Pop/Britney Spears, Greatest Hits: My Perogative (Virgin). All her hits. Three new songs, including a cover of Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative." Loads and loads of sexy photos in the liner booklet. Any questions? * 1/2 Jeff Miers)
Blues-rock/Gov't Mule, Deja Voodoo (ATO). Though Gov't Mule is often called a jam band, in the studio, the songs are the key, and there are some seriously actualized ones here, from the blistering blues of opener "Bad Man Walking," through the 10-minute burner "Silent Scream." There are hooks, there's development, there are strong ideas at play. And then, of course, there are solos, most of them from Warren Haynes, whose thick, buttery Les Paul and Gibson 335 lines are virtually without peer in modern rock music. More of the same, then, and thank your diet of choice for that. Pick your favorite blues-based guitar rock albums of yore - from artists like Cream, Robin Trower, Humble Pie, even Lynyrd Skynyrd - and rejoice in the fact that Gov't Mule is making modern music in a similar vein. *** (J.M.)
Pop/Beyond the Sea, soundtrack sung by Kevin Spacey (Atco/Rhino). Here it is - Kevin Spacey as Bobby Darin: the disc. The live concert tour is to come and then Spacey's self-directed biopic, a multimedia gesture of Darin worship no one sane could have predicted. Never mind that Spacey doesn't have a droplet of Darin's soul or his wrong side of the tracks sexuality either. Spacey's is a pure Show-biz Bobby and you have to give the boy his props for being a pseudo-Bobby of total conviction, however unconvincing. And the orchestra under John Wilson - often up to 72 pieces, with Bobby's old charts - is imitation so good that it may make you break out laughing. ***(Jeff Simon)
Pop/Andrea Bocelli, Andrea (Philips). Andrea Bocelli, on his Web site, quotes an Italian expression that translates to "Never change a winning team." Who's to blame him, then, for doing what he does best over and over again - recording songs that are a smooth amalgamation of pop, opera, folk music and torch song? On his new self-titled album, Bocelli is miked to sound as if he's singing inches from your ear. Strings soar overhead, and tom-tom drums add a soft beat beneath. "L'Attesa" is one of those power ballads Bocelli pours out to such great effect. "Go Where Love Goes" (from the movie "Lazarus Child") is a cathartic duet with 11-year-old singer Holly Stell. It's all kind of overblown, and it shows Bocelli, for better or worse, moving more and more into the pop realm. Still, that voice can be just so much fun to listen to! It's too bad more pop singers aren't as good as he is. *** (Mary Kunz)
Country/Blake Shelton/Blake Shelton's Barn & Grill (Warner Bros.). Sorry Blake - If these are drinking songs, 3.2 beer is as potent as moonshine. Shelton, who has platinum on his resume and radio recognition, has assembled an album of pretty, radio-friendly (yawn) songs, but kind of light on passion with nary a sign of liver rot - or even a dang hangover. The closest Shelton gets to this strata of coarseness is with Mary Gauthier's "I Drink," and its in-your-face defense of those who like booze with their oxygen: "Fish swim, birds fly; daddies yell, mamas cry; old men sit and think, I drink. George Jones, he's not. ** (Randy Rodda).