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"Skin," Melissa Etheridge; "Jesus Christ Bobby," Minus; "Let's Get Together," Dickey Betts Band; Reducers SF, "Crappy Clubs And Smelly Pubs"

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"Skin," Melissa Etheridge (Island)

Etheridge's music has never been about subtlety and "Skin" keeps this powerhouse rocker's performance and songwriting reputation intact. But if she wears love's ups and downs on her sleeve, Etheridge's ability to sell her secret heart with raw sincerity is a powerful testament to her talent. From the opening, "Lover Please," through the set-closing, "Heal Me," she dishes out a heavy tale of loss but somehow makes the listener care. I suspect some of these tunes won't find themselves on the singer's set list five years down the line but overall "Skin" is a musical jewel to appreciate in the here and now. "The Prison" is a fine acoustic-based ballad. Flutes and percussion add nice accompaniment to her lament "love lasts forever/I wish you were mine" during "Walking On Water," and "I Want To Be In Love" recalls a day gone by with tenderness. Whether low or high or rocking and reeling from too much gambled, too much lost, Etheridge refuses to let a listener off easily. She may not be poetic about the love that done her wrong but there's no denying she's real and that's a pop-music rarity. Anyone who's wondered "where do I go now/when I'm down to one" will find much in Etheridge's latest that strikes a familiar nerve. Others may wonder what all the shouting is about. Whatever slant one takes, you can't deny this gal is one of a beautiful kind. "Skin" may not be Etheridge's most lasting work but it's a powerful lover's prayer. — Ames Arnold

"Jesus Christ Bobby," Minus (Victory Records)

To most people, Iceland is known as the land of superpower summits, Bjork and lots of snow. Unbeknownst to the other 99.9 percent of the world, Iceland is also blessed(?) with a thriving metal scene. According to its press materials, Minus' sole intention is to make "disgusting music." Judging from "Jesus Christ Bobby," I would certainly say that the band succeeded. The dark metal aspects of the group's music gives the songs an uneasy feel to go along with their disjointed presentation. In this case however, placing a collection of signature off-time, neo-metal/metallic hardcore tracks back-to-back (sounding so similar that they begin to blur into each other anyway) isn't my idea of an engaging record. Moments of potential brilliance (such as the intros to "Modern Haircuts" and "Pulse") are soon lost in an avalanche of dogmatic metal-guitar crunches.

Only the uncharacteristically serene acoustic ballad "Arctic Exhibition" escapes the noisy onslaught. Yes, "Jesus Christ Bobby" is noise even by my standards. Minus might jive for some new-school fans of this genre, but the group won't be doing anything for old-schoolers that any Integrity record hadn't already done for them 10 years earlier.— Angelo DeFranzo

"Let's Get Together," Dickey Betts Band (Back Alley/FreeFalls Entertainment)

After more than 30 years in music, the Allman Brothers Band has turned into a franchise, spawning several other bands and side projects. For founding member Dickey Betts (he wrote and sang "Ramblin' Man"), the decision to form another group was made for him. After being cut from the band last year, Betts, a lifetime songwriter and musician, formed his own group and record label. Hoping to capitalize on the popularity gained writing such ABB anthems like "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" and "Jessica" (one of the greatest rock instrumentals ever) Betts sticks to his guns with an album full of straight-up blues-rock. The album is pretty much what you would expect from the lead guitarist of a classic Southern-rock band. There are a few slow numbers like "Call Me Anytime" and two all-out jams clocking in more than 10 minutes. While Betts' band sounds pretty much like his old outfit, the addition of Kris Jenson's horns adds a jazzy tinge. Missing from the album is any sort of freshness — something you would expect from someone who has been playing for 30 years. And if you've seen the Allman Brothers in recent years, you probably could have guessed. Betts seems content to remain in the formula that brought him this far hopefully his faithful ABB fans are too. — Chris Hudgins

Reducers SF, "Crappy Clubs And Smelly Pubs," (TKO Records)

If I were to equate the Reducers SF with your typical street punk or oi! band it would only be doing them a disservice. Although this group adheres to the do-it-yourself ethics of punk, the group's original sound draws just as much on English soccer hooligans, glam and pub rock for inspiration as anything else. Laced with sing-along backing choruses and a 1977-era underground rock 'n' roll feel, this is the Reducers' best release to date. Incorporating remade versions of tracks from some of the band's older EPs ("We Are the People" and "No Control" in particular), plus brand-new efforts such as "The Mill," "Another Day Older" and "Empty Bottles," the record never suffers from a dearth of outright anthems. Most of the lyrics deal with personal politics, but more focused topics such as making the life-altering decision to join the armed forces are dealt with on the stirring "Gone for Good." Produced by Steve Burgess of the legendary oi! outfit Cock Sparrer, the record is crisp in its presentation, allowing the full-bodied sound of this rhythm-driven group to shine through. After this latest outing, the Reducers SF could really start experiencing some of the success that fellow street-level punk/oi! bands such as the Dropkick Murphys and Swingin' Utters already enjoy. At least they should.

Very rarely does a record inspire me these days, but this masterfully written release leads me to draw the conclusion that the Reducers SF have hit a new creative high. — Angelo DeFranzo

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