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Singer/guitarist/songwriter/chief Pumpkinhead Billy Corgan textures the collection with simple, orchestrated love songs, interspersing them with screaming-guitar-and-synth-laden anthems. In fact not many bands can glide this effortlessly from moody ballads to jarring thrash trash. Even the collection itself is spliced in two: "Dawn to Dusk" (disc one) and "Twilight to Starlight" (disc two), although Corgan has explained "this is not a concept album." And even if it were, the concept could only be described as melodic schizophrenia. After the piano-laced opening title track, the set rips into the explosive "Tonight, Tonight," as Corgan captivatingly sings, "Believe in me as I believe in you." The eerily familiar "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" finds Corgan pulling a Damien routine as he snarls through the chorus, "Despite all my rage, I'm still a rat in a cage." Switching gears again, the wispy "Cupid de Locke" floats and flutters like the love theme to the film Emanuelle, replete with lavish harps. Side one closes with "Take Me Down," an affecting ode to a significant other that sounds like Seventies marshmallow-rockers Bread on a Prozac bender.

Disc two offers more of the same, from the screeching "Tales of the Scorched Earth" to the quirky "We Only Come Out at Night." Corgan, with his wildly listenable pop songs and bizarro arrangements, may well be the Nineties' answer to Brian Wilson, minus the sandbox in his living room. It took balls to make Mellon Collie. Luckily, Smashing Pumpkins is wearing big pants.

By George Pelletier

Larry Garner
You Need to Live a Little
(Verve-Gitanes)

A captivating mix of straight blues and contemporary R&B, Larry Garner's debut record for the Verve-Gitanes label satisfies on many levels. Garner's lyrics -- sung in a nasal but immensely listenable Baton Rouge blues twang -- encompass both traditional blues subjects such as the horny, two-timing hypocrisy of the "Preacher Man," and modern-day dilemmas such as trying to keep "Four Cars Running," thus ensuring domestic tranquillity with the wife and kids. And on "Don't Run Talkin'," Garner puts his distinctive spin on the matter of platonic male-female relationships.

The bouncy rhythm section of the great Willie Weeks (bass) and the increasingly popular Brian Jones (drums) sets a loping pace on the midtempo material, and proves that their ears are probably tuned to contemporary black radio on the soulful ballads. Garner's guitar playing services the song, rather than vice versa, although he squeezes off some clean B.B. King-like solos. The front man also gets some help from slide player extraordinaire and fellow Louisianan Sonny Landreth on the late Silas Hogan's "Rats and Roaches in My Kitchen." Furthering the sonic oomph on a handful of songs are the Legendary White Trash Horns.

Despite a brief bout of sentimentality on a tune or two, Larry Garner presents a welcome infusion of life and humor into blues songwriting, while still paying heed to those who came before.

By Bob Weinberg

Aceyalone
All Balls Don't Bounce
(Capitol)

While the politicians postulate the depths of rap's depravity, Aceyalone reminds us "all balls don't bounce" -- that all rappers are not created lethal. Even in Los Angeles -- where gangsta rhymers first made their assault -- there exists a thriving underground of gifted wordsmiths and nimble improvisers (such as Freestyle Fellowship, Pharcyde, and Ahmad) who battle it out with words as their only weapons. Aceyalone, as part of the revolutionary Freestyle Fellowship, has long beat at the heart of all that is still healthy in hip-hop.

All Balls Don't Bounce, his solo debut, builds on the stylistic heights set by the Fellowship's last album, 1993's much-heralded but little-bought Inner City Griots. Tracks such as "B-Boy Kingdom" and "Knownots," which feature his former (and future?) cohorts Mikah Nine and Peace, give Balls the taste of a Fellowship followup. But alone or with partners, it's Aceyalone's songwriting that makes his album a true adventure.

Though there's not a weak link on All Balls, "Headaches & Woes," a punchy show stopper set to a rolling vibraphone and a bass-line run, is about as good as hip-hop gets. It's Ace in all his glory: While he tap-dances his way with sing-song abandon and finger-snapping grace, he knocks us out with one of the most slyly presented, fully realized hip-hop performances on record. Ace catalogues the stress -- "That leaves me with a twisted view of the whole wide world as I know it" -- and concludes, "so I guess I got no choice but to be a poet." But nodding to all the things he could become, he continues, "A prophet, a griot, a gangster, a bum, a nobody, a criminal, an MC!" Thankfully for us, Aceyalone chose to excel at the last of these.

By Roni Sarig

Black Grape
It's Great When You're Straight . . . Yeah
(Radioactive)

Remember that whole Manchester thing that was happening a couple of years ago -- the vastly overhyped collision of guitar rock and dance beats that spawned so, so many forgettable Brit bands? At its worst, Black Grape's debut is an irksome reminder of that era -- soul-yawning retro to rave by. That's no surprise, as the man behind the band is Shaun Ryder, erstwhile leader of Happy Mondays, one of the Manchester multitude.

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