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Discs

>Pop

Bon Jovi

Lost Highway

[Island]

Review: 1 star (Out of 4)

Jon Bon Jovi has always been a bit of a collector. He has tried to come across like a pop-metal version of Bruce Springsteen (minus the intensity, integrity and literary lyrics). He has given the nod to the arena-friendly choruses of Def Leppard tunes and even grabbed a song title from a few famous songs, then robbed them of their context -- "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead," from Warren Zevon, "Lay Your Hands On Me" from Peter Gabriel, and so forth.

Although his pop craftsmanship has been in evidence since his '80s hair-metal heyday, Bon Jovi and his band have managed to stay relevant to subsequent generations by making that pop sensibility fit in with whatever is happening near the top of the charts at any given time. So in the '90s, there were trace elements of electronica in evidence, and when roots-rock became a buzz word, Jon cast himself as a down-home, singer-songwriter type. It all still sounded like Bon Jovi.

It shouldn't be a surprise that, as pop-country continues its chart and concert-circuit dominance, Bon Jovi has decided to cut what is, nominally at least, a modern country record. He even went so far as to borrow the name of the hippest alternative-country label currently up and running: the Lost Highway imprint, which has released records from the likes of Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Lucinda Williams. That's about all Bon Jovi's "Lost Highway" has in common with the above-mentioned artists, however. It might've been recorded in Nashville, but it's about as rootsy as a Shania Twain record.

"Lost Highway" is generic enough to be a hit on several variegated radio formats. It's also middle-of-the-road enough that it should appeal to both the traditional Bon Jovi fan and the cowboy-hat-wearing lover of Toby Keith or Keith Urban. Bon Jovi has perfected the art of being all things to all people, or at least to all people who don't realize what a watered-down version of his influences he actually is.

The record kicks off with the title tune, a sturdy country-tinged rocker that wouldn't be out of place on any of the band's recent albums, save for the gratuitous banjo licks, which are apparently supposed to legitimize this dreck as country. "Summertime" is better, if only because it's straight-up Big & Rich-style country-rock, all cheese and no meat, which has always been what Bon Jovi does best. Speaking of Big & Rich, the duo shows up for "We Got it Going On," which they co-wrote with Jon Bon and guitarist Richie Sambora. Picture Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" crossed with Brooks & Dunn's "Boot Scootin' Boogie," and you're in the ballpark. (I'd leave that ballpark post-haste, if I were you.)

"Lost Highway" is truly awful. Its attempts at grabbing a slice of the still-growing modern country market for a washed-up hair-metal casualty can't be interpreted as anything other than cynical. Whether he's "Livin' on a Prayer" or pretending to be livin' on a prairie, Bon Jovi is a bit of a charlatan.

-- Jeff Miers

***

>Jazz

Ron Carter

Dear Miles

[Blue Note]

Review: 3 1/2 stars

*

Kenny Burrell

Birthday Bash: Live at Yoshi's

[Blue Note]

Review: 2 1/2 stars

Bassist Ron Carter, 70, and guitarist Kenny Burrell, 75, are among the most venerated elders in the jazz tribe for the best of reasons -- none of which, however, have the slightest bearing whatsoever on the worth of their newest discs, both of which were released this week. There is a difference between a deservedly august reputation and the continuing ability to make gripping and creative music.

And you can hear it writ large over these two discs -- Carter's superb, gorgeous and unassuming revisitation of the Miles Davis repertoire that occupied him for so long in the '60s as a crucial member of Miles' great '60s quintets and Burrell's failed struggle to match his best self at his 75th birthday party a year ago in San Francisco.

Burrell -- a great guitarist and a beautiful blues player -- is simply overburdened with the conventionality of the Gerald Wilson Orchestra on this particular night (find "Guitar Forms," his classic record with Gil Evans). Even when he plays with a sextet, it takes organist Joey DeFrancesco in the historically ferocious break on "A Night in Tunisia" to virtually address everyone in the room and say: "Wake up! This is a great jazz occasion here." Otherwise, you really wouldn't know.

"Dear Miles" is a juicy and unfailingly winning trio-plus-percussion date with pianist Stephen Scott, drummer Payton Crossley and percussionist Roger Squitero romping through a bunch of Miles tunes from before and during Carter's tenure. It's so heavy on standards that they don't even get around to playing Carter's own "Eighty One," probably the most infectious tune in Miles' once-radical departure record "E.S.P." But Scott and Carter are in such quiet musical bliss throughout "My Funny Valentine," "Some Day My Prince Will Come," "Stella by Starlight," "Bye, Bye Blackbird," etc., that the whole disc partakes of the mainstream radiance people keep hoping for -- but don't always find -- on Bill Charlap records.

I once saw Miles' quintet of the time at the Royal Arms with bassist Cecil McBee temporarily replacing an ill Carter, and the results from Miles' point of view were clearly and bitterly unsatisfactory. Without the bass playing rock of his quintet, Miles was, of course, still a great player but clearly an angry man. Carter's tribute to the leader who needed him so much is more than worthy.

-- Jeff Simon

***

>Pop

Alexa Weber Morales

Vagabundeo/Wanderings

[Patois Records]

Review: 2 1/2 stars

"I wrote my first song on a green hill in South Texas after escaping a tiny Mexican town with one too many dangerous men." Did the town have one too many dangerous men? Or did the men flee with Ms. Morales, whose sultry musings fill this disc? It's hard to tell. Morales is a mix of jazzy sweetness (you could imagine her turning out an attractive album of standards) and Latin brightness. She comes from the Bay Area and has that laid-back, West Coast sound, which, in the case of a Latin singer, can be a blessing. Backup singers, backup musicians (including exotic percussionists) and arranger Wayne Wallace have a lot on the ball. Morales floats in and out of different languages, too, with airy fluency. The mood becomes a bit polished and predictable, though, from a mod treatment of Bizet's "Habanera" to the static, aptly titled "Her Ways Wander." You'll be grateful for the Linda Ronstadt-style piano ballad that closes the album.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

***

>Rock

The Midway State

Met a Man on Top of the Hill

[Remedy/Interscope]

Review: 3 stars

The piano-based Brit-pop movement that has produced promising bands such as Keane and Coldplay has leveled off, as all trends do, into a boring, safe, middle-of-the-road movement exemplified by snore-merchants like the Fray. The form has been denied anything resembling a rough edge, and generic production approaches have turned it into a candy-coated version of the late-'90s pop uprising that first produced it.

Happily, the Midway State -- a quartet that fits beneath the piano-led, power-pop umbrella -- was formed in the middle of nowhere (a ski town a few hours north of Toronto) and thereby was allowed to develop its sound far away from the industry spotlight and the ever-present pressure to dumb things down to the lowest common denominator that comes with it.

Based around the songs of pianist/vocalist Nathan Ferraro, the band's debut EP, "Met a Man on Top of the Hill," is a refreshing blast of unstudied naivete. These songs are all about the melodies Ferraro seems to effortlessly conjure, and the skill with which his bandmates adorn them with well-chosen, subtle textures. Clearly, the Midway State -- composed of four guys barely out of their teens -- is a band to watch.

-- J.M.

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