David Browne
May 03, 1996 AT 04:00 AM EDT

J Mascis has been taking exactly the same route for years; the last few Dinosaur Jr albums have been essentially interchangeable collections of nodding-off mumbles and Neil Young guitar crunch. Martin and Me is a welcome, refreshing change. Recorded live during a club tour, it finds Mascis alone on stage with just an acoustic guitar (the album’s title apparently refers to the guitar manufacturer). As with Nirvana’s Unplugged session, the rearrangements reveal the melodies beneath the murk. If Mascis’ songs aren’t nearly as good as Kurt Cobain’s were, moments like ”Blowin It” and ”Goin Home” are more affecting than you might expect, and his strangulated voice has a wounded lost-boy quality.

Mascis clearly has a few things to learn about the solo-acoustic format. Flailing at his guitar with what sounds like webbed fingers, he often sounds like a street singer warbling off-key versions of Dinosaur Jr songs. He does, however, score points for two unexpected but utterly sincere covers: ”Every Mother’s Son,” which he rescues from Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Carly Simon’s ”Anticipation,” which he finally rescues from a ketchup commercial.

Despite that sort of occasional surprise, Mascis’ and Paul Westerberg’s recent works have one unfortunate aspect in common: Each shows how inherently conservative these men have become. At one time, they seemed like the forebears of a new style of rock, but they now seem either terrified of or simply uninterested in experimenting with so much as a different beat, song structure, or anything beyond the time-honored guitar-bass-drums format. B

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