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Notable CDs

Notable CDs | Four new or recent indie releases reviewed by Arsenio Orteza

Issue: "Fighting poverty," March 13, 2010

The Life of the World to Come

Eleven songs titled after Bible verses and one named after an entire chapter ("Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace"). The music: gently experimental folk-rock of varying tunefulness. The lyrics (according to the head Mountain Goat John Darnielle): "12 hard lessons the Bible taught me" (Darnielle). Most of the lessons will strike explicators as idiosyncratically oblique. The lesson that goes "Let me praise you for the good times, let me hold your banner high / until the hills are flattened and the rivers all run dry" won't.

Wake Up Love

With a presence on both MySpace and Facebook but no Wikipedia entry as yet, this winsome New Yorker exemplifies the latest generation of below-the-radar songwriters, bravely "try[ing] on" despite continuous news of the diminishing audiences for music like hers. Intelli­gent but not esoteric, richly but not over produced, she stakes out a rewarding middle ground between the Lovin' Spoonful's "Daydream" (her sole cover) and Song of Solomon 8:4 (her lyric booklet's epigraph) with references to the "man of sorrows" ("Sorrows") and the "Holy Ghost healer" ("Train") for signposts.

Wash U Clean

The stronger songs on this solid follow-up to Thornley's plenty-solid 2006 album My Glass Eye divide neatly into jazzy funk akimbo, replete with the vocal glottal stops common to rappers, and mid-to-slow tempo luminosity, replete with lyrics in which clichés illuminate the arcane or vice versa. On the lesser songs, the clichés merely lie there, waiting for Thornley's singing and melodic sense to breathe life or something like it into them. Does she still sound like Juliana Hatfield? Yes-except when she sounds better.

Timeless

Famous for composing seminal rock 'n' roll and shunning the limelight despite the patronage of everyone who was anyone, Bobby Charles was 71 when he died last January, shortly after finishing these recordings. Dr. John produced, but the music retains a demo-like quality attributable mainly to Charles' low-key singing. It's not enough to put every song across, but on "Rollin' Round Heaven," "Old Mexico," and "Little Town Tramp" (about a woman whose fall from grace began when she "started sleeping late on Sunday mornings"), it's just what the Doctor ordered.

Spotlight

Few single-band compilations can accurately be described as having the variety of a well-stocked jukebox, but Pick of the Litter 1980-2010 (Micro Werks), the latest best-of from the Detroit combo Was (Not Was), really does. From the twisted disco that endeared them to critics to the anarchistic playfulness that endeared them to late-'80s radio and MTV, these Motor City Madmen not only broke all the rules but also wrote a few of their own (then broke those too).

Pick of the Litter also redresses the deficiencies of the group's previous collections (Hello Dad . . . I'm in Jail [1992] and The Collection [2004]), each of which suffered from mystifyingly whimsical track selections and neither of which contained "Zaz Turned Blue," the Don and David Was composition about a victim of a playfully applied sleeper hold that first appeared on 1983's Born to Laugh at Tornadoes, sung with an unforgettably eerie calm by no less than the Velvet Fog himself, Mel Tormé.

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