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From Screen To Sing 

Several actors make move to music

Actors want to direct and directors want to act, so the old saying goes. And evidently, a lot of actors want to sing. Record collectors have long hoarded odd releases by Eddie Albert, Cybill Shepherd, Leonard Nimoy, Telly Savalas and more.Historically, the recorded output from actors has been laughable at best. Yes, it's funny to hear Andy Griffith attempt "House of the Rising Sun," or, for that matter, to listen to anything by David Hasselhoff or Steven Seagal. Who died and made Seagal a bluesman? (Hell, who died and made John Mayer a bluesman? But that's for another time.) Anyway, recent releases from such diverse talents as Billy Bob Thornton, Russell Crowe, Juliette Lewis and Hillary Duff show that the trend continues, so let's see what sort of vanity projects have turned up recently.

A few years ago, Michael Jackson said then-Sony grand pooh-bah Tommy Mottola was evil. And since he's a record mogul, he probably is. But I've always given him the benefit of the doubt -- until now. As executive producer of Lindsay Lohan's, Speak (Casablanca Records), Mottola has revived the label that gave us KISS and Donna Summer, and foisted this album by flaming, freckled Lohan upon a world that's already troubled enough. Listening to this collection, which is flat, faux-sexy and overloaded with unnecessary production tweaks, seems like an eternity spent in computer-enhanced vocal hell. To make matters worse, Lohan recently made her "live" singing debut on Good Morning America, that famous springboard of talent, and sang a la Ashlee Simpson, to a pre-recorded vocal track while a few GIT wannabes did their best to look like serious rockers. But hey, maybe she had acid reflux, too. As for Mottola? Yep, Jackson's right. He is the devil.

Oh, boy, look at this. Robert Downey Jr.'s The Futurist. And the label, Sony Classical? Why ask why? This dreary exercise finds drug-rehab vet Downey warbling wobbly tunes and trying to be all serious. He plows through a series of bad Sting impressions ("Broken") and tired Del Amitri rewrites ("The Futurist"), generally making a dull mess of the whole thing. It's tedious, uninspired and I'll bet Downey thinks he has created a masterpiece. Sorry, Bob.

I was fortunate enough to catch the debut of Minnie Driver at South by Southwest last March. I thought her show was great. Thus, the album, Everything I've Got In My Pocket (Zoe Records) is no surprise. It's a faithful rendering of the live showcase set. Members of the Wallflowers and Pete Yorn's band contribute, adding a nice, sepia-toned sheen to Driver's decidedly Midwestern sound. Dusty imagery and an appealingly vulnerable delivery mark this collection a keeper and one of my favorites of last year. See, actors can make good records.

Whoa, check this out: William Shatner, Has Been (Shout Factory). Shatner's last album was 1968's The Transformed Man and cuts from it have appeared on celebrity "golden turkey"-type collections and oddball Dr. Demento radio shows. Yet here, with the help of Ben Folds, Shatner has done what many thought was impossible: He's made a really good record. The album reverberates with the icy cool swagger and wink of Ken Nordine's best word jazz riffing. His distinctive voice radiates with irony and humor, as he wraps it around a clever collection of tunes (mostly co-written with Folds). Other guests include Joe Jackson and Henry Rollins.

Overall, the whole thing ticks with the accuracy of a Swiss timepiece. Shatner has crafted a nice collection of punchy, often rocking tunes, boldly going where he hasn't before -- into the category of a fairly legitimate recoding artist.

Well, that's it for now, but rest assured there's more ahead. Pouty reality star and amateur porn queen Paris Hilton is supposed to release an album in February. I can't wait.

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