- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 25, 2000

ALAN JACKSONWhen Somebody Loves You (Arista/Nashville)

It isn't enough for Alan Jackson to sing in an unabashedly country style when many of his contemporaries are taking the shortcut to pop stardom. Mr. Jackson feels compelled to defend his genre and his brethren in "When Somebody Loves You."

Songs such as "It's Alright to Be a Redneck," "Meat and Potato Man" and "Where I Come From" state an impassioned defense of his Southern-fried manners.

The results, while heartfelt, don't always satisfy. But Mr. Jackson's straightforward approach, and his assured vocals, never fail to at least partially charm.

"Meat and Potato Man" kicks off the tight 11 tracks, a languorous explanation of his favorite grub and lesser habits. The title track comes next, an aw-shucks ballad with the kind of spare arrangements that used to make daddy bawl.

"Life or Love" offers a buoyant, hopeful view, while sweeping violins of "Www.memory" can't sustain its forced chorus.

"Three Minute Positive Not Too Country Up-tempo Love Song," the final cut, pretty much says it all.

"When Somebody Loves You" plays itself out as obviously as that final track, leaving little surprises with subsequent listens.

But any album that throws lyrics such as "I'm likin' how my Jack and water mixes with your Estee Lauder," can't be all bad.— Christian Toto

JEFFREY FOSKETT IVTwelve and Twelve (New Surf)

For pop music fans, this independent release is a must. Jeffrey Foskett, a longtime member of the Beach Boys touring band and now playing behind Brian Wilson on his comeback tour, is a student of American pop over the past 30-plus years: The joy pours out of the grooves as he teams up with his musical idols for a stunning set of originals.

Whether it's the Knack's Doug Fieger on the propulsive "Baby It's You" or America's Gerry Beckley on the beautiful "Emma" or Marshall Crenshaw on the bouncy "The Best Thing About Me Is You," this is contemporary songwriting and singing as good as it comes. And there's much more, with guests such as Chicago's Robert Lamm and Larry Ramos of the original Association.

The highlight of this collection of high points, however, is the collaboration with Mr. Wilson on "Everything I Need." The Beach Boys genius wrote this song several years ago with his "Pet Sounds" lyricist Tony Asher, but the only previously released recording of it by Mr. Wilson's daughters Wendy and Carnie suffered from overly slick production. Here the song is stripped to its essentials, stressing its beauty in the plainest sense. Mr. Wilson's wordless vocal fade will send chills down the spine of the most jaded listener.

Try www.new-surf.com if you cannot find this gem at your local CD store.— Fran Coombs

THE GO-BETWEENSThe Friends of Rachel Worth (Jetset Records)

The Go-Betweens were Australia's answer to the Talking Heads in the early 1980s, driving rock with wonderfully sophisticated lyrics. The band always was a vehicle for the highly original styles of Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, who evenly divided the singing and songwriting chores on each of their albums. Ironically, the band broke up in 1989 as it was experiencing its major commercial breakthrough with the single "Streets of Your Town" and the gorgeous album, "16 Lovers Lane."

Since then, Mr. McLennan and Mr. Forster have each produced several quirky and decidedly uncommercial solo albums. Now the reunited Forster-McLennan axis is quietly arriving back in record stores with "The Friends of Rachel Worth." Always partial to female instrumentalists, this time the Aussies have critical favorites Sleater-Kinney on board for support.

What a comeback it is. Mr. McLennan always has been the poppier of the two, but his lyrics and vocals sound darker, like Mr. Forster's, this time around. Tracks such as "Magic in Here" and "Orpheus Beach" are flat-out wonders, and the chorus of "The Clock" is so relentless that one can almost count down the seconds till liftoff.

Mr. Forster is as deep as ever and is at his best with the autobiographical "German Farmhouse," about as aggressive a vocal as one is likely ever to hear.

The Go-Betweens are back with a musical bang. Turn it up.— F.C.

BADFINGERHead First (Snapper)

The Badfinger story is a rock classic: Discovery by the Beatles' road manager, first hit single written by Paul McCartney, a contract with Apple Records as one of the first acts signed to that label, a performance at the legendary Concert for Bangladesh, the biggest-selling album produced by Todd Rundgren and George Harrison, then business setbacks culminating in suicide by hanging — eight years apart — of the band's two leaders. The group, out of Wales and Liverpool, produced several incredibly melodic albums along the way, Beatlesque at their most derivative, and that's no mean compliment.

"Head First" is a remarkable release: It is quite simply the great lost Badfinger album. A hurry-up effort produced in early December 1974, the record was a desperate effort to dig the band out of a financial morass, but no record company would touch it. Four months later, Pete Ham, the band's leader and most original talent, composer of its most memorable songs — "No Matter What," "Baby Blue," "Day After Day" and "Without You" — killed himself.

Fortunately, "Head First" is more than a historical document. It features two classic Ham originals — "Lay Me Down" and "Keep Believing" — and several more-than-adequate numbers by other members of the band, particularly "Moonshine" by drummer Mike Gibbins. Guitarist Joey Molland had left the fold, but his absence is barely noticeable, with keyboardist-vocalist Bob Jackson filling in.

For those who may be put off by the album's 33-minute length, Snapper has added a second CD of Badfinger demos, mostly by Mr. Ham, which has some delightful but primitive moments. It clocks in at only 25 minutes though, so the whole thing could easily have fit on one CD at half the price. Still, to relive the magic of a truly great band with previously unreleased material of this quality is all pleasure.— F.C.

SPICE GIRLSForever (Virgin Records)

The Spice Girls are back with a more mature sound on their new album, "Forever," as they attempt to reclaim their fans. Gone are the annoying nicknames of Baby, Sporty, Posh and Scary and the sketchy vocals. Instead the group — Emma Bunton, Melanie Chisholm, Victoria Beckham and Melanie Brown — offers a more well-rounded, stronger vocal sound.

"Forever" has more rhythm and blues in it than the traditional pop for which the Spice Girls are known. Track 1, "Holler," is the first single released from the album. This track has a good midtempo, hip-smackin' (as their video for the song proves) R&B; vibe with a fun chorus. Track 4, "Right Back at Ya," symbolizes where the Spice Girls are in their career. The song "If You Wanna Have Some Fun" is a midtempo number that will make the listener get up and dance, and the ballads "Let Love Lead the Way" and "Time Goes By" are romantic and airy. The best ballad for showing off the Spice Girls' capabilities is "Oxygen."— Amy Baskerville

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