- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 18, 2005

Rodney Crowell, “The Outsider”After two highly introspective albums, 2001’s “The Houston Kid” and 2003’s “Fate’s Right Hand,” country rocker Rodney Crowell has rejoined the living — and it turns out he’s as mad at the world as Peter Finch was in “Network.” More specifically: at rich conservatives and the Bush administration. The songs are sturdy enough, especially the neo-rockabilly stomp of “Say You Love Me” and an exquisite cover of Bob Dylan’s “Shelter from the Storm,” sung with Emmylou Harris, but Mr. Crowell is perhaps a little solemn for his own good on spoken-word meditations such as “Ignorance is the Enemy” and the Celtic-tinged singalong “We Can’t Turn Back Now.” (Columbia)

Hanna-McEuen, “Hanna-McEuen” — Jaime Hanna and Jonathan McEuen are first cousins who were born and bred at the bosom of the great Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, those progressive longhairs who, along with the Byrds, forced rock hipsters to pay attention to country music with 1972’s watershed “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” The circle’s still intact. The duo’s debut — stunningly self-assured for a couple of rookies — boasts tight vocal harmonies that could only be the work of shared DNA. “Fool Around” and “Wild Eyes of Love” have mud dripping on their boots, but the lush ballads “A Prayer for You” and “Ocean” have adult-contemporary crossover written all over them. (DreamWorks)

Bob Mould, “Body of Song” — The former frontman of seminal Minneapolis punk band Husker Du and, later, of alt-rockers Sugar, has been spinning club music in the District in recent years, cooling his heels and buffing up his biceps. “Body” finds Mr. Mould on a roots-rock label and fronting a band again. The result is a mostly winning cycle of emo-laced rock songs (“Best Thing” and “Missing You” kick with strength), with a couple of misguided, warbly electronica hybrids such as “I Am Vision, I Am Sound” that would’ve been better left to the Pet Shop Boys. (Yep Roc)

Alice Cooper, “Dirty Diamonds”— The lyrics are juvenile and the shtick is ancient, but this self-described “shock-rock Romeo” never tries to be something he isn’t. Like 2003’s indie “The Eyes of Alice Cooper,” “Diamonds” is another batch of hard, Stonesy raunch, with odd offshoots such as the renaissance-pop ballad “Pretty Ballerina” thrown in for reoxygenation. There are no stunners here, but no embarrassments either — which, at this stage in our favorite snake handler’s career, is impressive in itself. (New West)

Stellastarr*, “Harmonies for the Haunted”— Shawn Christensen still has the most affected voice of all the current crop of neo-wave acolytes (think of a less talented David Byrne fronting a Smiths cover band), and Stellastarr* still hasn’t found a New York niche of its own on this middling sophomore effort, to be released Tuesday. The quartet has a knack for atmospherics and rhythmic invention, but with the exception of bouncy Cure knockoffs such as “Precious Games” and the desperately melodic “Love and Longing,” these songs just chase their tails. (RCA)

Scott Galupo

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