Jesse Colin Young's first album since 1978 is a disappointing affair despite its noble but overwrought concerns with personal relationships. There are a number of factors at work here: Young's professional insecurity, his marital difficulties and the coming of middle age for an artist whose career spans almost two decades.
But "The Perfect Stranger" is just another county heard from, Marin at that. The angst comes wrapped in glossy production and delivered with calm detachment. This is catchup music to step into the sandals of departed Eagles and Doobie Brothers: Young sounds like a higher-tenor version of Kenny Loggins or Michael McDonald.
McDonald shows up for a duet on "Fire on the Water," a song he wrote with Young. With its McDonald-era Doobie-ousness (perky piano ad popping elastic guitar phrases), it pokes along in a light California- soul groove.
For the first time in his career, Young has co-authors on all his songs -- Wendy Waldman, Tom Snow, Danny O'Keefe. But collaboration doesn't suit him particularly well: The songs sound more compromise than cooperation. "Fight for It," a duet with Carly Simon, seems a waste of mediocre talent. The studio allstars' playing is tight, but the album is overproduced, which works against Young's classic airy tenor. This could be the first step onto a new commercial plane, but it's a dull one. ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUM JESSE YOUNG -- The Perfect Stranger (Elektra 9 60151-1). THE SHOW JESSE YOUNG with the NICOLETTE LARSON BAND, Monday and Tuesday at 9 at the Wax Museum.