Collective Soul - Blender Collective Soul

It doesn't seem like two years since Collective Soul's fourth disc, Dosage, hit the stands. Maybe that's because its single, "Heavy," never completely went away; it was a deadweight on the very top of the rock charts for 14 weeks. Nevertheless, the band that has landed rock hit after pop gem for the past six years including "Gel," "Shine,""Precious Declaration," "December" and "The World I Know" is back to score again.

Blender finds Ed Roland and gang playing it safe; call this Dosage Part II. But while there are no left turns or innovative revelations on Blender, there are plenty of guitar riff-driven bits of rockin' cotton ear candy. If there's one criticism of the disc, it's that the band sounds just a little too processed and electronic at times, using lots of loops and samples, and too-perfect-sounding drum fills a la The Cars. Note to Collective Soul: Turn off the drum machines already and rough up the snare and bass drums!

That said, Roland's simple, but effective, riffery rockets the sometimes mechanical opening songs "Skin," "Vent" and the wickedly heavy "Why Pt. 2" easily into instant memory. Things mellow out then with a Beatle-esque lazy jam called "10 Yrs Later" and "Turn Around," a sister song to their hit "The World I Know."

The band covers Morphine's "You Speak My Language" with a surprising burst of near-speed metal guitars (highly surprising in that the late Mark Sandman's Morphine played on a low keel, in keeping with its name). You'd never guess that this wasn't a high-octane Collective Soul original.

The band also drafts longtime friend and fan Elton John to sing and play on the easy pop rocker "Perfect Day," a catchy collaboration which should put both Collective Soul and Elton back on the pop charts.The band hits its ballad stride on Blender with the picture perfect, warmly engaging "After All."

It all ends with a by-now-trademark Collective Soul mix of compressed riffs, layered Roland croons and pounding bass and guitar in the rave-up "Happiness."

Blender is not the best rock album of the year, but it's certainly one of the most solid. Collective Soul never step outside the marks, but they also never fail to deliver punchy anthems either. Long may they rock.


Sarah Brightman - La Luna Sarah Brightman
La Luna

Sarah Brightman has been straddling the fence of pop and opera for most of her career. A mainstay with the PBS crowd for her renditions of the music of former hubby Andrew Lloyd Webber, her one straight pop album (1993's Dive) capsized without a ripple.

Still, she's consistently dabbled in the pop arena, and was half of the reason Andrea Bocelli made opera singing hot again when the two scored with the worldwide hit duet from a couple years ago (and title track to her album) "Time to Say Goodbye."

On La Luna, she divides her time almost equally between gorgeously layered lyrical pop symphonies and operatic drama.

Opening with "This Love," a cross between the high lilt of Kate Bush and the techno ambience of Robert Miles, she goes on to class up the folk traditional "Scarborough Fair," and then offers a grand orchestral-aided cover of Dido's summer hit "Here With Me." She closes with a piano and symphony-augmented live cover of The Bee Gees' "First of May."

In between is more traditional material for operatic talent, and her voice easily bridges the gap between "straight" singing and quavering tremeloes not to mention languages when she adapts Beethoven's "Figlio Perduto, "Rachmaninov's "How Fare This Spot,"Handel's "Solo Con Te" and Dvorak's "La Luna."

The real gem here lies somewhere between pop and opera; her Spanish reading of Jose Maria Cano's "Hijo De La Luna" is stirring, classic and catchy, and her quickly twirling upper register brings early Kate Bush to mind once again.

La Luna dances back and forth across the line between "too highbrow" and "too mundane." But when it manages to pirouette right on the line, which is much of the time, it's a true treasure.


New On The Shelves:

Lyle Lovett has unleashed his first instrumental film score, for Robert Altman's Dr. T &The Women. The Artisan/MCA soundtrack features a couple of Lovett vocal classics "You've Been So Good Up to Now" and "She's Already Made Up Her Mind," along with a gospeled-up waa-ooo remake of his "Ain't It Somethin." The other 13 tracks find Lovett's Large Band sawing away at that indefinable, but distinctly Lovett brand of country, swing, jazz and blues. From marvelously sad piano soliloquoies ("Dr. T's Theme," "Lady of the Lake") to upbeat fiddle-piano conversations ("The Bridal Shower") Dr. T & The Women is a pure American pleasure.

RCA/BMG has released a four-CD Sam Cooke box set titled The Man Who Invented Soul. The 96-track box features Cooke's output from 1957-63, including the unforgettable "You Send Me,""Only Sixteen," "Wonderful World," "Cupid," "Chain Gang," "Twistin' The Night Away" and many more. The set also includes a number of rarities which have never been released on CD in the United States before.