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Not content to proffer one distinct rhyme style, Jemini trots out his Tribe Called Quest-like smooth side to trade lines with his Brand Nubian-like wild side, revealing a confidence and versatility not found in many rappers. In short, Scars and Pain is your healthy choice for '95: twice the flavor, with none of the fat.

By Roni Sarig

Butch Hancock
Eats Away the Night
(Sugar Hill)

Butch Hancock is the only member of the legendary early-Seventies trio the Flatlanders never to have found a mass audience. Joe Ely, adopted by the Clash for their late-Seventies U.S. tours, scored. Much more recently, Jimmie Dale Gilmore notched his niche in the singer-songwriter pantheon (1993 Grammy nomination + 1995 profile in the New York Times Magazine = niche notched).

Not so Hancock. A shame, because among the three he's the purest songwriter. Whereas Ely's music is pretty much meant to be taken as it is and Gilmore's work has earned him the "metaphysical" tab, Hancock is a metaphorical writer. "If I was a highway, I'd stretch alongside you/I'd help you pass by ways that have dissatisfied you," he sings in "If You Were a Bluebird," a song covered by Ely nearly ten years ago and given a splendid, spare re-treatment on this album. Those who know Hancock from previous releases know he is also a storyteller and a balladeer; songs such as "Welcome to the Real World Kid," "One Kiss," and the title cut ("Time has got this hungry mouth to feed/And it always bites off what it needs/But when it's had its fill of broad daylight/It just eats away the night") won't disappoint.

Gurf Morlix -- virtuoso sideman to Lucinda Williams among others A does double duty as guitarist and producer, with sharp but unobtrusive results. Along with Hancock's harmonica and the occasional appearance of an accordion or fiddle, Riley Osbourn's ubiquitous Hammond B-3 organ provides striking counterpoint to Hancock's vocals. His voice is remarkable, even when compared to his ex-bandmates' (and still-buddies'). While Ely's delivery is that of your basic straight-ahead Texas rocker, and Gilmore's reedy tenor yields lovely high-lonesome intimations of Hank Williams, Hancock's power is raw, a semi going by on the highway outside your motel room in the dead of night, its Dopplered moan penetrating the sheetrock and waking you up to the disturbing realization that you were dreaming about the exact same things you'd driven all day in order to forget.

By Tom Finkel

Celine Dion
The French Album
(Sony)

There is just no earthly reason why I should like this album. It's bubblegum pop. It involves drum machines. It is sung in French. And yet I can't quite bring myself to hate the thing. There's, like, three songs on the album that are actually ... kinda cool. The dozen tunes here were written by Jean-Jacques Goldman, who is described in press releases as the "Bob Dylan of France." For the present, I'll ignore this painful oxymoron, and simply note that the guy knows how to write a pop song. I'm not saying anyone should go out and buy The French Album. Heavens, no. But consider it as a gift for that loved one with adult-contemporary leanings. Okay, maybe I'm going a bit soft, but remember, Ze temps, zay are a'changing.

BY Steven Almond

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