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Published: Sunday, 5/14/2006

Sounds: Nick Lachey disc would be better if he calmed down

These days, Lachey is probably better known as a celebrity than a singer, largely because of his reality TV show with Jessica Simpson and the couple's very public split. The fact that he once was in 98 Degrees and sold seven million albums in this country has become a footnote to gossip about his love life.

Now he obviously wants to get the focus back on his musical career with this 12-track disc, eight of the songs co-written by Lachey, that clocks in at a brisk 44 minutes.

The title song already is charting, and others on this release are sure to have listeners looking for comments about Simpson or the split. Like "And so I'm letting go of everything we were/It doesn't mean it doesn't hurt," from "I Can't Hate You Anymore." Or, on "I Do It For You," "Your pretty face is not enough/Behind your eyes I know you're lying."

The problem with the disc is that it drowns in a sea of ballads and mid-tempo songs, overblown production, and overwrought vocals. Lachey is a fine singer, but he's constantly pushing the emotion meter into the red zone. Listeners will be forgiven for thinking, "Nick, we feel your pain, but can't you ratchet it down a notch or two?"

Even when there's a change of emphasis, as with the rougher edge in the opening guitar power of "You're Not Alone," the song later drifts into the same string-encased style.

As far as this CD goes, "What's Left Of Me" isn't much.

- RICHARD PATON

Here's a hot album by one of those rare commodities, an all-star jazz ensemble that actually works. Led by saxophonist-composer-band leader Joshua Redman, the Collective consists of himself, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, Bobby Hutcherson on vibes, Renee Rosnes on piano, saxophonist Miguel Zenon, bassist Matt Penman, Isaac Smith on trombone, and Eric Harland on drums. This new disc, based on 2005 performances, includes original material with works by the legendary saxophonist John Coltrane arranged by Grammy winner Gil Goldstein, and is especially well-suited for Redman. It's a pleasure to hear.

- TOM HENRY

The voice is distinctive indeed, but careful listening detects a similarity to another great country crooner, Conway Twitty. The deep, resonant vocals concentrate on some fine tunes largely based on relationships. There's a great sense of romance here, both in the lyrics and the delivery. The dozen tracks offer a pleasantly diverse mix, from sensual ballads to uptempo romps and even a touch of humor and pure, playful fun. With his second release, Bates shows why his debut album, "Rainbow Man," marked him as one of the hottest new country artists.

- KEN ROSENBAUM

Graham has a voice that sounds like a slightly less froggy version of Tom Waits, perfect for the kind of gritty tales that the Texas singer/songwriter serves up on his fifth solo release. "Full" has an apocalyptic, dark cast to it that fits in well with Graham's lyrics and voice. Even though it kicks off with something of a celebratory rocker, "Jubilee," the next song is "Swept Away," a foreboding ballad that uses the metaphor of a flood to describe what happens when you lose your spiritual moorings. "Full" is like that throughout, with any glimmers of light cast in shadow, revealing a singer/songwriter in full control of his capabilities.

- ROD LOCKWOOD

DANCES, PRAYERS & MEDITATIONS FOR PEACE, Nestor Torres (Heads Up International) Good idea. Good intentions. So-so results. This disc showcases a tender side of jazz flutist Nestor Torres in response to the state of world affairs. Music, of course, has a long history of providing comfort, hope, and inspiration in times of war or conflict, but something's missing here. There's too much of a New Age feel and not enough gritty, raw emotion. T.H.



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