LAST OF THE INDEPENDENTS
Pretenders (Sire 45572) There's no denying that it's Chrissie Hynde's sensibility that shapes the musical identity of the Pretenders. But it's a mistake to assume simply because Hynde calls the shots that the Pretenders is some kind of solo project. Those may be her songs, but what you hear on "Last of the Independents" is the sound of a band at work, from the beautifully blurred textures of "Hollywood Perfume" to the razor-edged groove of "Money Talk." Granted, Hynde's voice counts for a lot -- it's hard to imagine another singer concocting the perfect cocktail of wit and rage for "I'm a Mother," much less offering such a strikingly unsentimental rendering of Dylan's "Forever Young" -- but without the band's handy distillation of rock tradition and punk moxie, it would be hard to imagine her as successfully navigating the sexual politics of "977" or the retro exuberance of "Rebel Rock."
Jimi Hendrix (MCA 10602)
Anyone who has ever listened closely to the music of Jimi Hendrix has to be aware of the blues current that runs beneath his work. But for the most part, the blues content in his music was more implicit than explicit, and that's one reason the performances collected on "Blues" are such a revelation. Not only do most of these tracks appear in print for the first time here, but they display the full range of Hendrix's knowledge of the blues, from the playful country blues of "Hear My Train A Comin' (acoustic)," to the rambling psychedelia of "Voodoo Chile Blues." Best of all, his treatment of traditional blues tunes, such as Albert King's "Born Under a Bad Sign" or the Muddy Waters/Bo Diddley classic "Mannish Boy," illustrates how much he drew upon the work of blues greats and how completely he transformed those influences.
TEN FEET TALL AND BULLETPROOF
Travis Tritt (Warner Bros. 45603)
None of country's younger generation have embodied the Outlaw mystique as completely as Travis Tritt. From the hell-raising sentiment of his songs to the butt-kicking sound of his guitar, his best work rocks as hard as Lynyrd Skynyrd while still sounding as country as Merle Haggard. But it's hard to walk a line like that and still maintain good relations with country radio, and as such, there's a distinct scent of compromise to "Ten Feet Tall and Bulletproof." Some of it, such as the all-star "Outlaws Like Us" (with cameos by Hank Williams Jr. and Waylon Jennings) or the gritty "No Vacation from the Blues," ranks among his best work yet. But such tracks as "Walking All Over My Heart" or the hokey "Southern Justice" sound less like the product of inspiration than the result of marketing meetings, and that's not a good sign.
AT THE DEER HEAD INN
Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Paul Motian (ECM 1531)
Any half-decent jazz pianist can pull a passable solo from "Stella By Starlight" or "On Green Dolphin Street," but it takes real XTC imagination to build a strong solo from something as corny as "Basin Street Blues." Yet that's exactly what Keith Jarrett does on "At Deer Head Inn." Working with a supple and inventive rhythm section -- bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Paul Motian -- in an unusually intimate environment, Jarrett plays with an inspired blend of freedom and structure, an approach that allows him to virtually reinvent the tunes without ever losing the listener en route. Needless to say, it's also exquisitely played, but by now, that's almost a given with Jarrett.