- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 27, 2001

LENNY KRAVITZGreatest Hits (Virgin Records)

Retro stylings — the Hendrixian guitar heroics, the psychedelic garb, even the 1960s slang — give Lenny Kravitz his identity, but the tunes always have given him credibility.

This disc was released in the fall and, as of last week, still sat in the top 20 for U.S. sales. It's a testament to Mr. Kravitz's pop favor and his MTV appeal, although there's much more there. He goes beyond the catchy hooks and punctures the songs with a shot of emotion.

Mr. Kravitz often stalks the line of maudlin — check "Again," the only new song on here, for a sappy, melodramatic romp that goes nowhere. But "Mr. Cabdriver," from the first album, is a stellar example of what he can do — Lennonesque guitar punch with '90s alienation. Yea, he's all about the old days, but Mr. Kravitz carved himself some cool territory as a '90s guy by dressing up the vibe. — Steve MillerVARIOUS ARTISTSHeroes and Villains(Rhino Records)

My love for this album has no ironic edge.

Yes, the CD is based upon a television show. Yes, that show is a cartoon. And, yes, that cartoon is about three kindergarten-aged girls turned superhero by Chemical X.

Almost by definition this compilation of songs inspired by Cartoon Network's "The Powerpuff Girls" reeks of postmodernism, but I say it's just a great album.

Kicky, upbeat and even sassy, the 12-track album includes original songs from Devo, Frank Black, Shonen Knife, Bis and Dressy Bessy.

"I love these bands," explains Powerpuff Girls creator Craig McCracken in the CD's liner notes. "Hearing their sounds gives me ideas, which my hand draws."

Unabashedly pop, the songs chronicle a day in the life of the Powerpuff Girls as they thwart the efforts of psychotic simian Mojo Jojo to destroy Townsville.

So go out, buy the album and join the delighted masses listening to Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup fighting crime and the forces of evil. — John GodfreyPETER TORK and JAMES LEE STANLEYOnce Again(Beachwood Recordings)

Ex-Monkee Peter Tork and his musical partner, lifelong buddy James Lee Stanley, have collaborated on a new CD, which made its national debut this month at the World Folk Music Association benefit concert at the Birchmere Music Hall. Mr. Tork was part of a two-day bill that honored John Stewart, former member of the Kingston Trio, with a lifetime achievement award.

The connection between Mr. Stewart, Mr. Tork and this CD is one song, "Daydream Believer," a Stewart composition that scored a major hit for the Monkees in the late 1960s. The two shared the stage with some 30 assorted folk artists to sing the song in a rousing encore at the end of the first night of the Birchmere concert.

A pensive version of the song is perhaps the best track on "Once Again," which features three Tork originals and five songs written or co-written by Mr. Stanley. In addition to "Daydream Believer," two other covers appear on the disc — a swell version of Paul Simon's "One Trick Pony," which arguably is the second best tune on the record — and a Fred Neil song, "Another Side to This Life."

This is a stripped-down, spare record that features the best this duo has to offer in its second recording project — good, California harmonies at times reminiscent of the best studio efforts of Crosby, Stills and Nash. The two voices and two guitars can be heard on every track, and there is a little percussion on some of the songs. But the music sounds very much like the fellows sound live and that's truly refreshing and somewhat retro.

Mr. Tork's composition, "Easy Rider," opens the disc and it sounds like a latter-day Monkees effort.

His most appealing song on the disc is "Hi Hi Babe," a tongue-in-cheek kiss-off tune. Mr. Tork says in the song that after he has put all of his lover's belongings in a box and changed the locks on the door, when she returns and knocks, he'll greet her with a cheerful "Hi, hi, hi, hi, babe, who was it you wanted to see?"

"Easy Rockin'" is probably the best of Mr. Stanley's songs on the disc because of its flowing harmony.

Anyone who was, or is, a fan of the Monkees might want to check out the work Mr. Tork has been up to lately. Those who expect to hear his comedic, off-key singing, a la "Your Auntie Grizelda," will be in for a pleasant surprise.— Jay VotelRAZEThe Plan (Forefront)

Hip-hop, rap dance music and a Christian message are combined in this new album.

Accompanied by hard-hitting beats and a driving musical backdrop, Raze sends a message to youth that faith must be taken seriously. The one element missing here is a variety of vocal and musical intensity. This CD seems to stay at one emotional level, and rarely shows off the group's ability to dig deep and express the full intensity of its feelings for the cause.

The album does, however, contain some extremely good songs, which could spur just about anyone to get up on the dance floor. "The Plan" and "Celebration" both add a fun and playful feel to the album. "If You Go" is the true pinnacle of this album, as it is written in memory of the mother of one group member. The addition of strings to this track also gives a nice variety and an ear-catching element.

The CD ends on a high note, with the familiar chorus "Did You Hear the Mountains Tremble?" This adaptation is a welcome spin on the song, which also shows more of the group's emotional fervor.

After being nominated for a Dove Award for new artist of the year, Raze made "The Plan" as a follow-up to the group's debut album "Power," which won a Dove Award in the category of best dance/hip-hop album.— Christan McKayMADNESSUltimate Collection (Hip-O)

If you want to liven up your CD collection, put a little Madness into it.

Although the CD is filled with hits the ska-influenced, seven-member band scored mainly in England, almost everyone will recognize "Our House." It was the band's only really big hit in America.

"House of Fun," "Baggy Trousers" and, especially, "One Step Beyond" are filled with the "nutty, nutty sound" that Madness members were ambassadors of in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

To sum it up, this album (and the band) is a lot of fun, filled with music that makes it almost impossible not get up off the couch and dance.— Kate Royce

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