As Lennox reinvents the old, Ronstadt returns to the familiar

March 17, 1995|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

MEDUSA

Annie Lennox (Arista 25717)

Even though it may not seem as if there's anything original about releasing an album of cover songs, that isn't always the case. Just look at what Annie Lennox has done with the 10 tunes she collected for "Medusa." Though some titles are so familiar they would seem to defy reinterpretation, Lennox and collaborator Stephen Lipson somehow put a new spin on almost every oldie. Among the more amazing are "No More 'I Love Yous'," a largely ignored number by the Lover Speaks that Lennox presents as the hit it should have been; the Clash hit "Train in Vain," which not only brings a jazzy swagger to those familiar cadences but finally lets the listener in on the lyrics; and the Temptations' "I Can't Get Next to You," which trades the bombast of the original for an arrangement that cuts to the heart of the song's romantic desperation. But even when she sticks close to the original, as with Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale" or the Blue Nile's "Downside Lights," her lustrous singing still makes the songs shine.

FEELS LIKE HOME

Linda Ronstadt (Elektra 61703)

If the Eagles reunion wasn't indication enough that the So-Cal rock of the '70s was coming back into vogue, along comes Linda Ronstadt with "Feels Like Home." After experimenting with everything from new wave to norteno ballads, Ronstadt's return to her country rock roots will strike some fans as the best move she's made in 15 years. But what ultimately makes "Feels Like Home" feel so familiar is the insight and illumination she brings the material. It's a pleasure to hear how easily she finds the bluegrass strain in Tom Petty's "The Waiting," and even more delightful to savor the trio harmony she, Valerie Carter and Emmylou Harris lavish on Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush." Still, it's the magic she works with less familiar fare -- songs like the Carter Family classic "Lover's Return," or Randy Newman's mournfully beautiful title tune -- that makes this album truly worth seeking.

BAND OF GYPSYS

Jimi Hendrix (Capitol 96414)

Although a digital version of Jimi Hendrix's "Band of Gypsys" has been available in Europe for more than a decade, the CD has only just been released in this country. Considering how long it was delayed, you might think that the American edition of "Band of Gypsys" would be something memorable, right? Well, guess again. True, the sound is a little crisper than the European version, and the booklet is closer in design to the original LP packaging. Beyond that, though, nothing has changed -- which no doubt leaves hard-core Hendrix fans wondering what on earth was responsible for the delay. Even so, it's great to have the album back in print, as it represents some of the funkiest Hendrix on disc, from the slinky, rambling "Who Knows" to the band's graceful, groovy run through "Changes."

ELASTICA

Elastica (DGC 24728)

Given how unexceptional every other bright new British rock act of the last few years has been, the fact that Elastica is so ballyhooed by the British music press ought to have American listeners approaching the band with caution, if not outright suspicion. To its credit, though, "Elastica" lives up to much of the hype. Admittedly, the band relies a tad too much on vintage punk (Pretenders, Buzzcocks, Blondie), and its lean, functional arrangements don't always offer the songs as much support as they could. But when everything clicks, as it does on the cheery "Smile," the bouncy, infectious "Car Song" or the sly, catchy "Waking Up," Elastica really does seem like a band that could make Americans believe the hype.

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