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POP MUSIC | $50 GUIDE

Putting the Spotlight on Strong Family Ties

June 28, 1998|Robert Hilburn | Robert Hilburn is The Times pop music critic

This edition of the Guide, designed to keep up with what's fresh in pop music on a budget of $50 a month, is dominated by offspring--not the rock group, but three second-generation singer-songwriters: Jeff Buckley, Sean Lennon and Rufus Wainwright.

MAY

Jeff Buckley's "Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk" (Columbia). The son of '60s cult hero Tim Buckley and Mary Guibert (whose introduction to the record business was overseeing this posthumous project), Buckley was so wary of pop-rock convention and fame that he tended to hide his deeply introspective tales of youthful search and desire behind layers of musical haze. So it's no surprise that he was uncomfortable with Tom Verlaine's production work on the tracks that constitute the heart of this two-disc set. At the time of his accidental drowning in Memphis in 1997, Buckley was preparing to rerecord the tunes. Yet, it's the clarity and punch of these Verlaine versions that help bring out the promise of Buckley's rock-punctuated folk style, and they might have made Buckley a superstar if he had lived to promote them with a tour.

Sean Lennon's "Into the Sun" (Grand Royal). The son of John and Yoko sounds on first listening to be keeping his musical cards and feelings too close to the vest in this debut. But that's just the Beatles expectations getting in the way. Eventually, you realize that the tentative, sampler nature of "Sun"--the genres range from '60s pop-rock to country to samba--is simply the range and independence of an artist with the courage to greet us on his own terms. The theme is familiar (he too wants us to understand that all you need is love), but the artistic voice is personal and convincing.

Rufus Wainwright's "Rufus Wainwright" (DreamWorks). There's nothing held back in this invigorating debut by the son of singer-songwriters Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle. Wainwright possesses a remarkable number of musical weapons. He's a striking vocal stylist who injects enough personality into his songs to light up the cabaret circuit, and he's a writer who could have been the toast of New York during Broadway's most sophisticated era. There's a twinkle in the lush arrangements and sparkle in the words, but he still finds plenty of room amid the musical coloring to convey expressions of the temptation and torment of love that stick with you.

JUNE

Ozomatli's "Ozomatli" (ALMO Sounds). This L.A. band's lineup may not be solely Latin, but it's the Latin flavoring that makes Ozomatli's music so infectious. There's not the roots-rock, Band-like songwriting tradition of Los Lobos (to answer that question), but there is the joy of a great block party and the kind of unbending toast to the human spirit that makes the group a worthy descendant of Lobos.

Public Enemy's "He Got Game" (Def Jam). For anyone who saw "Hoop Dreams," there isn't much reason to sit through Spike Lee's new film, but Public Enemy reclaims its place at the creative center of rap with this soundtrack. It's not just that Chuck D can still dribble circles around the competition with raps that are smart and taut, but that the production is also state of the art. The title track incorporates pieces of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" with the grace of a three-point shot swishing through the net.

Smashing Pumpkins' "Adore" (Virgin). Billy Corgan is an easy target for hipsters because, like Prodigy, he refuses to walk a straight line musically. He's too ambitious and vain to stick to a single genre or image, so he reaches back for classic-rock elements at the same time he is exploring the latest developments, including a grinding, neo-industrial punctuation on this record. Mostly, though, he's reaching inside himself for musical coloring and themes (about loved ones found and taken from him) that are as consistently personal as anything he has given us in a Pumpkins album.

*

Robert Hilburn, the Times pop music critic, can be reached by e-mail at robert.hilburn@latimes.com

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