CHRIS CORNELL, Euphoria Morning (A&M) In the annals of rock, Soundgarden stands as the rarest of anomalies: a band that actually got better with each release. Whereas most outfits establish greatness early on, only to spend the rest of their careers dismantling it (see R.E.M.), Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell and his bandmates hit the artistic jackpot only to break up shortly thereafter. With Euphoria Morning, Cornell continues his upward climb. Solo record or not, Morning is a triumph, a collection of superbly realized songs that meld Cornell's matured melodic sense with what has got to be the best living voice in rock. Recorded nearly a year ago at the home studio of longtime friends, coproducers, and current bandmates Alain Johannes and Natasha Shneider of the LA band Eleven, Euphoria Morning states its case immediately with the snaking, Eastern-tinged guitars and soaring vocal of "Can't Change." This motif is also found in "Follow My Way" and "Mission," making it clear that the singer still has a soft spot for mid-period Zeppelin. He also has one for his late friend and fellow vocal powerhouse Jeff Buckley, as witnessed in "Wave Goodbye," a funky, heartfelt tribute to the drowned singer, complete with falsetto crooning ࠬa Buckley himself. "When I'm Down," a slow Motown shuffle with some remarkably tasty piano, is a study in spot-on production values. With this solo debut, it's clear that Cornell has come out of the light of the black hole sun and into a new day. Euphoria morning, indeed.—Tim Scanlin
OL' DIRTY BASTARD, N***a Please (Elektra) OK, here's what I'm thinking. The music on the album is done. The beats, courtesy of Sony's "My First Sampler," are finished, but no one's seen Ol' Dirty for weeks—not since he got out of jail. His manager, with the album's deadline looming, begins combing the city for signs of Dirt Dog, eventually finding him in a Harlem gutter, naked, snot crusted to his face, being chewed on by rats, mumbling something about "Tha dawg is cold." They hose him down, inject him with 4 million CCs of Japanese WWII-grade methamphetamines, put a mic in his hand, release a swarm of angry wasps into the room, and hit "record" on the console. He goes on to record one of the most beautifully fucked-up albums ever made. On N***a Please, ODB raps like a drunken uncle dressed as Santa Claus at the Christmas party: When he tries to be sweet, he's scary; when he tries to be funny, he's scary; when he gets scary for real, he's terrifying. On "Rollin' Wit You," ODB alternates his attention between "get whitey" paranoia and demands for more beer over a stark female chorus of "Jesus, I'm rollin' wit you." In "I Can't Wait," his voice channels the sounds of Boredoms' Eye Yamantaka. ODB's duo with Lil' Mo, "Good Morning Heartache," sounds like a half-conscious barfly yodeling with the jukebox an hour past last call. N***a Please runs a bizarre hip-hop gauntlet like Judy Garland and Wesley Willis in a three-legged race through Bartell's Halloween Preparation Center. The vocals appear to be culled from four months of FBI surveillance and pasted together randomly in the back of a pickup truck full of mating dogs. Totally offensive, racially inflammatory, nearly indecipherable, and absolutely recommended.—Mark Driver
VIBES, Withdrawn (Knitting Factory) With so much that comes out of the Knit these days sounding like yet another "update" of Balkan folk dances, it's nice to occasionally hear somebody who's still playing with a New York state of mind. Vibist Bill Ware's trio, Vibes, plays a kind of smart pop-jazz that is very warm and American with a burning undercurrent supplied by the great rhythm duo of Brad Jones on bass and EJ Rodriguez on drums (both lately of Marc Ribot's Cubanos Postizos, among many other projects). The song list contains some pure Americana as well: Vibes does an earnestly funky version of Bill Withers' "Lovely Day," and a beautifully inverted take on Burt Bacharach's "Close to You," among other covers. Most of the critically lauded vibraphonists today leave me feeling a little empty, but Ware wields the mallets with all the expressiveness and command of a horn player. He can go inside and outside, tearing off notes or caressing them. When he plugs in the distortion box for a second round of choruses on "Keep on Truckin'," he takes on a whole new aggressive voice. At other moments he creates such a relaxed, loungy atmosphere, I half expect an appearance from Mr. Lou Rawls. Some spare overdubbing allows EJ to add great Latin touches and Ware to support himself with some fine comping. —Mark D. Fefer
RICHMOND FONTAINE, Lost Son (Cavity Search) Call it a musical gratuity when a songwriter can bring a character to life through compelling narrative and excruciating description. And call it the same when a band has the potency to light a fire under a melody as well as the charm to tone it to a slow burn. Richmond Fontaine (the band) and its leader Willy Vlautin (the songwriter) do both with urgency on their third record (for Portland's sprawling music stable, Cavity Search). "Every song's about a guy that gets himself into a fucked-up situation or gets himself out of one," Vlautin has said about this collection. With song titles like "A Girl in a House in Felony Flats" or "Fifteen Year Old Kid in Nogales, Mexico," and lyrics like "There was a Minutemen poster hanging on the wall/And fast food bags and cigarette wrappers laying on the table," the songs seem more like a short-story dust jacket than any club show set list. Electric guitars and pedal steel in hand, Richmond Fontaine plays a raggedly graceful, Zen Arcade-intensity type of country (albeit one that's indebted to Uncle Tupelo's manic stop-start approach), and Vlautin's moonshine vocals mimic the desperation of J. Mascis and Jay Farrar as he sings of drunken lowlifes, teenage runaways, and security guards. "Hope & Repair," which closes down Lost Son, is downright chilling. "And from the West blows hope and repair," Vlautin sings about a street-corner prostitute. And from the West blows hope—hope in the name of Richmond Fontaine.—Scott Holter
Richmond Fontaine plays the Crocodile Thursday, 10/7.