- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 19, 2002

KELLY CLARKSON
Before Your Love/A Moment Like This
(RCA Records)
Thanks to Fox and the creators of "American Idol," everyone knows who Kelly Clarkson is; quite frankly you would have to have been dead to have missed all the hoopla surrounding her win on Fox's hit TV talent show. She won a recording contract and a shot at a professional career.
It would also have been nice if they had given her decent material to begin that career.
Miss Clarkson does have an amazing voice and her talent is evident, but the songs are far from good. "A Moment Like This," her first release which shot to the top of the Billboard charts, is a sweet song that fits Miss Clarkson well.
The lyrics are basic and the listener can relate to them with their own experiences. "Before Your Love" is strictly gimmicky and only serves to show how many high notes Miss Clarkson can hit.
Let's hope Miss Clarkson's next album will contain material that is actually worthy of being heard by her listeners. If she is not given better material her career is bound to be a short one.
Amy Baskerville

NITTY GRITTY DIRT BAND
Will the Circle Be Unbroken Vol. III
(Capitol)
It might be hyperbole to refer to a recording of traditional music as "groundbreaking." This is the rootiest of roots music, after all, from which all modern popular music is derived.
But 30 years after introducing a new generation of listeners to the sound of Mother Maybelle Carter, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band has done it again with "Will the Circle Be Unbroken Vol. III." It comes not a second too soon.
The 28 tracks feature the Dirt Band John McEuen, Jeff Hanna, Jimmy Ibbotson, Jimmie Fadden and Bob Carpenter playing with some of the most established performers of traditional American music. It's a virtual who's who: Iris DeMent, Alison Krauss, Doc Watson, Willie Nelson, Del McCoury and sons Ronnie and Robbie McCoury, Tony Rice, Dwight Yoakam and Emmylou Harris.
Rocker Tom Petty and blues artist Taj Mahal are touted as "surprise" artists on this two-disc set, but truly, their appearance should come as no surprise since this is the kind of music that started it all.
From the toe-tapping Del McCoury Band's take on the spiritual "Take Me In Your Lifeboat" to the more modern, but still old-timey sound of "Tears in the Holston River," Johnny Cash's tribute to departed members of the Carter family, this disc goes out of its way not to break new ground, but to preserve some very sacred territory of Americana.
Producer Randy Scruggs brings back three artists (including his father banjo pioneer Earl Scruggs) who have appeared on all three volumes in this set. The other two are fiddler Vassar Clements and country legend Jimmy Martin.
Many of the artists also participated in the second edition, 1989's Vol. II including Jerry Douglas, Vince Gill, June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash and Sam Bush.
But Vol. III also provides listeners with a new generation of pickers, including Doc Watson's grandson, Richard Watson, and Dirt Band progeny Jaime Hanna and Jonathan McEuen, to prove that the music has been handed up to the future via folk tradition.
Jay Votel

UNDERWORLD
A Hundred Days Off
(JBO/V2 Records)
Most Americans know Underworld through the 1996 film "Trainspotting" and the hypnotic, nine-minute opus "Born Slippy," which accompanies a scene where the narrator runs off with his friends' money. Despite its obscurity in the United States, the techno trio has had a string of hits in the United Kingdom and remains one of the better electronic acts of the 1990s.
"A Hundred Days Off" is the group's fourth full-length album and its first original material since 1999's excellent "Beaucoup Fish." While several tracks stand out among the group's best, the material does not break any new ground.
Some critics may chalk that up to the departure of DJ Darren Emerson. This is the band's first record since 1989 that features only vocalist Karl Hyde and guitarist Rick Smith, though casual fans will not likely hear the difference. Underworld's driving, dreamy techno sound is largely the same, a point that does not help the duo stand out in the modern dance scene.
Underworld has often divided its tracks among those that sound good on radio and those that are better suited for the dance floor, and much of "A Hundred Days" is clearly meant for a crowded club.
Take "Two Months Off," one of the album's better singles. A female vocal sample hovers over the synth drum and bass that propels the beginning of the song, before that gives way to a slowly building synthesizer chord progression that underlies Mr. Hyde's sing-speak vocals.
It is a song meant to be blared from the heaving speakers of a nightclub, and several others also fit this profile including the opener "Mo Move" and the bass-heavy "Little Speaker."
Several other tracks are so relaxed ("Ess Gee" and "Twist") that they act like sonic brakes on the movin' party music that dominates the rest of the album. These quieter moments are surprisingly better than the up-tempo tunes and give hope that Underworld can still find relevance in the modern dance world.
Derek Simmonsen

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Like, Omigod! The '80s Pop Culture Box (Totally)
(Rhino Records)
To paraphrase Forrest Gump, "Like, Omigod!" is similar to a box of chocolates you never know what you're going to get next.
This seven-disc boxed set, comprising 142 tracks, runs the gamut from Bryan Adams to Frank Zappa, though not in alphabetical (or any other) order. But that's a large part of this collection's considerably quirky appeal.
Rock, pop, new wave, heavy metal, some early rap, and even country pop it's all here in a musical melange where Kool and the Gang's "Celebration" follows Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" and Kenny Loggins' "Footloose" segues to Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It."
Decade-defining anthems like Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" are here as one would expect, alongside catchy one-hit wonders like Dexy's Midnight Runners' "Come on, Eileen" and Katrina & the Waves' "Walking on Sunshine."
From Gary Numan's "Cars" to the Cars' "Shake It Up," "Like, Omigod!" really is '80s deja vu, most of which remains fresh and worth listening to all over again, and only relatively few of which are dreck as dreadful now as when they first sullied the airwaves. For example, Billy Crystal's "You Look Marvelous," Bob & Doug McKenzie's "Take Off," Kurtis Blow's "The Breaks (Part 1)," the Afternoon Delights' "General Hospi-Tale," and Mr. Zappa's "Valley Girl." The latter is included presumably only as context for the boxed set's title.
Having said that, measured against its self-professed intention to "reveal that politically, culturally and sometimes musically, the '80s appear as charmingly shallow today as they did then," "Like Omigod!" undeniably succeeds, despite the inclusion of several selections of dubious merit (see above) and the absence of tracks from several artists Madonna, Phil Collins, Michael Jackson, Huey Lewis and Van Halen, to name five who should be on any '80s retrospective (the latter most likely involves licensing costs).
Another quibble, albeit a minor one, involves selections representing some artists who had more than one hit during the decade. Two examples: "Mony, Mony" would have been a far better choice than "Dancing With Myself" from Billy Idol, while the B-52s would have been better represented by "Love Shack" than "Roam."
"Like, Omigod!" also includes a dizzyingly illustrated 90-page full-color booklet the size of an automobile owner's manual that provides a People magazine-style pop-culture overview of the decade. It is well done once you get past a waterbug-shallow political analysis of the '80s that is little more than an exercise in Reagan-bashing.
"Like, Omigod!" is (almost) totally tubular.
Peter Parisi

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Ultra-Lounge Vegas Baby
(Capitol)
Are you a fan of the true Vegas lounge acts? If so, you will love "Ultra-Lounge Vegas Baby." This album contains the true stars that made Las Vegas lounge singing a real treat unlike the cheesy shows that most people associate with lounge acts in Vegas.
"Ultra-Lounge Vegas Baby" contains the top stars that performed in Vegas during the heyday of lounge singing. Featured are the smooth stylings of Nat King Cole with "I'm Shooting High," Vic Damone singing "Something's Comin" and Peggy Lee with the always fun "Big Spender."
Famed Rat Packers Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. put in appearances with "Who's Got The Action," and "Ain't That A Kick In The Head." Tom Jones, a personal favorite, shows up with his classic "It's Not Unusual," while Judy Garland sings "Lucky Day."
Of course, no record about Vegas lounge acts would be complete without the incomparable Wayne Newton singing "Danke Schoen" and "Shangri-La." Also featured on this 20-track CD is Bobby Darin, Tony Bennett with Count Basie, Jack Jones and Louis Prima.
This album is worth the price for the liner notes alone. There you will find drink recipes, pictures of the famed hotels that once stood in Vegas such as the Tropicana, the Dunes and the Flamingo. Also pictured are dice, $5 chips, drink glasses and funny tips for hitting it big. This CD contains everything to put you in a Vegas mood.
So get your drink, pull up a chair and enjoy the relaxing sounds of the Vegas strip.
A.B.


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