'BODY OF SONG'
Yep Roc, sss
Some contend -- OK, I do -- that Bob Mould peaked with Husker Du, his post-punk-pop trio whose iconoclastic fireworks died with Du. Everything since -- his Husker-lite band Sugar, his off-putting electro-experiments -- seemed inelegant, compared with what Du could do.
"Body" breaks that banal streak. The hypnotic dynamics of its catchiest songs ("Circles") are met head-on by Mould's wounded-bear caterwaul ("Underneath Days"), along with a riotous rhythm and cutting lyrics that balance angst with bittersweet celebration.
It's not perfect: The dance-tronic "(Shine Your) Light Love Hope" is so cheesy, you'll feel your cholesterol rise. And the tubular-bell ballad "High Fidelity" is tepid. But by balancing what he did best in the long-ago with his continued curiosity in electronic music, Mould shows that "Body" isn't just a puny dog-and-pony show.
'KILLER QUEEN: A TRIBUTE TO QUEEN'
Hollywood, ss 1/2
If the thought of a rough Paul Rodgers fronting Queen sounds funny, these pop rockers tackling the fey operatics of the late Freddie Mercury and his band's distaff rock is for you.
Power-punks Sum 41 and Rooney take the job too literally. Los Lobos isn't literal enough.
To accentuate the positive, Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme and Eleven push the sliding "Stone Cold Crazy" toward biker metal heaven; Jon Brion turns the epic "Play the Game" into a Beatles-ish rainbow of harmony; and Jason Mraz is so charmingly Rufus Wainright-like on "Good Old Fashioned Loverboy," you wish he covered all-Queen on his own lousy new record.
The truly awful? While Gavin DeGraw and Joss Stone channel Joe Cocker on their respective "tributes" to the point of shameless faux-soul, that Antigone Rising was asked at all is an insult.
But dueling "Bohemian Rhapsodys"? "American Idol's" Constantine and high plains drifters Flaming Lips each make their nights at the opera dramatically hammy. Freddie would be proud.
'THE WELL-TEMPERED CLAVIER BOOK'
Warner Classics, three discs, ssss
Though conductor-pianist Daniel Barenboim is an inconsistent artist, his "on" moments here surpass any of his previous efforts. Though his playing of Bach has been controversial, this new recording is among Barenboim's best recordings on piano, and stands with the great Sviatoslav Richter set as some of the best Bach on modern piano. There's so much invention, depth of feeling and concentration in this playing that Barenboim is hardly recognizable as the same artist whose 1991 Goldberg Variations disguised superficiality with Technicolor pianism. Truly, Barenboim captures the lofty spirituality and abstraction that led Bach to the uncharted brink of atonality. The engineering has a glistening sheen, the lack of which has always been the one drawback of Richter's recordings.
'HAVE YOU HEARD'
Tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson touches up the traditional organ jazz concept with a fistful of fusion influences from disco to hip-hop.
This venture with the turbaned organist Dr. Lonnie Smith refers to the jazz soul recordings of four decades back. The intent, though, is to rip up a safe tune such as "Summertime" with a funky bass and guitar lines that make the tune startling and muscular. The effect isn't half bad though there's too much numbing repetition.
Jackson, who played with drummer Art Blakey's last group of Jazz Messengers, pays tribute to the master's vibe on the bluesy "Dr. Smith." Vocalist Lisa Fischer adds some swooping verve to the otherwise endless "Funky in Here" while guitarist Mark Whitfield is an agile cat throughout with an able rhythm section, propelled by drummer Terreon Gully and bassist Kenny Davis.
'BIG MAN, BIG GUITAR: POPA CHUBBY LIVE'
Blind Pig, sss 1/2
It figures a guy as large as Popa Chubby would be able to lay down some heavy blues-rock, and that's just what the rotund Bronx bomber (a k a Ted Horowitz) does on the first two cuts of this new live album, "Hey Joe" and his own "Dirty Lie." Musically speaking, however, Chubby can be pretty light on his feet, and "Big Man" showcases his various strengths.
"If the Diesel Don't Get You ... " and Neil Young's "Motorcycle Mama" highlight Chubby's propulsive rocking power, but he also offers up a remarkably soulful take on the Leonard Cohen ballad "Hallelujah." His harrowing 9-11 account, "Somebody Let the Devil Out," displays his storytelling skills, and he's equally convincing when plunging into the dark lyricism of his own "I Just Can't See the Light of Day" or romping through the Carter Family's "Keep on the Sunny Side of Life." It all ends with a nimble acoustic take on his theme song, "How'd a White Boy Get the Blues."
'U.S.A. UNITED STATE OF ATLANTA'
Ying Yang Twins
Undoubtedly one of the most popular rap groups in hip-hop, the Ying Yang Twins, made up of D-Roc and Kaine, continue to give their fans what they expect: plenty of "crunk" tracks for the club, along with the sexually explicit lyrics they are known for.
More than half of the disc is up-tempo "crunk," tracks such as "The Walk," "Shake," and "Put That Thang Down" with their heavy percussion and bottom end. And their hit single "[Wait] The Whisper Song," has caused a sensation and created controversy because of its lyrical content.
The song is explicit, and so popular that it's caused a number of artist to do their own spin-offs of the idea.
The Ying-Yang Twins do touch on a few other topics -- for example, their opposition to the war in Iraq on "Ghetto Classics," and, in a bit of irony on "Live Again," compassion for strippers. But they pretty much stick to what they do.
They're not provocative or insightful, but they don't claim to be. They give their fans what they want, and there is something to be said for that.
Knight Ridder Newspapers