And why does it sound so much like it belongs there? -- Jim Sherman


If you're looking for comforting assurance that Alex Lifeson's Victor is not the most ill-conceived vanity project since David Bowie oiled up his Tin Machine, don't expect to find it here. Even for die-hard Rush devotees (for those who aren't, Lifeson is the brainy Canadian power trio's guitarist), this clattering morass of multifaceted predictability will be hard to swallow. Though this 11-song yawner sometimes has the experimental feel of a solo project, Lifeson's slapdash assemblage of competent studio musicians -- along with the mandatory guests (among them Primus' Les Claypool and I Mother Earth vocalist Edwin) -- is meant to impress upon us that Victor is a group effort. He even left his name off the cover of the CD, which, in hindsight, was not such a bad idea: one person wouldn't want to take all the credit for this hyper-indulgent, preachy mess.

If the planets maintain their proper orbits, Victor shouldn't outlast its tepid reviews. Then again, if by some wonder of physics the thing sells more than 50,000 copies, expect a sequel brimming with more cringe-inducing lines such as "Do it hard -- make me free" and "Victor was a little boy, into the world he came / His father took him on his knee and said: 'Don't dishonor the family name.' " God, where's Neil Peart when you need him? -- Hobart Rowland

Jerry Lightfoot and the Essentials
Burning Desire
Conner Ray Records

Jerry Lightfoot's voice may lack the range and expressiveness needed for him to be considered a great blues vocalist, but this in no way keeps his self-produced Burning Desire from being both an enjoyable milestone in his career and an important chapter in the history of Houston blues.

Lightfoot's strongest talents are as a guitarist, songwriter and band leader. Few lineups have been shaped as carefully as the Essentials, and the smooth interaction between Lightfoot's guitar, the refreshingly restrained harmonica of Steve "Satch" Krase and the pure Texas blues boogie of pianist Robert "Pee Wee" Stephens repays Lightfoot's painstaking structuring in dividends. The guest talent isn't particularly shabby, either. Bert Wills loans both his "You Gotta Rock" -- a selection enlivened with backup vocals from Eugene Moody -- and a rhythm guitar that meshes seamlessly with Lightfoot's lead. Grady Gaines, Joe "Guitar" Hughes and the divine Trudy Lynn provide the super-chunk sweeteners in this home-baked labor of love, while longtime Lightfoot mentor Big Walter "The Thunderbird" Price's "The Preacher Walks and Sings the Blues" is a bonus track without compare. "Someone's Doggin' My Baby," "Lost in the Shuffle" and "Night Train (From Oakland)" are Lighfoot's testimony that everyday life is weird enough to give anybody the blues. That message alone is delivered forcefully enough -- albeit in a voice reminiscent of a somewhat gravelly East Texas highway -- to keep Burning Desire on my rotation list for the foreseeable future. -- Jim Sherman

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