Monday, July 31st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Fragments of Freedom
Grade: B-

When Morcheeba put out its stellar debut CD in '96, trip-hop was the sound du jour. Four years later, it's yesterday's groove, so it isn't shocking to discover the London trio is now steering away from slow, psychedelic hip-hop.

But what is surprising is how downright upbeat Morcheeba has turned on Fragments of Freedom, its third CD. Unfortunately, that mood elevation comes with a nasty side effect: general loss of identity.

"Love is Rare" and "Shallow End" are generic funk-disco workouts, and Morcheeba's homages to Motown fall flat ("Good Girl Down") as often as they succeed ("Rome Wasn't Built In a Day"). The happier Morcheeba gets, the easier it is to see how empty its lyrics are.

Yet Fragments also contains a few songs that remind you just how spellbinding Morcheeba can be. "A Well Deserved Break" is a brilliant world-music experiment fusing Caribbean steel drums with bluesy slide guitar, and the trance-inspiring tunes which bookend the CD ("World Looking In" and the Zeppelin-in-Jamaica title track) prove trip-hop isn't as passe as the hipsters think it is.

Thor Christensen, The Dallas Morning News

Aaron Tippin
People Like Us
Lyric Street
Grade: B-

In country music, some things are constant. Ever since Hank Williams Jr. unleashed his Bocephus alter ego, good-ole-boy posturing has been a fixture on the scene. Modern-day purveyors include rough-and-rowdy duo Montgomery Gentry and, of course, Aaron Tippin.

Mr. Tippin does his brand of red-neck bravado with a wink, a sideways grin and heaps of honesty. That doesn't make it any better, but at least you know it's not an act.

People Like Us, his seventh studio album, has its share of those boisterous tracks, namely the title cut and the silly "Big Boy Toys," a tune about tools, tractors and trucks. Then, there's the first single, "Kiss This," a mildly humorous novelty song inspired by a spat between him and his wife, Thea.

But Mr. Tippin has the smarts to balance his two-fisted tendencies. Again using his lower register, a nice contrast to the buzz-saw tone that marked his early recording career, the singer shines on "I'd Be Afraid of Losing You," "Lost" and the stone country anthem, "Twenty-Nine and Holding."

And once you get to "The Night Shift," the fiddle-fueled scorcher that arrives at the end of the record, there's no question Mr. Tippin has stayed true to traditionalism. Give him points for that, yes sir.

Mario Tarradell, The Dallas Morning News

Caustic Resin
The After Birth
Grade: B-

Caustic Resin could use a name makeover. "Caustic Resin" - doesn't that imply volume levels that are beyond human tolerance and scratchy vocals that sound like they came from the bowels of hell?

Which is such the wrong impression, because this is a very tolerable, mildly-psychedelic rock band that emerged from the same Boise, Idaho scene that spawned the like-minded (and critical fave) guitar-rock band Built to Spill, and before that, the late, great TAD.

Caustic Resin has actually been around since 1988. In its early years, its output was spotty, but the band has put out three discs in three years since joining Alias.

It's only slightly more defined than the '98 release, The Medicine Is All Gone. We're talking minor nuances. The music still comes light on identifiable melodies and heavy on rousing guitar. The slacker vibe even prevails on the liner notes: The disc does not list all song titles.

The biggest change for Caustic Resin is the world outside. A few years ago, this might have been merely another one of many likable indie-rock records. But there's less of this stoner-sounding stuff around these days, and so The After Birth ends up standing out. Sorta.

Teresa Gubbins, The Dallas Morning News