POP / Albums: Top Raitt performance

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Longing in Their Hearts

(Capitol CDEST 2227)

HAVING hoisted herself into the mega-bracket with 1991's quintuple-platinum Luck of the Draw and cemented her position with a flurry of profile- sustaining celebrity duets with such as Elton, Aretha, Gloria and Willie, Bonnie finally hammers home her advantage with this follow-up album, every bit as tough and graceful as its predecessor.

That's hardly surprising, given that much the same team is at work here: the rhythm section of Ricky Fataar and 'Hutch' Hutchinson is by now perfectly attuned to the curves and glides of her music, and Don Was, back as co-producer, has brought along his old Was (Not Was) vocal team to paste warm, soulful backing vocals where needed. If anything, Longing in Their Hearts lets the funk take the strain even more than before, opening in prime Little Feat style with 'Love Sneakin' Up on You', Scott Thurston's burbling clavinet hopping infectiously around the rhythm, before slipping into the title- track, a country-raunch number rather less slavishly retro than Primal Scream's recent efforts. Raitt's slide guitar is at its sleekest on 'I Sho Do'; elsewhere, she moves to organ to infuse with extra soul the spare swamp-funk superstructure of 'Feeling of Falling'.

The guests this time around are discreet but effective: David Crosby, Levon Helm and Paul Brady chip in with harmonies here and there, the latter adds splashes of guitar and penny-whistle, blues veteran Charlie Musselwhite blows harp on the closing country- blues duet 'Shadow of Doubt', and Richard Thompson features on his own composition 'Dimming of the Day', whose melody's traditional folk elisions are elegantly negotiated by Raitt. The best thing here is her cover of 'You', a gorgeous torch ballad brimming with hit potential.


Live Through This

(City Slang EFA 04935)

HOLE'S second album is more musically ambitious than their 1991 debut, 'Pretty on the Inside', tempering the band's punk drive with more pop-conscious melodies and vocal harmonies, and sprinkling the odd off-the-wall chord change into their songs. Courtney Love still sings like a banshee stung into rage, which can be effective set against a cute riff like 'She Walks on Me', but can render her meanings mercifully opaque.

There is in many of Love's songs, as in most American indie rock of the era, an unhealthy interest in victimhood. 'Doll Parts' and 'Jennifer's Body' both seem to deal with the objectification of the female body and the eponymous subject of the single 'Miss World' receives extremely short shrift: 'I've made my bed, I'll die in it'. References elsewhere to prostitution ('Asking for It') and maternity ('Plump') are more ambiguous, as is Love's attitude to her own schoolday past in Olympia, a small town outside Seattle recalled in the album's closing song 'Rock Star': it's hard to tell whether the time is recollected in bitterness or nostalgia.

The influence of Nirvana is not surprisingly evident in some songs - there's plenty of one-line repetition passing for a chorus, and the crude quiet / loud dynamics wielded so brutally by her husband's band - but Hole remain both more inspired and more professional than any of the 'riot grrrl' bands that sprang up in their wake, skilfully avoiding the cliches of outfits like the Voodoo Queens. In their ambiguity, perhaps, lies their enduring fascination.


Permanent Shade of Blue

(Columbia 475842 2)

LIKE a more rootsy, authentic Lenny Kravitz, Andrew Roachford and his band put their spin on Seventies rock and soul, switching smoothly from Thin Lizzy-style hard rock on the single 'Only to Be with You' to impassioned gospel-blues on tracks like 'Ride the Storm', and taking arrogant delight in strutting funk grooves like 'Emergency' and 'This Generation', the latter a morale-booster in finest Sly Stone style.

Roachford's talking-blues method, running quickly through verses before breaking into sing-along choruses, is especially appropriate for the songs which adapt the social- protest soul mode of such as Bill Withers and Curtis Mayfield. They're less flashy than most of their peers, having resisted the more embarrassing sartorial dredgings from the era, but Permanent Shade of Blue shows that Roachford's band can punch their weight.