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The Mermen
A Glorious Lethal Euphoria

The Mermen, a San Francisco Bay Area trio (with, naturally, a home page), offer a variety of viscous, psychedelic tracks that push the boundaries of surf music with a sound that is sometimes mystical, sometimes in-your-face brutal and sometimes acid-influenced but always uniquely personal and drenched in emotion. Guitarist and primary composer Jim Thomas demonstrates six-string mastery with his contorted, feedback-laden tones. Although reverb-sodden surf music occupies much of the album, it doesn't dominate. Instead, the band uses "ocean-oriented" music as a springboard for exploring other instrumental formats--from too-sweet classical arrangements to nine-minute, tripped-out guitar pilgrimages. Listening to A Glorious Lethal Euphoria is like skinny dipping in the Pacific--harsh but extremely exhilarating. (Judi Blackwell)

Mike Scott
Bring 'Em All In

Fans who remember Scott during his days at the helm of the Waterboys may be disappointed with this solo effort, a collection of largely moody melodies that lacks the fire of his former band. Although at times a brilliant lyricist, Scott apparently has come to believe that he can do it all without stumbling along the way. He's billed as writer, musician, singer and co-producer, and the album is a spiritual work so personal it borders on the self-important. When he isn't leading listeners through his relationships with God, women or himself, the recording has some remarkable moments. Particularly noteworthy is "City Full of Ghosts (Dublin)," a lighthearted number whose guitar hook and piano embellishments are eerily--and given the song's title, appropriately--reminiscent of an old Jim Croce tune. (R.M. Smith)

L.L. Cool J
Mr. Smith
Def Jam

Uncle L. trading his Kangol for a Polo visor should give a good hint to where L.L. Cool J's Mr. Smith is headed. Things are strictly on the lean R&B tip, whether sampling El Debarge's "I Like It" on "Make It Hot" or showcasing the inescapable Boyz II Men on the crossover-friendly "Hey Lover." It's hard to believe this is the same L.L. Cool J who rocked bells and only recently pushed Craig Mack's "Flava in Ya Ear" remix over the top. Instead, this is L.L. Bean J, clean and not too rugged for suburban folk. Nineties rap fans marinating in Wu-Tang's various permutations will listen to Mr. Smith and laugh. The turntable cuts and beats backing on "No Airplay" and "I Shot Ya" are honest and as close as he comes to cracking hip-hop skull. The rest of the tracks are so lazy and forgettable, L.L. should do like Fresh Prince and stick to the sitcoms. (Todd S. Inoue)

Dean James
Can We Talk

If sax players can lower blood pressures and raise heartbeats, this Berklee College grad might be the next best thing to George Clooney. James' saxophone skills are slicker than gym floors with only a small percentage of the funk. He's versed in the kind of saxophone soloing that caresses. "Lay Your Hands on Me" is the brand of make-out music that Barry White might approve of. " 'Round the Horn" and "Lost Without Your Lovin" pick up the pulse with smooth vocals by LaMont Vanhook. I could do without all the sappy Babyface-like keyboard programming, which only lightens Can We Talk's mood. Most of this CD is dedicated to themes of romance, making it a musical microwave to quickly heat up those cold winter nights. (TSI)

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