Asia - Silent NationProgressive rocker Asia has never thrown in the towel, despite the fact that its biggest success was the 1982 breakthrough hit "Heat of the Moment." The loss of original singer John Wetton seemed to take the band out of radio contention, but keyboardist Geoff Downes has continued touring and recording with a shifting lineup of support.

Independent label Inside Out Music has just released the band's latest, Silent Nation, an album that sounds more like classic Survivor and Foreigner than classic Asia. But old school '80s rock fans may want to give it a spin. For more information, check www.asiaworld.org...

Willie Nelson fans can now pick up his 1976 album of gospel covers, The Trouble-maker, on CD. The new reissue features bonus tracks recorded in 1974, in addition to his covers of 19th century standards such as "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" and "In the Sweet Bye and Bye." The album was recorded in 1973, but due to label changes, was superseded by three other Nelson album releases before it hit the stands in 1976.

Ashlee Simpson - AutobiographyAshlee Simpson
Autobiography
(Geffen)
    


Move over Jessica, there's a new Simpson in town. And she rocks!

After spending a lifetime in the shadow of her famous older sister, last year 19-year-old Ashlee nabbed a role on WB's "Seventh Heaven." This year, she delivers her first album tied to the filming of her new reality show on MTV.

"It used to be so hard being me, living in the shadows of someone else's dream," Ashlee sings on "Shadow." But that may be changing, now.

TV presence aside, Autobiography is a perfectly realized dose of pop-rock, and Ashlee has a writing credit on every track. While her sister tends to steer toward the softer bubblegum pop arena, Ashlee favors lots of chunky guitar riffs. She sings with just enough edge in her voice to sound a little like a tough girl.

Whereas Jessica loves Mariah Carey, Ashlee leans toward the camps of Pat Benatar, Joan Osborne and Chrissie Hynde. And on the album's closing song, "Undiscovered," she actually sounds a lot like Joan Jett as she cries "don't walk away" over a throbbing base of guitars and keyboards.

Autobiography features several songs about Ashlee's attempts to establish her own identity.

The disc opens with the title track, "Autobiography," a punchy rocker that begs people not to believe what others say, but to ask her. The song offers a spoken word section that's reminiscent of Gwen Stefani as she complains "I'm a simple girl in a complex world."

The track then follows the lyrical and musical thread of Liz Phair's "Extraordinary" as Simpson sings "nobody's really seen my million subtleties." Then in the upbeat "Love Me for Me" she begs "here I am/perfect as I'm ever gonna be stick around/I'm not the kind of girl you'll wanna leave/you'll see/love me for me."

That's followed by the lead single, the shuffling "Pieces of Me." This track is a celebration of new love where Simpson outlines her faults and celebrates the fact that her new boyfriend accepts them.

Then comes the Jessica-referencing "Shadow" and the album's best track, the cheeky song "La La." Atop a pounding bed of drums and buzzing guitars, Ashlee manages to effectively turn "la la" into a sexual reference, singing "you make me wanna la la, in the kitchen on the floor..."

She's not all fire though. "Love Makes the World Go Round" finds her hurting and wanting, and the gentle strums of "Better Off" talk of her and a new beau hiding out from the world. "Unreachable's" dark piano backdrop rips off Fiona Apple's hit "Criminal" before swerving into Beatle-esque "Magical Mystery Tour" keyboard work.

She's less shrill than Avril Lavigne and more nave than Liz Phair, but she can sing pop-rock as strong as either of them. Autobiography proves that Ashlee has the talent to cast plenty of shadows of her own.