Alter Bridge

Creed lead singer Scott Stapp is one of hard rock's crankiest and most peculiarly messianic frontmen, and that's saying a lot. His ponderousness had always been Creed's main problem -- that and the fact that the band was never very good. It disbanded late last year and essentially re-formed a brief time later under the aegis of guitarist and songwriter Mark Tremonti, who retrieved the band's original bassist and drummer and recruited a new lead singer with the distressingly un-metal name of Myles Kennedy. Though he sings in a higher register, Kennedy bears a modest vocal resemblance to Stapp, and he has absorbed the singer's better traits -- the distinct phrasing, the thundering authoritativeness -- as impressively as if he had learned them in a Berlitz course. Thanks to him, the band, now called Alter Bridge, has basically managed to make a Stapp-era Creed record without the added bother of having Stapp actually there. Against all logic, this works pretty nicely.

Though Tremonti and Co. don't try very hard to distance themselves from their old band, "One Day Remains" is comparatively fast and light, and many of the tracks manage to shrug off the funereal air that dogged Creed to the last. "Remains" has its share of clunkers (Stapp, whatever his flaws, would never have tolerated the so-wrong-it's-almost-right "Metalingus"), but it's a fine opening salvo in the War of the Would-Be Creeds, sure to intensify when Stapp releases his upcoming solo debut. He'll be hard-pressed to come up with anything as good as Alter Bridge's lead single, "Open Your Eyes." With its familiar compound of sludgy verses and an uplifting killer chorus, it's the best song Creed hasn't done in years.

-- Allison Stewart



Atruly well-proportioned R&B/hip-hop album is a tricky thing to pull off, especially for male artists: Too many blustery rap tracks can alienate female audiences; too many limpid slow jams turn off the guys. "It's Already Written," the debut offering from Houston, is the first record in recent memory to get the balance right.

"Written" is predictably divided between club and bedroom songs. There's an emphasis on the latter, though Houston, a 20-year-old Los Angeles-based artist who lacks the basso-voiced gravitas of obvious influences like Joe and Guy, fares better with dance-floor tracks such as the infectious "I Like That." Already familiar from a recent series of McDonald's ads, "I Like That" is clearly intended as the album's centerpiece, though the airier, Beenie Man-lite "Keep It on the Low" is the disc's true standout. Like much of the album, it offers smaller-scale pleasures than those provided by, say, Usher. Remarkably free of bravado, bling and filler, the disc feels uncharacteristically lean, bogged down only by a series of sound-alike ballads toward the middle.

Even an artist as restrained as Houston can't resist the occasional flourish: "She Is" features sounds of the singer getting busy -- really busy -- in the background, and "Didn't Give a Damn" features an aural reimagining of the singer's birth, complete with somber nurses and a Learning Channel-style narrative ("The baby's head is almost out!"). Even die-hard Houston fans might find this is more than they ever wanted to know.

-- Allison Stewart


Billy Joe Shaver

The disc starts out with a haunting melody, strummed on an acoustic guitar, and Billy Joe Shaver sings in his unmistakable country tenor a tender ballad about "Fame" and the evil it can do. It's the last time on the record an acoustic guitar will make itself known; after that, the crunchy roar of son Eddy Shaver's electric '54 Stratocaster (given to him by Dickie Betts) dominates the disc as dad's vocals turn hard and bluesy.

Although Eddy Shaver was far from truly famous, the opening track refers to his death at age 38 of a drug overdose on New Year's Eve 2000; Billy Joe, 65 this month, took it upon himself to complete the solo album his son left unfinished by adding lyrics and vocals. He has said he did it with the "help of visits and instructions." And so "Billy and the Kid" is another Shaver collaboration, and while it's not as cohesive as previous efforts -- particularly "Electric Shaver" -- it overcomes the obvious obstacle for a satisfying result.

Fans of Texas boogie and blues rock who are unfamiliar with Eddy Shaver will regret coming late to the party. The son doesn't waste a note, even when simply noodling on the seven-minute 15-second closer, "Necessary Evil"; each track boasts a persuasive lick and/or blistering solo, including the metal-blues of "If It Don't Kill You" and "Baptism of Fire."

Eddy Shaver sings about half the songs, but the best have dad's vocals, no surprise there. The tremolo-accented "Window Rock," the ZZ Top-like "Velvet Chains" and the Joe Satriani-ish picking of "Eagle on the Ground" would make both father and son proud.

-- Buzz McClain

Alter Bridge, a reconstituted Creed, does just fine without Scott Stapp's histrionics. Billy Joe Shaver finishes his late son's work on "Billy and the Kid."