June 01, 1998 12:00 PM

Dave Matthews Band (RCA)

Album of the week

Buoyed by the success of Hollywood’s epic movie, the Titanic soundtrack enjoyed a 16-week run atop the Billboard pop album chart. Then a torpedo struck in the form of this unlikely pop hit, an ambitious CD loaded with dark, unsettling lyrics unsuitable for sing-alongs (“Must a baby’s bones this hungry fire feed?”) and an orchestral wall of sound that won’t be heard at many dance parties. Matthews, a white South African émigré whose band includes three black American jazz musicians, has always been something of a pop music anomaly. Even so, since its start in 1991 his band has released two multimillion-selling albums, as well as last year’s Live at Red Rocks 8.15.95. Here, Matthews and his mates—violinist Boyd Tinsley, saxman LeRoi Moore, bassist Stefan Lessard and drummer Carter Beauford—are joined by a diverse cast, including the neo-classical Kronos Quartet, banjo picker Bela Fleck and angst diva Alanis Morissette. An alternately joyous and bitter cycle of songs about love and death, heaven and hell, the album is a conceptual and musical tour de force. Carried along by churning, locomotive rhythms and Matthews’s virtuoso vocals, it shines above much of today’s disposable pop fare.

Bottom Line: Jazz-rock fusion at its soaring best

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