Low Country Blues Gregg Allman
Rounder / Concord

Author:
Sophia A. Strosberg

There is no need for this legend to try to maintain the youthful sound Gregg Allman had back during his time with the Allman Brothers - he mature blues guy who knows his shit and can do what he wants with his voice. Like all blues guys, he had to find his niche, and, with his musical history, it's no leap that he chooses a touch of psychedelia, a dash of crunchiness, some old-time stompings and an overall expression of understanding for the inhabitants living in this gritty world.

Whether Allman is on the acoustic guitar, the B-3 organ or is simply singing, whether he is covering Muddy Waters, B.B. King or playing a song he wrote himself, the sound all come together under his influence (and that of famous producer T Bone Burnett). You'll either think you're in a saloon or some kind Tom Waits-influenced honky-tonk show. If you like the Allman Brothers, and you like heavy rhythms and piano-pounding badassness, check out Low Country Blues.

Editor's Note: A true battle-scarred veteran with a surprising amount of fire left in his bones. This album, all the cuts, are worth the price of admission alone. His wisdom matches his spirit, cussing, cracking wise and casually breaking your heat. This trimuph has triggered a resurgence of the man himself.

Single of the Week: "Just Another Rider"

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Something For the Rest of Us Goo Goo Dolls
Warner Bros.

Author:
SAS

The Goo Goo Dolls - you remember they had that song: "And I won't tell 'em your name..." Well they're still doing the same kind of stuff. It's rock 'n' roll so slick that it's hard to grab a hold of any quirky character in the music. The thing that does continue to stand out is the strong, longing voice of lead singer John Rzeznik.

Honestly, while there are plenty of times on Something for the Rest of Us where you're just praying for something a little rougher around the edges, much of the album is made up of good ideas. One will always wonder what this rock band would sound like now without the heavy wash of major-label production. But really, using lots of piano and well-chosen effects on this recording worked quite well. Goo Goo Dolls satisfies fans of alternative rock. Who knows, maybe they will decide to rebirth themselves musically (and lyrically) sometime, and that would be nice too.

Editor's Note: Heavily influenced by post post-punkers, Johnny Rzeznik transports aching vocals from the rock dive to the prom, elevating mundane sentiments to the rarified atmosphere where the power ballad soars.

Single of the Week: "Home"

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Back in the Day: A Summertime Hip-Hop Mix Various Artists
Rhino / Warner Bros.

Author:
SAS

This compilation really does sound like it was a gift from one of the many, and rightfully, hip-hop-obsessed kids of the 1990s. While it is careful to heavily include artists that have maintained a level of fame into the new millennium, like the Beastie Boys, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Coolio and Queen Latifah, that does not at all mean that anything you'll hear is tired or an iota less than completely nostalgic.

But though you'll be facing nostalgia, you'll also be able to relax into this mix in complete comfort. That's something about the nature of old hip-hop. It doesn't necessarily make you long for the old days. Rather, it transports those days to you. You'll also appreciate all the optimism of old underground hip-hop, the joy of the beats - and they really got into samples back then, as opposed to the heavy synth of today.

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One Love David Guetta
Gum Prod / Astralwerks / Virgin / EMI

Author:
SAS

David Guetta is a French DJ who is able to make and break beats on a whim, and force a dance floor to move. He adds serious house music to some of the most club-loved tracks out there right now. He uses the words of the singers themselves to create rhythmics, and the synths to create contrasting backgrounds. Don't think he's doing anything too crazy. He's giving us the beats to make the people dance, not to make them stop and ponder.

David produced only one of the instrumentals on the album - the one with the Black Eyed Peas. But he successfully unifies One Love by placing emphasis on hooks and allowing only the most wholesome of synths into the mix. Just picture flashing lights, and you'll be at the discotheque in no time!

ARTIST TO WATCH

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Before & After Carrie Newcomer
Rounder

Author:
SAS

Carrie Newcomer is a folkity lady with an acoustic guitar and a drive to write. And she is no newcomer. She's been gathering experience in the folk world since the 1980s. She's got an earthy voice, an optimistic outlook and a new-agey take on the world. She is a Quaker, after all. She's more one to provide advice or share a tale than mope about her problems. It's a nice change from a lot of blues all the time.

She has plenty of instrumental guests on the album - rare are the solo-woman-with-guitar moments on Before & After. She also has welcomed vocal accompaniment, as others' voices meld quite nicely with her throaty sound. This is certainly a feel-good album. It's designed to relax, not incite or excite. So if you're prepared to hear some spiritual and philosophical songs that just might nudge you to change your attitude, check out Newcomer.

Editor's Note: Carrie Newcomer is a delightful, iridescent angel of buoyant feelings and plaintive vocal surrender.

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Your Funeral... My Trial (Reissue) Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Mute

Author:
SAS

Scary carnival music played with only the most favorable of live instruments opens this characteristically spooky Nick Cave album. Originally released in 1995, this reissue is the remastered version. And Nick Cave has never sounded more sure of his willingness to march into a day of reckoning.

Sometimes almost drunk sounding, sometimes the suavest guy on the planet, Cave will always be the punk-goth king. He knows how to drop a bible reference, he knows when to slip a normal-sounding riff into the melody, he knows when to pull out his desperation and when to keep his charisma. Speaking or singing, Nick Cave will always push the black-painted envelope.

Editor's Note: Nick Cave wasn't the first punk with literary ambitions, nor was he the first rock singer to be fascinated and inspired by suffering, religion or the gothic love of the American South. But few have explored these themes with Cave's passion and determination.

LATE BUT GREAT

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Flamingo Brandon Flowers
Island Def Jam /Universal

Author:
SAS

Brandon Flowers has some real talent in creating odd but pleasing synth noises, and he uses them to circumscribe the swath of his solo music on Flamingo. The synths are just one part of an overall new-wave sound, heavily inspired by the music of the 1980s (much as is the music of his band the Killers).

On Flamingo, Flowers takes on life in Nevada (where he resides), relationship issues and religious issues, and it's all done up in an interesting way. The only sadness of this album is the feeling that Flowers could have taken this music a step further into its differentness. But that's okay, he create plenty of quality pop songs that should please the populace, always hungry for the typical rock-guy sound.

Single of the Week: "Playing With Fire"

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The World as We Love It: A Rock and Roll Journey Pushking
Armoury / Ear Music / Eagle Rock

Author:
SAS

Pushking, those Russian rockers, have created a sort of best-of album. The difference is that each song on the album features other, more famous rockers. Musicians from Deep Purple, Kiss, Nazareth, Journey and other rock bands grace every track.

Pushking's own sound is relatively upbeat, yet they obviously draw heavily on hard rock and hair metal. The result of mixing Pushking with their guests is something that sounds entirely demonic and happy-go-lucky at the same time. Pick this up to be able to show off a treasury of not-often-heard examples of rock at it goofiest - and its greatest.

Editor's Note: Any album featuring Paul Stanley (Kiss), Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top), Alice Cooper, Steve Vai, etc. is alright with me.

Single of the Week: "Tonight"

MIGHTY, MIGHTY!

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Plastic Beach Gorillaz
Virgin /EMI

Author:
SAS

"It's a Casio on a plastic beach," goes one of the songs. Gorillaz is breaking serious ground right now. It's as if we've just be hacking at the frozen planet of electro-pop for decades, and now Gorillaz has brought in an organic steam shovel to explore what lies beyond our current conceptions of what's possible. How can I justify propping a single band with so much ability, especially a band that in the past I've though a bit too hyped up? Well, not only is the music fantastic, the lyrics are also superbly radical. Yeah, like politically radical.

This is not something to sleep on, so get off your pillow enter instead into a waking dream. Mos Def, Lou Reed, De La Soul, the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble - these guests augment Damon Albarn's already brilliant work. What he does is take sounds from all areas of life - world music, synthesizers, noises of humanity and imaginings of the sounds of the cyborg and animal worlds - and makes them incredibly catchy to the ear. You'll recognize this stuff the first time you ever hear it. And you'll wonder how you ever lived without it.

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Spread the Love Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters
Stony Plain

Author:
SAS

Ronnie Earl needs no words to his music. His guitar speaks any mood he chooses to portray. This is some old-style electric blues playing. The backup music is often sparse, and the focus is on a moody guitar - on how each note rings out of the body and neck of the instrument. Organ gives a nice subtle backup noise in many of the songs, keeping the mood mellow.

Earl has been playing since he saw Muddy Waters live back in the day. He joined the band Roomful of Blues in 1979, and played lead guitar for them. Now with his band the Broadcasters, his vision and message is love. But don't be afraid of some hokey outcome. The music is as sincere as ever, and plenty of anger shines through, as well as good vibrations.  

Editor's Note: While attending a Muddy Water's concert, he was so moved by what he heard that he decided to learn the guitar and dedicate himself to mastering the blues. Spread the Love showcases one of the finest guitarists, and is an excellent introduction to Earl, as well as being one of his most consistently entertaining releases.

 

LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL

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Sailing Grace Griffith
Blix Street

Author:
SAS

Grace Griffith is the type to pull you up when you are down, if partly because she has been through troubles of her own. Sailing is a moving compilation with a great voice binding the variety of songs together. Grace Griffith isn't afraid to step into the world of jazz and rock, and she's open to experimenting with vocal layering.

With her piano and her ringing voice, this creator of Celtic-influenced folk is giving you a compilation CD made up of 1-3 songs from several of her previous albums. Some the music is straight-up Celtic, and these are some of the best tracks on the recording. She's such a far cry from the likes of Celtic Woman, bringing us a sense of strength and a grasp of the earthy possibilities of Celtic music. Griffith, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in 1998, gives presentations on the matter.

Single of the Week: "Wondering Where the Lions Are"

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Rappahannock Blues John Jackson
Smithsonian Folkways

Author:
SAS

Appalachian blues never got the attention that Delta Blues did. But here we have John Jackson playing them loud and clear, as recorded at different live shows. You'll hear that mountain touch in Jackson's fingerpicking style and melodies, as well as a clear African-American blues style.

Heavy rhythms somehow escape from his fast-moving hands as he picks along solo. Jackson was a great musician and should now be forgotten. He covers immortal songs like Candy Man, Nobody's Business and Red River Blues, as well as lesser-known songs and three that he wrote. They're all excellent old-timey pieces that would brighten any kitchen or front porch.

Single of the Week: "Nobody's Business (If I Do)"

Political Album of the Week

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My Country: Smash Hits Various Artists
Stadium Entertainment / EMI

Author:
SAS

On My Country: Smash Hits, get ready to hear from 14 top country artists on this benefit album for the Fisher House, a foundation that is "providing a 'home away from home' for military families to be close to a loved one during hospitalization for an illness, disease or injury." While some of the songs are about soldiers and the military, most of them are not.

You'll hear from Reba, Trace Adkins, Dierks Bentley, Lady Antebellum, Blake Shelton - the lineup is pretty impressive. The backing music on the album, while all fitting that modern country niche, cannot help but change from artist to artist. This could be a nice introduction to today's modern country artists and styles. There's the good-time song, the sad song, the soothing song, the romantic song, all in one place.

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We Stared Blues Fake Babies
Safety Meeting

Author:
SAS

Now that we are all hooked on Ed Banger and the world of indie electronic music, we will be delighted to receive an album like We Started Blues by electro-newbies Fake Babies. Only some of the songs are danceable, but many of them are not meant to be. We Started Blues is thoughtful, soulful in a twisted way, and full of surprises. The beats are generally sparse, but all the sounds involved are planned and created out of some intricate minds and machines.

The vocals on this album are as weird and pretty as the music, and float everpresently on top of the beats. Don't throw this on to start the dance party unless there are plenty of drugs at the party. But do listen to this on your own, or with a group of your most open-minded friends.

NEW ARTIST OF THE WEEK

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Little Piece of Dixie Blackberry Smoke
BamaJam / Stroudavarious / RED

Author:
SAS

Southern rock takes it cool with Blackberry Smoke. Characters and stories are splattered in the colors of electric guitar and drums on the canvas of a life-loving, hard-time Southern landscape. Blackberry Smoke's members come across as sincere and honest, giving us a peek into the country life in all its real ups and downs, often with a sense of humor.

The music has a hard-rock feel. Electricity is definitely flowing, but acoustic sounds makes themselves heard as well. The heaviness of the sound goes well with the old-truck, beer-bottle blues themes. Working class ethics - and attitudes - come through loud and clear, making Little Piece of Dixie a winning, grunge-rust country rock band for the rest of us.

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The World Needs More Skillz Skillz
EntertainmentOne

Author:
SAS

This is that underground stuff, by the guy who has not only written plenty of his own brilliant songs, but brilliant songs for other rappers as well, unbeknownst to the public. Skillz does fine on The World Needs More Skillz. He picks good, jazzy producers, who give us understated, yet catchy, beats. He includes lots of nice backup vocals. In his words: "When I rap, I want it to sound like someone is playing another instrument," and his vocals are a nice, chill listen.

This seems to be the overarching style of the album: Nice hip-hop music in the traditional vein, very jazzy and soul-oriented. Not much in the way of fantastic, innovative rhyming. But that's okay. It would go quite nicely in an experimental downtempo hip-hop mix. Note his charming tribute to DJ AM.

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Unexpected Angie Stone
Stax / Concord

Author:
SAS

Soul singer Angie Stone sings to laid-back funk beats and produces some hot jams to rock your heart. The vintage samples in her songs give balance to her neo-soul singing style. The fact that she mixes more in the way of rap and R&B into the mix than ever before gives Unexpected a well-rounded feel.

In short, the album lives up to its name. She's decided to approach the mainstream tip with ultra-laid back subject matter and modern, sometimes danceable beats. As she says, Unexpected was partially influenced by the unexpected passing of her father. But this sad event seems to have influenced Stone to try to soar above the paid, and to share this soothing attitude with you.

Single of the Week: "I Found a Keeper"

SO NICE GOTTA DO IT UP TWICE! (created by the original NYC D.J., Jocko, 1955)

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Looking for a Way / Lonesome Traveler
Independent

Author:
SAS

Lonesome Traveler won't be lonesome for long - their mandolin, fiddle, dobro, bass, guitar, and above all, sweet drawling vocals, will draw crowds. Tight solos and duets, both in the vocals and the instrumental arrangements, push Lonesome Traveler's members along on their musical path. This music has a traditional bluegrass feel, but there's an underlying sense of the currents of the modern.

The best part of sounds of Looking for a Way are the melodies and harmonies. They might even give you goose bumps here and there. They're too traditional to be some kind of punk-country like The Devil Makes Three. Yet they also bring a vibe to the bluegrass scene that goes beyond what's done before. It's moody, it's cool, it's Americana. Plus, the CD case is a compass.

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Halcyon Times Jason & the Scorchers
Nash Vegas Flash / Courageous Chicken

Author:
SAS

Longtime Nashville band Jason & the Scorchers have released their first album since 1996. And it's interesting mix of punk-rock vocal accents, sardonic lyrics and country-rock instrumentation paddles it quite nicely up the packed river of new rock albums. Sometimes mellow, but more often with gusto, the guys have manifested a creative and conscious recording.

You'll identify with the characters created on Halcyon Times. The images are rainbow-bright, the lyrics are often hilarious and the music will make you want to dance. So hop off your mechanical bull for a moment, get over to the jukebox, pull on your party pants and get down. Sing-slong choruses make Jason & the Scorchers a fantastic live band, too.

Editor's Note: This amalgam of speedy hard rock fused with Jason Ringenberg's decidedly country twang, along with the band's ability to deftly negotiate between Rolling Stones-style stomps and quieter, more melodic, acoustic country music led to Jason & The Scortchers becoming a critically lauded and unique rock-country ensemble.

Single of the Week: "Mother of Greed"

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Steel Magnolia Steel Magnolia
Big Machine / UMG

Author:
SAS

Meghan Linsey and Joshua Scott Jones may sound just a bit awkard together, but generally their voices work just fine together in the self-titled debut of their duet band, Steel Magnolia. They certainly sound like their are in love and like they love singing together. The two of them wrote a majority of the songs on the album, which adds sincerety to their words, which are often themed abstractly about about everyday life.

The country feel of the album is everpresent, but not overwhelming - rock plays a big role as well. The sound is slick and commercial, but that is how Steel Magnolia will be able to reach fame, which they have already begun to do. The truth is that their sound will develop with more confidence and less overbearing production.

IF YOU LOVE MUSIC, YOU'LL LOVE THIS!

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Calling All Hearts Keyshia Cole
Geffen / Universal

Author:
SAS

Calling All Hearts by Keyshia Cole: it's a trip through the amusement park of the heart. Of course, most of the rides are roller coasters, and Cole seems intimately familiar with the steep drops. Cole's voice is dynamic and supple, and she presents its beauty to us in every song. Her R&B style is dramatic, but this gives her more opportunity to show off her vocal gymnastics. The strongest songs are ones where strong beats are able to contrast with her melodies.

Her tracks with Faith Evans and Nicki Minaj are both awesome, and she has plenty of strong solo material, too. Many of her songs are love songs, as you'd expect on an R&B album. But "Last Hangover," a song featuring Timbaland, declares that vow made by all of us at one point or another. Cole has a great voice, speaks to the heart and knows how to pull of a good, jamming R&B record.

BEST ALBUM OF THE WEEK

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