VARIOUS ARTISTS

Paint It Blue: The Songs Of The Rolling Stones (Ruf/House Of Blues RUF 1020)

A tribute album, performed by black American bluesmen, to the British group who built a highly profitable career out of "adapting" black R&B modes to their own ends. Who says Americans don't understand irony?

If it is ironic, it doesn't advertise the fact. Most of these covers of old Stones songs are done with tremendous care and devotion, and several are transformed for the better. Taj Mahal & James Cotton's acoustic country- blues version of "Honky Tonk Women" grafts the song back onto its rural roots. Something similar happens to Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown & Larry McCray's "Ventilator Blues", which pits violin and National steel guitar against the silky Dobro skills of Sonny Landreth, enabling the song to blossom like never before.

Another version which bests the Stones' own is The Holmes Brothers' take on "Beast of Burden", a Southern gospel-soul re-working. Also moving southwards is Joe Louis Walker's "Heart Of Stone", casting it in the Otis Redding mould. Both of these tracks leave the lingering suspicion that this is really how Mick Jagger wanted the originals to sound, before his own limitations decided otherwise.

The situation regarding the Stones and the blues is a two-way affair. The Stones could not have existed without the classic blues templates on which they drew: on the other hand, it's questionable whether the blues would have experienced such a resurgence without their patronage. The mutuality is made problematically explicit by Junior Wells' contribution, a version of "Satisfaction" which owes at least as much to the "Smokestack Lightnin'" riff. What proportion of the composer's royalties, one wonders, will be heading the way of Howlin' Wolf's heirs? Only Bobby Womack, of those featured here, circumvents such conundrums. He does "It's All Over Now", which he wrote. No mug, our Bobby.

THE RAMONES

We're Outta Here! (Radioactive/Eagle EAGCD010)

Farewell then, The Ramones. You virtually invented punk-rock, and at one time were the greatest rock'n'roll band in the world. But then, for more than two decades, your albums were so indistinguishable that eventually there was no real point in continuing to buy them. Such, I suppose, are the limitations of being a living cartoon.

This farewell concert is exactly what you'd expect, except that it doesn't open with "Blitzkrieg Bop". By the time you realise this, they're already up to track four, which actually is "Blitzkrieg Bop". The 32 tracks zip by at two minutes apiece, though it sounds more like one long barrage of buzzsaw guitar interrupted occasionally by a trademark "one-two-free- four". The pace means that Joey's vocals are reduced to just a few shorthand grunts and whines - on "Cretin Hop" he sounds uncannily like Vic Reeves' celebrated club singer.

THE REPLACEMENTS

All For Nothing/Nothing For All (Reprise 9362-46807-2)

At one time, The Replacements were the greatest rock'n'roll band in the world, the true heirs of the Stones, Ramones, and more. Their unstinting devotion to the rock'n'roll lifestyle made for some of the most unruly, uproarious live shows ever seen, but it inevitably proved their undoing, too. The sinking-Titanic cover-shot of this 2-CD compilation isn't just symbolic of their suicidal career trajectory, it's also an indication of the vast quantities of alcohol consumed by the group, enough to sink the proverbial ocean-going liner.

But behind the raucous bluster and ringing power-chords, The Replacements had, in Paul Westerberg, the second-finest songwriter ever to emerge from Minnesota, equally adept at the anthemic and the engagingly vulnerable. This splendid set compiles the peak moments of their oeuvre together with the usual out-takes and cover-versions, including their rowdy Dylan demolition "Like A Rolling Pin", dashed off-the-cuff when they learned that Minnesota's finest songwriter was in the studio next door. Unfortunately, it doesn't record the band's subsequent humiliation when, upon returning to the control room, they found His Bobness watching.

DJ SHADOW/Q-BERT

Camel Bobsled Race (Mo'Wax MW084CD)

If scratch-mixing is the aural equivalent of action-painting, then San Franciscan DJ Q-Bert must be its Jackson Pollock. Camel Bobsled Race is his live re-working of tracks from DJ Shadow's Endtroducing... album, an extraordinary piece featuring some of the most fluid, expressive scratching I've ever heard.

Building slowly from low-key beginnings, Q-Bert's digits dance the decks with ever-increasing agility, rewinding beats, throwing in echo effects and speed fluctuations, and teasing the most exquisite aural shapes from his turntables. The cumulative effect is disorienting in the extreme, like a constant succession of tears in the fabric of reality. At 24 minutes long, it's debatable whether it's a very mini-album or a very maxi-single, but if it were any longer, CIA spooks could use it for brainwashing. Literally mind-boggling.

GARTH BROOKS

Sevens (Capitol 856 5992)

"This one is for our moms", runs the legend in Sevens' CD booklet; and frankly, they're welcome to its mawkish blend of self-pitying balladry and neutered honky-tonkin' - and particularly to the noxious holiday singalong "Two Pina Coladas", a sort of redneck version of "The Birdie Song".

This is a lone deviation from the standard Brooks formula, the rest of Sevens being devoted to the usual round of marital refugees, defeated lovers, and calls to stand tall. He is, perhaps, the emblematic American artist of his era: the sinister sentimentality of his music and manner, reflected in his unaccountably huge sales, bespeaks a populism every bit as menacing as the ignorant, bullying paternalism of his country's politicians.

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