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Richard Ashcroft 

Alone With Everybody (Virgin)

The storyline is a familiar one -- a tumultuous relationship between a visionary/poet singer and his guitar player results in a band's breakup, and the singer, his ego still intact, embarks on a solo career. From the Smiths to the Stone Roses, more than one great band (in these cases, British) has found itself in this scenario. The Verve's brief success -- 1998's hit "Bittersweet Symphony" --apparently wasn't enough to keep singer Richard Ashcroft and guitarist Nick McCabe together for another record. Alone With Everybody, Ashcroft's solo debut, isn't as sonically powerful as anything by the Verve, but it's a worthy effort, simply because it's so subdued and elegant.

With the sparse horns and uplifting background vocals on "I Get My Beat," a song which has an old-school soul feel to it, and the pianos and slide guitar melodies on "You Were on My Mind (In My Sleep)," Ashcroft has constructed an aural tapestry of sounds, styles, and atmospheres on Alone With Everybody. The inclusion of classic country elements (slide guitars and gently strummed acoustic guitars) may shock some listeners, but the laid-back style fits the mellow mood of the disc. "Slow Was My Heart," for example, is a tear-in-my-beer tale of heartache that's carried by its docile, addictive refrain "I'm just like everyone." While die-hard fans may find Alone With Everybody self-indulgent, those open-minded enough for something different will enjoy Ashcroft's attempts to explore varied musical styles.

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