Billy Joel
Greatest Hits Vol. III
(Columbia)


Billy Joel has just released Greatest Hits Volume III, which includes songs from An Innocent Man, The Bridge, Storm Front and River of Dreams.There are also three new songs tagged at the end, which sadly, do not count among Joel's "greatest" work. But that's probably because they're three cover songs. "To Make You Feel My Love," which has been released as a single, is a languid Bob Dylan song underscored by plodding piano chords and a slash of organ and harmonica. "Hey Girl" is a lush, orchestral Goffin-King song that was originally a hit in 1963 for Freddie Scott and again in 1971 for Donnie Osmond. Joel's version, replete with strings and background female vocalists, sounds authentically dated (the fact that you can recreate the sound of the past doesn't always mean you should). And the final "new" song is Leonard Cohen's "Light As The Breeze," a slow honking gospel blues number. It's definitely Joel's oldies that make this disc attractive, not his remakes. Included are "Keeping the Faith," "An Innocent Man," "A Matter of Trust," his duet with Ray Charles, "Baby Grand," "This is the Time," "We Didn't Start The Fire," "I Go To Extremes," "The River of Dreams" and more.

 

Swing Out Sister
Shapes and Patterns
(Mercury)
½


Since their emergence a decade ago with the aptly titled "Break Out" nobody has managed to so successfully merge kitschy '70s la-la pop with modern jazz attitude. If The Carpenters were still around, Karen Carpenter would probably be singing "Here and Now," the second track from Swing Out Sister's fifth disc, while her brother lent the tender-but-solid chording at the piano.

"Somewhere In The World," the lead-off track from Shapes and Patterns, proclaims "Maybe it's not too late/to start all over again." And that's just what it seems like they've done — travelled back past two decades of popular music and culture to a sweeter, gentler musical clime. Bright background singers, orchestral arrangements, lightly trembled bells and occasional flutes all serve as a sort of sonic time machine for Swing Out Sister's chirpy songs. That sweetness can get just a bit cloying at times, but the duo of Corinne Drewery and Andy Connell can grow one heck of a catchy tune when they set their minds on it. And this disc roams across a flowery plateau of them.

 

The Crystal Method
Vegas
(Outpost)


Wanna turn your car or house into a hip dance club? Just plug the new Crystal Method album into your stereo and you're there.

Opening with the sumptuous, mysterious groove of "Trip Like I Do" (which appears with additional music by Filter on the Spawn soundtrack), Vegas is a beat-happy feast of modern ambient looping dance music. There is a sonic sink's worth of sound effects strewn throughout these tracks, from echoey vocal bits (courtesy of Trixie Reiss) to elevator sounds to synthesized warbles and squiggles.

"Busy Child" is a natural mix hit, with the hip-shaking goad "get busy, child" scattered strategically throughout. And the funky ambience of "High Roller" is techno-ed up with samples that sound like NASA mission transmissions.

Following in the footsteps of the early '90s rave scene and the recent breakthrough success of European"electronica" trailblazers Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers, L.A.-based duo The Crystal Method takes elements of a variety of electronic and rock styles to shake up an album that listens like a roller coaster ride — but at an hour's worth of music, this offers a more satisfying payoff than your average carny contraption. And unlike a lot of ambient dance music, The Crystal Method keeps the beat and bass hooks pumped up so that this largely instrumental mix rarely gets tedious.