Style: Spacy electronica tenuously tethered to traditional pop-song structures.
Cautions: Obscenities ("Black Swan").
Worldview: That the worlds both inside and outside oneself are neither nice places to visit nor places in which one would, given a choice, want to live.
Overall quality: Off-puttingly weird at first-like Low/"Heroes"-era David Bowie but one vocal octave higher-actual songs, if not actual ideas or meaningful sentiments, emerge with repeated listenings.
Style: Three CDs (average length: 43 minutes) of melodic, conceptually ambitious alternative pop-rock.
Worldview: As the narrative-accompanied third disc makes explicit, this album tells a story, the general theme of which is that the sins of the father are visited upon the son.
Overall quality: Although one killer 80-minute disc could've been assembled from the best parts of all three, this album is hardly the dullest rock opera in history.
Style: Forty-five percent urban/hip-hop, 35 percent young white solo male/female, 15 percent white rock, 5 percent Keith Urban.
Cautions: The sexual and verbal sleaze-mongering of the urban/hip-hop 45 percent.
Worldview: That contemporary pop is 45 percent dreck, 50 percent "white noise," 5 percent Saving Jane's "Girl Next Door."
Overall quality: A telling observation: In 1982 the narrator of J. Geils' "Centerfold" was shocked by his girlfriend's exhibitionism; in 2005 T-Pain proudly proclaims his "luv" for a stripper.
Style: The final and hence most eternity-haunted of the country-folk albums Cash recorded with producer Rick Rubin.
Worldview: "Oh, come down from Your golden throne to me, to lonely me. I need to feel the touch of Your tender hand. Release these chains of darkness. Let me see, Lord, . . . just where I fit into Your master plan."
Overall quality: A moving example of God's strength made perfect in weakness.
Style: Folk-rock/pop with country roots.
Worldview: "I heard the preacher say, / 'Thou shalt not kill.' / I don't wanna hear nothin' else / about killin' and that it's God's will, / 'cause our children are watching us."
Overall quality: The fallout from Natalie Maines' foot-in-mouth liberalism has been good for the Dixie Chicks' music if not for their U.S. tour-they're not bad at being serious now that they have no choice.
The years since the death of Johnny Cash have seen the release of more deservingly popular single albums and boxed sets than were released in any comparable period during his life. Now, after the success of Walk the Line, Country Music Video/Columbia/ Legacy has released Man in Black: Live in Denmark 1971. At 18 songs, the hour-long performance briskly mixes Cash classics and solo turns by Carl Perkins, the Statler Brothers, and the Carter Family before a small but receptive Danish audience.
The language barrier results in some interesting moments. Stone-faced during the hilarious "A Boy Named Sue," the Danes respond warmly to a prepared greeting that Cash reads haltingly in their native tongue. Meanwhile, 21st-century English speakers will note two historically significant facts: that Cash was a major figure in the "Jesus Movement" (he closes with "Rock of Ages" and "Children, Go Where I Send Thee") and that, at 39, he was an irresistibly lively and vibrant performer.