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Notable CDs

Notable CDs | Five noteworthy recent releases reviewed by Arsenio Orteza

Afriki

Style: Sprightly, acoustic Malian "Afro-pop," replete with balafon, calabash, talking drums, and harmonica.

Worldview: "Even though Mali is poor, we still have a good quality of life: You can walk outside and smile and someone will smile back. . . . I don't agree that poor countries always have a worse quality of life" (the liner notes).

Overall quality: The booklet provides translations of the foreign-language lyrics; the music makes the translations unnecessary.

One Hell of a Ride

Style: One hundred jukebox, outlaw, mainstream, and Triple-A country songs, 1954-2007.

Caution: "Write Your Own Songs" (vulgarity).

Worldview: There's something to be said both for and against throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks.

Overall quality: The attempt at balance ends up overemphasizing the duets and the covers and, despite including every hit and some that should've been, shortchanging the classics (nothing from Face of a Fighter).

As Tears Go By

Style: Eleven '60s pop hits performed as a melancholy suite by the folksinger Carol Noonan and a quartet of acoustic instrumentalists.

Worldview: That it wasn't hippies but Burt Bacharach (three songs), the Rolling Stones at their mellowest (two), and the movies (To Sir with Love, A Summer Place) that defined the tenor of the '60s.

Overall quality: The individual parts are less impressive than their imaginatively and unpredictably revisionist whole.

Toolin' Around Woodstock

Style: A dozen rock, blues, and country classics plus two originals as played and sometimes sung by Roth, Helm, and Roth's fellow "guitarist's guitarists" Bill Kirchen and Sonny Landreth.

Worldview: When the talented get together in a relaxed setting, sparks will fly ("Tumblin'," "Sweet Little Sixteen") and embers glow ("Sleep Walk," "Unchained Melody").

Overall quality: Autumnal mastery at its most infectiously rambunctious.

Beautiful Thing

Style: Droll, catchy retro pop-rock circa 1987.

Worldview: She may be a "real scream" and a "beautiful thing" who makes you "feel like Jerry Lewis in France," but if she's "on the rebound" or "there's too little money coming in and too much going out," she'll eventually remind you that a "good woman is hard to find."

Overall quality: A deserving reissue that demonstrates the timelessness of deadpan romantic tragicomedy.

Spotlight

Habib Koité has spent the past 13 years earning a reputation as one of Mali's most popular performers and one of the shining talents of "world music." A singer-songwriter who sings and writes in French, his native Bambara, and sometimes English, he transcends language barriers with his dexterous and delicate acoustic-guitar playing. Indeed, although his singing, his melodies, and the rhythms generated by his five-member band Bamada combine with a genuinely transcontinental fluidity, it's his guitar picking that would, were he ever to be struck dumb, still guarantee him an enthusiastic audience.

As the considerately trilingual liner notes of his latest album, Afriki (Cumbancha), reveal, his latest songs concern the "strengths and challenges of Mali in particular and the African continent in general." Not that Bono or Bob Geldof will be licensing them for a public-service-announcement soundtrack anytime soon, not with lyrics like these from "Africa": "Broken promises . . . the illusion is false. . . . / Enough helped Africa. / Africa will make its own way."

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