The Cranberries - To The Faithful Departed (Island Records):With their third release, the Cranberries prove their staying power. The Irish rock quartet has brought together an eclectic mix of 13 upbeat and soothing orchestral-sounding tunes. The melodies are stronger this time, and lead singer Dolores O'Riordian's voice is punchier, evident in the first single, "Salvation." A song about the band's anti-drug stance, O'Riordian sings: "To all the people doing lines don't do it/because it''s not not what it seems." Songs about war-torn countries ("Bosnia," and "Warchild") also have a strong presence on the album.
- Lisa Leigh Parney
Hootie & the Blowfish - Fairweather Johnson (Atlantic): These Southern rockers have produced a solid follow-up to their wildly popular, Grammy-winning "Cracked Rear View." The easy-going foursome again offer guitar-driven tunes and great harmonies - like those in "Tucker's Town" and "She Crawls Away." But this album is more subdued: Many of its songs will make you sway while you're contemplating their meanings. One exception is the short playful title track, which mocks sports fans who root only for teams that do well. Unchanged are the strong baritone vocals of Darius Rucker, who is backed by Nanci Griffith and members of Toad The Wet Sprocket on several songs.
- Kim Campbell
Moro - Amilucience (Budwick Music Company, Bodega Bay, Calif.): The guitar of Moro travels the world; a touch of flamenco, a hint of classics, some new world, and always gently expressive with warmth and romance. Moro calls it "Amilucience," a word as inventive and playful as most of the 20 solo tracks here written by him. He is at his best in "Firedancers," a rolling, incandescent romp, and the haunting "Serena." A resident of northern California since the 1970s, Moro has performed in more than 60 nations, and Time magazine once described him as "a one man Peace Corps."
- David Holmstrom