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Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of history will giggle at the incoherent conspiracy theories that pepper the 26-track double album from the painfully earnest Staten Island, N.Y., rap collective called the Wu-Tang Clan.

Despite the lyrical nonsense and mixed messages that include the usual misogyny, ``Wu-Tang Forever'' (Loud/RCA), which is destined to top the charts next week, happens to be one of the most interesting-sounding hip-hop albums, thanks to the focus of Wu-Tang producer Prince (the RZA) Rakeem.

RZA has devised one fascinating track after another without repeating ideas. His driving sonic stew includes thick reggae-style bass lines, raw beats, funky keyboards and the occasional snatch of movie conversation underpinning the often violent martial arts imagery of the group's nine rappers.

Along with a host of standout numbers that will be thumping out of car windows throughout the summer and beyond, there's an entertaining spoken-word manifesto that takes aim at the various styles of rap that have come along since Wu-Tang's 1993 debut. Three stars

?13- Fred Shuster

Big Blue Hearts/``Big Blue Hearts''

With a high-lonesome sound and echoes of Roy Orbison, Chris Isaak and the Everly Brothers, San Francisco's wonderful Big Blue Hearts have fashioned a genuinely lovable collection of vintage summery material.

While the quartet offers deceptively simple torch-and-twang love songs with country overtones and perfect three-part harmony, there's a timeless, classic quality to ``Big Blue Hearts'' (Geffen), making it one of the most startling debuts of the year.

Ten marvelous tracks include several knockouts that should be automatic adds at radio - ``Story of My Life,'' ``Dreaming of a Woman,'' ``Live Without Your Love'' and ``Stay Awhile.''

``Big Blue Hearts'' is a big blue gem. Four stars

?13- F.S.

Max Levinson/``Max Levinson''

At age 25, American classical pianist Max Levinson has already appeared as a soloist with orchestras around the globe.

In this wonderfully packaged, self-titled effort for N2K Encoded Music, the young pianist tackles four works by Brahms, Schumann, Schoenberg and Leon Kirchner composed over a span of 150 years.

There are marvelous passages here, such as Levinson's light touch on the 12-minute ``Five Pieces for Piano (1987),'' adopted from songs composed by Kirchner to poems by Emily Dickinson.

Sonically, too, the N2K label stands out. Three stars

?13- F.S.

Katell Keineg/``Jet''

For her sophomore effort, wispy Dublin-based chanteuse Katell Keineg leaves the Celtic-inspired mysticism of her 1994 debut for a conventional rock 'n' roll sheen.

Keineg still retains the tendency to drop the lyrics and deliver wordless passages of near-scat singing, especially on the eerie ``Enzo '96'' and the disturbing ``Mother's Map.''

Among the most instantly affecting tracks on ``Jet'' (Elektra), co-produced by PJ Harvey collaborator Eric Drew Feldman, is the guitar-driven ``Smile,'' a cut that wouldn't seem out of place on KROQ-FM (106.7). Three stars

?13- F.S.

k.d. lang/``Drag''

We're not sure whose idea this album was, but we would have preferred a collection of original material from k.d. lang rather than 12 often poorly realized covers of ditties associated with smoking and used as a metaphor for addiction of various kinds.

The best tracks are ``Don't Smoke in Bed,'' the Les Paul/Mary Ford tribute ``Smoke Rings,'' a nicely languid ``Smoke Dreams'' and Boo Hewerdine's ``My Last Cigarette.''

Misfires on ``Drag'' (Warner Bros.) include the Hollies hit, ``The Air That I Breathe,'' Steve Miller's mediocre ``The Joker'' and the needless ``Theme From the Valley of the Dolls.''

Despite some bad choices, lang's voice is still a thing of beauty. Two stars

?13- F.S.

Various/``Batman & Robin''

It's a measure of the power of the summer blockbuster that filmmakers can snap their fingers and the biggest acts in the world will hightail it to the studio to record soundtrack material.

Usually, there are a couple of good songs amid the dross, but music from and inspired by ``Batman & Robin'' (Warner Bros.) may be the exception. Almost everything here is worth looking into.

Best bits: Smashing Pumpkins' ``The End Is the Beginning Is the End,'' Jewel's ``Foolish Games,'' Lauren Christy's ``Breed,'' Moloko's ``Fun for Me'' and Me'Shell Ndegeocello's ``Poison Ivy.'' Three Stars

?13- F.S.

Joe Pass/``The Best of Joe Pass''

Here's a terrific reminder of the genius and large heart of the late jazz guitarist Joe Pass.

``The Best of Joe Pass'' (Pacific Jazz) collects straight-ahead material recorded in the years immediately following Pass' 1962 release from drug rehab in Santa Monica. Pass' famous long, supple guitar lines and fluid comping on such classics as ``Django,'' ``More'' and the Miles Davis standard ``Milestones'' are worth the price of admission, but every track truly stands out. Four stars

?13- F.S.

Average White Band/``Soul Tattoo''

Funny how nobody does dance-funk of the guitar-horns-bass-and-drums school these days.

Scotland's Average White Band (AWB), along with Kokomo and a few other British bands of the '70s, hit upon a wonderful sound only to see it become passe when Prince and punk came in.

The James Brown-inspired AWB, though, is still kicking. The outfit's latest effort, ``Soul Tattoo'' (Foundation), boasts some wonderful moments that sound as fresh as anything else in the genre.

Funky workouts ``Love Is the Bottom Line,'' ``Soul Mine'' and ``Oh, Maceo,'' with their razor-sharp guitar 'n' horn lines, reveal all that is still great about this band. Play loud. Three stars


8 Photos

Photo: (1) Classical pianist Max Levinson performs four works composed over a span of 150 years on his self-titled album released by N2K Encoded Music.

(2-8) No caption (CD covers)
COPYRIGHT 1997 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Sound Recording Review
Date:Jun 13, 1997

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