P.M. Dawn
Jesus Wept
(Gee Street)

Maybe it says something about rap's creative limitations that so many of its top artists feel the need to move beyond the form as they refine their vision. The Beastie Boys' ongoing journey back to second-wave punk is an example. In any case, the ethereal combination of glossy R&B and acoustic hippie pop on P.M. Dawn's third album proves one thing: The Cordes brothers (Prince Be and J.C. the Eternal) are a couple of Jersey City homeboys who have no fear of what lies beyond the familiar.

Jesus Wept is actually not that drastic a departure from the heady potion of English psychedelic synth-pop, East Coast new-jack sway and New Age metaphysics the duo brewed up for its 1993 release The Bliss Album. It's more a giant step in the same celestial direction.

Prince Be claims to have weathered a deeply spiritual identity crisis since Bliss came out, and his travelogue of that existential voyage is surprisingly endearing. "The 9:45 Wake-Up Dream" and "Apathy ... Superstar!?" are every bit as inventive as their titles suggest.

The Cordeses' production is typically heavy-handed here, and at times their mixsounds overly dense and sickly sweet. Forthe most part, however, the lush string/piano/acoustic guitar orchestrations ("Sonchyenne"), smooth dance beats ("My Own Personal Gravity") and impeccable samples ("Downtown Venus") make Jesus Wept another exquisite draft from P.M. Dawn's deepening well of inspiration.--Roni Sarig

Randy Newman

The legend of Johann Faust--the 16th-century German doctor who practiced magic and supposedly sold his soul to the devil--has been told and retold innumerable times since the physician's mysterious death. Goethe's 1808 dramatic poem Faust is regarded as one of the true great works of world literature.

Now songwriter Randy Newman (yes, the "short people got no reason to live" guy) weighs in with this celebrity-packed soundtrack to his distinctly American stagemusical version of Goethe's masterpiece.

In Newman's production (which premired in September at La Jolla Playhouse in California), the title character is a Notre Dame undergrad who, when approached by the devil and offered a contract for his soul, signs it immediately. "Aren't you going to read it first?" Beelzebub asks. "No," the kid responds, "I don't like to read on my own time."

Newman, who plays Lucifer, has filled out his cast with fading lights of Southern California's Seventies musical firmament: Don Henley is Faust; James Taylor plays the Lord; and Linda Ronstadt is Margaret, Faust's virginal girlfriend. Bonnie Raitt appears as the less virtuous Martha, and Elton John joins the ensemble as a disgruntled English angel.

As befits a musical, the songs on Faust flesh out the timeless themes of the source story--the infinite struggle between good and evil, faith and temptation. In the end, the devil sounds like he's been listening to the Cocteau Twins' "Heaven or Las Vegas" as he finds solace in the glitzy oasis after failing in his attempt to bum's rush the Pearly Gates.

This Faust is a witty, irreverently modern send-up of a literary classic. However, without the stage action to place the songs and their themes in context, the CD is likea coloring book that has yet to meet crayons.--Marlow Bond

Boy George
Cheapness and Beauty

Boy George has cleaned up his act for this comeback. The Karma Chameleon's politics and sexuality (essentially the same thing) saturate Cheapness, and the overkill quickly gets annoying. So does a batch of songs detailing Boy O'Dowd's seamy descent into, and eventual recovery from, substance abuse. Good for him, bad for anyone who couldn't care less about the wonder of his 12-step transformation.

Despite George's obsession with his dark years, Cheapness has a certain twisted appeal. The folksy "Unfinished Business" bristles with the anger and melancholy of lost love, and is surprisingly powerful.

However, most of the album teeters between camp and legit--the theatrical accents of "Genocide Peroxide" sound like they were orchestrated by John Waters. Too bad they weren't, because instead of Waters' inspired lyrical gems, George kicks us this: "Beautiful child in razor heels/Sashays into the room/All the boys they catch their breath/And the mirrors swoon." Hurt me, hurt me.

Instead of giving his songs room to live, Boy George crams in all he can at once: synthesizers, vocal doubling and mounds of generic guitar. A Bowie pop number called "Funtime" could have worked if someone with a bit of sense had just said, "Uh, Mr. George, I know you like it when the synthesizers go 'whooosh, whooosh,' but might ten extra tracks of keyboards not be just a tad over the top?"

George shows a few flashes of his former brilliance here, but there's too much flotsam around him to make them out clearly. Word up to Boy Toy: Next time around, cut the self-help sentiments and put a warm body behind the studio console.--Matt Golosinski

Various artists
In From the Storm:
A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix

At least this tribute album has a justifiable premise: Hendrix's longtime recording engineer, Eddie Kramer, got guitar legends (Carlos Santana, John McLaughlin and Brian May) together with jazz cats (Stanley Clarke and Tony Williams), funk pioneers (Bootsy Collins and Bernie Worrell), exHendrix sidemen (Buddy Miles and Noel Redding) and the London Metropolitan Orchestra to make an educated guess at what course the voodoo chile's music would have taken had he lived.

Their answer is not altogether different from the blaxploitation movie music CurtisMayfield would make on his pivotalSuperfly soundtrack. And, unlike the recent Working Class Hero Lennon tribute, this outing is designed to please Hendrix's long-standing legion of fans instead of twentysomethings out to collect everything the Red Hot Chili Peppers ever put a lick on.

In From the Storm is a sincere outpouring of love and understanding of what the music world lost with Hendrix's passing more than 25 years ago. And, best of all, noguest appearances by such Hendrix copycats as Robin Trower and Frank Marino!--Serene Dominic


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