Alison Krauss, "A Hundred Miles or More" (Rounder)
Alison Krauss does country. Alison Krauss does bluegrass. Alison Krauss also does Alison Krauss, though sometimes you have to wait for it. Her first solo CD since 1999's "Forget About It," Krauss's latest is an anthology of side projects ranging from the ubiquitous "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" to the best of Disney.
The first four tracks are previously unreleased and feature Krauss in a series of breathy solos. "Jacob's Dream" tells of a family's search for their lost sons -- an appetizer for a number of other tragedies to come. There's the accidental shooting of a hunter's wife (mistaken for a swan), and also the alcohol-laced downward spiral of a brokenhearted couple. It's melancholy to be sure, but it's meant to be.
The down-tempo side of Krauss' music is largely forgotten in the face of her upbeat bluegrass outings, which is the real tragedy. "A Hundred Miles or More" successfully represents an unexplored and beautiful side to an already multifaceted artist.
Alison Krauss and Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas perform at the Richmond Coliseum August 15. Tickets are $39-$48.50. Call 262-8100 or visit www.ticketmaster.com.
Smashing Pumpkins, "Zeitgeist" (Reprise)
Attention, Smashing Pumpkins fans! Despite that only two original members remain, the Pumpkins' signature pop-grunge sound is still fully intact. Flanked by two new sidekicks, original frontman Billy Corgan and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin crank out raw riffs and grinding raucous rock that is sure to bust a few speakers.
"Doomsday Clock" launches the album full speed ahead with a blissful cacophony of distortion and drum kicks later amplified by standout tracks such as the raging "Tarantula." The cymbal-laden "That's The Way (My Love Is)" could easily become a crossover favorite like their Top 40 smash "Today."
Corgan's unmistakable voice wails throughout and verges on nasal whining at times, but nonetheless he stamps each song as 100 percent Pumpkins. However, the lack of creative chances taken by his band after a seven-year hiatus is slightly disappointing, with much of the new material sounding like a rehash of "Siamese Dream." Still, that by no means renders this disc a bore. Hilary Langford
Rihanna, "Good Girl Gone Bad" (Island Records)
She may be the voice of slumber parties for lip-glossed suburban cheerleaders and sorority girls with lavender iMacs, but Rihanna is in it for the long haul. On her latest, Barbados' favorite daughter delivers a more distinctive, mature style, free of the scattershot approach of her first two releases. Don't expect a string of lovesick slow songs.
"Good Girl Gone Bad" is kinetic and aggressive, courtesy of dance grooves like "Breakin' Dishes." The Michael Jackson samples and perfumed thump of the house-fused "Don't Stop the Music" will have drag queens knocking people over to pose under strobe lights. Jay-Z keeps the world from forgetting him with a guest appearance on the popular "Umbrella" (the remix, featuring Virginia's own Chris Brown, is even more enjoyable). "Lemme Get That" shows Timbaland's wizardry at the boards, congealing the same pop magic for Rihanna's music as he scored with Justin Timberlake.
Although industry buzz indicated she steered clear of the Caribbean flavor of her breakthrough hit "Pon De Replay," there is a pinch of dancehall hit "Flex" in "Say It." Even if the pop/TRL vibe she occupies isn't your poison, you'll have to admit there is something to Rihanna that demands respect.
William Ashanti Hobbs
Frank Black, "93-03" (Cooking Vinyl)
The 14-year solo career of Pixies' frontman Frank Black is often looked upon as peaking with his sophomore album, "Teenager of the Year" (1994) widely considered a pop-rock masterpiece then floundering ever since as he continues to juggle different backing groups. Understandably, his first "anthology" collection takes the most tracks (five) from "Teenager" before touching on highlights from subsequent years, including the catchy pop-punk of "Men in Black" from 1996's "Cult of Ray" and the Stones-ish "Hermaphroditos" from 2001's underrated "Dog in the Sand."
But this chronological set feels more like a list of Black's personal favorites rather than his best work or songs the fans adore. Curious omissions include the Bowie-ish "Jane the Queen of Love" and the later roots rockabilly of "Nadine." And why include the boring "I Gotta Move" instead of the far superior acoustic punk stomp, "Brackish Boy"?
Nitpicking aside, Black is a pro at delivering catchy half-step hooks within his abstract songs and this album does a decent job representing his talents for the casual fan. Others will be more interested in the bonus disc, a recently recorded live disc of lesser-known songs that shows how much Black has grown as a live performer delivering each song with gavellike authority and a veteran's attention to detail. Brent Baldwin