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Pop Music | Record Rack

This Time, Lynne Lightens Up

November 11, 2001

* * * SHELBY LYNNE, "Love, Shelby", Island

The Shelby Lynne chat rooms are going to be blazing as soon as this album hits the stores Tuesday, with fans debating the shift from the dark, tormented sound of last year's "I Am Shelby Lynne" to the lighter, far more radio-friendly tone of this one.

Much of the credit--or blame--for the difference will go to songwriter-producer Glen Ballard, who is best known for his work with Alanis Morissette. But the strong-willed Lynne has said in interviews that she had no interest in repeating the anguish that she poured into "I Am Shelby Lynne."

In that collaboration with producer Bill Bottrell, she sang about being so wounded by a relationship that she was "lookin' up for the next thing that brings me down." It was such a forceful, uncompromising slice of Southern country-rock-soul that it was widely compared to Dusty Springfield's 1969 classic "Dusty in Memphis" album.

Actually, this album is closer in many ways to the wider emotional range of the latter, and Lynne's soulful singing remains its alluring anchor.

Unlike the desperate feel of music made by someone who has spent months in isolation, this music opens the drapes. "Trust Me" and the especially wistful "Wall in Your Heart" are expressions of comfort and support.

That doesn't mean everything is sunny. "Jesus on a Greyhound" is a stirring tale of a mystical encounter that showcases Nashville-style storytelling ("He told me some stories/I told him some lies"). There's also considerable longing and ache in "I Can't Wait" and especially in the bold remake of John Lennon's "Mother," which has been a highlight of Lynne's live shows.

"Love, Shelby" would be a less jarring--and perhaps more compelling--follow-up to "I Am Shelby Lynne" if the musical framing were edgier, accentuating more of the underlying tension in her singing. Still, it leaves no doubt that the Grammy voters were right in naming her the best new artist last year. She remains a singer-songwriter of outstanding command.

Robert Hilburn

*1/2, JEWEL, "This Way", Atlantic

On her third album, Jewel rummages through vocal affectations the way one of her young fans might tear through a rack of outfits in a boutique. Crystalline, high and pure one moment, slurry and earthy the next. Now little-girl breathy, then raspy and semi-spoken. Abrupt falsettos and syllable-splitting, Springsteen clenches and Shania twangs strafe the album.

Rather than versatility and range, this motley wardrobe represents the artistic cluelessness that has drawn critical barbs ever since the singer's debut album, "Pieces of You," made her the pin-up poet of the high school set. "This Way" marks small advances over that and 1998's "Vision," but mainly it's like being stuck at an endless coffeehouse open-mike night.

Given her limitations, which also prominently include the thinness of her timbre and the wanness of her warble, Jewel is best off when she's over the top, as on the rock-riffing, finger-cymbal-ringing exotica hodgepodge "Serve the Ego," or the Janis Joplin-channeling "Love Me, Just Leave Me Alone."

A little-engine-that-could spunk keeps the surface in motion, things moving, but it's inert underneath.

Richard Cromelin

* * 1/2, SHAKIRA, "Laundry Service", Epic

With the crossover hopes of the entire Latin pop world apparently hanging on her first English-language album (in stores Tuesday), the 24-year-old Colombian star can't be blamed for taking her time in making the 13-track collection, which features eight tunes in English. After all, she had to learn to write and sing her own lyrics in a foreign tongue. But there are other pitfalls in this nevertheless compelling introduction to the U.S. mainstream.

Shakira's musical persona melds a feisty-yet-feminine demeanor and quirky pop-rock songs with a wide range of familiar influences. Although polished, the production is rarely overly slick. The songs convey love's bliss, demands, insecurities, endurance, heartbreak, etc. Yet she and various co-writers and co-producers are so intent on providing something for everyone that you can't clearly hear what she's about.

Only the anti-drug "Poem to a Horse" sounds vaguely like Alanis Morissette, to whom Shakira is often compared. The rest is a lightweight mix of angular, new-wave-pop such as "Objection (Tango)," offbeat amalgams of '80s-era Madonna-style dance and U2-esque guitar rock ("Ready for the Good Times"); and Beatles-flavored ballads such as "The One." Various Arabic and Latin touches, as well as bits of R&B and strings and things, add unique flavor.

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