Hot Product for Monday, Sept. 24, 2002

Previewing new albums from India.Arie, Peter Gabriel, Beck, and Underworld, the Johnny Cash tribute "Kindred Spirits," and more.

Fantastic 'Voyage'

BurkeIt's unusual to meet a successful artist who is not caught up in the pressures of celebrity, but India.Arie seems to be of that rare breed. Having achieved renown with her eclectic, soulful Motown debut, "Acoustic Soul," Arie returns this week with "Voyage to India." If she feels any pressure, you can't tell.

"The thought crossed my mind about not wanting to alienate my fan base, but I don't know what would alienate them or bring them in, so I decided not to think about it," Arie says. "I made a conscious decision when I was recording 'Acoustic Soul' to -- and this is one of my mantras -- follow the music and let the chips fall where they may. That's what I did with this album. It would have been way too much to try to live up to some expectations when I don't even know what they are."

For her sophomore set, Arie did make at least one change: collaborating more with her band. She cites as an example "Little Things," the album's first single, which she says "doesn't have any guitar at all. I love 'Little Things,' because that's how I feel. That's the lesson that I learned last year put into one song." Other highlights include "Right Direction" (an outtake from "Acoustic Soul") and "Good Man," which appeared on the soundtrack to the Mel Gibson-starring Vietnam war drama "We Were Soldiers."

'Up' Where We Belong

Peter Gabriel laughs heartily when he ponders the intensely dark tone of "Up," his first Geffen studio effort in a decade. "I'm just a happy-go-lucky fellow, aren't I?" he says, smiling. "Seriously, this wasn't intended to be such a heavy piece of work. It just turned out that way. At the same time, I wouldn't portray these songs as morose or depressing." That's debatable, given the themes of loss and loneliness that run through the ironically titled "Up." Perhaps most dominant, though, is the recurring exploration of death in songs like "I Grieve" and "Don't Leave." He offers, "Death is instantly perceived as a depressive subject. But it doesn't have to be. Take, for example, if you live in a dominant youth culture that pretends death doesn't exist, you end up going directly toward it. But if you face it head-on and accept death as a part of the life cycle -- which so many other cultures do -- then you live life more fully." All of this noted, "Up" is not consumed with one or two topics. The set's first single, "The Barry Williams Show," offers an acerbic take on the current spate of reality TV programs and their eroding effect on humanity. Gabriel says, "It's remarkable to witness what people will do for a slice of fame." The artist is preparing for an extensive world tour in the fall, with two decidedly different shows: one will be an elaborate, theatrical piece, while the other will follow a more traditional concert format.

'Change' For The Better

After the electro-bump of 1999's "Midnite Vultures," chameleon-like singer/tunesmith Beck returns with a set of introspective, acoustic-based compositions on "Sea Change" (DGC). Fans of his uptempo brand of pop may initially be startled by the stark, somber tone of the album, as much of the material barely rises above a gentle shuffle beat. While Beck has previously dabbled in acoustic fare, this project shows him take similarly raw ideas and bring them to full realization. Producer Nigel Goodrich helps him flesh out tunes like "Lonesome Tears" and "Round the Bend" into glorious epics, replete with sumptuous string arrangements. Beck has rarely performed with such maturity and confidence, breathing a rich, often haunting baritone into songs that seem to follow a plotline thread of despair after the end of a relationship. In an appropriately unique twist, Beck's tour in support of "Sea Change" will find him backed by the Flaming Lips, who will play their own set beforehand. The jaunt begins Oct. 17 in Minneapolis and is scheduled to run through late November.

'Days' Of Our Lives

Three years after Underworld seduced the world with the Generation X-defining hit "Born Slippy" (immortalized in the film "Trainspotting"), the U.K. electronica outfit returned full-throttle with 1999's "Beaucoup Fish." An exhaustive year-long tour followed, and in 2000, Underworld released "Everything Everything," a live CD/DVD documenting the seminal innovators' 10-year career. But in late 1999, longstanding core member/international DJ Darren Emerson announced his departure, leaving Karl Hyde and Rick Smith to face the daunting challenge of mapping out a questionable future. Underworld re-emerges this week with "A Hundred Days Off" (JBO/V2), which retains the group's trademark surging electronic pulses but also creates a new landscape infused with seductive rhythmic undertows, languid acoustic instrumentation, sensuous art-pop, and chilled-out ambient flourishes. "This album is all about evolution and discovery," Hyde says. "Rather than trying to recreate our sound from the last decade -- possibly becoming cartoons of ourselves -- Rick and I spent a great deal of time crafting this album. We felt that this record had to encapsulate our growth as individuals and as a group." A short North American tour begins Oct. 14 in Chicago; European dates are on tap through mid-November.

During his career in country music, Travis Tritt has ruffled more feathers than a pack of coyotes in a chicken coop -- just ask him. But the always plain-spoken Tritt isn't going to start catering to the powers-that-be on Music Row, even though he believes that's what it will take to achieve superstar status in the industry. Instead, his new Columbia, "Strong Enough," is an appeal to his numerous fans, who already know what he brings to the table. Relaxing into his recent success, the artist maintains that "Strong Enough" is a quintessential Tritt project. He either wrote or co-wrote nine of the 12 songs, including first single "Strong Enough To Be Your Man," which is No. 25 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart. Tritt says, "Most of this album was pretty much along the lines of all the different types of music that I've tried to venture into at one point or another." But venturing out can be difficult for him. "For years, I've heard people talk about the outlaw image, [calling me a] rough-around-the-edges country rocker. Then the last album came out, and they are calling me a traditionalist. People like to try and put a label on things, put you in a box. I hate those boxes. It limits you if you're trying to do different things and experiment with music."

'Spirits' Having Flown

Along with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Dwight Yoakam, and Travis Tritt, country legend Johnny Cash appears on his own upcoming tribute album, "Kindred Spirits," due this week from Lucky Dog/Sony Music Nashville. The 14-track compilation includes a rendition of his song "Meet Me in Heaven" on which Cash guests, along with his wife June Carter Cash. "Kindred Spirits" boasts some of Cash's greatest songs, according to Marty Stuart, who produced the album and was previously a member of Cash's backing band. "My vision from the start has been to portray Johnny Cash the songwriter," he says. "He's such a poignant and insightful writer and this has never been done. In the likeness of Johnny, each artist brought their own interpretation to the songs. Johnny's renegade spirit transcends throughout the project." Among those interpretations is Springsteen's stark rendition of "Give My Love to Rose," along with Little Richard's rollicking romp through "Get Rhythm," the B-side to Cash's third Sun Records single, "I Walk the Line." Elsewhere, Dylan adds "Train of Love," contemporary bluesman Keb' Mo' covers the classic "Folsom Prison Blues," while veteran blues artist Charlie Robison contributes "Don't Take Your Guns to Town." In addition to cuts by Hank Williams Jr., Steve Earle, and others is a collaboration by Mary Chapin Carpenter, Sheryl Crow, and Emmylou Harris on the song "Flesh and Blood."

Additional titles hitting stores this week include:

-- "Elvis 30 #1 Hits" (BMG/RCA), which collects U.S. and U.K. chart-toppers and also includes the Elvis Vs. JXL remix of "A Little Less Conversation," a No. 1 on Hot 100 Singles Sales chart. -- Kid Rock sideman Uncle Kracker's "No Stranger to Shame" (Lava/Atlantic). -- An album of unreleased tracks from singer/songwriter Ryan Adams, "Demolition" (Lost Highway). -- R&B star Gerald Levert's "The G Spot" (Elektra). -- A new set from Primus leader Les Claypool, "The Frog Brigade Presents the Purple Onion" (Prawn Song). -- New albums from veteran singer/songwriters Steve Earle ("Jerusalem," Artemis) and Jackson Browne, "The Naked Ride Home" (Elektra). -- The self-titled spinART debut from Eyes Adrift, featuring Nirvana's Krist Novoselic, the Meat Puppets' Curt Kirkwood, and Sublime's Bud Gaugh. -- The first studio album in more than 20 years from U.K. rock outfit the Soft Boys, "Nextdoorland" (Matador). -- Modern rock act Tonic's "Head on Straight" (Universal). -- Albums from singer/songwriters Nanci Griffith ("Winter Marquee," Rounder) and Old 97's frontman Rhett Miller ("The Instigator," Elektra). -- New Spitfire sets from veteran rock artists Alice Cooper ("Dragon Town") and Ted Nugent ("Craveman"). -- Bluesman Delbert McClinton's "Room To Breathe" (New West). -- Electronica sets from DJ's Darren Emerson and Tim Deluxe ("Perfecto," Thrive) and Evolution ("Unnatural Selection," Nettwerk). -- New albums from rock outfits hed(pe) ("The Big Nothing," Jive) and Viva Death ("Viva Death," Vagrant). -- A compilation drawn from Los Angeles radio station KCRW, "Sounds Eclectic Too," featuring live tracks from Coldplay's Chris Martin, R.E.M., Zero 7, Air, and Dido (Palm). -- Soundtracks from the films "Brown Sugar" (MCA) and "Sweet Home Alabama" (Hollywood). -- Reissues of seminal rap outfit N.W.A.'s "Straight Outta Compton" and "Niggaz4Life," along with late group member Eazy-E's "Eazy Duz It" (Priority/Capitol). -- The compilation "Club Nation America Vol. 2" (MCA), featuring hits from Daniel Bedingfield, Mary J. Blige, and DJ Sammy & Yanou.