k.d. lang
All You Can Eat
(Warner Bros.)

I miss the country k.d. The ache and twang in her voice, the kitschy cowpunk outfits, the whole Tom Mix meets Patsy Cline thing. Since she dumped the westernware for romance with 1992's Ingenue, lang's music has undergone a maturation of sexual frankness and brazenness that reeks of her friendship with that bad seed Madonna. Not that All You Can Eat, her second foray into the adult-contemporary genre, is necessarily a bad record. It's just that the newly liberated lang, who in the CD's press kit describes this album as "more ambient and ethereal," has let a lot of the mystery escape from her music, leaving behind an airy blandness.

No longer the coy and jocular tomboy who enlivened earlier efforts such as 1987's Angel with a Lariat and 1988's Shadowland, lang now plays the sex kitten, plaintively pining after her female lover for acceptance and maybe a little schtupin'. "Kiss away the ones who say the lust you feel is wrong" lang coaxes on "Sexuality." Meanwhile "Maybe" finds her trying to clarify her true feelings toward another, and "Get Some" is not about grocery shopping, if you catch my drift. The themes of relationships, desire, and getting horizontal run rampant on All You Can Eat, and you want to believe the passion of lang's intimations. But in the end there's nothing compelling enough to make a person want to give in and put out. Lang sings every song with the same sultry swoon, so that within a half an hour -- in this case, at the close of this paltry 34-minute set -- you begin to question the sincerity of her pleas. That's too bad. It sounded as if k.d. was on to something with her hit "Constant Craving" (from Ingenue), which definitely left you feeling a little hot and bothered. All You Can Eat just leaves you feeling bothered.

By George Pelletier

Out Come the Wolves

Rancid's last album gave me trouble, and this new one -- a supposed punky reggae classic along the lines of the Clash's London Calling -- is no less troublesome. Both records raise the same question: Do they work because they're good, or because their competition is so bad? Last year's Let's Go was a decent hunk of punk product that walked through the multiplatinum door kicked open by former labelmates Green Day. Although tediously overexposed on faux-alternative radio and MTV, the single "Salvation" was hard not to like A a sing-along snot-slinger that bettered anything concocted by Billie Jo Armstrong's feeble trio. And any alternative to the Offspring is always welcome. Still, there was something naggingly mundane about the whole album, a feeling that despite all the energy Rancid mustered, you had really heard it all before, whether it was Social Distortion's first album or an early Adverts single.

Out Come the Wolves, a nineteen-song spiel with an emphasis on the skittering rhythms of ska, poses similar problems. On the surface it's a fine piece of work with an impressive whoop-ass sound, from the muscular pound of drummer Brett Reed to the stripped-down production that sprays the spit of vocalist Tim Armstrong right in your face. But beyond the hyped-up Jamaican rhythms, Rancid's latest is no more original than its predecessor -- they've just found a new pile of records to steal from. And they aren't the best thieves: Where the Clash fused the influence of reggae masters such as Toots Hibbert and Big Youth into their already expansive sound, Rancid has simply brought the music's bouncing beat to its punk-rock retreads. There is some good stuff here, and all of it smacks of conviction, concern, and authority. But if you want an idea of what an innovative punk-ska merger really sounds like, go buy the Specials' debut record.

By John Floyd
Rancid performs with Lunachicks and the Gotohells at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, November 3, at the Edge, 200 W Broward Blvd, Ft Lauderdale; 525-9333. Tickets cost $10.

Los Van Van
Lo Ultimo en Vivo

Cuba's leading dance band, Los Van Van has been entertaining writhing crowds in community dance halls and hotel nightclubs since 1969. The musicians' rebellious attitude and their sexy -- at times subversive -- double-entendre lyrics have made them popular heroes. Their packed concerts, presided over by rakish bandleader Juan Formell, are euphoric flesh fests during which couples meld together in an African-inspired dirty dance that makes commonplace salsa steps look as prim as a minuet.

But this stiff live recording does nothing to transmit that sweaty sabor. It's not really a live album -- or, rather, it's not a concert album. Lo Ultimo en Vivo was conceived as an alternative to the group's previous studio albums, which could never be recorded with the entire band playing together, because the studio was not equipped to accommodate all fifteen musicians at once. This time Formell decided to record the whole group using a two-track DAT machine as they played on-stage in an empty dance hall. The result is patently flat, with the individual instruments failing to stand out -- this salsa sounds like a sort of muddy stew. A few halfhearted claps and cheers can be heard in the background (probably the crew), casting something of a pathetic pall over the proceedings. No problems with the song selection, though: The CD includes the band's hit "­Que Sopresa! (Voy a Publicar Tu Foto en la Prensa)" A which translates as "What a Surprise! (I'm Going to Publish Your Picture in the Paper)" A and the amusing, allegorical "La Protesta de las Gallinas" ("The Hens' Protest"). But the only track that really succeeds here is "Tu Me Haces Falta" ("I Need You"), a romantic bolero carried off by the strength of Formell's voice. Overall Lo Ultimo en Vivo comes across as just a shadow of the live Los Van Van experience. The group's sound has been much more successfully captured on well-produced studio albums in the past, several of which are available in the U.S.