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Notable CDs

Notable CDs | Noteworthy new releases reviewed by Arsenio Orteza

The Kinks Choral Collection

Other than the fact that the "Choral" and "Collection" in the title aren't misspelled with "k"s, this album is a typical Kinks compilation, with 14 of its 15 tracks long familiar to fans of the group. What makes it different is that (1) most of the instrumentation is (or at least sounds) "unplugged" and (2) Davies has enlisted a choir to provide background vocals. Surprisingly, the results aren't all that surprising. One might even call them much ado about nothing, except that the Kinks catalog is really something.

Funny People

This soundtrack to the latest Judd Apatow film almost stands on its own as a thoughtfully compiled mix disc. The template is acoustic, sometimes drumless pop-rock from mostly famous performers (Paul McCartney, Robert Plant, James Taylor, Warren Zevon). The latter-day Beatles hit "Real Love" even survives Adam Sandler. What mars the euphony is Maude Apatow's Cats number and Sandler's f-bomb-dropping George Simmons song. What almost redeems the disc anyway is John Lennon's previously unreleased acoustic version of "Watching the Wheels."

Music from the North Country

Disc Two's 20 demos, alternate versions, and previously unreleased tracks is inevitably spotty, and because the Jayhawks' latter-day country-rock got better as it went, the chronologically sequenced first disc doesn't exactly burst out of the gate. But it does gather momentum and smooth over the departure of founding member Mark Olson in 1995. By the time listeners get to the four excellent tracks from 2003's Rainy Day Music, the music is soaring high indeed. Meanwhile, Disc Two has its moments, and the nine-clip DVD is worth watching.

Murder by Pride

With three of its four original members, Stryper picks up where it left off with 1990's Against the Law, writing and rocking from a Christian foundation that the band has learned to integrate without downplaying. As with a lot of long-absent acts casting about for a re-entry key, the band risks showing up its originals with a cover (Boston's "Peace of Mind"), and it is the catchiest of these 12 new songs. But the ballads are pretty, "The Plan" is anthemic, and it's nice to have these guys back.

Spotlight

During its first go-'round (1984-1990), Stryper got what might now be called the Sarah Palin treatment. Overtly Christian (they tossed Bibles into the crowds on their early tours) and clad in bumblebee-patterned spandex, they made easy targets for the mainstream rock press. And just as some of Palin's fiercest criticism has come from her own party, Stryper received criticism from Christians for everything from its record company (the secular indie Enigma) to its concession to pop radio. ("Honestly" reached No. 23 in 1987). Eventually, Stryper made a Palin-esque retreat.

Time and hindsight, however, have elevated Stryper to pioneer status, and Murder by Pride (Big 3) finds the band in fine metal fettle. True, there's a new bassist, a cameo from Boston's Tom Scholz, and guest drumming throughout from Kenny Aranoff. But with Michael Sweet singing lead and the riffs more serrated than ever, there's no doubt that the "yellow-and-black attack" is back.

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