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G. Love & Special Sauce, "Electric Mile"; Superdrag, "In The Valley Of Dying Stars"; Weezer, "Weezer" 

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G. Love & Special Sauce, "Electric Mile" (Epic/Okeh) — In this, the fifth release of its career, Philly-based G. Love & Special Sauce shows off a strong sense of maturity while maintaining its unique sound.

Its 1994 eponymous debut caught the attention of music fans with an unusual sonic blend of low-key Delta blues and street hip-hop. The group now sounds as if they have been listening to Sly and the Family Stone, Gil Scott-Heron and even a little Neil Young and Dylan. There are jazz touches, albeit clumsy ones, along with a stronger pop sensibility, a sprinkle of country sweetness and leaner rock arrangements.

Leader G. Love, aka Garrett Dutton, has finally tempered his mannered white homeboy vocals into a relaxed singing style. His songwriting skills have improved, too, with his tunes now sporting discernable melodies and hooks.

Bassist Jim Prescott and drummer Jeff Clemens are now a low-fat special sauce, with nary a wasted note or misplayed beat. Their rhythm-machine offers a perfect groove for Dutton's hip-hopping and sometimes na‹ve hymns to brotherhood, responsibility and family.

Sure, some of it sounds a little forced, but the group's gone from novelty groove to honing and perfecting a style all its own. — Eric Feber, The Virginian-Pilot

Superdrag, "In The Valley Of Dying Stars" (The Arena Rock Recording Company) — Knoxville, Tenn.'s pop/alternative rock powerhouse Superdrag bangs out its latest album, "In The Valley of Dying Stars," in the same manner as its first two efforts: with a lot of fortitude. Despite problems with the group's former label, Elektra, the band has endured and continues to prosper. We see Superdrag make the move to a new label while keeping their melodic numbers a composite of the alternative rock, mod and Brit pop musical styles. This amalgamation is best illustrated by the tracks "Baby's Waiting," "Goin' Out," "Some Kind of Tragedy" and the fanciful potential hit "Bright Pavillions." Adding fury to the group's polished studio sound is producer Jerry Finn, who also used his tempestuous expertise in the past to produce albums for both Green Day and Rancid. The listener-friendly pop harmonies of "In The Valley of Dying Stars", mixed with an edginess that's normally found only in punk, makes Superdrag's third full-length album a winning formula for chart success. — Angelo DeFranzo

Weezer, "Weezer" (Interscope) — On the surface, Weezer would seem to be a poor candidate for a comeback. With a lone hit, "Buddy Holly," off its 2 million-selling debut and the disastrous, critically flayed follow-up "Pinkerton" on its resume, Weezer seemed destined for one-hit-wonder status. Odds of a comeback dropped further when frontman Rivers Cuomo traded rock for Harvard and ended up in a two-year, Brian Wilson-style mental collapse.

However, a string of packed live shows with thousands crooning along to the plaintive "Undone (The Sweater Song)" showed a grassroots revival was underway.

The band's newest, self-titled disc should be enough to make the comeback stick. With 10 taut, hooky tracks and a filler-free 28-minute run time, the back-to-basics CD captures much of the simple, geeky charm and slacker ethos of the band's debut.

Nothing here is quite as broadly infectious as that disc, though it is still terrifically catchy stuff. Cuomo has turned his attention from surfing and Dungeons & Dragons to love ("Island in the Sun") and loss ("O Girlfriend"). It's all part of his lovable-loser persona. Strangely enough, it makes for a winning pop-punk formula. — David M. Putney, The Virginian-Pilot
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