Volume 4
(CD, Rykodisc)

While the band doesn't limit itself to the styles of its earlier albums - they pump through ska and waltz through slightly maudlin ballads here, just like their boss did after he left them - they do get in a few numbers that would fit right into their back catalog.

And on more than a couple of songs, Jackson's voice remembers the bite of bygone days: "Fairy Dust" is like a venomous sequel to Night and Day's "Real Men," while "Thugz 'R' Us" turns the spotlight on suburban gangster wannabes who "look smart but we wanna be dumb."

(And on a six-track bonus live disc, the band proves that it remembers not just the style, but the songs - kicking their way through such faves as "One More Time" and "Got the Time" as if none of that time had passed.)

As with his contemporary, Elvis Costello, Jackson sometimes seems to equate slowness with maturity. On "Love at First Light," he tempers his romantic cynicism with a little too much sweetness, as the narrator hopes to transform a one-night stand into "something human." The hungover tempo and sweeping style match the lyrics perfectly, but the song should have made it onto one of the crooner's other recent efforts instead of this one, which is best when it rocks.

The Fine Art of Self Destruction
(CD, Artemis Records)

New York songwriter Jesse Malin used to front a glammy group called D-Generation, but has veered toward roots music since going solo. This debut (released last fall in the U.K.) was produced by Ryan Adams, and sounds more like a great Whiskeytown record than most of what Adams has released since his band self-destructed. Working for hire instead of for his own gratification, Adams gives Malin the big, blocky structures, full-throttle tempos, and yearning electric guitar lines that worked so well for his old band.

Yet even if some of the songs here ("Riding on the Subway," for instance) have direct stylistic ancestors in Whiskeytown's back catalog, they're certainly memorable enough to stand on their own. Romantic accounts of urban loneliness, coming-of-age memoirs, and tight little portraits of girls who broke his heart are delivered in a drawl one would ascribe to any number of midwestern or southern cities before Queens - it's a huge leap from the punkish sleaze of D-Generation, but with songs this good listeners might tolerate any number of musical about-faces before they begin to complain. •


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