Such tunes as "Snakes in My Bushes" and "Lord Have Mercy" cross Zeppelin heaviness with Hendrix-esque agility. The pensive "Storm" broadens the mood and showcases the raspy-reedy harmonizing of Luther and Chew, who does some testifying himself on the Staple Singers' "Freedom Highway."
Still, there's something less joyously freewheeling about Luther's sprawling solos, a hallmark of the Allstars' stellar live shows. "51 Phantom" accurately captures the band's progress, but a concert remains the best way to appreciate its considerable skills.
\o7 Natalie Nichols \f7
* * * DUNGEON FAMILY "Even In Darkness" \o7 Arista\f7
Even though OutKast's commercial cachet exploded last year with its fourth album, "Stankonia," longtime fans knew that the Atlanta duo and the Dungeon Family hip-hop collective to which it belongs have been releasing the most progressive, innovative and striking brand of hip-hop since debuting in 1993. Partially because they're from the South, partially because they're so ahead of the curve, this visionary crew--which also includes Goodie Mob, Organized Noize and Cool Breeze, among others--rarely gets mentioned when the best hip-hop movements are discussed, hence their place in the "darkness" of the title.
With the long-awaited Dungeon Family album, the Georgia torchbearers again stretch the boundaries of hip-hop with daring production and equally provocative lyrics. Despite its strength, it isn't as much of a breakthrough as the best work of OutKast and Goodie Mob. Nonetheless, the brassy, party-starting "Crooked Booty" is one of the funkiest songs this side of Bootsy Collins, and Andre 3000 (of OutKast), Cee-Lo and Big Rube participate in the pointed philosophizing they're known for on the soulful "Rollin'."
* * 1/2 Dave Matthews Band, "Live In Chicago 12.19.98," RCA. Recorded well before Matthews paired up with hit producer Glen Ballard for last year's "Everyday" album, this two-CD set captures the band in its stretched-out, jam-minded prime. The faithful will revel in a sharply executed rock-funk-jazz melange that's nominally exotic without ever turning seriously challenging, and lyrically oblique enough to leave lots of room for interpretation. The unpersuaded will continue to wonder, "What's the fuss?"
\o7 Randy Lewis\f7
* * Kittie, "Oracle," Artemis. What makes a girl wanna scream like a man? For Canadian teenage nu-metaler Morgan Lander, it's classic yowling-from-the-abyss themes of betrayal and alienation. On Kittie's nerve-blistering sophomore collection, Lander mostly roars like Ms. Cookie Monster over slashing guitars and sister Mercedes' jackhammer drum beats. But on the few less ferocious tunes, her melodious singing imparts a gothic lushness. Blending Silverchair, Pantera and early Hole, this extremely aggressive album becomes a tedious blur to all but the faithful. It might make parents wonder what young women could be so angry about. But the little girls will understand.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.