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Metallica
Garage Inc.
(Elektra)

Nearly two decades have passed since the world's most popular metal band got its start. This collection of 27 songs serves as an essential guide to the fearless foursome's current and past creative paths, a sort of Metallica Cliff's Notes. All eleven cover songs on disc one were specifically recorded for this release. Considering Metallica's custom of taking years to complete an album, the fact that each track was finished at the rate of one every three days is amazing. After hearing what this band is capable of producing in a relatively short time, one wonders why it takes so long on "real" albums.

The second disc is a hodgepodge of recordings from '84 to '95. Not only do you get the greatly underrated album The $5.98 EP: Garage Days Re-Revisited but also Kill 'Em All classics ("Am I Evil?"/"Blitzkrieg") and B-sides from the ... And Justice for All and Metallica eras.

Garage Inc. reminds us of the lasting effect Metallica has had on metal and documents the band's remarkable evolution over the past seventeen years. Starting out as fresh speedsters, Metallica turned into structural geniuses, and then, without warning, settled on its present fascination with simplified hard rock. Garage Inc. captures a piece of each Metallica phase and clarifies what bands are responsible for shaping the Metallica sound. Most of the songs on disc one were released between 1979 and 1984, a vital period in the development and crossover of the punk and metal genres. Bands like Motorhead, Discharge, the Misfits, Mercyful Fate, and Diamond Head were heading in progressive directions. These traits--Diamond Head's complexity, Motorhead's primitive thrash, the Misfits' sense of humor--left an enduring impression on the young members of Metallica.

The bulk of Garage Inc. is finely executed. Of the newly released songs, the Black Sabbath, Blue …yster Cult, and Thin Lizzy covers stand tallest. Metallica certainly hasn't added any new colors to the palette, but each song reinforces the band's existing strengths.

--Ryan Smith

Whitney Houston
My Love Is Your Love
(Arista)

Whitney Houston is a relatively undemanding diva. She doesn't require that we pause every time her leg twitches. Her personality was so subdued in films like Waiting to Exhale and The Preacher's Wife, you almost forgot she was there. You imagine she laughs with the rest of us at Celine Dion's chest-thumping and creepy manager/husband. Hell, she married the combustible Bobby Brown--not exactly an acquiescent accessory.

My Love Is Your Love, Houston's first full-length album in eight years, may look a bit desperate. She collaborates with Babyface, Missy Elliott, Faith Evans, and Wyclef Jean. Her Prince of Egypt duet with Mariah Carey is here, as well as a Lauryn Hill-produced remake of Stevie Wonder's "I Was Made to Love Her" (rewritten as "I Was Made to Love Him"). Gothic churches have less buttressing. But Whitney doesn't rely on younger, hungrier talent to soften her wrinkles. She sounds very much attached to the project, invigorated by her juniors' skills.

The songs produced by whiz kid Rodney Jerkins take Houston closer to the streets than maybe she's ever been. His beats and pulses melt the icy sheen that's afflicted her work in the past. Her voice coats the music, not pounding it like an anvil. Tracks like "It's Not Right, but It's Okay" and "Heartbreak Hotel" (while borrowing heavily from Wham!'s "Careless Whisper") have groove and sass. When Mariah arrives to do the dueling diva thing on "When You Believe," the moment feels a little bland. As blockbuster animated-movie themes go, it's just fine, but Whitney's working on something proper.

Elliott brings out the sista in Houston. On "In My Business" and "Oh Yes," she stares down anyone who questions her decisions, chiefly the one to stick by Mr. Prerogative. Not that the record doesn't suffer from its treacly moments. "I Learned from the Best" is a ballad fit for the Spice Girls; the Babyface sound is often timid and generic. And no, "I Was Made to Love Him" won't make anyone forget dear Stevie, but Hill's bravura is contagious. Not even divas are immune.

--David Martin

Spiritualized
Live at Albert Hall
(Dedicated/Arista)

"Don't even miss you/but that's 'cause I'm fucked up," mumbles Spiritualized frontman Jason Pierce during a slow-burning rendition of "Home of the Brave" on the band's new double disc. The sentiment could apply to the English band's music, always a fine soundtrack for the hallucinogenic journey of your choice. But on the fifteen-track, nearly one-hundred-minute Live at Albert Hall, Pierce and his gaggle of backing musicians (including a gospel choir and orchestra) do a fine job of balancing the music's more free-form, trippy moments with beautifully simple psych-rock.

The dichotomy is apparent from note one, as a soft gospel hymn explodes into a structureless fireball of noise. "Shine a Light" explores Spiritualized's modus operandi par excellence: Introduce a simple melodic theme and then jam it out for as many minutes as desired. In another band's hands, an essentially one-chord instrumental like "Electric Mainline" would seem ludicrous. But Spiritualized knows how to titillate with the best, heightening listeners' anticipations with gradually accelerating tempos and subtle keyboard and horn licks to bolster the libido, er, bottom end.

Songs from the band's acclaimed 1997 release Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space make up the bulk of Live, and many benefit from the presence of additional instrumentation. On first listen, "Think I'm in Love" seems to suffer greatly from Pierce's leaden vocal delivery and its hefty ten-minute running time. But this seductive version actually eclipses its studio counterpart's pleasure meter reading, floating upward with swaying rhythms, slide guitar, and angelic backing vocals. Other standouts include an abrasive take on "Come Together" and the stirring rock gospel "Oh Happy Day," which closes the album with life-affirming jubilation.

Live does lose a bit of its luster on some of the overproduced bits. The new-age nod "Broken Heart" sounds like something out of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, while the sixteen-minute "Cop Shoot Cop" trips up during a long white noise burst before regaining footing. Even though these numbers don't come off entirely well, Pierce deserves credit for his Pink Floydian sense of grandeur. Indeed, like The Wall, Live has a strong sense of ebb and flow, allowing for songs to fade into the background before roaring back with rock vigor.

Spiritualized creates affecting music without conventional verse-chorus song structures, and Live at Albert Hall stands as one of the few live albums where the mood evoked is often more enjoyable than the music itself.

--Jonathan Cohen

Buckwheat Zydeco
Trouble
(Tomorrow)

Viewers of the television show American Bandstand had long made cutting comments about the kids host Dick Clark asked to share their opinions about new records. Most of the time the only thing they could think to say was that the new song "has a good beat, and you can dance to it."

Maybe Dicko should have hosted a zydeco version of AB. "It has a good beat and you can dance to it" is the highest recommendation a zydeco song can receive.

Buckwheat Zydeco's new album has a nice beat, and you can dance to it until you drop over mort. If this isn't the best Buckwheat Zydeco album in the group's twelve-year recording history, it is at least the closest to the old-fashioned zydeco of pioneers like Clifton Chenier and Boozoo Chavis that Buckwheat Zydeco has made in a long while. It cooks like Paul Prudhomme.

Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of Trouble is that Buckwheat Zydeco has done it without any fawning admirers from other musical genres. No Willie Nelson, Eric Clapton, Dwight Yoakam, Mavis Staples, or Los Lobos--just leader Stanley (Buckwheat) Dural Jr. and his co-conspirators. I suppose it was nice to have all those heavyweight guests on previous albums, just to attract the uninitiated to this Tabasco-hot Louisiana dance music, but no extra help is really needed for Buck & co.

Dural wrote or co-wrote with manager Ted Fox nine of the ten songs on Trouble, the exception being a zydeco reworking of master Delta blues guitarist Robert Johnson's "Crossroads" (originally titled "Cross Road Blues"). Blues has long been a strong influence on zydeco, and "Crossroads" is interesting but a lot less engaging than most of the songs here. The real winners are "So Hard to Stop," an aptly named song that sounds like the musical equivalent of the bus with no brakes traveling down a mountainside; "Do You Remember the Time?" with a gentle but persistent lilt; and "Allons a Boucherie," which the state of Louisiana had better use in its next video travelogue.

Trouble might be not only the best Buckwheat Zydeco album ever, but could be the finest zydeco disc anyone has released in years. It's an essential record already.

--Steve Byrne

Various artists
Blue Note Salutes Motown
(Blue Note)

Having one of the most illustrious jazz labels throwing a fete for Motown might seem dubious, but really no more surreal than Stevie Wonder warbling "Ave Maria" on A Motown Christmas. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but not necessarily the most effective.

Actually, a quick scan of the roster on Blue Note Salutes Motown betrays the fact that the vast majority of the straight-ahead artists either failed to RSVP for the project or never received an invite. That leaves jazz manques like Dave Koz ("I'll Be There") and Everette Harp ("Inner City Blues") to carry much of the water, and while that makes for less than scintillating jazz, it does make for some melodic if ether-like music.

There are some interesting finds, though, such as the estimable Elaine Elias's Sade-esque take of "Bird of Beauty" and Charlie Hunter's smoking guitar/vibes arrangement of "You Keep Me Hanging On." Organist John Patton performs a public service by showcasing legendary jazz/blues guitarist Grant Green on "Ain't That Peculiar." Nice to know the old guy's still alive.

Longtime Blue Noters Stanley Turrentine and Ray Barretto's songs are an appropriate metaphor for the album: If good material soothingly played works for you (it did for me), then it's a nice pickup. But as jazz on a jazz label, it adds nothing.

--Bill Gibb

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