Catatonia: International Velvet (Warner Bros./Vapor Recordings) _ U.K. group Catatonia's most powerful asset is singer Cerys Matthews, whose angry voice is a Welsh-accented cross between Bjork and Courtney Love. Melodic pop tunes and strong American cultural influences resound on International Velvet, an album that also pays homage to Catatonia's Welsh heritage. Several tunes off the album would make great singles, but none better than the appealing, angst-driven love song which invokes America's two favorite FBI agents, Mulder and Scully, 7214.
Gillian Welch: Hell Among the Yearlings (Almo Recordings) _ Other potential titles for Welch's second album included Ox in the Mud, Rats in the Fence Corner and Trouble Amongst the Bovines, none of which quite grasped the bleak, tortured nuances of the winning entry: Hell Among the Yearlings. Her 1996 debut, Revival, renewed interest in stark, Appalachian bluegrass music, and now Hell Among the Yearlings looks to pack quite a punch. Not only is it every bit as somber as the last album, but most of the songs are duets with partner David Rawlings and the songwriting is as bloody as ever. Welch _ with twangy guitar playing and her accented, proletarian voice _ conjures foggy Appalachian mountain valleys studded with whiskey stills and rural folk. Not so much Aaron Copland as Deliverance. The music enchants, the undertones threaten. Caleb Meyer, the first song on the album, is a narrative about cutting the throat of a rapist. Blood, fear, religion and sexual tension run through this primitive and melancholy recording. Welch's hell is even more frightening because she sees it through a child's eyes. Caleb Meyer, 7215.
Compiled by CHRISTOPHER BLANK
The Squirrel Nut Zippers: Perennial Favorites (Mammoth) Grade B _ With its third, long-awaited LP, The Zippers remain true to their increasingly popular sound on Perennial Favorites. After their last album, Hot, became an unexpected hit in the Hot Jazz category, the band's feverish tempos and clever lyricism became widely requested in swing clubs. As in past recordings, Perennial Favorites has the familiar live sound, with songs that move like a rickety Model-T puttering down a rutted dirt road _ loud, clunky and undeniably fun. Singer Katherine Whalen sounds a little more like herself than Billie Holiday on this album. At least one song bears a strong resemblance to the Zippers' breakthrough single, Hell. Wry humor and easy, swinging tunes are still the band's staple, but it is the eclectic sound that makes the music sparkle. Flipping styles and tempos _ from tango, to march, and back to swing _ the Zippers run the gamut. Infectious minor keys and weary gallows humor make Perennial Favorites somewhat darker, less catchy, but more unified as a whole than the band's last album. Diversity keeps the Zippers fresh. The Suits are Picking up the Bill, 1033.
CHRISTOPHER BLANK, Times correspondent
The Prissteens: Scandal, Controversy & Romance (Almo Sounds) Grade: B _ On its debut album, Scandal, Controversy & Romance, the Prissteens give special thanks to "the bartenders at the Lakeside Lounge," which is appropriate, since they sound like a good-time bar band. However, unlike many bar bands, the lyrics are intelligible, and the band, led by vocalist Lori Yorkman, makes this album compelling. Yorkman certainly has personality. She vamps unabashedly throughout, emoting with rough confidence. Her attitude and raspy voice combine with the lyrics to give the songs a sexual and humorous edge. On one track she slyly protests, "What's she got, that I don't got on me." But Yorkman's real strength is her ability to use personality and tone to shift the conventional power balance of relationship songs, thereby keeping her songs fresh and intriguing. Behind Yorkman, the band is tight and has verve, but the music lacks texture and originality. The playing is capable and demonstrates a variety of styles and influences, from punk to pop and post-grunge, but the band fails to fuse or elevate any of these into something truly impressive. In the end, Yorkman's presence _ her playfulness, confidence, and emotion _ makes this album refreshing and undoubtedly keeps the bar rockin'. Going out Tonight, 7216.
R.M. GERDES, Times correspondent
NEW NEXT WEEK
Hooverphonic: Blue Wonder Powder Milk (Epic)
Primus: Rhinoplasty (Interscope)
Liz Phair: whitechocolatespaceegg (Matador/Capitol)
They Might Be Giants: Severe Tire Damage (Restless)
Luther Vandross: I Know (Virgin)
Dishwalla: And You Think You Know What Life's About (A&M)
King T: Thy Kingdom Come (Aftermath/Interscope)
Tuck & Patti: Paradise Found (Windham Hill)
Vince Gill: The Key (MCA)
The Wilkinsons: Nothing but Love (Giant)
Emmylou Harris & Spyboy: Spyboy (Eminent)
Chris Jones: Follow Your Heart (Rebel)
John Klemmer: Makin' Love (Chicago)
Christian McBride: A Family Affair (Verve)
Johnny Adams: Man of My Word (Rounder)
Joe Louis Walker: Preacher and the President (Verve)
Roomful of Blues: There Goes the Neighborhood (Bullseye Blues & Jazz)
Jethro Tull: Original Masters (DCC)
Crystal Waters: Best of (Mercury)
Lou Rawls: When You Hear Lou, You've Heard It All (Right Stuff)
Saigon Kick: Best of (Mayhem)
Bob Marley: Soul Rebel (Pegasus)
The Strawbs: Halcyon Days: The Classic Years 1968-1975 (A&M)
_ Compiled by CHRISTOPHER BLANK