South Carolina-bred troubadour Edwin McCain comes on like a new sort of good ol' boy, but those aren't Appalachian standards he's singing on his third album, "Messenger." He wrote 11 of these tunes himself, but decided to leave nothing to chance: The disc's first single, "I Could Not Ask For More," was penned by Diane Warren, America's foremost power-ballad ghostwriter. "These are the moments I thank God that I'm alive," he sings, a typically candy-coated Warren sentiment that neatly defangs the irony of McCain's own "Beautiful Life."
Despite the latter song's designs on satire, most of McCain's material is doggedly earnest and wrapped in American-grown corn, from hammered dulcimer to lite-jazz sax and pillowy strings. One of these tunes is supposedly derived from a prayer found in a World War II hospital, and another spies "the lonely souls" in New Orleans' Jackson Square. While such lyrics purport to be personal epiphanies, the album's style is straight off the shelf at the sensitive-singer-songwriter warehouse store. "Just do your thing," McCain advises in one of the album's livelier songs, but anyone who really believed that dictum would have never hired Diane Warren.
Cry me a river? Beth Hart can howl you a hurricane, which is roughly what she does on the opening and closing tracks of her aptly titled second album, "Screaming for My Supper." In between, though, the Southern California singer-pianist demonstrates that she has a few other attributes besides gale-force wind.
Hart may bray like Janis Joplin, but she and her band -- which includes bassist, programmer and co-producer Tal Herzberg -- try to keep up-to-date with bouncy synth-based shuffles ("Girls Say") and sing-songy Alanis-like stompers ("Delicious Surprise"). When in doubt, though, Hart retreats to acoustic guitar- and piano-based epic ballads and her own gospel-rooted coloratura. There's so much drama on this disc that when Hart sings, "The sky is falling/The angels are calling," it just sounds like another perfect day in L.A.
Both appearing Thursday at the 9:30 club. To hear a free Sound Bite from Edwin McCain, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8105. For a free Sound Bite from Beth Hart, press 8106. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)