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Notable CDs

Notable CDs | Four noteworthy new CDs reviewed by Arsenio Orteza

Time to Grow

Several years ago, these precocious siblings were telling interviewers that they didn't mind their fans' calling them "three little Alison Krausses." As this album's title implies, however, that was then and this is now. Despite the Lovells' instruments of choice (fiddle, mandolin, lap-steel guitar), it's less bluegrass than folk that one hears in these 11 songs (five of them Lovell originals). Sometimes the sparseness feels merely thin, but the overall effect is simultaneously sad and beautiful, no less for the sisters' vocal harmonies than for their accomplished musicianship.

Preliminaries

Like the Michel Houellebecq novel on which it's based (The Possibility of an Island) this latest album by rock's oldest living punk sometimes blurs the line between exposing postmodern decadence and wallowing in it. The problem isn't the music (which runs the gamut from cabaret jazz and moody electronica to backwoods blues and stripped-down goth, dramatically embodying its subject's complexity) or even most of the lyrics. It's those lyrics that, whether profane or merely vulgar, signal a failure of imagination unbecoming an artist of genuine maturity and skill.

Love is the Way

If this album's delicate, Old World feel suggests that its creator, a multi-talented alumna of the '80s Scottish folk-pop band Fairground Attraction, has finally given up on achieving in the U.S. the distinction she enjoys in the U.K., its Brian Wilson and Fleetwood Mac covers suggest otherwise. Reader delivers both with a combination of insouciance and rapture, as if she'd accidentally left the tape running while simply playing songs she likes, liked the playbacks, and figured that with some polishing they could be high points. She was right.

The Truckin' Sessions Vol. 2

Like his stylistic forerunner Merle Haggard, Dale Watson can be uneven. But this second installment in his paeans to the long haul is his most consistent collection in over a decade. Consisting entirely of songs with titles such as "Truckin' Man" and "10-4," it obviously risks being dismissed as a novelty album. What saves it is the fiddle, the greasy-spoon guitars (two electrics and a pedal steel), and lyrics so vivid they make "toolin' down the interstate" seem like code for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Spotlight

In 1984, the song "Darling Nikki" on Prince's album Purple Rain prompted Tipper Gore to spearhead the Parents Resource Music Center, the organization whose efforts resulted in affixing warning labels to CDs with "explicit" lyrics. Now, rappers and brat-rockers have defined explicitness so far down that even Prince's most flirtatious recent songs seem positively PG by comparison.

His latest album, LotusFlow3r (NPG Records) is actually three: LotusFlow3r, MPLSoUND, and the debut of his latest "protégé" Bria Valente, Elixer (highlight: the luminous love song "Everytime"). Teeming with inventive funk but bereft of shock value, the collection has made news more for being sold exclusively through Target than for its music or lyrics. The lyrics of at least one song, however, deserve attention: In "Colonized Mind," Prince identifies God as the only solution for a world in which belief in the "evolution principle" has led to racism, fascism, materialism, and single-parent households that incubate kids incapable of showing either love or respect.

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