STYLE Rock noir.
WORLDVIEW "Do we want to inject the concept of sin / into the Constitution? . . . / Shouldn't sin be left to the laws of God / and to the laws of nature? / Can we trust that to the legislature?"
OVERALL QUALITY An interesting and earnest (at times overearnest) attempt to break through a 14-year creative dry spell, replete with Mr. Burnett's trademark biblical socio-political philosophizing and sonic experimentation.
STYLE Two discs (49 songs, over two hours) of acoustic folk songs, hymns, and spoken reminiscences privately recorded by Mr. Cash in 1973.
WORLDVIEW That a man is the sum total of the songs he loves.
OVERALL QUALITY Amid the glut of Johnny Cash reissues, this collection of never-heard performances is most welcome; as stark as the '90s Rick Rubin sessions, but more youthful sounding and more autobiographically revealing.
STYLE Willfully obtuse "anti-rock" for herky-jerk rhythm section and high-pitched voice.
WORLDVIEW Avant-garde art for avant-garde art's sake, an attitude that, while hardly incompatible with the Danielson Famile's Christian faith, inherently emphasizes form over content.
OVERALL QUALITY Although musical and verbal hooks eventually emerge, this album will strike most listeners as the aural equivalent of a Jackson Pollock painting: big, messy, and more methodically mad than madly methodical.
STYLE Reissue of the late Mr. Nilsson's 1972 gold album.
CAUTIONS "Take 54" (crudities), "You're Breakin' My Heart" (profanity).
WORLDVIEW That pop music neither began with the Beatles nor ended with Tin Pan Alley; that a spoonful of melody and humor can help bitter truths go down.
OVERALL QUALITY An entertaining and stylistically diverse sampling of what John Lennon and Ray Davies might've come up with had they ever collaborated.
STYLE The cream of the Adult Album Alternative (i.e., Triple-A) crop.
WORLDVIEW "This turns out to be a suite of mostly sad songs about leaving and longing and what comes after. Maybe they're a little depressing, but they're also beautiful pieces of work" (the notes).
OVERALL QUALITY Consistently high, commendably excavatory, especially the seldom heard Flatlanders version of the Carter Family's "Hello Stranger" and Julie Miller's "Can't Cry Hard Enough."
Today's teens don't remember, but rap used to be good, often clean fun. Before the emergence in the late '80s of 2 Live Crew, N.W.A., and Public Enemy-the groups most responsible for popularizing porn-rap, gangsta-rap, and radically left-wing rap, respectively -hip-hop functioned mainly as the latter-day equivalent of the '50s black novelty music made popular by the Coasters ("Charlie Brown," "Yakety-Yak"), the Olympics ("Western Movies"), and the Cadillacs ("Speedo").
Although Run D.M.C. became first-generation rap's best-known act, the similarly configured Whodini preceded them and helped pave the way. The Hits: Funky Beat: The Best of Whodini (Jive/Legacy) compiles 15 of the trio's most enduring and endearing performances, only four of which ("I'm a Ho," "Rock You Again [Again and Again]," "Judy," "Keep Running Back") portend the moral decline to come, and even those owe more to the self-deprecating humor of traditional risqué blues or Mae West than they do to the parental-warning-stickered rap bestsellers of today.