1. Autobiography - Ashlee Simpson
WEEKS ON CHART 3
STYLE An overt attempt to beat Avril Lavigne at her own dubious game.
OBJECTIONABLE MATERIAL Lasciviousness ("Lala"); casual cursing ("Better Off").
WORLDVIEW "Here I am, perfect as I'm ever gonna be. / You'll see. Love me for me."
OVERALL QUALITY The main problem with the formulaic self-centeredness (other than the fact that it's formulaic and self-centered) is that it merely reinforces the equally predictable nature of the song structures and instrumentation.
2. ...That's What I Call Music! - 16 Various Artists
WEEKS ON CHART 2
STYLE One-half hip-hop, one-tenth airhead languor, one-third modern rock, one-twentieth Gretchen "Redneck Woman" Wilson.
OBJECTIONABLE MATERIAL The occasional muted vulgarities and lasciviousness of the hip-hop half.
WORLDVIEW Meet the new Now That's What I Call Music!, same as the old Now That's What I Call Music!
OVERALL QUALITY Fool me once, shame on you; fool me 16 times, shame on me.
3. License To Chill - Jimmy Buffet
WEEKS ON CHART 4
STYLE Singer-songwriterly aw-shucks beach-bum country-pop.
OBJECTIONABLE MATERIAL Casual vulgarity ("Coastal Confessions").
WORLDVIEW Indolence is bliss.
OVERALL QUALITY Infectiously celebrates 30-plus years of lackadaisically tuneful self-deprecation with cameos from some of the brightest (or at least biggest) stars in the contemporary country firmament (Toby Keith, Alan Jackson, Kenny Chesney, George Strait, Martina McBride, Clint Black).
4. Confessions - Usher
WEEKS ON CHART 0
STYLE Mixed-pedigree R&B (love-man, hip-hop).
OBJECTIONABLE MATERIAL Risqué booklet photos; raunchy sexuality and/or casual cursing ("Caught Up," "Do It to Me," the title cut).
WORLDVIEW "[F]rom outside, / all you see is videos and shows, / but there's more to my life / than people could ever know. / Sometimes I gotta smile / when I don't feel like smiling. . . . Nobody understands but you, girl."
OVERALL QUALITY As Confessions go, has nothing on Rousseau's.
5. Here For The Party - Gretchen Wilson
WEEKS ON CHART 13
STYLE Something-for-everyone country-by-numbers.
OBJECTIONABLE MATERIAL "Redneck Woman" and the title cut (for casual cursing and/or celebrations of slatternly white-trashiness).
WORLDVIEW "Well, I'm an eight-ball-shooting, double-fisted-drinking son of a gun. / I wear my jeans a little tight / just to watch the boys come undone."
OVERALL QUALITY Give her this much: At 13 weeks and counting (not bad for a novelty act), her staying power, if not her talent, is impressive.
In the spotlight
Fox News's Bill O'Reilly insists that he is not a liberal or a conservative but a traditionalist. While the number of American voters who thus characterize themselves may be small, the number of traditional American music fans is large and getting larger. In 2000 there was the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack; now there's The Unbroken Circle: The Musical Heritage of the Carter Family (Dualtone).
Organized and produced by John Carter Cash, son of the late Johnny Cash, it features 15 recent renditions of songs recorded by the Carter Family between 1927 and 1941. Roots-music connoisseurs have long regarded the gospel-rich Carter Family oeuvre as among the most important in American popular music. Seldom, however, has it been reinvigorated as it is here by the likes of George Jones, Sheryl Crow, John Prine, Johnny Cash, and others of similar stature. For traditionalists untraditional enough to own a CD player, The Unbroken Circle definitely belongs in the spin zone.