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Various Artists
Lilith Fair: A Celebration of Women in Music
Arista

When the ticket windows closed for the final time last fall, Lilith Fair had become the most successful festival tour of 1997, both financially and artistically. By then, Lilith founder Sarah McLachlan had gracefully ascended to the status of Wonderbra'd super-heroine, and the rotating lineup of 70 artists managed to impress many of the most cock-sure male rockers and jaded critics. If rock and roll can be likened to a boys-only clubhouse, it seems a handful of girls have finally figured out the secret knock.

Representing a healthy talent spectrum -- from seasoned vets to up-and-comers -- this 26-song, two-CD collection captures the best performances from that 35-city tour. As with any good concert experience, Lilith Fair highlights range from political fist-pumpers (the Indigo Girls' "Scooter Boys") to blissed-out Bic lighter moments (the Indigo Girls/McLachlan/Jewel rendition of the traditional Irish song "Water Is Wide"). Lowlights are few, the most glaring being the Cardigans' clunky "Been It" and Susanna Hoffs's uninspiring "Eternal Flame," both on the first disc.

Beyond the preponderance of acoustic-based singer/songwriter fare, there is a bit of spice. Both the haunting "Lama Dorje Chang" by Tibetan artist Yungchen Lhamo and Autour de Lucie's shimmery, French-language "Sur Tes Pas" show that groove and emotion can transcend one's understanding of lyrics. One of the few amped-up rockers, Meredith Brooks's "Wash My Hands," fails to convince -- only because it's placed smack dab in front of Patty Griffin's mighty "Cain," arguably the most moving three and a half minutes of the entire sampler. Like a book's satisfying final chapter, Victoria Williams's "Periwinkle Sky" closes the two-hour-and-20-minute set with her quirky, down-home charm.

With the exception of McLachlan's "Building a Mystery" and Joan Osborne's "Ladder," Lilith Fair is largely devoid of anything previously heard blaring out of car windows. Overall, that modest, anti-commercial strategy works to the collection's advantage. Credit producers McLachlan and Terry McBride for having the good sense to opt for the scenic, if not overly unfamiliar, route. (***)

-- Melissa Blazek

Sean Lennon
Into the Sun
Grand Royal

Just to get it out of the way for the Beatles fans: Sean is not the second coming of John but is definitely more in line with his dad's genius than half-brother Julian. On Into the Sun, Yoko's pride and joy steps out of the shadows with a scattershot release that has as much in common with his mother's bizarre, experimental work as it does with the Fab Four's pop sense.

Recorded for the Beastie Boys' Grand Royal label, Into the Sun is part jazz, part '70s-ish soft rock, part rootsy Americana, part hip-hop and largely intriguing. Minus the major matter of lineage, there wouldn't be nearly as much interest surrounding Lennon's debut outing. But those who dig the likes of Beck, Cibo Matto (with whom Lennon plays bass and whose Yuka Honda -- Lennon's girlfriend -- produced and inspired the album) and other quirky genre-hoppers will find much to appreciate here.

Into the Sun candidly shines light on Lennon's splayed creative paths. Rather than locking into one style, he experiments loosely and playfully. Like any good postmod kid, Lennon spans the globe in search of the perfect groove and the right mood. From the Casio keyboard beats and bossa-nova guitar on the title track to the instrumental jazz of "Photosynthesis," right on through to the alt-country-leaning "Part One of the Cowboy Trilogy" and the smooth-love vocals and muted acoustic guitar of "One Night," Sun is a long and winding road, but one with a wealth of sights along the way. No pressure here. (*** 1/2)

-- David Simutis

Superdrag
Head Trip in Every Key
Elektra

Now I get it; Superdrag is actually a pop band -- and a brilliant one, at that. More often than not, on 1996's Regretfully Yours, that fact failed to register. Between all the sawed-off power chords, teeth-gnashing jibes and singer/songwriter Josh Davis's fingernails-on-slate whine, this Knoxville quartet's potential was less than consistently obvious, its debt to the likes of Cheap Trick, the Beatles and fellow Tennesseans Big Star harder to peg.

Not so Head Trip in Every Key, on which Superdrag takes the hooks by the horns, so to speak, allowing the songs to breathe and the influences to work their derivative magic, letting beauty seep into the music's foundation and pad the rough edges when such concessions to the song are unavoidable. In some cases -- as on the lusciously orchestrated, scatterbrained ballad/epic "Amphetamine" -- such boisterous prettification is every bit the intention.

By and large, though, Superdrag's refined tendencies are usually countered by a blast of malfeasant guitar-rock credibility. The sweeping melancholia of "Amphetamine," for example, is immediately followed by "Bankrupt Vibration," an image-damning dismissal of the brutally cynical -- and cyclical -- alt-rock machinery that approaches the acidic, unbearable reproach of the Regretfully hit "Sucked Out." "Jumping out of the window / I know the name of the game," Davis mewls over a self-consciously drab and repetitive mock-grunge lick. "Any rock and roll star is a pitiful shame."

And yet, surrounded by the frayed sonic ambition of the bulk of Head Trip, the occasional crabby digression is not only permissible but wonderfully ironic; it's as if Superdrag is spoofing it own once-trendy aspirations. "Mr. Underground," another cheeky ode to success's fleeting glow ("How does it feel to be one of the novelties / You can ask me") is a horn-drenched hoot with a razor-sharp aftertaste -- as is the first single, "Do the Vampire," though minus the bouncy brass. "She Is a Holy Grail" does a number on Davis's limited pipes, layering them into a soothing aural elixir worthy of the Beach Boys' best vocal moments, then slapping on distant Mellotron and a groggy flamenco guitar signature to alternately spacy and exotic effect.

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