Minnie Driver

Membership has its privileges. How else do we explain the cameos that stud Minnie Driver's sophomore effort? Would Ryan Adams really chip in a guitar part if Driver weren't a movie star? Would Liz Phair lend backing vocals? Sure they would. Right.

In fairness, though, Driver isn't pulling a Hasselhoff here. Sea Stories won't revolutionize the roots rock landscape, but it's a solid record, full of blues-tinged country songs written by the Beaked One herself. "Sorry Baby" has a driving melody, and "Mockingbird" offers a sly Spanish lilt. Rami Jaffee supplies sumptuous keyboard fills where called for, and Eric Heywood adds his weepy pedal steel. It's when Driver leaves her voice exposed that things turn iffy. She just doesn't have the brio to pull off torch songs like "Cold Dark River" — her notes sound flat rather than exalted. Would you settle for a terrific backing band? Yes, we thought you would.

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Steven Almond