Various Artists
Till the Night Is Gone: A Tribute to Doc Pomus

It says a lot about the dubiousness of the form that Till the Night Is Gone is at the same time one of the least typical and yet most appropriate tribute albums now out. Atypical, because it's not designed to cash in on its subject's name or promote new artists with little connection to the material. Appropriate, because Doc Pomus was a songwriter, and so his songs were made to be re-recorded and interpreted. Fitting, as well, because featured performers such as Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Dion, B.B. King and Dr. John were all truly friends, associates and admirers of Pomus. The warmth and affection that reverberates through Till the Night makes it a celebration worth hearing.

Though the adult-minded salute makes no overt attempt at exposing new listeners to Pomus songs, it does display the entire spectrum of his wares. Best known for co-writing (with Mort Shuman) late '50s/early '60s hits by everyone from the Drifters to Elvis, Pomus penned smart songs for a simpler time, including playful romps such as "Young Blood" (done here by the Band), spine-chilling gospel such as "There Must Be a Better World Somewhere" (by Irma Thomas), made-to-order kitsch such as "Viva Las Vegas" (redone humorlessly by Shawn Colvin) and heavy-duty blues such as "Lonely Avenue" (grittily remade by Los Lobos). There's no weak link in Till the Night's 14 tracks; even Lou's jarring Reed-ification of "This Magic Moment" grows on you. And while album proceeds go to aid needy R&B musicians -- a cause Pomus worked on until his death in 1991 -- ultimately, the listener is the true beneficiary of Till the Night, a tribute as earnest and classy as the man it honors.

-- Roni Sarig

Paul Kelly
Wanted Man

The remarkably universal appeal of Paul Kelly's songwriting is evident in the concluding lines of "You're Still Picking the Same Sore" from his new Wanted Man CD. There's not a social circle in existence that doesn't contain at least two people described by "I think I'll get together all your friends and me / and we'll buy a boat and send you off to sea. / And you can sail that ship to a far off distant shore / and keep on fighting evermore. / And there'll be no one there for you to bore / and you can both keep picking the same sore."

The 13 songs on this release -- all written or co-written by Kelly -- are filled with similar nuggets of humanity. "Just Like Animals" explores lust as the single most important factor in a relationship with unsettling frankness, while the line, "I never heard a love song yet that I could call yours and mine," from "Love Never Runs on Time" can land on the romantically confused like a sucker-punch to the gut. Vanguard's vague packaging hints at a conviction that the words of this apparently Australian artist are strong enough to stand alone -- there's no information about Kelly in the liner notes, and the usual practice of listing sidemen by instrument and song is omitted in favor of "Players (in alphabetical order)." It's a little frustrating to not be able to mention the name of the harmonica player who sounds like a Bob Dylan who spent time on Chicago's South Side en route from Hibbing to Manhattan, but Kelly's lyrics are the meat and potatoes of Wanted Man, and everything else is just very tasty gravy.

-- Jim Sherman

Count Bass D
Pre-Life Crisis

With other rappers "trying to be 3Pac and Spice 2 / what's an original M.C. to do?" Count Bass D wonders on his debut Pre-Life Crisis. Answer: they do exactly what Count does here; that is, scoop up new flavors without regard to what the rest are serving. Hence Count comes up with one of the more lyrically inventive and musically developed menus in recent memory -- a poppy hip-hop treat that takes notes from Biz Markie's dictionary of cultural references and trades in Arrested Development's Southern-fried grooves. He plays the dozens and the Name Game with equal relish, then slips bits of "Frere Jacques" and "Rosanna" into his sing-song patter, and all the while trips through laid-back verses like a top-flight Bronx battler.

What's more, Count constructs a solid mellow funk band around his own bass, drums and piano playing, along with Mark Nash's smooth guitar. Tracks such as "Broke Thursday," "Agriculture" and "Sandwiches" are at least as song-oriented as Basehead ditties, and more true to hip-hop. With humor his top priority, Count Bass D's Pre-Life Crisis sounds more like the time of his life.

-- Roni Sarig

Mad Season

Composed of members from three Seattle heavyweights -- Alice in Chains (vocalist Layne Staley), Pearl Jam (guitarist Mike McCready) and Screaming Trees (drummer Barrett Martin) -- plus bassist John Baker Saunder of Minneapolis' Lamont Cranston -- the side-project group Mad Season is, at least as far as alternative rock is concerned, highly marketable. But if the tracks on their debut release, Above, are representative of the sum of Mad Season's parts, then the band members should consider sticking to their own original groups. Above comes off more as a jam session than as a solid effort by a band. For the most part, the CD is plagued by overindulgent guitars and run-of-the-mill bass and drums; Staley's lyrics are as morose as ever, but his vocals just don't have the drive they do on Alice in Chains' efforts. The only song that really works is the somber "River of Deceit." The droning "I Don't Know Anything" is very Alice in Chains-ish and could be a decent tune, if it would lose the annoying guitar solos. And "Wake Up" seems like some sort of joke, considering that it's the first song on the disc; the seven-minute-plus piece is definite nap-time music. This is disappointingly bland stuff; fans of the "Seattle sound" should save their money for the next Pearl Jam or Alice in Chains release -- it certainly can't be worse than Above.

-- Joe Hon

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Joe Hon
Roni Sarig
Jim Sherman