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Dave Matthews Band 

Everyday (RCA)

How nice a guy is Dave Matthews? So nice that he'll even cut an album for his nonbelievers. His career wasn't floundering, or his cult waning, but he decided to kick out the jamming, nix the tree-hugging and court the great washed masses who see him as soggy granola. Everyday goes so far as to toss a hackysack to producer Glen Ballard, who can make a slick crowd-pleaser out of any sentiment, no matter how genuine.

In retrospect, it probably wasn't Matthews' wisest move to bring in the hack who gave No Doubt their midlife crisis (the whining in "Dreams of Our Fathers," especially, smacks of Ballard's hand-wringing), but you can see why he did it. Matthews is one of the last artists left for whom "going pop" is a daring move, and he wouldn't want to do it halfway. Synthesizers, Santana guest appearances and home-run choruses all add up to a juggernaut of brown-nosing, simultaneously his safest and riskiest record.

Everyday gets off to a rough start with "I Did It," whose jarring riff and hedonist pose fit Matthews poorly. He'll never compete with Aerosmith in the rock sweepstakes, but the spit and polish does wonders for his balladry. These have always been Matthews' unacknowledged ace in the hole, the slow seduction numbers where he comes on with mixed enthusiasm and sensitivity, like a frat boy taking a women's-studies class. Here, without Matthews' surrendering his spotlight to endless solos, he seems more coherent and sweet, as on "Sleep to Dream Her" or the utterly vulnerable "Angel." Yet they're still the Dave Matthews Band; most notably, Leroi Moore now adds warmth with his saxophone instead of trying to emulate a guitar as he used to.

Still, Matthews knows who pays his bills, and the faithful shouldn't fret. Skip "So Right" which is too much of "Too Much," and head for Everyday's title track, an easygoing Blues Traveler nod complete with secular gospel choruses and a palpable joy at the quotidian pleasures of love and life. "Jump in the mud/Get your hands filthy," Matthews advises. Yet he cleans up better than he'd care to admit.

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