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So, yes, the man once in line to be the new Elvis tends to remake the same songs again and again. But they're not bad. Unambitious, but definitely not bad. Maybe someday, Isaak will prove he was worth the fuss all along. In the meantime, we can sit back and enjoy the past today.

-- Melissa Blazek

Local H
Pack of Cats
Island

News flash: Grunge has gone to the worms. Now, say it for me over and over -- and say it with feeling, in case someone's not listening.

Apparently, Local H has some nasty wax buildup. On its burly, boring second album, Pack Up the Cats, the resourceful, ebony-and-ivory pair (one plays drums, the other sings and plays both guitar and bass) continues to kick out the flannel-lined jams in admirable, sophomore-sludge fashion. It's as if the ghost of Cobain himself were listening over their shoulders.

Who knows? Maybe he is, and maybe he's proud. Most likely, though, he'd be forwarding them an urgent memo from beyond if he could. Its contents might read something along the lines of: Sorry guys. Not even a happy communing with other genres (rap, metal, punk) and a decent sense of humor is gonna resuscitate this stiff. -- Love Always, Kurt. P.S. Word of advice: Never toy with the Who again.

-- Hobart Rowland

Allison Moorer
Alabama Song
MCA

Allison Moorer has been turning a few heads lately. She caught the eye of Robert Redford, for one; he was so impressed with "A Soft Place to Fall," a song she wrote that was included on The Horse Whisperer soundtrack, that he cast her in his film. As it happens, Shelby Lynn's younger sister possesses not only a sultry voice genetically programmed for singing country music, but the talent to write ten of the 11 tracks on her debut, Alabama Song, a truly rare feat in Nashville these days.

Those familiar with Moorer from her work with alt-country vagabond Lonesome Bob are in for a bit of a surprise here. Sonically, Alabama Song falls closer to the work of Patty Loveless or Bonnie Raitt than that of any C&W punk. Yet it deftly maintains an edge most other country artists can't approach. Moorer exhibits several sides, getting sassy on the bluesy "Set You Free," mournful on the starkly beautiful "Is Heaven Good Enough for You" and vengeful on the honky-tonking "The One That Got Away (Got Away with My Heart)."

Moorer achieves the moods she creates without resorting to hackneyed images or trite lyrical novelties, a clue to her enormous abilities as a writer and performer. That's a startling accomplishment for a new artist, and it easily makes Alabama Song country music's debut of the year.

-- Jim Caligiuri

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