Since Adrian Belew is best known for the screeching, trumpeting electric-guitar solos he contributed to albums by David Bowie, Talking Heads and the latter-day King Crimson, an unplugged album might seem a miscalculation. In fact, "Salad Days" is one of the musician's most engaging solo ventures. Rendered mostly with acoustic guitar and voice -- although piano, overdubbed backing vocals and even a string quartet make appearances -- such songs as "Never Enough" and "Everything" prove entirely engaging.
Two of these tracks, including a version of Crimson's "Three of a Perfect Pair," were recorded live in Argentina, but the rest were captured in Belew's Ohio home. (Most were previously available on a mail order-only album.) Such instrumental freak-outs as "Return of the Chicken" aside, Belew's style navigates between the Beatles and David Byrne, with lyrics that express dismay at the state of the earth. When taking the viewpoint of "The Lone Rhinoceros" or a "Dinosaur," such sentiments are more playful than ponderous. But what distinguishes "Salad Days" is that the arrangements are equally lighthearted.
Appearing Sunday at the Birchmere with the Irresponsibles. To hear a free Sound Bite from Adrian Belew, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8101. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)
CAPTION: Adrian Belew pulls the plug on his guitar with "Salad Days."