Jewel “Sweet and Wild, Deluxe Double Disc Edition,” Valory Music Co.
 
Jewel grew up an impoverished Alaskan country girl, and now that she lives in Texas, famous for her songs and poetry, she is still totally country: it shows more than ever on “Sweet and Wild.” Rural twang sounds, quality lyrics and Jewel’s signature voice give this album shape and character.
 
However, the deluxe edition includes a bonus feature that, for old-time Jewel lovers, will outshine the main album. “Sweet and Mild” includes all the same songs as on “Sweet and Wild,” but in their original acoustic forms, as written and produced by Jewel herself. And it gives us a bigger, clearer chunk of her soul, without the bog of sound that always goes along with a full band and commercial production. Get the deluxe edition, and listen to Jewel weave her web of truth for us once again.
**********SINGLE OF THE WEEK: WHAT YOU ARE**********
EDITOR’S NOTE: Jewel is firmly on the side of the angels. She has discovered the merits of both electric and acoustic guitar. There’s a big old beat in the background and a new sinew in the vocals, and a high percentage of the songs are solid winners. Fuggetabattit.
 
The Infamous Stringdusters “Things That Fly,” Sugar Hill/Welk
 
The Infamous Stringdusters, a polished bluegrass band, strives to pick and strum and bow with a gusto that speaks louder than words. While they maintain a mostly traditional sound the entire album, they do cover a U2 song and include some special guests that mix things up a bit.
 
Some of their original compositions include melodies that flow in long waves of sound, not stopping for the audience to grasp the entirety of the what is being played, but rather setting them up with consciousness of the patterns being spun out of fiddle, banjo, mando, guitar and bass. Other songs are quite wordy, and in these, the narrative is interesting enough to significantly distract from the playing in the background. It is guaranteed that the band has gotten a workout by the end of a set.
 
Various Artists “Eclipse: The Twilight Saga, the Soundtrack,” Summit/Chop Shop/Atlantic/Warner Bros.
 
If you read Anne Rice as a kid, you probably think that “Twilight” is a bunch of BS. But its soundtrack is has actual songs, and good songs at that, rather than a score like the movie “Interview With the Vampire.” Spooky as hell, and including artists such as the Black Keys, Beck, Bat for Lashes, Cee Lo Green of Gnarles Barkley, and Unkle (DJ Shadow’s band), the “Twilight” soundtrack is bustling with vampiric efforts from some tip top artists: after all, vampires are sexy, and everyone wants to get in on the action.
 
Much of the music is reminiscent of the sounds of 1980s gothy post-punk, with echos and pianos. But the sounds are updated by modern production, indie-rock rhythms, and lots of harmony. “Twilight,” the series, may have questionable ethics, but this soundtrack is a blatant announcement that vampires are cool again… so come out, come out, wherever you are.
**********BEST ALBUM OF THE WEEK********** 
**********SINGLE OF THE WEEK: LET’S GET LOST**********
 
Tower of Power “Great American Soulbook,” Patrick Rains/TOP
 
The Tower of Power is a full band and choir that played soul and funk in its most danceable form. Twiddling guitars, funk bass, tons of brass, sparse organ, lead vocalist and backup singers explode into a body rocking wave of sound.
 
The energy winds down here and there for a slow-dance or two, but everything stays feeling positive. Having a great lead vocalists star is particular songs, including Larry Braggs, Tom Jones, Joss Stone, Sam Moore and Huey Lewis, really made the dream come true, especially since their passion is infectious, whether they are singing about dancing or loving, whether they are singing a well-known classic or an underexplored gem.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Tower of Power has been in my life for many years, and with their strength and melody, have kept me going through good times and bad. Fuggetabattit.
 
Charice “Charice,” 143/Reprise/Warner Bros.
 
Charice, 18-year-old Filipina pop singer is topping charts around the world. With a mature voice but a youthful passion, she has already become a celebrity vocalist. Her sound ranges from clubby R&B to inspirational vocal rock. It’s exciting to see that someone who’s not from the Western hemisphere is becoming a sensation. However, Charice’s sound is not too different from other pop vocalists who came before her.
 
If you like expansive songs and that type of big female vocal talent that has been around since Whitney Houston took up the microphone, check Charice out. Beware of the Auto-Tune, but otherwise, get excited to hear someone who, at the beginning of her career, sounds genuinely excited to be blasting us with her strong set of pipes.
**********ARTIST TO WATCH**********
 
Dave Riley & Bob Corritore “Lucky to Be Living,” Blue Witch/Burnside
 
Southern style blues with a twist – including a prominent, distorted harmonica – is the name of the game for this blues-soaked duo. The old-blues style is clear in the line-repeating style of singing and the clear guitar and piano.
 
The themes of the songs, including the title track, tend to indicate a life of hard-living and respect for those who came before. Some of the songs are originals, and others are covers, including four by their blues hero, Frank Frost. Check out “Lucky to Be Living” if you are looking for an updated version of old Southern blues rather than the Chicago blues that saturates the blues scene today.
**********SINGLE OF THE WEEK: BACK DOWN THE DIRT ROAD**********
 
Mary McCaslin “Better Late Than Never,” Mary McCaslin Music/Rancho Armadillo
 
Mary McCaslin is the cool, political woman next door. Except that she is – or was – famous, with releases on Rounder Records. With a pretty voice, sometimes smooth and sometimes hard-rolling, but always real-sounding rather than operatic, McCaslin sings us a variety of political and personal songs. The accompaniment is by a variety of string instruments, with guitar and banjo by McCaslin herself.
 
A lilt to the vocals and melodies reminiscent of the British Isles give the album a vague Celtic bent. McCaslin isn’t trying to compete with radio hits here. Instead she is telling stories about life in Central California and showcasing her songwriting abilities with her well-thought-out t unes, themes and arrangements. Definitely a lefty and definitely loveable, McCaslin is the type of person you’d love to befriend.
**********LATE BUT GREAT**********
**********SINGLE OF THE WEEK: CALIFORNIA JOE**********
 
Brand New “Daisy,” DGC/Interscope/Universal
 
Indie rock is still doing its thing. And Brand New has been at it for ten years now. “Daisy,” their fourth studio effort, has all the best elements of the genre: ringing, distorted guitar; thoughtful, poetic lyrics; vocal layering; and a sometimes shouting, sardonic passion.
 
Brand New uses some odd musical elements here and there, like an unexpected vocal-guitar effect, perhaps to add dimension, but it is not needed. They sound great when they stick to their singing and screaming and incisive rock style. What makes the band stand out is their quality songwriting. They will keep you listening even if you think you got over indie long ago.
 
Doro “Fear No Evil,” AFM/Dismanic/Ryko Distribution
 
Doro kicks ass. She is woman of chains and leopard print. She is a woman who fears neither evil nor double bass nor epic battles. There aren’t many women who venture so deeply into the world of metal, making German singer Doro stand out even more. Her persona is sexy but strong as hell.
 
Doro’s vocals are clear yet gritty. The backup music includes a lot of drumming, distorted guitar and male backup singers. Rhythm rises to the forefront of the music with careful timing and allowance for well-measured breaks in the riffs here and there. Doro’s songs, sung in English and German, are sometimes fast and heavy, and at other times downright soulful. She has fronted other metal groups over the years, but this is sheer Doro energy, and it rocks.
**********MIGHTY MIGHTY********** 
EDITOR’S NOTE: I KNEW DORO WHEN SHE WAS DORO PESCH, BACK IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS WHEN I EDITED HIT PARADER FROM 1980 TO 1990. THERE WERE FEW WOMEN METAL STARS IN THOSE DAYS OR THESE DAYS. SHE WAS A METAL GODDESS THEN AND IS A METAL GODDESS NOW. FUGGETABATTIT.
 
Various Artists “The Jazz & Blues Collection, Volume I,” Whitehouse/New Latin Quarter
 
Compiled from performances at the New Latin Club, Tokyo, Japan during the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, the cuts on this album represent some of the most monumental jazz artists of that period. The recordings were recently unearthed from the back of a dusty closet by the New Latin Club’s owner. The music on the album is a thrill, with live performances never before release by Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, Julie London and many more.
 
However, more fascinating than the music itself may be the fact that it was performed in one of the most important social and political scenes of that time, complete with the CIA, MI6, KGB, Japanese Mafia and other high-profile figures. Known for its sex workers, its lavish service and, of course, its hot performances, the New Latin Quarter is the perfect setting for a live jazz recording, complete with introductions before the songs.
**********SINGLE OF THE WEEK: LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN**********
 
The Chemical Brothers “Further,” Freestyle Dust/Astalwerks/Virgin/EMI
 
The Chemical Brothers are from way, way back in the day, the mid 1990s, when electronic dance music was just coming of age. They bumped it with “Block Rockin’ Beats” and other crossover hits, using delicious samples and synth as their building blocks.
 
On “Further,” vocals and deliciously trashed synthesizers bridge ambient music and dance, bringing us another chapter in the life of electronica. The Chemical Brothers still know how to tweak those knobs with the best of them. All you nay-sayers of electronic music, beware. Whether you’re into it or not, the Chemical Brothers demonstrate that this genre in no way needs to be repetitive or soulless. Sit back, turn it on, and get ready for some synaesthesia to set in.
**********LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL**********
EDITOR’S NOTE: THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS PUT THE ARENA-ROCK BOMBAST IN BRITAIN’S RAVE SCENE BY BLENDING POWER-CHORD GUITARS WITH OLD-SCHOOL HOUSE, HIP-HOP BREAKBEATS AND SOUL DUSTIES.
 
The Running Kind “The Girl for All the World,” Bossanova
 
The Running Kind is like a poppy, female-fronted Johnny Cash band, complete with fights and deceit, humor and longing. Many of the songs have a male singer along with the female voice, and unlike Johnny Cash, the band is hopeful rather than cynical. All of the songs on “The Girl for All the World” are originals.
 
Guitar solos remind you of the 1970s, and a nice twangy sound is also reminiscent of the alt-country of the 1970s. A slow, plodding track here and there provide a counterpoint to more upbeat songs, but overall, the whole album is mid-paced and would be a nice, kick-your-feet-up-for-awhile listen. It could also provide some great tracks for throwing into a country-rock mixtape.
 
Flipsyde “We the People,” Cherrytree/Interscope/UMG
 
Hip-hop, with Latin influence, tells it how it with politically attuned lyrics on Flipsyde’s debut album “We the People.” The Oakland quartet creates music that includes singing and rapping in Spanish and English, Latin guitar, and hip-hop beats. Much of the material on the album is hopeful, but it is never hokey.
 
Flipsyde is more mainstream than Dead Prez or the Coup, but they certainly don’t shy away from making their music into a message. And if that isn’t enough to snag you, know that the beats, with plenty of live guitar, stays exciting throughout the album.
**********POLICTICAL ALBUM OF THE WEEK**********
**********SINGLE OF THE WEEK: REVOLUTIONARY BEAT**********
 
Suzi Ragsdale “Best Regards/Less of the Same, 2 Disc Set,” Clyde/Stark Raven/Allegro
 
Suzi Ragsdale boldly and confidently dives into a rock album with some Irish melodies, some bluesy tunes and some that have a heavier feel. Ragsdale’s self-assurance is bolstering throughout “Best Regards.” Even when she sounds distressed in her songs, we know she’ll pull through to bring us an upbeat track next.
 
She welcomes collaboration, with plenty of musicians accompanying her, as well as a male singer on at least one track. Suzi Ragsdale leaves you with a positive feeling, even if she includes some sad songs in her roll call. Metaphor plays a strong role in her lyrics, giving her music a heady edge. Perhaps she got all her song ideas while meditating – one of her other great passions has been her path as a yoga teacher!
 
Jim Wolf “Sleeping With Strangers,” Independent
 
Jim Wolf, a singer-songwriter with a rock sound and heart-gripping tales of love, really lies above and beyond the stereotype you’d like to fit him in. He actually tells stories with his lyrics and the tone of his voice rather than writing abstract, bad poetry like so many of his counterparts. His melodies are actually catchy, and the instrumentation is varied.
 
Whether Wolf puts on his classic rock sound or his folk sound, he sounds familiar. Sax, trombone and trumpet round out the vibe of the album, and some place-specific lyrics firmly plant the music in New York City. It’s always a little annoying to see a fully-clothed man and a half-naked woman on the cover of an album. But it’s nice to hear a singer-songwriter album so well-grounded in itself, so sure of its character and so openly vulnerable in its blues theme.
**********NEW ALBUM OF THE WEEK**********
**********SINGLE OF THE WEEK: SLEEPING WITH STRANGERS**********
 
Taeko “Voice,” Flat Nine
 
Don’t judge Taeko on the simplicity of her album title, “Voice,” or on the predecessors in her genre, vocal jazz. Taeko makes jazz a political mission (she covers “Inner City Blues” by Marvin Gaye and “Stand!” by Sly & the Family Stone, among other conscious tracks). And she grounds this with talent that will thoroughly engross you. She scats so well it sounds like you should be able to make out words amid the shoo-be-doos, and her vocal acrobatics recall those of Joni Mitchell.
 
You can hear that Taeko has a slight Japanese accent, which adds character to her voice as she works it out on a Herbie Hancock track, a Thelonious Monk track, a Duke Ellington track. The playful feeling and the song choices on “Voice” will make it the most fun – and meaningful – vocal jazz you’ll hear for a while.
 
The Revelations, featuring Tre’ Williams “The Bleeding Edge,” Traffic/Decision
 
Brooklyn’s neo-soul movement is alive and rolling, and The Revelations must be a high point. They’ve got a melding of hip-hop elements (“Put Your Hands in the Air!”) and classic funk and soul (lots of brass and backup singers). The themes are diverse, though not without including a good dose of sweet love songs. “Heavy Metal Blues,” “Stay Free” and others songs, however, stray away from this, bringing thicker dimension to the “The Bleeding Edge.”
 
This may very well be the next step in the evolution of hip-hop. Returning to creating that kind of music that has provided samples for so many hip-hop songs over the years could also be a response to the fact that sampling is no longer a free endeavor. No matter why neo-soul is riding high, artists like Tre’ Williams and The Revelations are keeping it smooth.
 
Patty Loveless “Mountain Soul II,” Saguaro Road
 
Patty Loveless gives us robust country music where blues go with banjo and fiddle, and love songs swing with an alternating bass. She is still making rich, down-to-earth music, even 30 years after the beginning of her music career.
 
Many of the songs weren’t written by Loveless, but a couple were, and they give us an even deeper feel for who she is. She obviously values traditional bluegrass as much as modern country, for its blues and its humor as well as for its sound. And she does a fantastic job of marrying the two on “Mountain Soul II.”
"SO NICE GOTTA DO IT UP TWICE" (created by the original NYC D.J., Jocko, 1955)
**********SINGLE OF THE WEEK: BLUE MEMORIES**********
EDITOR’S NOTE: ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR FEMALE SINGERS OF THE NEW TRADITIONALIST MOVEMENT, PATTY LOVELESS ROSE TO STARDOM THANKS TO HER BLEND OF HONKY-TONK AND COUNTRY-ROCK, NOT TO MENTION A PLAINTIFF, EMOTIONAL BALLAD STYLE. HOW MANY GREAT HITS DID PATTY RELEASE? BEATS ME. WHEN POP-ORIENTED NASHVILLE SHOWED UP IN THE MID-’90S AND FAITH HILL BORDOM TOOK OVER, PATTY WENT INTO MANY DIFFERENT STYLES, INCLUDING BLUEGRASS. SHE’S ALWAYS SOUNDED GREAT TO ME.

John Cowan “8,745 Feet: Live at Telluride,” E1
 
John Cowan, bassist and singer, has played with the New Grass Revival and the Doobie Brothers, but is able to stand under his own name in this live recording. He has done soul and folk before, but leans toward a country sound this time, complete with banjo, harmonizing vocal backups and occasional electric guitars.
 
Cowan’s voice really becomes the star on this album, with a soaring sound that doesn’t shy away from being heard and that refuses to be subdued. There are slow songs on the album, but many are danceable. The highlights of “Live at Telluride” are when funk and bluegrass seem to meld in an odd but intriguing and entirely pleasing marriage, probably made possible both by Cowan’s open attitude and diverse musical background, and prodigy Béla Fleck’s place as a banjoist in the performance.
**********SINGLE OF THE WEEK: WICHATA WAY**********
EDITOR’S NOTE: THE SCRAPPY ROCKER MASTERED THE BLUEGRASS SOUND AND WENT TO A SOLO CAREER THAT HAS NEVER SLOWED DOWN.
 
Ranee Lee “Lives Upstairs,” Factor/Canada/Justin Time
 
Ranee is a jazz vocalist with a set of lungs that could blow down the London Bridge. With her deep voice, her personality appears in the forefront of each song. Sometimes she sings gently, and other times she get right up in your face, but her vibrato is always beautiful and her timing is precise.
 
This recording was made live at the Montreal jazz club Upstairs with piano, guitar, bass and drums backing her up. The mood is intense and somewhat brooding for most of the album – the audience is definitely seated in this club – though good times roll in a few tracks, as well. The James Taylor track (“Fire and Rain”) might be worth skipping, but stay tuned for “The Storm,” the only song written by Lee herself on the live recording.
 
Hank Williams III “Rebel Within,” Sidewalk/Curb
 
Hank Williams III is an oddball. A talented oddball, of course, but an oddball nonetheless. On the cover of Rebel Within, we see Hank III standing in front of a confederate flag with a black bandana over his nose and mouth. It’s hard to guess whether to take the photo – or the music on his album – at face value or to search for deeper meaning in it.
 
But regardless of his message, Hank III plays rough and tumble as usual on “Rebel Within.” Some songs have a straight-up traditional country sound, while others are of that subclass of rockabilly known as psychobilly. His punk-rock attitude of swearing when he wants to, and telling off his record company, can be heard clearly throughout “Rebel Within.” It’s a solid album, though not his crowning masterpiece.
**********IF YOU LOVE MUSIC YOU’LL LOVE THIS**********
**********SINGLE OF THE WEEK: TORE UP AND LOUD**********
EDITOR’S NOTE: AS THE GRANDSON OF HANK WILLIAMS AND THE SON OF HANK JR., HE WAS COUNTRY MUSIC ROYALTY BEFORE HE EVER SANG A NOTE. BUT HE AHS NEVER FOLLOWED HIS FOREBEARS MUSICALLY, CHOOSING INSTEAD TO HANG AROUND THE SOUTHEAST, PLAYING IN PUNK AND HARDCORE COMBOS AND SMOKING PRODIGOUS AMOUNTS OF WEED. HE HAS KEPT HIS OUTLAW IMAGE ALIVE AND WELL AGAIN.
 


----------------------------------

THE HIGH FIVE!!!!
 

Sissy Wish “Beauties Never Die,” Afternoon

Amon Amarth “The Crusher, 2 CD Set” Metal Blade

Joss Stone “Colour Me Free,” EMI

Rob Blackledge “Inside These Walls,” One Revolution

Lili Añel “Every Second in Between,” Wall-I

 

TOP OF THE LINE
 

Raekwon “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt II,” Ice H2O/EMI

The Gates of Slumber “Hymns of Blood and Thunder,” Rise Above/Metal Blade

Joe Louis Walker “Between a Rock and the Blues,” Stony Plain

Oliver Schroer “Camino,” Borealis/Linus/True North

LMFAO “Party Rock,” Interscope/Universal

Zera Vaughan “The New Seed,” Media in Sync

Lizzie & Duncan “Can’t Sleep, Won’t Sleep EP,” Independent

Girls Guns and Glory “Inverted Valentine,” Lonesome Day

Gwar “Lust in Space,” Metal Blade

Cliff Eberhardt “500 Miles: The Blue Rock Sessions,” Red House