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Published Sep. 10, 2005

NUGGETS II, ORIGINAL ARTYFACTS FROM THE BRITISH EMPIRE AND BEYOND, 1964-1969 (RHINO) In 1998 the reissue specialist label Rhino released the original Nuggets box set featuring delicious, albeit obscure American garage rock. That four-disc collection was a surprise smash, blowing away critics and fans. Rather than mine for more American gold to compile Nuggets II, Rhino chose to dig in different soil to come up with Original Artyfacts From the British Empire and Beyond, 1964-1969.

So, you'd think with 109 tunes over four discs, you'd recognize some of these songs? Don't be so sure. Die-hard collectors and music freaks can sing along on first spin, but very quickly after that, the rest of us can join in on the chorus. This is infectious stuff.

Do you miss energy and recklessness in today's rock? Nuggets II, with its sinfully good British R&B, freakbeat, psychedelia and international fuzzy garage rock, bursts with the wild abandon gone from today's chart-topping acts.

Check out the Creation's opening cut Making Time, and admit it, you never heard this tune until you caught it on the Rushmore soundtrack. Other songs are scrumptious one-hit wonders: The Easybeats' Friday on My Mind, Status Quo's Pictures of Matchstick Men, Tomorrow's My White Bicycle. Some names ring a bell: the Small Faces, Them, the Move, the Troggs, the Guess Who and future ELO'er Jeff Lynne. But those fellas are the collection's "stars." Other cult faves, such as South American psych-freaks Os Mutantes and Japan's Mops, add international weirdness.

A 100-page glossy booklet with terrific pics and liner notes, courtesy of Bomp editor Greg Shaw, alone is worth the $64.98. At the very least, you may discover a new favorite band. Write fan letters. Guaranteed, these guys never got much mail. A

_ GINA VIVINETTO, Times pop music critic

MELISSA ETHERIDGE, SKIN (ISLAND) Back in her heyday Melissa Etheridge rocked hard, with a soulful, gritty voice and a tough-as-nails attitude. Now in her 40s, a mother and "divorced" from her longtime partner Julie Cypher, Etheridge has mellowed out considerably.

No longer is she lusting after women, wanting them to "come to (her) window" as one of her hit songs once professed. After listening to Skin, Etheridge's latest, one realizes that Etheridge has made peace with herself and is comfortable in her own skin.

The 10 tracks on Skin reflect her newfound solitude, but they're surprisingly positive. Lacking the edge of her previous records, Etheridge sounds worn out on several songs. The conflicting textures and murmurs of the dark The Difference become a sonic collage of hurt. Also, Walking on Water wears too thin after only one chorus. The only track somewhat reminiscent of Etheridge's older material is the beseeching Lover Please, which jump starts the disc with punchy drums and fierce guitar strumming. Etheridge sings "Answer my prayer/and answer the phone/think twice about it baby" with a sexual swagger to her voice. The breakup-themed Down to One, a liberating tune, rounds out the album's catchy fare. B

_ BRIAN ORLOFF, Times correspondent

CHEB MAMI, DELLALI (MONDO MELODIA) Although his name might not be familiar, Cheb Mami won a huge audience in 1999 singing the Arabic counter-melody to Sting's hit Desert Rose.

Now the French-Algerian "prince" of the northern African music called rai has released his fifth solo recording with an eye toward keeping the fans he gained. Blending his distinctive, wailing voice and instruments indigenous to his part of the world with the funky sound of American jazz fusion _ Nile Rodgers (Chic, David Bowie) lends his electric guitar and producing skills, Omar Hakim (Weather Report, Miles Davis) steps in on drums _ Mami gives it his best shot.

The music is addictive, offering both danceable, pulsing Middle Eastern rhythms and plaintive, choir- and chamber orchestra-backed ballads. Even if you can't understand Mami's French lyrics of love and longing (all translated in the CD liner notes), you can't help but enjoy his voice as a soaring instrument on its own.

This is a world beat worth hearing. A-

JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times staff writer

VARIOUS ARTISTS, JAMAICA (PUTUMAYO WORLD MUSIC) It's hard to beat the nirvana of a summer afternoon spent lazing on a snorkeling boat in Montego Bay, soaking up the scorching August sun and enjoying tropical rum drinks and reggae, among other homegrown delights. Back here on Planet Everyday, there's a new, beautifully packaged compilation from the Putumayo folks to remind us of the island's musical pleasures.

The disc, Jamaica, is an appealingly programmed collection of classic and contemporary reggae. Bob Marley isn't here, but other familiar artists and tunes are, including Toots and the Maytals' R&B-drenched Reggae Got Soul, the sociopolitical punch and slow-burning groove of Culture's Why Am I a Rastaman, Jimmy Cliff's horns-punched Give the People What They Want, Black Uhuru's Sponji Reggae and Peter Tosh's Mystery Babylon. Trombonist Rico Rodriguez (the Specials) and harmony trio Israel Vibration are among several lesser-known notables heard over the 11 tracks, along with two artists who died in 1999, bluesy singer Joe Higgs and melodica player Augustus Pablo. They give good vibes. B+

_ PHILIP BOOTH, Times correspondent