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SOUND CHECK.

Buckcherry/``Buckcherry'' (DreamWorks)

Pedestrian '80s hard rock that relies on recycled James Gang licks and the short memory of anyone that hears it - that's tattooed trailer trash Buckcherry in a nutshell. First single ``Lit Up'' boasts a doofus chorus (``I love the co-caine'') that's supposed to shock but doesn't come within a nose. In the good old days, bands didn't have to advertise such things. ``Buckcherry'' is so dumb, it'll probably sell a million only to be forgotten two weeks later. One star

- Fred Shuster

Tom Waits/``Mule Variations'' (Epitaph)

Gravel-voiced Waits' 12th studio record and his first since 1993 is an occasionally abrasive, inventively melodic and bluesy collection that recalls earlier efforts ``The Black Rider'' and ``Swordfishtrombones.'' Calling on blues harpist Charlie Musselwhite, imaginative Bay Area guitarist Joe Gore and Primus on opening track ``Big in Japan,'' the disc's most immediately effective numbers are the harsh ballads ``Georgia Lee'' and ``Take It With Me.'' Equally fascinating is the dark spoken-word piece ``What's He Building in There?'' along with the vintage low-fi tracks ``Lowside of the Road'' and ``Get Behind the Mule.'' Look for it Tuesday. Three and one half stars

- F.S.

Gov't Mule/``Live ... With a Little Help From Our Friends'' (Capricorn)

This screamingly good two-disc set corrals Atlanta power trio Gov't Mule on stage with friends like keyboardist Bernie Worrell and ex-Black Crowes guitar man Marc Ford. The high-energy outfit, led by dizzying ex-Allmans guitarist Warren Haynes, covers well-chosen oldies from Free (``Mr. Big''), Dave Mason (``Sad and Deep as You'') and Humble Pie (``30 Days in the Hole'') along with Mongo Santamaria's ``Afro-Blue'' stretched into a soaring half-hour jam. For guitar freaks 'n' geeks only. Three stars

- F.S.

Sixpence None the Richer/``Sixpence None the Richer'' (Squint)

After enjoying a small but devoted fan base for several years, this disarming, Grammy-nominated Nashville dream-pop quintet scored with the sweetly lyrical ``Kiss Me,'' featured in the teen comedy ``She's All That'' and TV's ``Dawson's Creek.'' On their third album, the band's soft, pensive sound and high-quality musicianship, often reminiscent of the Sundays, 10,000 Maniacs and the Cranberries, makes for an ethereal and enjoyable diversion. The band appears Thursday at the House of Blues. Three stars

- F.S.

Duke Ellington/``Soul Call'' (Verve)

This varied set of reissues from Verve coincide with Ellington's birthday centennial and aptly demonstrates the diversity of the composer-bandleader's talents.

On the Fitzgerald date (Four stars), Ellington supports the great vocalist with a variety of backings - big band, small combo and sometimes with just Barney Kessel's expressive guitar. The variety makes for fascinating listening. The big-band numbers swing hard, while the small groups, often featuring former Ellington sideman Ben Webster to great effect, display a warm lyricism for the material. Needless to say, Fitzgerald's voice and range are unsurpassed. This triple-disc package also features an extended orchestral suite and unreleased rehearsal takes of Ellington and partner Billy Strayhorn working with Fitzgerald.

``Side by Side'' (Four stars) is a little misleading, since Ellington and Hodges play together on only three of the album's nine songs. Small matter. The record's two small combos are fantastic, with trumpeters Harry ``Sweets'' Edison and Roy Eldridge shining along with Hodges, Ellington and Strayhorn, who plays piano on those tracks where Ellington is absent. You won't hear a better small-band album.

``Soul Call'' (Three stars) comes from the same 1966 live dates that produced the recent eight-disc Fitzgerald-Ellington Cote d' Azur set. This reissue expands on the original album's skimpy six-song set, adding eight tracks. It isn't essential Ellington, but the orchestra is in fine fettle, mixing challenging works like ``La Plus Belle Africaine'' with standards like ``Caravan'' and ``Take the `A' Train.''

``Oscar Peterson Plays the Duke Ellington Songbook'' (Three stars) combines albums made in 1952 and 1959. The earlier date features Peterson with guitarist Kessel and bassist Ray Brown; seven years later, Kessel moved out and drummer Ed Thigpen moved in, maintaining the trio format. While the same dozen Ellington songs are repeated, the results vary significantly - the earlier recordings are so much more adventurous. Unfortunately, some quite audible surface noise slightly diminishes the impact, leaving this one to Ellington and Peterson enthusiasts.

- Glenn Whipp

Backsliders/``Southern Lines'' (Mammoth)

You can't help falling for this roots-rock platter from North Carolina's solid Backsliders. Ear-catching tunes on the follow-up to 1997's acclaimed ``Throwing Rocks at the Moon'' include the rockin' ``Abe Lincoln'' and ``Never Be Your Darling,'' along with message-tinged ballads by bandleader Chip Robinson. Tasty Springsteen-inspired guitar, chunky organ, pedal steel and grown-up themes make ``Southern Lines'' a honky-tonk gem comfortably filed under Americana. In stores Tuesday. Three stars

- David Bloom

Fountains of Wayne/``Utopia Parkway'' (Atlantic)

Although rarely equal to the left-field power-pop glory of the Fountains' self-titled 1996 debut, ``Utopia Parkway'' brims with enjoyable guitar-pop, memorable writing and sturdy harmonies from Wayne's world-weary auteurs Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood. Best of all is the Beach Boys homage ``Denise,'' the cynical anti-consumerist rant ``The Valley of Malls,'' and the high-school sendup ``Prom Theme'' (``We'll forget each other's names ... Then we'll work until we die''). A nice tribute to a time when pop ruled the airwaves. Two and one half stars

- F.S.

Vonda Shepard/``By 7:30'' (Jacket Records)

Top studio players and somewhat edgy production from Mitchell Froom puts ``Ally McBeal'' cast member Shepard ahead of her previous solo effort. If you like her TV work, you'll probably enjoy the upbeat confessional tone and warm delivery of ``By 7:30,'' which features a duet with one of the Indigo Girls on the tuneful single, ``Baby, Don't You Break My Heart Slow.'' Two and one half stars

- F.S.

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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Sound Recording Review
Date:Apr 23, 1999
Words:958
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