Phil Collins - Dance Into the Light (Atlantic): Phil Collins jumps on the world-music bandwagon with this album featuring African rhythms. From its encouraging, upbeat title track to the playful Paul Simon-like "Wear My Hat," Collins introduces new (or borrowed) sounds to his pop songs. Many of the lyrics reflect the artist's recent divorce - they are sometimes hopeful, sometimes searching. Add to this mix a cover of Bob Dylan's, "The Times They Are A-Changin'," and you have one eclectic compilation. Fans may prefer Collins's more-original older material, but some of these new songs are worth a listen.
-- Kim Campbell
Blind Melon - Nico (Capitol): Thirteen months after lead singer Shannon Hoon's death, Blind Melon has released its final album, compiled from recordings made before Hoon died. It is understandably an odd mix of songs that struggle to cohere as a single album - but it's filled with some pretty good music anyway. "Soul One," the first song the band wrote, stands out because it doesn't really sound like Blind Melon - its clean, well-mixed acoustic guitars contrast with the rougher edge the band later showed. Hoon recorded the album's last song, "Letters From a Porcupine," on guitarist Christopher Thorn's answering machine. It provides a glimpse of how good the band's future might have been.
-- Mark Sappenfield
Don Byron - Bug Music (Nonesuch): This rollicking collection spotlights music by three bygone band leaders whose works were rejected by classical buffs as too jazzy, but rejected by jazz fans because they were too meticulously preplanned. The difficulty of pinning these pieces down is exactly what attracts clarinet wizard Don Byron and his gifted ensemble, who zigzag their way through 16 numbers associated with the renowned Duke Ellington, on hand, and the sadly overlooked Raymond Scott and John Kirby, on the other. All provide toe-tapping, thought-provoking fun.
-- David Sterritt