Red Hot Chili Peppers, One Hot Minute Warner Bros. 9362-45733- 2

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The Independent Culture
Their follow-up to the six million-selling Blood Sugar Sex Magik finds the Chili Peppers' essential bouncy-toy appeal undiminished, despite the often testy attitude and the usually adult themes on show. Substantial chunks of the album feature typical Pepper party-time punk-funk, at its best on tracks like "One Big Mob" and "Aeroplane", wherein lead singer Anthony Kiedis offers the equation "I like pleasure spiked with pain/ Music is my aeroplane".

Elsewhere, their characteristic full-on hedonism comes under more critical scrutiny. The album opens with the admission "My tendency/ For dependency/ Is offending me", and the impassioned "Deep Kick", which at a guess is about their dead chum River Phoenix, opens with a minute and a half of spoken reminiscence about youthful improprieties and "living in the dirty city", while the music builds to a boil which bursts into a typically energetic riff. The acoustic interlude "My Friends" - this album's "Under The Bridge" - continues the theme with its downbeat account of distressed friends "standing on the brink of emptiness". "Imagine me, taught by tragedy," muses Kiedis, pulled up short by his own proximity to events.

There's a significant increase in the variety of styles available to them, from the cool wah-wah chill-out stroll of "Walkabout" to the grunge tip of "One Hot Minute" itself. This is all thanks mainly to the range and diversity of new guitarist Dave Navarro, who brings, as he did in Jane's Addiction, a rare depth and colour to the band's compositions. Whether holding down the groove with clipped rhythm guitar, sprinkling a restrained drizzle of delicate notes behind Kiedis's more sensitive moments, or trailing a long vocoder guitar-belch over a funk riff, his work is never less than intriguing, and is often startling in its originality. Like Jeff Beck, he brings a prodigious thirst for innovation to the mundane job of rock guitar.

Peter Green may not have been the most innovative of guitarists, but he was unquestionably the most sensitive product of the British blues boom of the late Sixties, and one of the few fit to stand alongside his Chicago mentors. This double-CD set of vintage-period performances finds him in sterling form, both on diamond-sharp boogies like "Stop Messing Around" and slower blues such as "World Keeps Turning" and "A Fool No More". Sometimes his guitar playing is simply too good for the song, as on the generic beat-pop number "Only You", which is stung into life belatedly by his solo.

A little too much of the album is taken up by Jeremy Spencer's note-perfect repro refurnishings of old rock `n' roll modes, particularly in the later (1970) sessions. Even Spencer's numerous Elmore James impressions are more welcome than these all-round-entertainer interludes. Ultimately, though, they're more than outweighed by the spine-tingling genius of earlier recordings of songs like "Oh Well" and particularly Green's heart-rending reading of Little Willie John's "Need Your Love So Bad", featured here without the swooning strings of the single version. It's enough to make an angel weep.

Nobody ever accused Lenny Kravitz of excessive originality, and they'd be on a hiding to nothing if they did. Small wonder that Lenny should claim "Rock And Roll Is Dead" - his brand of generic heavy rock has been dead on its feet for years. At times, he seems to know as much - after the final chord of "Circus" itself, he says, "It sucked, let's hear it". And you know what? It does! So why do we have to hear it, too?

Part of the problem is Kravitz's desperate urge for spurious authenticity, in the pursuit of which he overdubs nearly all the instruments, instead of drafting in a renegade player or two who might be able to add a few flashes of inspiration to the mix. The result - dull approximations of Seventies rock minus the flashy guitar breaks that were the genre's raison d'etre.

The songs are of such leaden predictability that you can sing along virtually before you've heard the album. Kravitz uses mellotron and huge globs of "Kashmir"-style portent to carry his hardcore Christian rhetoric on at least three tracks, though at times he displays a distinctly un- Christian attitude. On "Thin Ice", the pampered ingrate disses those struggling street hustlers who didn't enjoy his silver-spoon start in life. "Rock And Roll Is Dead" includes the fatuous denunciation "You can't even sing or play an instrument", which Kravitz seems to regard as the ultimate sin. Neither could Brian Eno, lest we forget, and he made "Virginia Plain", while Lenny made this turgid rubbish. Who's the fool?

Back, back, back together! Country music's longest-running soap opera resumes on this reunion album, which carries on where Tammy's "D.I.V.O.R.C.E" left off, coming full circle with a slate of songs hand-picked for their close-to-home subject matter.

"What Ever Happened To Us" and "(She's just) An Old Love Turned Memory" are the most blatantly self-referential, but the title-track and "Just Look What We've Started Again" offer hostages to the possibility of reunification, while "Will You Travel Down This Road With Me" and "Solid As A Rock" eulogise the long-haul of love which George & Tammy failed to follow through on their last go-round.

Should we care? Personally, I could happily live without Tammy's quavery effulgence, though George Jones's warm baritone still retains the uncanny ability to make the most maudlin material sting. Here, they're at their best on hillbilly toe-tappers like "It's An Old Love Thing" and the humourous battle-of-the-sexes song "If God Met You", on which George offers routine chauvinist piggery which Tammy counters with the cute comeback "If God met you, she wouldn't like you".

It's a moderately strong collection overall, though copybooks are blotted badly with "They're Playing Our Song", a truly horrible thing eulogising the new "rockin' country" scene. Do they really need that kind of fame by association?

For her follow-up to the impressive Play Me Backwards of a couple of years back, Joan Baez reverts to the in-concert mode of her most successful Sixties albums. The performances aren't as reliant on the naked purity of her voice as those earlier live albums; there's a discreet backdrop of jazz-tinged bass, percussion and guitar accompaniment on most songs. Joan duets with Janis Ian, Tish Hinojosa, the McGarrigles, Indigo Girls, Mimi Farina, Dar Williams, Mary Black and Mary Chapin Carpenter, as impressive a roster of sisters as ever did it for themselves, acoustically speaking.

Opening with a quartet of songs on traditional themes, she brings things more up to date with classic singer-songwriter material such as Hardin's "Don't Make Promises", Dylan's "Ring Them Bells" and "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright", ending with an acappella version of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down". It's a reasonable account of her career strengths, but also suffers from her one abiding weakness - the steely vocal piety which spears the heart of more vulnerable songs.

ANDY GILL

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