MURRY HAMMOND; "I Don't Know Where I'm Going, but I'm on My Way" (Humminbird Records) ****
NILS LOFGREN; "The Loner Nils Sings Neil" (Vision Music) ***
BECK; "Modern Guilt" (DGC) *** 1/2THE OFFSPRING; "Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace" (Columbia) ** 1/2
Music is just as diverse as the people who listen. And that is only reiterated with the release of these four CDs in the past few weeks.
• MURRY HAMMOND has spent his musical career as the bassist and sometime vocalist of the alt-country band Old 97's. And throughout singing leads on some of the Texas-based band's songs, he has shown a bit of his vocal prowess.
With his full-length debut, "I Don't Know Where I'm Going, but I'm on My Way," Hammond fans get an album's worth of vocals and moody arrangements.
The 17 tracks (including one instrumental called "Grainer") are planted solidly in the folksy roots of Americana.
And for the local crowd here in Utah, he even includes renditions of "Life Is Like a Mountain Railroad" and "You Will Often Meet Obstruction," which were written in part by Mormon poet Eliza R. Snow.
Other songs included on the album include A.P. Carter's "In the Shadow of Clinch Mountain" and "I Will Never Marry." Hammond's own works "Next Time Take the Train," "Between the Switches" and the traditional tunes "Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down" have that stark and dusty production that focuses on the texture of Hammond's sometimes heartbreaking baritone.
This CD is best heard with the lights out on a hot summer night.
• NILS LOFGREN is known as the guitarist for Bruce "The Boss" Springsteen's E Street Band. And his solo career hasn't hurt his reputation as a great musician, either.
With his new solo CD, Lofgren pays tribute to his other "boss" and band leader Neil Young.
Back in 1971, a 17-year-old Lofgren joined Young as a pianist on the classic "After the Gold Rush" album. He also played on Young's "Tonight's the Night." He was also a part of Young's other band Crazy Horse. And the friendship has lasted over the decades.
So, Lofgren, who played all the instruments (guitar and piano) on the album, decided now was the time to do an acoustic tribute album to Young. And the result is spectacular. The 15 songs on this album are done with respect and heartfelt dedication that find a new line of life in Lofgren's Young-like vocal delivery.
"Birds," "Long May You Run," "Only Love Can Break Your Heart," "The Loner," "World on a String" and "Harvest Moon" are brilliantly recreated by Lofgren without losing any of the original nuances. But in some cases, especially during "Flying on the Ground," the intimate takes are simply breathtaking.
• THE OFFSPRING hailed from Garden Grove, Calif., in 1984 and became one of the punk-to-rock crossover pioneers of the 1990s.
With its bratty lyrics about teenage angst and boredom, the Offspring hit a chord with kids in the '80s and '90s.
The band's eighth album, "Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace," is a culmination of 20-plus years in the business.
All 12 songs are still projected with Dexter Holland's sometimes manic and frantic vocals, complete with sing-along and anthem-like choruses. Guitarist Kevin "Noodles" Wasserman is still cranking out the flowing power chords and leads while Greg K. finds his groove in the rumbling bass lines.
These three have been with the band since "Noodles" joined in 1985.
The drummer for the album is Josh Freese, who played drums on the band's 2003 album "Splinter."
Songs on "Rage ... " include "Half-Truism, "Trust in You," "A Lot Like Me" and the single "Hammerhead," which helped push the CD to No. 10 on Billboard's 200 album chart. And the explicit lyrics label will show old fans that the band hasn't changed its "in-the-face" delivery.
"Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace" is an exciting addition to the Offspring catalog.
• BECK found Grammy success with his 1996 debut album, "Odelay." In 1999 his album "Mutations" won a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Performance.
His eighth studio album, "Modern Guilt," continues Beck's creative evolution.
Co-produced by hip-hop and rhythm & blues producer Danger Mouse and Beck, "Modern Guilt" ironically does not include any rapping, which Beck has been known to do in the past.
Instead, the album takes a lo-fi mix and '60s throw-back angle with lazy vocals on "Orphans," "Gamma Ray" and "Profanity Prayers."
Some studio-trick tweaking shines in the spacey "Chemtrails" and overdubbed gem "Walls."While "Modern Guilt," technically speaking, is much removed from Beck's so-called acoustic 2002 album, "Sea Change," and not as mix-boar broad as "Odelay" and "Midnight Vultures," this one is sure catch the ears of Beck fans everywhere.