MARSHALL CRENSHAW has rebounded from the sophomore slump with a smashing third album, "Downtown," that asserts his pop classicism in striking musical terms. A variety of studio musicians, as well as members of Let's Active and NRBQ, are employed. But Crenshaw and his co-producers, T-Bone Burnett and Larry Hirsch, keep the album's ten selections centered on Crenshaw's wistful vocals and sweeping guitar hooks.
Some of the eight originals here, such as "Blues Is King" and "The Distance Between," are vintage Crenshaw. Producer Burnett has enriched the sumptuous pop banquet by infusing the sunny-day melodies with billowing harmonies and warm and brilliantly detailed guitar parts. On the sweetly resigned "Like a Vague Memory," Crenshaw's aching vocals are answered by the cry of a pedal steel guitar.
Fortunately, the album doesn't wholly rest on Crenshaw's characteristic mid-tempo rockers. "Yvonne" is a hip-shaker set to a rhumba blues beat, and a version of Gene Vincent's "Right Now" lets the band fire up on some rockabilly bop.
The best of the two covers, though, is "I'm Sorry (But So Is Brenda Lee)," a sensual ballad that evokes both '60s AM radio and romantic innocence, the very forces that fuel Crenshaw's art.
MARSHALL CRENSHAW -- "Downtown" (Warner Brothers 25319-1); appearing Sunday night with Howard Jones at the Patriot Center, George Mason University.