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Sublime
Second Hand Smoke
Gasoline Alley/MCA

So what if Sublime's idea of a good time involved getting high, looting, driving drunk and -- in the case of deceased lead singer/songwriter Brad Nowell -- ultimately overdosing on heroin? Beneath the tattoos, beer stains and adolescent posturing is (or, more appropriately, was) some genuine talent. Eschewing the trend toward corporation-fabricated ska, this Long Beach, California, trio was the real item, swerving outside the lines with their slovenly punk mentality in a head-on collision of reggae, ska, hip-hop and hard core.

Second Hand Smoke, the second Sublime CD released in the wake of Nowell's death, is a mixed bag of tricks that chronicles Sublime's trajectory from the coiners of dispensable keg-party jingles such as "Chick on My Tip" to being something considerably more substantial, though no less irreverent. While Smoke gathers steam with the very '80s "New Realization" and the ballsy white-boy grind of "Get Out!" (which suggests the great pop band that Sublime might have been), "What's Really Goin' Wrong" dissolves into cheap, maxed-out Hendrix mayhem and "Trenchtown Rock" delivers uninspired Bob Marley. "Doin' Time," meanwhile, hints enticingly at a dub-inflected future that Sublime will never know. Such is the hodgepodge of good and bad that is the band's legacy.

If Sublime had continued to record without incident, this uneven collection of outtakes and remakes would probably have been relegated to the curiosity shelf. But given the success of Sublime, the debut that hit the stores following Nowell's death in the summer of 1996, the remaining members of the band probably thought that every casual listener would find this anticlimactic patchwork fascinating. In reality, Second Hand Smoke works better as a form of closure for the more serious fan. (** 1/2)

-- Stephen Gershon

Rhett Akins
What Livin's All About
Decca

There's been a lot of talk in music circles about the slump that commercial country music is in these days. One of the many problems is that it's become increasingly difficult to tell one male vocalist from another. With a voice that lacks any defining characteristics, Rhett Akins is one who falls into that faceless, sound-alike category. That some continue to confuse him with Trace Adkins pretty much says it all.

What Livin's All About is typical of what's coming out of Nashville these days. The music is well played, of course. After all, the same studio musicians who appear on just about every commercial release made in Music City put in appearances on this one as well. But the songs do nothing to distinguish Akins from the rest of the hat-act pack. They speak in weary cliches ("Ain't That Just Like a Woman," "I'm Finding Out (the Hard Way)") and never stray from tired formulas.

Akins's voice is supple and by no means offensive, and tunes such as "Better Than It Used to Be" and "She's Got Everything Money Can't Buy" do have a certain amount of Southern charm. But overall, What Livin's All About still falls into the same old lifeless rut. (** 1/2)

-- Jim Caligiuri

Timbaland and Magoo
Welcome to Our World
Blackground/Atlantic

If this is their world, then Timbaland and Magoo must be living like Hugh Hefner did in the 1960s -- or at least thinking like hormonally jacked 14-year-olds. Timbaland (who produced Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliot's critically lauded Supa Dupa Fly) and Magoo inhabit a world that revolves around sex: slow sex, fast sex, anonymous sex, kinky sex ... lots of kinky sex.

Welcome to Our World sets the mood with rubbery beats, warms the body with soulful background vocals, utilizes slow, sultry old-school R&B samples as aphrodisiacs and makes all the right vocal moves with guests Aaliyah, Missy Elliot and Ginuwine. More important, its bedroom technique doesn't come across as crotch-grabbing and posing -- it's more Isaac Hayes than Bobby Brown.

By and large, though, World is a success because of the way all of its little nuances add up to a seamless hip-hop package. With only an occasional sample that's recognizable (the Knight Rider theme song, for example), the disc is a throwback to the days when hip-hop was about creating something new rather than reworking proven formulas. Beats stutter and bounce off of one another without losing that cool, head-bobbing effect. They're straddled by a looped guitar riff here, a self-congratulatory lyric from Timbaland there.

What results owes its origins to a beaming self-confidence and an overwhelming sense of craft that never fails to put everything in its proper place, so that the music and the mood expand they way they should -- organically. (****)

-- David Simutis

Various Artists
Jackie Brown: Music from the Miramax Motion Picture
Maverick/A Band Apart

Regardless of how much you love or loathe Quentin Tarantino's directing, acting and/or musings on what passes for a Big Mac in other countries, you've got to hand it to the guy -- he assembles one hell of a soundtrack. Utilizing mostly obscure and long-forgotten tracks (supposedly hand-picked from his own record collection), Tarantino exhibits an impressive knack for choosing music that perfectly complements and, to an extent, comments on his movie's various characters, settings and moods. Perhaps only Martin Scorsese is Tarantino's equal in permanently altering perceptions by forcing you to visualize the film sequence in which a particular song was used. Just try thinking about the innocuous '70s hit "Stuck in the Middle with You" these days without cringing at the memory of the ear-slicing scene in Reservoir Dogs.

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