Jonny Lang - Lie to Me (A&M Records): Jonny Lang doesn't need to play guitar. His mature, textured vocals could earn him a job fronting any number of blues, R&B, or even soul bands. So when you add his versatile guitar playing to the picture, you begin to see why this youngster is creating a buzz. Lang's first CD, "Lie to Me," shows him equally adept at electric blues - from the standards "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" and "Match Box," with its staccato bursts of treble la Albert Collins, to the title cut's modern Stevie Ray Vaughan-style blues rock, complete with wah-wah. Especially fun is "Rack 'Em Up," in which Lang sandwiches a swinging trombone solo with some jazzy, uptown guitar. The CD closes with Lang revealing even more talent as he slips into a convincingly funky "There's Got to Be a Change," followed by the slow ballad "Missing Your Love."
- Jef Scoville
Gene Autry - Sing Cowboy Sing: The Gene Autry Collection (Rhino): This lavish box set is the most comprehensive collection yet of the work of the movies' quintessential singing cowboy (he made more than 100 films). Autry is best known for such classics as "Yellow Rose of Texas," "Tumblin' Tumbleweeds," and "Back in the Saddle Again," but this three-CD set includes 81 other songs encompassing his lengthy career. It includes rare and previously unreleased tracks, many taken from his enormously popular radio show of the '40s and '50s. A cultural icon, Autry was also a sophisticated country crooner whose relaxed, unaffected style is still a pleasure to listen to.
- Frank Scheck
Oscar Peterson & Various Artists - A Tribute to Oscar Peterson (Telarc): Legendary pianist Oscar Peterson is honored and heard on a 13-track live performance recorded at Manhattan's Town Hall. Joined by such jazz luminaries as Milt Jackson, Shirley Horn, and Tony Bennett, Peterson sounds strong. Pianist Benny Green, a Peterson protg, sat down at another piano and joined his mentor for an exciting two-piano version of "Reunion Blues" and "If You Only Knew." Peterson uses a rhythm section that includes bassists Ray Brown, drummer Lewis Nash, and guitarist Herb Ellis. Trumpeter Clark Terry "sings" and plays an exuberant version of his classic "Mumbles."
- Dick Bogle
Fiona Apple - Tidal (Work/Clean Slate/Sony): She is the new "it" girl, Fiona Apple - the teenager with the sinewy voice. "Shadowboxer," "Sleep to Dream," and "The Child Is Gone" are just a few of her songs wafting across the airwaves proving that dreamy, moody music from an ingnue-cum-torch singer indeed crosses genres - if it's done by the right person. Singing "I've got my feet on the ground and don't go to sleep to dream," Apple puts forth a conviction that lays interesting groundwork for her future. Kudos goes to producer Andrew Slater, who presents Apple's promise so exquisitely.
- Kirsten Conover
Rosemary Clooney - Mothers and Daughters
(Concord): Vocalist Rosemary Clooney pays tribute with song to all the women in her family. One doesn't have to remember Clooney had her 50-year career of dazzling audiences to appreciate what she is doing today. Clooney embraces such chestnuts as "God Bless the Child," "Sisters," "Baby Mine," and "Thank Heaven for Little Girls." Keith Carradine joins in duet on "Turn Around." Her program stays fresh with a pleasant mix of fast and slow tempos. Her accompaniment alternates between small group and full orchestra. A grandmother several times, Clooney proves she is ageless when it comes to delivering just the right touch of emotion to great lyrics.
- Dick Bogle
Pavement - Brighten the Corners (Matador): This band is alternative rock at its best. It's like finding great art in a tiny downtown gallery with bad lighting. What it lacks in presentation, the works more than make up for in talent, originality, and soul. Pavement's sound is their own: groovy guitar, bits of feedback, playful lyrics, fragile vocals. The fourth album from this American group is mellower than its early stuff. The melodies are catchy, and the guitars are strong but not overpowering. This album deserves the bit of acclaim it's starting to get.
- Liz Brown