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1 SOLOIST STANDS OUT AS SOLID IF UNSPECTACULAR; 2ND FALLS FLAT

SHARE 1 SOLOIST STANDS OUT AS SOLID IF UNSPECTACULAR; 2ND FALLS FLAT

Some singer-songwriters thrive within the anonymity of a "band" structure. Yet others have found the band experience creatively repressing.

Two of the best who decided to go it solo in recent years are Aimee Mann of 'Til Tuesday and Maria McKee of Lone Justice.- In the case of Mann, the move to a solo career looks deliciously promising with the release of "Whatever," an uneven but enjoyable solo debut. In the case of McKee, who has had one other solo album, her can't-miss career is now missing right and left with the release of "You Gotta Sin to Be Saved."

"Whatever" is pleasant, though surprisingly unimaginative. A few songs stand out as particularly memorable even after repeated listening.

One that does just that is the Byrds-esque "50 Years After the Fair," with former Byrd Roger McGuinn offering up backing vocals and jangling guitar. There is also a decided Byrds flavor on "Could've Been Anyone," which incorporates quotes from Byrds songs.

To pigeonhole "Whatever" as the '90s return of the Byrds, however, would be gross overstatement. Mann instead offers up a mixed bag of pop-rock treats, some a throwback to the Pretenders, while others conjure up memories of the folky songwriting of Carole King.

Another good tune is the folk-rock "Jacob Marley's Chain," a story song about how the mistakes of yesterday help make the person we are today. "But it's not like life is such a vale of tears/It's just full of thoughts that act as souvenirs/For those tiny blunders made in yesteryears."

Relationships seem to be the common theme of most tunes, and Mann takes a refreshing, low-cliche approach to loves lost and found. As she coyly notes on "Stupid Thing," ". . . It wasn't me you outsmarted/Stopping it all before it got started."

"Whatever" is a solid but unspectacular effort. Fans of 'Til Tuesday will note a change of persona. Gone is her image as a heart-broken, lovesick girl raging about relationships; enter a confident songwriter who seems to be celebrating personal freedom.

- Singer-songwriter Maria McKee refers to the songs on her latest, "You Gotta Sin to GetSaved," as the music she "loves, knows and does best." If that's the case, McKee ought to try her hand at some of the music she doesn't know and love quite so well.

"Gotta Sin" is undeniably disappointing, lacking in any sense of creative adventure or emotional energy. Succinctly put, this album is downright boring.

McKee starts off with the brassy "I'm Gonna Soothe You," a pop ditty that never quite takes off, and then offers up a good interpretation of Van Morrison's "My Sad Lonely Eyes."

Her exceptional vocal talents take center stage on the melancholy "My Childhood Among the Outlaws," but again the song never quite reaches its potential. The best cut on the album is a '90s twist on the Carole King tune "I Can't Make It Alone."

The worst of the bunch? No question it's the steel-guitar country weepers like "Only Once," "Precious Time" and "Why Wasn't I More Grateful," a tune that offers the seemingly autobiographical observation: "I had angels, a gang of angels by my side/Livin' lucky, golden girl with an easy ride/Little worry, loads of time/Wasn't it enough/Wasn't it enough."

Conceptually, "Gotta Sin" is all over the musical map, though she refers to it as "rootsy American rock 'n' roll." There's some rhythm and blues in the Van Morrison mold, some hard-core country wailers, various shades of rock dressed in Chrissie Hynde-like vocals and even a little gospel influence thrown in.

The eclectic blend is not surprising. That it lacks life is, especially coming from one of the brightest stars in modern music.