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Noteworthy CDs

Notable CDs | Five noteworthy new releases reviewed by Arsenio Orteza

Raising Sand

Style: A spacey excursion into songs by composers such as Doc Watson, the Everly Brothers, Tom Waits, Gene Clark, Sam Phillips, and Townes Van Zant.

Worldview: That the last 50 years contain too many good-but-neglected songs for singers as talented and experimentally inclined as Plant and Krauss to waste time recording anything else at this point in their careers.

Overall quality: Plaintive, spooky, beautiful, and strange, often all at once.

New Seasons

Style: Minor-key melodies (and subjects) buttressed by spaghetti-western guitars, surf-rock drums, and folk-rock vocals.

Worldview: "Not reason or religion can ease my pain, / but I know I'll be saved when my memories fall away" ("The First Inquisition [Pt. IV]").

Overall quality: Individual high points stand out, but the most arresting of them mutually reinforces a sense of mystery, resulting in an album that's greater than the sum of its parts.

Live from Austin TX

Style: A 1975 Austin City Limits concert consisting of Sir Douglas Quintet-era Tex-Mex, some blues, and a swamp-pop medley encompassing Elvis Presley and Freddy Fender.

Worldview: That the eighth anniversary of Sahm's death is a fitting occasion to remember his good-natured showmanship.

Overall quality: Sahm was tighter in the studio than onstage (and in the '60s, '80s, and '90s than in the '70s), but this performance is good, loose fun.

Versatile Heart

Style: Acoustic folk gorgeously sung.

Worldview: "Loved you more than my three children. / Now you've gone to auto heaven. . . . / Ladies shouldn't drive nice cars. / They're only going to break our hearts."

Overall quality: "Do Your Best for Rock 'N Roll" (agnostic honky-tonk gospel) clashes with the romantic melancholy of the others, but the others, especially the traditional "Katy Cruel" and the traditional-sounding "Whisky, Bob Copper and Me," more than compensate.

Romancing the '60s

Style: Thirteen 1960s pop hits (14 if you count the "My Girl/Groovin'" medley as two) for lounge orchestra and ageless tenor.

Worldview: That no one can sing these 40-something-year-old songs like a 70-something-year-old pro.

Overall quality: "Easy listening"-sometimes as a euphemism for schmaltz (e.g., "What a Wonderful World"), more often as an accurate description of listening that really is easy (e.g., "Take Good Care of My Baby," "On Broadway").

Spotlight

In 1979, Alison Krauss was entering fiddle contests as an 8-year-old in Illinois, Robert Plant was the lead singer of the immensely popular Led Zeppelin (a band notorious for occult-tinged decadence), and T Bone Burnett was about to record Truth Decay (an excellent and overtly Christian collection of blues, rockabilly, and country). That Krauss, Plant, and Burnett have wound up together nearly three decades later on Raising Sand (Rounder) is almost as pleasantly surprising as the music itself.

True to his stated intentions, Burnett, the album's producer, has eased Plant and Krauss "out of their comfort zones," supplying them with a well-chosen program of obscure (and mostly old) country, bluegrass, and rock 'n' roll songs and with a sound that's more suggestively skeletal and spectral than anything else in their respective discographies. In short, Raising Sand finds Plant, Krauss, and Burnett successfully forgoing the competitive "self-expression" typical of many big-name collaborations the better to call attention to the deserving work of others.

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