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Notable CDs

Notable CDs | Five noteworthy new releases reviewed by Arsenio Orteza

Ben Folds Presents: University A Capella!

Now here's a novel idea: Take 16 songs first recorded by the 1990s one-hit wonder Ben Folds and record them as performed a cappella by (mostly) university vocal ensembles with names like 5th Elements from University of Wisconsin Eau Claire and Grace Notes from West Chester University of Pennsylvania. (An overdubbed Folds does two himself.) Surprisingly, the predominantly jazzy performances often work. Unfortunately, because they do, a cappella renditions of the music of Hootie & the Blowfish and Creed will no doubt follow. Profanity alerts: "Effington" and "Army."

Lonely Street

At 65, Doyle Lawson still seems intent on being the hardest-working man in bluegrass, demanding from his ever-shifting Quicksilver lineups a precision that keeps them drawing crowds and releasing recordings at a pace with which only the diehard can keep all the way up. This time he's splitting lead vocals with his current guitarist, Darren Beachley. But it's the Quicksilver constants-Lawson's mandolin, his knack for unearthing strong material-that give "Yesterday's Songs" and the 11 others a good chance of becoming tomorrow's songs as well.

Fantasies

It's a shame that profanity is now the lingua franca of young rockers: The "F-bomb"-strewn "Satellite Sky" mars what is otherwise one of the most delightful modern-pop albums in months. The meshing of Emily Haines' solid-air singing with her band mates' sleek, electronica-polished hooks proves not only that there's still intelligent life in the universe of female-fronted combos (think Transvision Vamp crossed with Sixpence None the Richer) but also that it might have a future. With or without its two entertaining videos, "Gimme Sympathy" is a first-rate jumpstarter.

Live 1969

Other than the fact that Simon & Garfunkel's core audience will be extinct in a decade or two, it's hard to imagine why Sony keeps releasing Simon & Garfunkel live albums that, at their best, sound almost exactly like the duo's studio-recorded hits collections. This album's sole high point is a high point once removed (hearing the crowd hear the as-yet-unreleased "Bridge over Troubled Water" for the first time). The lowest point: hearing Garfunkel ask a heckler who wants louder keyboards what label he produces for.

Spotlight

American Beat's single-disc reissue of George Jones' A Picture of Me (Without You) and Nothing Ever Hurt Me (Half As Much As Losing You) is as educational as it is entertaining. It proves, for instance, that in 1972 and 1973 country stars got more out of their talent by releasing two or three 30-minute albums a year than they would decades later by taking years between 60-minute ones. And, despite country's then-reputation as an occasionally reactionary whites-only club for good ol' boys, Billy Sherrill's countrypolitan blend of piano and strings was already a staple of Southern R&B (see Ivory Joe Hunter) as well. Most significantly, these recordings prove that country stardom used to require that a singer possess a unique voice and that he use it in an immediately identifiable way. Johnny Cash sounded nothing like Merle Haggard, and Jones sounded nothing like them or anyone else-except, just a little, the Memphis (as opposed to the Vegas) Elvis Presley.

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