Young voices on big charts

CD Reviews

May 14, 1998|By J.D. Considine FOLK Ana Egge


2& 3 Car Garage (Mercury 314 558 399)

LeAnn Rimes

Sittin' on Top of the World (Curb 77901)

Kids grow up so fast these days. One minute, they're singing around the house, then the next thing you know, they're on MTV and TNN and all over the charts.

Or so it must seem in the Hanson and Rimes households these days. Two years ago, both LeAnn Rimes and the three Hanson brothers were all but unknown outside their hometowns; now, they're teen pop stars with platinum albums to their credit.

Prolific pop stars, to boot. Rimes just released her fourth album in two years, "Sittin' on Top of the World," while Hanson has followed its million-selling "Middle of Nowhere" and Christmas albums with "3 Car Garage." In neither case is this plethora of product likely to be seen as glutting the market, as the audience for each act seems to have an inexhaustible interest in these teens' tunes.

That would almost have to be a necessity in the case of "3 Car Garage." Essentially a re-release of the group's out-of-print indie album, "MMMBop," the album offers a chance to turn back the clock and hear these kids when they were just, um, younger kids. Admittedly, the 11 songs included on the album do make a case for the trio's potential, but they also show just how much the group had to grow to make it to "Middle of Nowhere."

For one thing, the group had to learn to write. Sure, there are flashes of potential in these songs - notice how neatly the three work the harmonies in the chorus to "Thinking of You" - but elsewhere, they seem mired in cliche. "Surely As the Sun" is laughably boyish in its attempt to seem manly, while the treacly "Soldier" is interesting mainly for its hokey introduction.

Music historians hoping to chronicle the group's development will doubtless make much of the two "Garage" songs that later turned up on "Nowhere." Even in its nascent state, "MMMBop" is undeniably catchy, if unfocused (it's obvious that the Dust Brothers, who produced the hit version of the song, added more to the song than some turntable scratching).

Far more instructive, though, are the changes evident in "With You in Your Dreams." Unlike the desperately emotional "Nowhere" version, this early take comes across as self-conscious and stagy, sounding as if Isaac were paying closer attention to the shape of the melody than the sense of the lyrics.

If Hanson has opted for juvenalia this time out, Rimes' "Sittin' on Top of the World" seems intended to show how she has put away childish things. She's all dolled up on the album cover, looking far more mature than her 15 years, while the material finds her handling such adult emotions as lost love and romantic commitment.

There's no denying that she has voice enough to handle the sort of showy singing such songs demand. She powers through the honky-tonk cadences of "These Arms of Mine" with ease, while the way she belts out "Rock Me" is enough to make Linda Ronstadt seem like a meek-voiced mumbler.

As impressive though her pipes may be, Rimes is still a maddeningly unsatisfying performer. What made the great country singers of the past so compelling was their credibility; when they sang of heartache, happiness or betrayal, they made it sound as if they were sharing personal experiences with the listener.

Rimes, by contrast, seems to share only her fondness for showy singing. When she sings "When Am I Gonna Get Over You," she may as well be referring to a cold, while her version of "Purple Rain" completely misses the sorrow at the song's core. And it's downright creepy to hear this kid sing about wanting "someone who'll worship my body" in the song "Commitment."

Kids grow up too fast these days, that's for sure. And from the sound of "Sittin' on Top of the World," LeAnn Rimes needs to slow down and enjoy childhood while she still has it.

Hanson: *1/2

Rimes: **

River Under the Road (Lazy SOB 002)

Even with a crack band behind her, Austin artist Ana Egge delivers pro-forma country/folk on "River Under the Road." Her tunes are pleasant enough, but it's hard not to compare her affectless voice and uninspired lyrics to a country/folk classic like "Any Day Now," Joan Baez's inspired tribute to Bob Dylan, elevated to melodic poetry by ace Nashville musicians. Once in a while, Egge breaks out of her rut. "Talco Girl," for example, fools around with a bluesy feel that lends a refreshingly playful twist to an otherwise monotonous album. **

Stephanie Shapiro


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