Julian Lennon finds his
voice after making peace with past

By Joan Anderman, Globe Correspondent
Boston Globe Page C8 - August 2nd, 1999

Photograph Smile

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''The River,'' WXRV-FM (92.5), celebrated four years on the air with a free outdoor concert that was small in size but well suited to the creative, adult alternative programming the station is dedicated to.

Julian Lennon, back in the game with a new record (''Photograph Smile'') after a seven-year hiatus, headlined the festivities. During that time, the singer and songwriter, now 35, evidently came to terms with his genetic legacy. The relentless comparisons with his father, John, which moved him to quit the business, are even more apt today. Not only does Lennon look and sound uncannily like his dad, he's walked headlong into his imposing musical heritage - unabashedly embracing Beatles-esque structures and melodies like they were, well, his birthright. Which leads to the question: Is it stealing if your last name is Lennon?

Probably not. The fact is Julian Lennon has matured immeasurably as a songwriter since his 1984 debut, ''Valotte'' - which spawned the Top-10 hit ''Too Late For Goodbyes'' - reworked Saturday night as a brawny, Stones-style rocker. Could Mick have been Julian's godfather? Or perhaps it was Bowie, whose deep croon and dark languor seemed to inspire ''I Should Have Known,'' which Lennon dedicated to the industry insiders who did him wrong.

The new material is well crafted, as much in Lennon's own, newly confessional image as in the spirit of his irrevocable connection to pop history. Much is mild and melancholic: ''And She Cries,'' ''Faithful,'' ''Cold,'' and the pretty, waltzing title track to his new CD are heartfelt love songs; in concert, Baroque-style synthesized strings added a Sgt. Pepper cachet, and Lennon managed to save the ballads from a sappy fate with an ingenious chord change just in the nick of time. If there were a problem, it might be that Lennon's repertoire is too heavily weighted toward a sluggish midtempo, and the pace began to wear thin. He wisely livened things up with energetic covers of classic rockers ''Slippin' and Slidin''' and ''Stand By Me.'' The standout was Lennon's current single, the exuberant ''I Don't Wanna Know.''

''I decided to write a Beatles tune,'' Lennon said, having finally made peace with the ghosts of the past by finding his own voice as a songwriter.

Texas alt-country songwriter Kim Richey, who has supplied everyone from Patty Loveless to the Dixie Chicks with material, mines a deep pop vein on her new album, ''Glimmer,'' which is in stores tomorrow. With songs as genuine as the gorgeous ballads and the heartland rockers she and her crack band played Saturday, with a pure, strong voice to match, Richey deserves to be more than a cult favorite.

Entrain, from Martha's Vineyard, opened the show with percussive, melodic pop that's infused with reggae and Caribbean flavors and as easy-going as island life.