Music: This Week's Album Releases

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The Black Crowes

By Your Side

Columbia

THE BEST rock music, from the Stones to The Ramones, has often been made by smart guys acting dumb. So, too, with the Black Crowes, who on By Your Side have elected to abandon the ill-advised psychedelic pretensions of Three Snakes And One Charm in favour of gloriously dumb, riff-strewn R&B, their natural mode. Let's face it, choruses don't get much dumber than that of "Heavy", which finds Chris Robinson all but lost for words to convey his affection, settling for the questionable compliment, "I just want you to stay/ You're so heavy".

Personnel changes - a new bassist and the loss of a second guitarist - have left the Crowes' sound tighter and more focused; the immediate impact, on "Go Faster", is of streamlined, kick-ass rock'n'roll, the likes of which the Stones long since forgot how to capture. There's also more room for Eddie Harsch's keyboards to interact with Rich Robinson's guitar on Southern soul-styled songs like "Diamond Ring" and "By Your Side".

There are signs of a change in the band's freewheeling attitude, too, with the anti-drug song "HorseHead" and "Go Faster" itself suggesting a cleaner, leaner Crowes than before. It's not completely clear-eyed sobriety in the Crowes camp, though, judging by the party-time sentiment of the rollicking "Welcome To The Goodtimes", where the Dirty Dozen Brass Band adds a little New Orleans spice to the pot. The overall result is the band's best record since Amorica, and maybe further back than that.

COLIN REID

Colin Reid

Veesik

WHEN NO less an authority than Bert Jansch claims that a guitarist reminds him of "myself and John Renbourn fused together", we had better sit up and take notice. He's not wrong, either: on the strength of this debut album, Belfast's Colin Reid is a name to add to the illustrious tradition of British and Irish fingerstyle players that includes Davy Graham and Dick Gaughan alongside the former Pentanglists.

His ability is simply outstanding, whether he's letting casual shafts of harmonics shine through a tune like "Clear Blue Light", or tackling the knuckle-knotting technical demands of a piece like Marcel Dadi's "Bluefinger" with a playful whimsicality that betrays hours of dedicated practice.

Reid's own material, by comparison, runs the gamut from expansive displays of technique, such as the aptly-titled "Frantic", to more moody and reflective pieces like "Casting Shadows" and "Table For One", though all possess the immediate familiarity of standards. Both as performer and composer, he is a huge talent.

ENGELBERT HUMPERDINCK

The Dance Album

The Hit Label

AFTER BIG beat, here's Butlin Beat: the terrifying sound of enforced communal jollity, pounded out without a smidgeon of shame by ruthless music-industry chancers convinced that they can do for Engelbert what Trevor Horn (almost) did for Tom Jones. The producers Chris Cox, Barry Harris & Jeff Johnson are the Frankensteins delivering a massive jolt of electricity to the crooner's all-but-lifeless hits, a task they pursue with a glee more akin to the Doctor's troll-like assistant, Igor.

Songs such as "The Last Waltz" and "A Man Without Love" are taken at a furious mechanical gallop that renders them rather more suggestive of Engelbert having a right old knees-up than drowning in his own lonely tears, as the lyrics claim. The monster Humperdinck, once roused, performs with commendable restraint, but there's really no salvaging a reputation once it has bent the knee to such excesses of camp. And after the way Cox, Harris & Johnson have subjected his hits to cheesy disco-synth riffs that even Daft Punk might consider too obvious, that's all he deserves.

TQ

They Never Saw Me Coming

Epic

YOU DON'T expect to deal with rocket scientists in hip-hop, but even so, there are some moments of breathtaking stupidity on this debut album from TQ, aka Terence Quaites.

TQ's thing is to blend the smooth, porno-soul style of modern R&B with the mind-set of rap - not necessarily a stupid aim in itself, but it's one that offers the young singer enough beartrap-sized pitfalls to plunge into. I'm sure, for instance, that the young lady fatally caught in drive- by crossfire in the supposedly true story "Bye Bye Baby" would consider the ensuing grisly revenge tale "The Comeback" to be a lovely, touching tribute to her memory. And the familiar request to wave your guns in the air is delivered with a queasy sensuality that suggests TQ's relationship with his rod is somewhat closer than might be expected.

The end result is simply to bring the style and sound of erotic soul to criminality, making cold, contemptible business the apparent object of deep emotion. Which, from an ethical standpoint, rather puts David Cronenberg's Crash in its place.

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