Safe Upon the Shore Great Big Sea Warner Bros. * * 1/2 Doing the same-old, same-old would be a cause for complaint with many bands, but it's kind of the point with Great Big Sea. So of course their ninth studio album is packed to bursting with rollicking, jokey verses, sing-along choruses and skirling, Celtic-inflected ornamentation. But don't take their fondness for Maritime tradition to mean the material values the past over the present; as the Afghan war references in Over the Hills demonstrate, some themes are timeless. And it ought to tell you something that the two weakest tracks are covers: Ray Davies's painfully twee Have a Cuppa Tea, and their overly polite, Zeppelinesque take on Gallows Pole. J.D. Considine
Intriguer Crowded House Universal * * Rock careers follow a fairly predictable arc: beginning loud and aggressive, then turning arty and adventurous, and ending up quiet and melodious. Neil Finn got the order completely wrong, starting off arty with Split Enz, going for pretty in the first incarnation of Crowded House, then rocking out in the current version. Not that Crowded House have turned their backs on the Beatlesque beauty of their back catalogue. Instead, the dreamy plaintiveness of such songs as Archer's Arrows and Twice If You're Lucky is augmented by the raucous, semi-psychedelic charm of Isolation and Saturday Sun. But a distressing percentage of tunes avoid either extreme, leaving no impression at all. J.D.C.
6 String Theory Lee Ritenour Concord Jazz * * * That guitar ace Ritenour is as at home riffing with blues hound Jonny Lang or rock god Slash as with jazzman Pat Martino says a lot about his chops; that he's happy to play sideman on his own album says even more about his ego. But this album is less about Rit than about guitar-playing in general, and the range of talent - from 84-year old blues legend B.B. King to 16-year old Canadian classical phenom Shon Boublil - is as amazing as the solos themselves. Of course, there's the guitar-geek factor (the credits list everyone's guitar make and amp), but the music rarely degenerates into displays of technique for its own sake. J.D.C.