CHARLES HUTCHINSON reviews three albums from artists returning to the rock pool

Evan Dando, Baby I'm Bored (Setanta)****

EVAN Dando burned too brightly, but the prettiest pop flame of the Nineties survived where Icarus, Gram Parsons and Kurt Cobain perished. Quietly, blinking, tender and blue, the slumbering slacker has re-awakened, eight years after his last studio album, the Lemonheads' shambolic farewell, Car Button Cloth, in 1996.

At that time, Dando was flying too close to the sun on a cocktail of drink, drugs and fame, playing the idiot savant, wearing an old Cobain raincoat and dabbling with Kurt's widow, Courtney Love. You wondered if the demons of self-destruction would take him the way of his country-rock forebear, Parsons.

However, there were sporadic appearances: low-key, lo-fi solo shows, including the 2001 Carling Festival Leeds Weekend; guest vocals on Craig Armstong and Mary Lorson & Saint Low albums; a contribution to a Lee Hazlewood covers project, and a woozy Won't You Sometimes Think Of Me on the Loose label's New Sounds Of The Old West compilation. That track came from Dando's long-promised collection of country covers, still lying in cold storage.

At last, at 36, Boston's scarred chronicler of love's mishaps and life's bad hand is rehabilitated, off the booze and keeping good company. Even if Baby I'm Bored is a provocatively negative, hardly enticing title for a comeback that gently sways between regret and optimism.

For his second coming, Dando has enlisted the support of trusted and dusted friends: Car Button Cloth producer Bryce Goggin, for that familiar Lemonhead scuffed-up guitar sound; Joey Burns, John Convertino and Howe Gelb from Arizona's Giant Sand; guitarist Chris Brokaw and drummer Arthur Johnson from Come and Spacehog's Royston Langdon on bass.

Old songwriting hand Tom Morgan chips in, so does Ben Lee with two beauties, and Jellyfish's Jon Brion not only co-produces but co-writes five tracks. Put them all together, and there is a lovely, wry, fuzzy warmth to these soul-searching porch songs on a record that responds like a flower to the sun's rays.

On first hearing, Dando sounds enervated, too casual, the old stoner rolling along but he always had an effortless way with a melody, and slowly this understated, tentative, generous-spirited confessional reveals its myriad therapeutic delights.

Joe Jackson Band, Volume IV (Rykodisc) ****

Joe Jackson has long slipped from the charts, busying himself with experimental, instrumental and classical works. However, on the 25th anniversary of Look Sharp!, he has re-united with his original spiky New Wave band of Graham Maby, Gary Sandford and Dave Houghton for a still sharp pop album and tour, 22 years on from their last show.

With his twisted, narked pop, he was often dismissed as Elvis Costello's uglier kid brother, but he was always more than a journeyman imitator with his whiplash-guitar vignettes and piano ballads. Volume IV not only re-ignites Jackson's old lyrical fire and ire but also sends a message to Costello that there is no shame in re-discovering your no-frills pop muse.

Stephen Jones, Almost Cured Of Sadness (Sanctuary) ***

Stephen Jones has returned to his roots, playing upstairs alone in his bedroom. Cursed by the pop success of the misunderstood You're Gorgeous, he gradually imploded Baby Bird, antagonising his audiences with his wilfully erratic performances and ever darker, dyspeptic albums.

Maybe prompted by his release of The Original Lo-Fi Box Set - his exhumation of his early Sheffield home recordings - Jones has reactivated his DIY, messy yet wholly honest recording technique. His melodies still charm, his sour lyrics disarm, but one note of caution: he has acquired a child-like falsetto, a sweetening yet grating device.

Updated: 10:39 Thursday, March 20, 2003