Artistic comebacks, quality rap and promising debuts dominate this combined September-November edition of the $25 Guide, a blueprint for keeping up with what's exciting in pop music on a record budget of $25 a month. All the albums are available in compact disc, though CD buyers have to think in terms of a $45 monthly budget.
Paul McCartney's "Flowers in the Dirt" (Capitol)--Artistic Rebound No. 1. Don't let its modest commercial showing mislead you into thinking that this is just another mediocre McCartney album. In his best collection in more than a decade, McCartney, writing four tunes with Elvis Costello, exhibits some of the old Beatles grit and samples of the warmth and charm that have characterized his most appealing work over the years.
Boogie Down Productions' "Ghetto Music: The Blueprint of Hip Hop" (Jive/RCA)--Good Rap No. 1. KRS-One's Biblical scholarship (on "Why Is That?") is open to question, but the New Yorker is turning into the Curtis Mayfield of rap. His socially conscious looks at inner-city problems and challenges are clear-eyed and inspiring.
The Stone Roses' "The Stone Roses" (Silvertone/RCA)--Welcome Debut No. 1. The guitar-rich "She Bangs the Drums" is as exquisite as R.E.M. taking another trip through "Rockville," only this time there's a shadowy, psychedelic edge. Elsewhere, this young British band sounds like the Byrds on a magical mystery tour.
Bob Dylan's "Oh Mercy" (Columbia)--Artistic Rebound No. 2. Thanks to marvelously soulful production touches by Daniel (U2, Peter Gabriel) Lanois and to Dylan's most satisfying collection of songs since 1983's "Infidels," this examination of personal and social storm clouds is a heartwarming revelation.
Aerosmith's "Pump" (Geffen)--If 1987's nifty "Permanent Vacation" hadn't already given Aerosmith a dramatic comeback album, this taut collection of good-natured scorchers ("Love in an Elevator") and gentle reflections ("Janie's Got a Gun") would be yet another in the year's remarkable number of returns to form--a series that began in January with Lou Reed's striking "New York."
James McMurtry's "Too Long in the Wasteland" (Columbia)--Welcome Debut No. 2. John Mellencamp helped in the studio, while Dylan, John Prine and Guy Clark helped supply inspiration for this Texas songwriter, whose best tunes speak about small town values, lost and found, with conviction and freshness.
Neil Young's "Freedom" (Reprise)--Artistic Rebound No. 3. Young always said all those strange shifts of direction (from rockabilly to techno-pop) were simply his way of keeping his creative spirit alive and that he would eventually deliver an album that would dazzle us. Here it is: a show-stopping blend of the beauty of "After the Gold Rush" and the dark intensity of "Tonight's the Night." An album of the year candidate.
Big Daddy Kane's "It's a Big Daddy Thing" (Cold Chillin'/Reprise)--Good Rap No. 2. There's a silky, sensual feel to these beats that recalls the seductive Memphis soul sound of the '60s and '70s--the ideal backdrop for one of today's most authoritative and stylish hard-core rappers.
Jimmie Dale Gilmore's "Jimmie Dale Gilmore" (Hightone)--Nashville power brokers can boast all they want about how country music has returned to its roots, but it's just a lot of hot air as long as they keep giving their awards to mediocre artists like George Strait and Dwight Yoakam while ignoring people with the honky-tonk vitality and vision of Gilmore (whose singing is even sharper than on his first Hightone release) and his Texas sidekicks Joe Ely and Butch Hancock.