It doesn't hurt that Johnson's back-up musicians take on whatever the maestro dishes out and do a masterly job throughout. Whether this CD will show up in area stores is anybody's guess, or, more exactly, any distributor's guess; you may have to shop through the mail. If you don't, you might be waiting the rest of your life for a package like this. Send a check for $15 to 4411 20th Road, North Arlington, VA 22207.

(Sub Pop)

For those of you still in the dark about Sebadoh, it's the brain child of Lou Barlow, who was kicked out of Dinosaur Jr. ages ago. Bakesale is what the current Dinosaur Jr. and Superchunk might sound like if they had singers who didn't grate on your nerves after a handful of songs.

This album de-emphasizes Sebadoh's once-prominent acoustic side, opening with a triple blast of breathless rock: "Licence to Confuse," "Careful" and "Magnet Coil." Just as the Velvet Underground once used furious strumming to approximate a heroin rush, Sebadoh plays "Chopsticks" as if it were "Kashmir" speeded up, until it sounds just like "Dramamine." "I need the Dramamine to be as crazy as your scene," Barlow sings, but all you'll need are your ears to follow this tray of goodies. Uncommonly good.

Anita Baker
Rhythm of Love

Kick off your shoes and share yet another Dubonnet moment with this silky voiced siren. Five albums down the road, Anita Baker is incapable of turning in a less-than-spectacular vocal performance. On the other hand, her very consistency is what makes her albums interchangeable and ultimately unsatisfying as anything but background music for a dinner party. If only she would ditch the urban-adult-contemporary keyboard sounds more often, as she does on "Sometimes I Wonder Why"--which features an acoustic piano, standup bass, real strings and real drums--we'd get something that transcends the limited expectations of a Luther Vandross album.

Nathan Cavaleri Band
(MJJ Music)

It's not nice to pick on little kids, but when kids record albums and labels send 'em in to be reviewed, I guess it's okay. Nathan is an 11-year-old Australian boy who is creating a small stir for his skills as a blues guitarist. Yes, he can play some blues guitar, damn well for a preteen, but in the grand scheme of things, it's doubtful he'd have ever been signed if he were a few decades older. We're talking predictable licks, and while everything sounds all right, this is Bud Light commercial soundtrack fodder at best. Give the kid a few years; maybe by the time he's 17 or so, things'll sound a bit better.

Big Maybelle
The Complete Okeh Sessions 1952-55

Whoever gave Mabel Louise Smith her stage name wasn't toying with irony; it's said the lady tipped the scales at 250 pounds.

But body weight wasn't the only big thing about Maybelle. The R&B/soul singer had a voice that came wailing from somewhere deep in that chest cavity--capable of rattling highball glasses one minute and converting sinners the next.

A product of the Sanctified Church in Jackson, Tennessee, Maybelle eventually wound up singing wholly secular tunes in New York City, but she never left behind the religiously passionate delivery she picked up down South. After a string of blues-shouting gigs at one-nighters across the country, and a stint with jump legend Tiny Bradshaw, Maybelle recorded 26 sides for the Gotham-based Okeh label. Part of Legacy's ongoing rerelease of its rhythm and soul collection--check out the reissues of Cab Calloway, Chuck Willis and the O'Jays for more painless education--Maybelle's music is as pure an example of small-band R&B as you're likely to find.

Surrounded by honking tenor saxes and pumping rhythm sections, the tunes she laid down for the great Fifties R&B label are sassy, teasing, accusing, joyous examples of a belter in her prime. You haven't heard most of these titles--"Gabbin' Blues," "Hair Dressin' Women," "Jimmy Mule," "Ain't to Be Played With"--and Maybelle's name won't come to mind along with those of Ella or Billie, but don't let that stop you from slapping this one in the CD player. Be big about it; Maybelle certainly was.

Robbie Robertson & the Red Road Ensemble
Music for The Native Americans

Despite what reservations (pardon the pun) you might have about Robbie Robertson since he turned into the Man Who Would Be Peter Gabriel, this album merits your attention. Essentially a documentary soundtrack, it has a unity of scope that Robertson's solo albums have sorely lacked. Interspersed with fine Robertson originals like "Skinwalking" and "Ghost Dance" are evocative chants performed by Aztec, Navajo, Cherokee and French Canadian tribes. So what if this album takes almost an hour to say what the Raiders' "Indian Reservation" said in three minutes? Consider this the scenic route, and an arresting one at that.--Serene Dominic

Lynyrd Skynyrd
Endangered Species (Capricorn)
You've got to wonder why Gary Rossington and company even bothered working up an acoustic set of old Skynyrd favorites; after all, MTV Unplugged is more likely to book Karen Ann Quinlan before these retro-rednecks. Maybe the 'nyrds just haven't been paying their electric bills. If there's somebody somewhere who wants to hear Johnny Van Zant sing "Heartbreak Hotel," somebody ought to take him out in the yard and just get it over with. And take these old liver-spotted owls with you.

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