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DECEMBER 14, 1998: 

*** The Cowsills



Suppose that a quintessential '60s pop group had been jettisoned into the '90s, Austin Powers-style. That's pretty much the story here: these Cowsills are four of the same Newport-rooted siblings who did the bubblegum hits and the milk commercials in the late '60s. In recent years they've made a serious stab at new material, and these tracks were cut in 1992, before sister Susan joined the Continental Drifters full-time -- legend has it that two major labels were prepared to release the album before they found out who the band were.

Too bad, because this is a model power-pop album, warm enough to charm and tough enough to resonate, steering clear of both camp and nostalgia. Think Fleetwood Mac with stronger British Invasion leanings. Susan's vocals are the immediate grabber -- she's got the same kind of countryish purity that Linda Ronstadt had toward the start of her career -- but the album hinges equally on four-part harmonies and Bob Cowsill's songwriting. These tunes represent his longstanding quest for the perfect hook: "Rescue" and "What I Believe" sound like long-lost 1965 chart toppers. What has also endured is a noble kind of naïveté: they still believe that love and hooks can save the world -- or at least provide three minutes of emotional rescue. (You can order Global from Robin via the Web, www.robinrecords.com.)

-- Brett Milano

**1/2 Paul Oakenfold



In England, Paul Oakenfold -- dance-minded producer, pop-hit remixer, recently crowned "World's Most Popular DJ" by the Guinness Book of World Records -- is house music's pop-charts point man. But on Tranceport, his American debut, Oakenfold displays a more global agenda. Packaged to look like an airplane boarding pass, Tranceport blends "progressive trance" hits from around the world, evoking the travel-and-motion images that have preoccupied electronic music ever since Kraftwerk jumped on the Autobahn. Wedding German rigor to Spanish passion, the disc builds to one absurdly emotional peak after another, layering angular electro-squelch over synthesized strings so emphatic they practically weep. It's all lush and unrelentingly energetic, and every song probably killed 'em in Ibiza. But chances are tracks like Energy 52's "Cafe Del Mar" will sound a little overripe to American listeners accustomed to harsher, funkier stuff. And compared with something like LA-based DJ Taylor's recent Resonance, a darker, dirtier take on the same sound, Tranceport feels like a tacky, calculated package tour. Still, it's hard to find fault with Oakenfold's mixing skills, and even when it dips into full-on Eurocheese, Tranceport is a convincing portrait of the dance floor as a borderless Utopia, as beautiful and temporary as a vacation on the Enterprise's holodeck.

-- Alex Pappademas

**1/2 Faith Evans


(Bad Boy)

Unlike country star Faith Hill's latest smash, Faith, the title of this R&B star's sophomore release is a genuine testimonial to endurance. Over three years, this 25-year-old singer/songwriter has endured the open adultery and then murder of her husband (the Notorious B.I.G.), absorbed the dissing of Biggie's famous mistress, lascivious rapper Lil' Kim, and borne her third child to a third father. Yet despite the media glare on this melodrama, the specifics give way here before the generic wash of a pleasant, competent, thoroughly standard adult R&B album. Following the buoyancy of the three light-funk openers, a ponderous prelude/postlude pair of selections frame the main body of the album, which alternates slow relationship grooves sporting giveaway titles like "My First Love," with slow I-will-survive ballads sporting giveaway titles like "Life Will Pass You By." Realists will probably see the commonness of it all as a move by Bad Boy label owner Sean "Puffy" Combs to capture the 25-to-40-year-old mainstream.

-- Franklin Soults

*** Don Caballero


(Touch & Go)

It'd be easy to peg Don Caballero as the quintessential math-rock band. Built on cyclical riffs and odd-meter beats performed with exacting, if not antiseptic, precision, their data-spew instrumental jams lean toward angular harmonies, organic loops and jagged syncopations.

But that's deconstructive thinking. What makes What Burns Never Returns so alluring is the wider angle, the way their linear fascinations and mosaic interlocutions produce a pixilated image, a cathode ray, a Chuck Close tessellary of pointillist proportions with post-punk bass, drums, guitar, and no vocals. If image is everything, Don Caballero are nothing; but if design is everything, then DC bring to mind a few scenarios: Steve Reich grows tired of the academic life and forms a post-rock band with Ronald Shannon Jackson; Iannis Xennakis gives Greece the heave-ho and hooks up with Kim Thayil and Matt Cameron in Seattle; Talk Talk re-form with Terry Bozzio on drums, performing in front of painter Frantisek Kupka's geometric, Orphic canvases.

-- James Rotondi

*** Club 69



Fans of Peter Rauhofer's Club 69 dance jams will have to own this 25-track set of his non-Club 69 remix work. From Funky Green Dogs' "The Way," "Fired Up!", and "Until the Day" to Fire Island featuring Loleatta Holloway's "Shout to the Top," as well as Hans's oft-compiled "Meet Her at the Love Parade" and Sizequeen's "Walk," Rauhofer puts his showy, diva-centered style of fireworks into play over and over again without ever sounding dull. He knows better than to veer too far from the riff-and-chant basics that agitate the ecstasy in house music. But he sweetens his sound with synthesized drop-ins, and he fattens his singers' vocals with lots of echo. The sugar drama keeps pouting and pumping, even in the non-hits like Movin' Melodies' "Rollerblade" and Crystal Method's "Comin' Back" -- and in his remix of "Der Kommissar," a loving salute to fellow Austrian Falco's debut hit.

-- Michael Freedberg

*** Andy Bey



Jazz singer Andy Bey's voice is smooth, deep, and romantic. His 40-year career on the fringes of the commercially marginal world of jazz vocalists has passed without much notice, but that situation may now be changing. His ear-opening, near-perfect 1996 set Ballads, Blues & Bey presented the singer alone with his piano, performing gorgeous, crystalline ballads and mid-tempo numbers.

Shades of Bey is a more varied release with less consistent results. Bey fronts a furious bebop trio for "Get It Straight," which is Thelonious Monk's now standard "Straight No Chaser" outfitted with Bey's own Monk-centric lyrics scatted and spat. Elsewhere Bey moves from post-bop to Brazilian-tinged jazz with help from such talents as pianist Geri Allen, saxophonist Gary Bartz, drummer Victor Lewis, and bassist Peter Washington. But it's on the ballads, where his yearning tenor simply bursts forth and he drapes his lush falsetto over a drawn-out phrases, that Bey proves himself to be a living master of the lost art of jazz singing.

-- Bill Kisliuk

**** Andrew Rangell



One of our stellar pianists has produced a delectably rangy album of pieces that make for a surprisingly compatible program. Beethoven's six late Bagatelles, Opus 126, are the spiritual centerpiece here, and Rangell plays them with zest and complex rhythmic nuance that reveal both their comedy and their lurking tears (these pieces may be short but they're far from trifles). There's an elegant Bach Menuett and an exquisite Sheep May Safely Graze, both transcribed by the nearly forgotten Austrian pianist and Busoni disciple Egon Petri. Rangell sees a connection between J.J. Froberger's 1654 Ricercare and the profound opening Fugue of Beethoven's C-sharp-minor String Quartet, neither originally composed for piano, but the one follows the other here, in Rangell's own piano versions, and they work together beautifully, on the deepest intuitive level.

There are eloquent performances of Mozart's great Rondo in A and Sweelinck's Variations on "My Young Life Is at an End," and, to cleanse the palate, night-and-day interspersals of an "impalpable" Messiaen "dawn" prelude and Enescu's brilliantly chiming Carillon nocturne. Rangell is one of our treasures. These pieces were all recorded both before and during his recent hiatus from live performances. He's now playing in public again, so the addition of this recording to the catalogue gives us the best of both possible worlds.

-- Lloyd Schwartz

*** Adventures in Stereo



This disc, the US debut by Scotland's Adventures in Stereo, is essentially 19 brief mood pieces -- it seems unfair to call them songs -- that form one elegant tribute to breezy summer atmospherics and sweetly dappled melody. The Beach Boys, Stereolab, the Sundays, and Martha and the Vandellas are all in there somewhere, their influences combining to create a sound that's indisputably old-fashioned yet somehow stands outside time.

Although Glaswegian songwriter Jim Beattie, formerly of Primal Scream, is Adventures in Stereo's prime architect, Judith Boyle's vocals are the centerpiece. Invariably multi-tracked for maximum ghostliness and harmonic complexity, her singing brings to mind the Cranberries' Dolores O'Riordan minus the exaggerated Irish accent. The duo are at their best when they avoid the overt Brian Wilson references (as on the aptly titled "Dream Surf Baby") and go instead for a purer, drone-based minimalism on gorgeous tunes like "Said You Said" or "Hang Out." The only real flaw here is that everything's too short (most tracks are under two minutes). It would have been great to soak in these most agreeable waters just a little longer.

-- Mac Randall

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