Pearl Jam has finally strung together a full album of songs that are as extraordinary as bits and pieces from its four prior full-length releases (those past tunes include "Jeremy," "Daughter," "Nothingman," "Better Man," and "Who You Are"). On Yield you'll find soaring rockers ("Faithfull," "Given to Fly," "In Hiding"), melancholy acoustic rock ("Low Light"), and wistful moments ("All Those Yesterdays," and the gorgeous, lilting "Wishlist," even if it fades inexplicably, not quite fully baked). Meanwhile frontman Eddie Vedder displays his typically powerful vocal presence, whether he's expressing grandiose sentiments ("If there were no angels would there be no sin," and "It's rare to come upon a bridge that has not been around or been stepped on") or more earthly concerns, ones seemingly linked to his own rock-star station in life ("I wish I was a sacrifice but somehow still lived on," and "fuckers, he still stands").

But Yield's knockout punch is guitarist Stone Gossard's "No Way," an infectious anti-anthem that trumpets "I've stopped trying to make a difference." Akin to No Code's "Who You Are" and "Smile," which were influenced by the band's then-recent collaborations with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Neil Young, respectively, "No Way" finds Pearl Jam flirting, if ever so slightly, with cut-and-paste postmodern sounds -- the same sounds that have threatened to turn the band into a rock dinosaur. With a steady groove, guitar atmospherics, and even some kind of siren sound in the mix, it's as if these guys have finally discovered Beck and DJ Whoever. Not that "No Way" sounds anything like a turntable orgy -- this is Pearl Jam, after all, and for them at least, their classic rock/suburban punk amalgam still rules. But it's Pearl Jam at long last delivering a truly inspired album worthy of the onslaught of hype previously heaped upon them.

-- Neal Weiss

Various Artists
Great Expectations: The Album

Presented for your disapproval: the contempo soundtrack, a charmless, feckless, transparent marketing tool. This one: sixteen tracks, four of which, the CD sleeve honestly owns up, "do not appear in film." You get: the Woman Who Still Would Be Kate Bush (you know her as Tori Amos) breathily overemoting on "Siren"; Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland painfully stumbling through a Brechtian waltz that's been grafted onto the Beatles "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" by a very shaky surgeon; hilariously overwrought ex-Soundgarden dude Chris Cornell wrestling with his deathless acoustic ballad "Sunshower," at long last revealing the extremely low-rent Steve Miller within; and flotsam from fine young nobodies Poe, Duncan Sheik, Lauren Christy, Fisher, David Garza, and the Verve Pipe. From the days-of-yore file: the Grateful Dead's 1970 "Uncle John's Band," plus Iggy Pop, ably assisted by David Bowie, on 1977's giggly, swaggering "Success."

Rewards for the patient: Mono's percolating little hip-hoppy shuffle "Life in Mono," which cannily cribs a riff from John Barry's theme from the fantastic 1965 Brit secret agent pic The Ipcress File; half a great song ("Like a Friend") by the half-great Pulp; and Cape Verdean alto Cesaria Evora's beguiling, melancholy-sounding "Besame Mucho" (she sings in Portuguese), its melody carried by six- and twelve-string guitars and a cavaquinho (similar to a ukulele), then flecked with piano and soprano sax -- absolutely hypnotic.

-- Michael Yockel

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

Big band swing is not a musical genre often associated with twentysomething surfers hanging ten on the shorelines of Southern California. But put a few surf-savvy, former punk rockers in a room containing a hollow-body guitar, a stand-up bass, and an assortment of shiny brass instruments and watch 'em transform.

The eight members of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy first donned pinstripe suits, spectator shoes, and fedoras around the time most of their peers were grunging it in flannel -- which is to say around 1991. After a couple of years gigging at colleges and the odd nightclub, jumpin' and jivin' in the style of Forties legends Cab Calloway and Louis Jordan and selling self-made CDs out of the back of a van, bandleader Scotty Morris and his cohorts graduated to the big time: a weekly gig at the Derby, one of L.A.'s coolest hangouts. Then came the 1996 indie film Swingers, prominently featuring BBVD and catapulting the group to the forefront of the neoswing lounge scene. Appearances on Fox's Party of Five and Melrose Place followed.

Certainly the camera has been good to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, despite the somewhat staid and more-retro-than-reality roles the group has portrayed in film and on television. The band's eponymous major-label debut (Coolsville has a distribution and marketing deal with EMI-Capitol) brims with a full 54 minutes of romping nitro-jive, a smooth, stylish blend of classic swing filtered through the capable hands of Nineties trendsetters. Horns blare, cymbals crash, and bass lines walk, while singer-guitarist Morris conjures up characters and imagery straight out of classic Bogart movies -- think The Maltese Falcon or Casablanca. An aura of gangster (very old school) sensibilities permeates the disc, most notably on "Mr. Pinstripe Suit" and "King of Swing."

The twelve-song disc also includes impassioned new recordings of "You & Me & the Bottle Makes 3 Tonight (Baby)" and "Go Daddy-O," both featured on the Swingers soundtrack, and an admirably reworked reading of the Calloway classic "Minnie the Moocher." But Big Bad Voodoo Daddy primarily plays dance music, as evidenced by cuts such as "Jump with My Baby" and "Jumpin' Jack," both custom-made for spontaneous outbreaks of athleticism known in dance circles as the lindy hop and the West Coast swing.

Bassist Dirk Shumaker describes Big Bad Voodoo Daddy as "a cartoon come to life." Cartoon is not far off the mark. Come to life is dead on target. Go Daddy-O!

-- Adam St. James

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