Reviews of recent CDs
Kenny Chesney No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems (BMG): Fans of modern country music will find Chesney's seventh and latest CD enjoyable and emotional. Perhaps the strongest track: the regret-laced "A Lot of Things Different." From being too shy to skinny dip, to not standing up against a bully, to failing to show a woman his love for her, Chesney's half-spoken, half-sung delivery makes you wish you could go back and relive your youth. But Chesney's next song reminds us that memories aren't always bad. "The Good Stuff" features two men at a bar sharing a glass of milk and celebrating the love in their lives. And the CD's title cut is perfect for a trip to the beach. Vic Roberts
Craig Armstrong As if to Nothing (Astralwerks): Armstrong is the go-to guy when Madonna or U2 needs an orchestral arrangement or when films such as "Romeo and Juliet" and "Plunkett and McLaine" need a soundtrack with an edge. Fresh from his Golden Globe win for the score to "Moulin Rouge," the composer has produced a second solo album that fuses electronic beats with string sections that are either ominous ("Ruthless Gravity") or sprightly ("Finding Beauty"). Not all of the album is instrumental. Though David McAlmont's voice makes "Snow" too slushy, grit comes courtesy of Evan Dando on the grand "Wake Up in New York" and Bono's reworking of U2's "Stay." Like his film scores, this is atmospheric stuff. Stephen Humphries
Sheryl Crow C'mon, c'mon (A&M): Sheryl Crow's stated intention was to make a record that evoked classic '70s rock. And from the retro outfit on the sun-dappled cover to guest icons from that decade, such as Don Henley and Stevie Nicks, Crow seems to have all the elements in place. There's just one problem: The songs are more Bad Company than they are Led Zeppelin. There are hummable tunes ("Soak Up the Sun," "Over You") but too many seem to be throwaway efforts, and Crow has largely left her emotions behind on these recordings. It's only in the duet "Weather Channel" with Emmylou Harris that we get a glimpse of the songwriter who produced 1998's seminal "Globe Sessions" album. S.H.
Celine Dion A New Day Has Come (Epic/Sony): Celine Dion's highly touted "return" is simply more of the same. While varying degrees of success are achieved through her chameleon-like ability to recall artists ranging from the Bee Gees ("I'm Alive") to Sheryl Crow ("Ten Days"), Dion ultimately sounds more like a polished cover band than an authentic interpreter of song. At 16 tracks, the album like her Titanic hit just seems to go on and on.... Bill Wright
Chris Isaak Always Got Tonight (Reprise): With his gelled James Dean hair, outrageous Vegas suits, and Elvis and Roy Orbison influences, Chris Isaak is believable when he sings "I'm the original American boy" on this, his eighth album. Yet, despite his late-'50s sensibilities, Isaak's brand of rock 'n' roll never sounds dated, thanks to the crisp surf guitar and the rockabilly grooves of Silvertone, the songwriter's longtime band. S.H.
Neil Young Are You Passionate? (Reprise): Neil Young has made some truly great records and also has made some lousy ones ("Trans," anyone?) His latest, a foray into raw rhythm and blues, is hardly his worst, but it is undistinguished. Young's frail falsetto and tremulous guitar playing are as appealing as ever, but most of the songs including the tribute to Sept. 11's Flight 93, "Let's Roll," sound oddly lethargic. The exception is "Goin' Home," in which the artist finally cuts loose. Next time, more passion please, Neil. S.H.
Van Morrison Down the Road (Universal): Van Morrison has introduced us to Gloria and a memorable brown-eyed girl, invited us into the mystic, and told us lately that he loves us. With this new release, he seems content to welcome us into a favorite neighborhood joint to take a load off and groove to his latest batch of familiar-sounding tunes. None of the new songs stand out as potential Van standards, but he's in very good voice throughout and pulls off perhaps the second-best rendition of "Georgia on my Mind" ever. The celtic soulman has made better records, but this one ultimately satisfies. John Kehe
Badly Drawn Boy About a Boy (Artist Direct): The debut album in 2000 from talented British singer-songwriter Damon Gough, "The Hour of the Bewilderbeast," won a prestigious award in England. He doesn't have much of a following in the United States, but his new soundtrack for Hugh Grant's coming movie "About a Boy" could be the start of something big. The 16-track CD includes beautiful pop orchestral arrangements and elegant piano melodies. The track "Silent Sigh" will no doubt top many end-of-year favorite lists because of its airy vocals, fluid motion, and catchy rhythms. No doubt, Gough has arrived. Lisa Leigh Parney
Star Wars: Episode II Attack of The Clones (Sony Classical): "Star Wars" fans disenchanted with the latest installment of the series need only pop in the John Williams soundtrack for nostalgic consolation. The Academy Award-winning composer waves his own light-saber baton, making music that weathers and at times rescues the film's sagging plot with energizing richness. His new score is evocative, commanding, and haunting as it anticipates Anakin's turn to the dark side. Williams connects earlier "Star Wars" motifs with fresh orchestral feats, soaring violins, and mystical musings. The recording culminates with exhilarating sounds for the final flashy duels, then recedes into stillness. Stephanie Cook