**** Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold
*** Scream, Blacula, Scream
** Hero Ain't Nothin' But A Sandwich
* Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde


(Beggars Banquet/4AD Records)

Opening with Tanya Donelly's double-tracked vocals over a heartbeat, "Life Is But a Dream" lends the Belly singer's second solo album the weird promise displayed on the B-sides of her recent singles. Stripped of the hard-candy production of Belly's sophomore flop, King, and the pop propulsion of her debut solo album, Lovesongs For Underdogs, those singles showed an adventurousness and spaciousness that befitted Donelly's voice. The best songs on Beautysleep place her in those same soundscapes, dislocating her little-girl croon and letting her find her own way back. "The Night You Saved My Life" is more typical of the album's approach, though: mid-tempo pop that sounds too safe for the longing and fears of new motherhood, which give the 11 songs their narrative backbone. There's a counter-story coursing beneath the sheen of Beautysleep's surface, but it never breaks through. NATE LIPPENS

The Amos House Collection, Vol II
(Wishing Tree Records)

Warren, Rhode Island's Wishing Tree Records, founded in the summer of 2000, chose to introduce itself with a trio of compilation releases to benefit Amos House, a local non-profit charity organization aiding in homeless efforts. The initial effort combined various pop shadings--orchestral, hushed, and almost loud--and the follow-up is more assured, more confessional. Despite the inclusion of artists like Elliott Smith, Bright Eyes, and one-eighth of Belle & Sebastian, the feeling of smallness abounds. Guitars are audibly angled to rest at a song's close. A plunking toy piano swells into an adult instrument. Indie pop makes like the Weaver Family. The Skating Club invokes nostalgia for the oft-neglected currency of songcraft. And the whole is rendered intimately and selflessly. Yes, bliss. JENNIFER PRZYBYLSKI

The Preflyte Sessions

The Byrds' catalog is one of the most durable and endurable... EVER! However... The Preflyte Sessions ain't exploring their revolution, but their evolution... sorta. PS is a relatively comprehensive collection of Byrds' "demos," which ain't exactly "demos"... they're the best tracks nicked from endlessly recorded rehearsals. Cool... like we hear 'em when they think ain't nobody listening, so they're lean on the "self-conscious." Notable also is, even tho' sometimes they nod toward beat influences, they--unlike most beat bands--never bother with 12-bar form. This is remarkable, as it represents them breaking the typical white-teen-band habits of rewriting "black" forms and regurgitating teen pop. Wow... so alla that, AND PS contains versions of many Byrds songs in a "next-to-last step," before they took final "heavenly chorus" form? Schweet! MIKE NIPPER