... And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead
By melding visceral cacophony with Texas-size ambition, this Austin unit presents its melodic urges and wildest prog-rock dreams with hi-def clarity on its superb fourth album, "Worlds Apart. "
The 12-song disc -- where the rumbling existentialism of "Let It Dive" can segue unpretentiously into an orchestral piece such as "To Russia My Homeland" -- simultaneously raises the alt-rock bar and raises Cain through an unerring arrangement acumen that leaves space for hooks, substantive themes and gilded touches.
Both the title track and "The Rest Will Follow" swing merrily. The former mocks MTV's bling-centric paradigm, while on the latter, the band commonly associated with trashed stages seeks purity ("How can anyone be so unkind/as to want to take another's peace of mind").
The album's highlight, "Classic Arts Showcase" might share a title with a cable program, but its heart is all King Crimson, as evidenced by the bells, whistles, jerking rhythms and drum-solo coda.
Can you call this album a classic art-rock showcase? That would be dead on.
Sharon Jones & amp; the Dap-Kings
Listening to Sharon Jones is a trip in a time machine. With her band, the Dap-Kings, the Brooklyn singer channels the sweat-soaked vigor of vintage James Brown and the JB's, pumping out thick, gritty rhythm and blues that wouldn't have sounded out of place on the 1960s chitlin circuit.
On her second album, "Naturally," the bruised-voiced Jones agonizes over men who treat her badly but feel so good, while the Dap-Kings embellish her pain with heavy backbeats, jiggling bass, scratchy guitar and mournful horns.
However, the best number has nothing to do with romance. It's a fierce cover of "This Land Is Your Land," which sounds like Aretha Franklin gettin' down with Woody Guthrie at a civil rights rally.
EMI, sss 1/2
Englishman Ed Harcourt is obviously a talented guy. On his third full-length release, the pianist and vocalist multitasks on guitar, drums and kazoo, and ranges confidently from the blustery rock of the opening "A Storm Is Coming" to the music-hall bounce of the fetching "This One's for You."
But like the late Jeff Buckley, Harcourt makes very pretty music that tends toward the grandiose. Buckley is one of the influences, including Nick Drake and Colin Blunstone of the Zombies, that the 26-year-old songwriter is still wearing on his sleeve.
When his approach works, as with the glorious "Kids (Rise From the Ashes)," the results can be incandescent.
'THERE'S MORE WHERE THAT CAME FROM'
Lee Ann Womack
MCA, sss 1/2
Her once-smart music had drifted over into slick and empty, and Lee Ann Womack must have realized that. With her new album, the star who made her major breakthrough with "I Hope You Dance" takes a sharp turn back toward classic country, and once again fulfills her early promise.
The tone is set at the start with the title cut, a cheating song heavy on fiddle and steel. That's followed by a drowning-her-sorrows barroom lament, "Two's a Crowd," and the first single, "I May Hate Myself in the Morning," another first-rate cheating song.
These numbers reflect most of the material on the album in that, unlike most commercial country these days, it isn't afraid to confront often-harsh realities; the reflective "Twenty Years and Two Husbands Ago" is another standout.
The album ends on an uplifting note with "Stubborn (Psalm 51)"; neither cloying nor bombastic, as these things tend to be, it stays true to the rest of the album.
Blue Note, sss 1/2
Pianist Jason Moran doesn't nail all these tunes, but the level of surprise is consistently high. His dalliance with guitarist Marvin Sewell reflects the wide range of this recording. The two often bump into each other, adding maniacal touches that are sometimes spectacular.
The blues form serves as a starting point, but it certainly isn't an end point. "I'll Play the Blues for You" sounds like Windy City blues, except that Moran tweaks it with wild passages that obliterate the form along with the possibility of cliche.
This strategy of suggesting a style and then goofing it continues with "Jump Up," a down-home blues with boogie-woogie piano that Moran deconstructs with free-jazz abandon.
Much of this recording sounds freely composed, meaning that the planning was limited, leaving more room for bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits to explore. "Aubade," with Sewell on acoustic guitar, is classically influenced and Sunday-morning mellow.