This edition of the Guide--a way to keep up with what's fresh on a pop budget of $50 a month--is highlighted by three debuts, including the Digable Planets album that contains the seductive single-of-the-year contender "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)."
Basehead, "Not in Kansas Anymore" (Imago). Rapper Michael Ivey continues in his group's second album to exhibit biting social observation, wicked satire and a playful persona reminiscent of the early Prince. During a mock nightclub sequence, Ivey, whose songs frequently touch on urban tensions, declares: "We're going to do a song about the problems that the white male has to face in America today." After four seconds of guitar assault, all is quiet. He continues: "For our next song. . . ."
Belly, "Star" (Sire/Reprise). Former Throwing Muses second banana Tanya Donelly has been lauded for crafting sweet but sinister pop songs, and she wastes no time showcasing that gift in her new band's debut. Check out the oddly disarming "(Don't You Have) Someone to Die For." And the rest of the album races along with the same combination of original and haunting reflections that mix the ethereal grace of the Cocteau Twins and the perkiness of 10,000 Maniacs.
Frank Black, "Frank Black" (4AD/Elektra). It's dangerous to walk away from a creative unit that works, even if you are the chief architect of its sound. But here Black says goodby to the Pixies and his old Black Francis moniker without loss of creative momentum. Indeed, he seems as liberated here as Elvis Costello did in "The Juliet Letters." In a dazzling pairing, he salutes one of his influences, redoing Brian Wilson's "Hang on to Your Ego," and then serves up a gem in the wistful Wilson tradition, his own "I Heard Ramona Sing."
Digable Planets, "Reachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space)," (Pendulum). Like Speech and Michael Ivey, Ismael (Butterfly) Butler is part of an imaginative and independent new wave of musical creators who are helping open the doors in rap to a variety of new thoughts and sounds. There is a sense of inventiveness and intelligence to the New York trio that could make them the Talking Heads of rap.
The Goo-Goo Dolls, "Superior Car Wash" (Metal Blade). Paul Westerberg's solo album is due May 9--and here's a great way to get in the mood. The Buffalo, N.Y., band, which has some of Westerberg's love of melodies with a lilt and lyrics with a heartfelt edge, even got the former Replacements leader to contribute the words to one song.
Daniel Lanois, "For the Beauty of Wynona" (Warner Bros.). The songs deal with desires and doubts, while the musical tones lean toward the exotic and dark--which is precisely what you'd expect and want from the man who helped produce some of the most compelling albums of the last decade, including U2's "The Joshua Tree" and Peter Gabriel's "So."