RACHEL CROSS

"Dream Land"

Azalea City

MELANIE MASON

"Lonesome Is I"

MM

"Dream Land" isn't entirely what its title suggests, an assortment of sweet nothings and tender lullabies. As singer-songwriter and guitarist Rachel Cross puts it in one song, her new solo release concerns both "dreams that are shattered, and dreams that take wing."

The former inspire performances that range from the pointed ("Preacher Hey Preacher" rails against adults who prey on minors) to the poignant (the traditional Jewish folk song "Lo Yisa Goy" is rendered in both English and Hebrew). Cross, who's perhaps still best known for her work with the world beat ensemble Big Village, also addresses the graying of planet Earth on "Monkey's Lament," an environmental anthem set to a Caribbean-flavored funk beat. A familiar cast of local musicians, including bassist-husband Henry Cross, saxophonist Ron Holloway and keyboardist Benjie Porecki, frequently color and enliven the guitar-based arrangements. (Unfortunately, the curious "sound bites" that surface now and then between songs wear out their welcome fast.) And the tracks inspired by the those dreams that take wing? That's when you find Cross in her natural element, radiating plenty of warmth and optimism, whether covering the pop staple "What the World Needs Now" with the help of the Dreamland Choir or capping the album with a bedtime musing: "If I was the Universe and you were a star . . . / would I sing you a simple song and kiss you Good Night?"

Blues singer-songwriter and guitarist Melanie Mason goes acoustic on "Lonesome Is I," paying nimble tribute to Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, Mance Lipscomb, Willie McTell and other influences. A mostly familiar collection of tunes, the album occasionally brings to mind Rory Block's firmly rooted repertoire, though Mason doesn't possess Block's throaty voice or favor her percussive guitar sound. Playing slide and finger style, she brings a lighter touch to these songs and occasionally infuses them with a haunting soulfulness.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Monday at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Silver Spring. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Rachel Cross, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8104; to hear Melanie Mason, press 8105. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)