Neil Young and Crazy Horse -- Sleeps With Angels (Reprise): Every artist needs a catalyst to produce his or her best work. For Neil Young that catalyst was Kurt Cobain's suicide.
In response to the Nirvana lead singer's copping one of Young's most famous lyrics for his suicide note (''It's better to burn out, than to fade away''), Young unleashes rock's foremost garage band, Crazy Horse, and comes up with an ironic and poignant disc.
Young's voice aches on ''Change Your Mind,'' the centerpiece of the disc. The song finds him on the same ground of some of his best rockers, ''Powderfinger'' and ''Cortez the Killer.'' It also is where he lyrically comes closest to addressing Cobain's death: ''You hear the sound, you wait around and get the word. You see the picture changing everything you heard.''
Yet ''Sleeps With Angels'' doesn't wallow in despair. Instead, it embraces love as the answer to such pain, while at the same time admitting it may not be enough.
- John Pacenti, Associated Press
Ruth Ann Swenson -- Positively Golden
Dawn Upshaw -- I Wish It So (Elektra Nonesuch):
Two of today's finest young American sopranos have just issued noteworthy solo recordings. And though Upshaw and Swenson sing some of the same roles -- Susanna in Mozart's ''Marriage of Figaro,'' for example -- their albums could not be more dissimilar.
Swenson, whose strongest asset is her gleaming, powerful, high coloratura range, puts it to splendid use in ''Positively Golden,'' a collection of French and Italian opera arias associated with legendary divas.
Dawn Upshaw shows off a bit of coloratura in her album, too. But ''I Wish It So'' showcases musical-comedy songs by Sondheim, Weill, and Bernstein. Upshaw puts herself at the service of the material with none of the affectation that mars so many ''crossover'' enterprises by classically trained singers.
- Mike Silverman, Associated Press