon Garelick


**1/2 Kimball Collins

INTERNATIONAL CLUB UNION . . . SESSION 1

(Max/ICU)

Neither as deep as New York house nor as ethereal as the symphonic luster of Italian dance music, DJ Kimball Collins's debut CD tries to find a sonic middleground between these two extremes. As with all musical middlegrounds, however, his mostly halfway blend of trancy effects, medium beats, and spacy drop-ins offers barely a soupçon of the surprise that makes dancers scream and fly. The seamlessness of Collins's mixes only emphasizes the uniformity of his program. The dancer is guided away from, rather than into, those few moments (for example, the tribal beats and robot noises of Travel's "Bulgarian," the melodic swoop of Energy 52's "Café del Mar '98," and the Nico-like wisp who fem-cees The Age of Love's "Age of Love") when his sound does swoop out of orbit. Eventually it becomes clear, and perhaps interesting to those with patience, that Collins-space is rich with objects of desire and fantasy. Extravagance and hooks would make that clearer still, and far more interesting.

-- Michael Freedberg


*** June Carter Cash

PRESS ON

(Risk/Small Hairy Dog Records)

Here's a vivid and touching connection to the deepest roots of country music. June Carter Cash is not only the wife of Johnny (and author of his breakthrough hit, "Ring of Fire") but the daughter of Mother Maybelle Carter, a third of country's first major recording act, the Carter Family. Their sides from the '20s and '30s (along with Jimmie Rodgers') remain the music's earliest cornerstones. And June carries on their tradition of simple, string-and-fret-driven mountain melodies on her first, long-overdue solo album. With Norman Blake and Marty Stuart on acoustic guitars and stalwarts of the Cash touring band aboard, the playing's impeccable.

June's own autoharp and quavering voice provide raw and rustic passion -- especially on the beautiful dobro-colored "Wings of Angels." But what's most fun is getting a glimpse into her plainly unusual psyche. She pairs songs of longing for lost friends like James Dean and Elvis with fantasies about riding horses through Italian restaurants and a cautionary tale about Quentin Tarantino (who, she warns her actress granddaughter, "makes his women wild and mean . . . and they lose a lot of blood"). There's also a tear-jerker duet with the Shy-Drager-syndrome-afflicted Johnny on "The Far Banks of Jordan." Its theme -- an old couple facing their impending deaths -- reflects the candor that makes this album, and June, so special.

-- Ted Drozdowski



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